Thursday, 19 May 2016

From Arraiolos to Evora to Castelo de Vide to Guarda to Covilha

It's Friday morning and I'm writing from Guarda in the northern interior of Portugal where the landscape is much more rugged than the rolling planes that we drove through from Lisbon to Evora in the South. Here is a picture from our hotel window in Guarda, which, despite the pastoral scene in front of us, is built in the middle of a relatively large city on the side of a mountain. There's a horse grazing by one of the roads at the bottom of the picture who seems to be perfectly happy to coexist with the traffic going by.

On Tuesday morning we left Lisbon for Arraiolos (the final s is pronounced like the s in pleasure,)
 What a delightful town, with a stunning museum to the local and revived craft of rug stitching. It is essentially a variation of cross stitch on burlap of traditional oriental patterns. This is mine although it can hardly be considered a rug by virtue of it's 8x11" size.
 On our way to Evora, we stopped for a "health break" beside a park of cork trees, one of the symbols of Portugal. This is a picture of a branch that has not been harvested. Up to 75% of the bark is harvested every 9 years from the main part of the tree.

Evora is stunning city, a UNESCO Heritage site for it's walled fortifications and the Roman ruins of the Temple to Diana. We also visited the church of St Francis which took 103 years to build in the 13th Century and featured a richly painted wooden statue of Mary when she was pregnant with Jesus. (I do hope I have my facts right - after a couple of days of nonstop touring, details do become a bit fuzzy).

On Wednesday, we made our way north to Castelo de Vide. What a treat to walk through the centuries of living history. A large Jewish community with the first Synagogue in Portugal was an important feature of the tour, leaving very distinctive remnants of their passing through although most were forced to convert to Christianity, taking on family names from Nature which are still present to this day..

 Castelo de Vide is the town where we were most able to meet and observe people as they have lived for many generations. These folks are passing the time in front of the house at the foot of the ramparts of the castle.

 How fun! As we got off the bus in Castelo de Vide we found this tree which had been yarn bombed by meters of fashion scarf knitted of what is often called "ladder" yarn for it's construction of squares held together by 2 threads on either side.
 Thursday brought us to Covilha, in the mountainous wool region.
Here is our guide from the University's museum of wool production. What a stunning blend of ancient tradition and new ideas.
 THEN came the roller coaster part of our journey as we crossed over the mountains via switchback roads that led us through the national park area, well above the tree line to a landscape that featured boulders the size of a small house strewn across the territory by glaciers. For those who have read Yann Martel's latest book, The High Mountains of Portugal, THIS is the geography where part 3 takes place.

Our final visit was to the world class Burel factory where traditional wool spinning, weaving, dyeing and fulling meet new, fashion forward designers for creations that can be found everywhere from the walls of the new Microsoft offices to classic throw blankets on the lounge chairs of discerning customers. Here we have wooden footstools covered to look like a mama sheep and her baby lamb.

That's all for now, I'll be back next week to finish up.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Lisbon Days 1-2,

Greetings from Lisbon, Portugal on this 4th KnitTraders European Fibre and Knitting tour and I'm here to share  some of what we have been up to. We arrived on Sunday morning at 6:40am local time, but 1:40am our time - to be greeted by the longest Customs line up I have ever seen in my life. Likely well over 1 000 people waiting to go through security, slowed down immeasurably due to a job action by the customs officers union. Never mind. We were soon on the road, with a day of discovering Lisbon ahead of us. Above is a detail picture of an exquisite button from a 16th Century man's waistcoat backed by the richest silk embroidery on the fabric surrounding the button hole. At Lisbon's Costume Museum, housed in a country home including  the acres of surrounding gardens in the centre of the city were such a treat. These country homes became principal residences of the wealthy families after the earthquake of 1755 destroyed and seriously damaged the central city homes of these families. 
Making our way to the hotel we saw these stunning walkways. Lisbon boasts some of the most beautiful sidewalks in the world. Basalt (black stone) and sandstone are everywhere in stunning designs throughout the squares all over the city. 

On to these sidewalks and through every street in the vicinity of our hotel poured tens of thousands of local fans  on this Sunday night as local football (soccer) favourites, BENFICA, won their division championship to move on to the finals...(go Raptors, too). The police lined up their motorcycles in front of our hotel, and security/paddywagons were everywhere.  3 layers of security checks per entrance to the stadium kept things relatively safe, but fireworks going off randomly well into the night did create an uneasy feeling. All very exciting.

First thing Monday morning we had a most scrumptious time learning to create traditional Portuguese pastries. We were greeted at 10am with a choice of beverages including wine - all very continental. And the pastries were delicious and deceptively simple to make. Diane and Karen, from Ottawa were rearing to get down to the business of baking.
And here is a sample of one of the recipes, a traditional custard tart that is representative of Portugal all over the world.

The afternoon was spent discovering a local knitting shop at the top of a delightfully darkened stairway. RETROSARIA, owned by Rosa Pomar who we were to meet with later in the afternoon, and staffed by wonderful Philippe, was a real treat. Yarns from all over the world including several lines designed by Rosa herself, using locally sourced fibres were available and bought up by all who made it to the top of the stairs
After an afternoon of shopping and hill/mountain climbing to the Castle Sao George, we returned to the hotel for a workshop in the Portuguese style of knitting. Rosa Pomar is the Doyenne of knitting in Portugal, having written the definitive book on traditional techniques and the history of the craft. She is also a great teacher; and along with her friend and helper, Zelia,  we all learned the technique of creating tension in the yarn by hooking it through a "knitting pin" attached to the left shoulder, as Ginger is doing above, or by wrapping it around the neck as Rhonda, one of our KnitTraiders  blog contributors and teachers, is doing below. It was a thrill made even more special by the appearance of Rosa's precious 3 month old, Augusto - and husband, Ricardo too of course.

Dinners each night of the trip are provided by the hotels where we are staying, and long  evening chats over a glass of wine, with some knitting in hand are just the ticket for the end a busy and exquisite day.

Check back later in the week (probably Thursday) to see what we've been up to as we pass through the regions of Evora and Guarda.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Just a few more sleeps to Portugal

It's here! The trip that we've been planning since January 2015 has finally arrived. 33 knitters (and 4 hubbies/partners) are setting off on Saturday, the 14th from Pearson airport to arrive in Lisbon on Sunday 6:35am!

As well as Kingston, participants are coming from Alberta, New Brunswick, Pennsylvania,Toronto and Ottawa areas to join in the fun. Follow us here on this blog until May 23rd when we head back to Canada. I'll be posting every few days about what we've seen (and eaten, and experienced) as we make our way through Portugal from Lisbon to Evora, to Garda, to Porto.

And don't forget about our 2017 tour to the northern part of Ireland, tentatively scheduled for September. We've just finalized the itinerary and are awaiting confirmation and pricing. You too can join us for one of these delightful experiences with other crafters and friends. To get on the email list to receive further information about Ireland 2017, contact Pam Franklin at Marlin Travel.