Is Starshower the new Honey Cowl? Only time will tell (but it looks good).

Visby: Land of Many Contrasts

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Dear Kay,
Until this trip, my knowledge of basic northern European geography was embarrassing. If anybody had asked me whether Denmark and Sweden are neighbors, I would have said, “Yeah, or Holland. Isn’t Holland in there?”
I’m including this handy Baltic Sea map to show you our itinerary, and also in case anybody else gets the jones for a sea-based yarn crawl. I’m telling you, it is impossible to travel this region without crossing paths with yarn, sheep, handknitters, and handknits. It is the Promised Land of the Knitterly Arts.
Shortly after leaving behind Copenhagen’s Middelgruden Offshore Wind Farm, I sat in our cabin, pondering the weirdness of it all: this eleven-story-tall ship, the ample selection of sequined party purses available in the gift shop downstairs, the fact that for the first time, our family was traveling with two boys in one room, their parents in another, with no connecting door. There was mutual glee at the idea of our all having separate rooms, but when the moment came where they were there, and we were here, I wondered what they were doing. Ordering room service, already? Eating all the fruit? Chucking fruit off the balcony? Chucking themselves off the balcony?
We missed casual bridge, bocce, team trivia, and a flower-arranging lecture before we even looked at the ship’s schedule of events. Good grief, this is exactly like Monteagle, I thought. We’ve gone 4,500 miles to end up at a senior day care center?
I heard a roar outside the balcony, and I went out to see whether they were launching lifeboats without having asked us if we wanted to go, too. The lifeboat drill had left me a little skeptical–no way could they fit 156 people into one lifeboat. The attractive Danish people would probably get first crack, and we Americans would have a rope off the side to cling to. And the ship–too big, this thing. Too much ship! It could sink halfway before we even noticed! We could be playing paddle tennis up on Deck 12, while a whole Kate Winslet/Leo DiCaprio scenario could be going on right under our feet.
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I watched in amazement as this boat roared up to the side of the ship, right there below me. It made me realize that the HMS Bigfoot was moving quite fast, even though the motion was barely detectable up on Deck 9.
Motion! I forgot about motion. Oh crap! I took a pre-emptive Bonine. Would I get seasick on this thing?
All of a sudden, as the boat nestled beside our ship, kicking up a big wake, a man in a dark business suit jumped onto the metal platform of the pilot boat from our ship: It was the the pilot from Copenhagen, leaving us now that we had entered unCopenhagenish waters. He straightened his coat, glanced up, and gave a big wave as he headed back to port. I wanted to tell him he did indeed look like James Bond.
The colors of that pilot boat made me sit down. And I kind of wished I was on such a fast low-rider.
Ship fact of the day: in the Baltic, our ship sat six feet lower in the water than it does in the ocean, due to the reduced salinity of the Baltic Sea. I thought, Isn’t six feet a lot? We’re in a ship built for the WRONG SEA?
Goths! Literally!
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Visby is a little medieval town on the island of Gotland. Supercharming. It’s fun to read all about its history. It’s even more fun to wander its bumpy streets on a bright, cool day.
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Here’s the thing: after being tangled up in knitting so intently in recent years, this summer has been a time for me to step back, to knit a lot less, to let life re-set just a little. It’s a very good thing, knitting, but it was time to stop thinking about it all the time, time to let it be a hobby. This meant that when I was planning this trip, I didn’t do what I might have done before–I didn’t make a list of every yarn shop in every port, and I brought only the most desultory sort of knitting projects. I was behaving like some sort of civilian! And I have to say, it felt good.
Of course, less than ten minutes into our day in Visby, I passed a window for a shop called Yllet–a clean, spare space inside an ancient, cobbled building. I had never heard of it, had no idea how to pronounce its name, but I loved it. It looked like Eileen Fisher, with beautiful linen blouses and simple pullovers. As I wandered the shop, my yarn detector went off: in a little room I found woolly yarn and linen and mohair, all labeled Yllet, all in colors that were natural and subtle and needed to come home with me to Nashville.
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I talk a good game about balance, but a quick six skeins later, it was obvious that I couldn’t possibly resist such great yarn. I now know that the yarn is made from the wool of the native Gotland sheep, a “quiet, friendly, inquisitive sheep” according to Sheep! The Voice of the Independent Flockmaster. Yllet is a great company. And this quick interlude–discovering all this–made me eager to knit, all over again.
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Next up: Suddenly Illiterate
Love,
Ann

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44 Comments

44 Comments

  1. Somebody should knit a blanket from that map! So cheerful!

  2. OMG Yllet! I discovered Yllet at a store in Malmo, Sweden a few years ago, and that remains some of my favorite souvenir yarn. My mother is still working a fantastic poncho out of their linen yarn, in an incredible shade of dark turquoise. It does come in wonderful colors, so that even though you never knew you needed a lavender ski hat, suddenly you have the yarn to knit one!

  3. Within a few days after we got back from a cruise of the Greek islands, our ship actually DID sink!
    Here’s my blog post from that event:
    http://livnletlrn.blogspot.com/search?q=ship
    Glad it stayed afloat during our time on it!
    Never a dull moment.
    My Grandma took a Baltic cruise a few years ago and adored every minute of it. Said it was one of the most amazing trips she’s ever been on, and she’s done a lot of traveling. Someday I hope to follow your/her path, since that’s an area of the world my family hasn’t been to…yet.

  4. Gorgeous yarn! And I’m not a real fan of blue. You could make (me) a cardi out of it.

  5. This is fun! We took almost the same trip a few years ago on a little smaller ship. Loved the interesting places we saw.

  6. Your cat looks mightily unimpressed by the yarn.
    I love it, however, and am enjoying the travelogue.
    -A

  7. I note from the Wikipedia page that Gotland even has a sheep on their coat of arms. Of *course* they have good yarn.
    And I’m itching to take a Baltic cruise now. The trip sounds insanely fun.

  8. Yllet.. “The Wool” in Swedish. We Scandinavians don’t have definite or indefinite articles, making it so much more fun for foreigners trying to decipher it from context. ;)
    Please tell me you bought some linen too. Gotland wool yarn is great, Swedish linen yarn is divine!

  9. Thanks for all the pictures and commentary! I spent a week in Copenhagen 2 years ago and visited a “few” yarn shops while I was there. The saddest sight was a sign in a yarn shop across from our hotel that said (in Danish, of course) “Closed until August.” I just knew that shop held knitting wonders to be found nowhere else in the world. The Danes are a little intimidating, though.

  10. Gottland. Mittens.
    And how do you tell if that cat is in a good mood?

  11. I’m wondering if you hit Visby during their Medieval Week? It was August 2-9 this year. http://www.medeltidsveckan.se/default.asp?LanguageID=2
    I have friends who have attended and it’s a good time.
    Now I want to take a cruise. ::sigh::

  12. Okay, until you posted the map, I could just have a vague notion of all the places “up there” and “over there” you were visiting.
    NOW? Now, I am seriously jealous.
    I still LIKE you and all. ;)
    But MAN, am I jealous!
    :)

  13. I am loving your travelogue! Thanks for sharing the details of your fun-Fun-FUN trip. And that yarn? Scrumptious!

  14. Hmmmm. I recently learned that an elderly aunt has left me some money that was quite unanticipated. I’ve been wondering what to do with this windfall, but now I’m thinking that this cruise sure sounds like something I would love to do. Thanks for the inspiration. I’m going to check it out.

  15. Now I, too, want to take a Baltic cruise. I’m taking a closer-to-home type cruise in Sept, and I can’t help it, I am checking the internet for yarn shops to visit. Still, based on your Yllet experience, it does look like yarn will find a knitter even if she doesn’t go looking for it. I have some yarn from my Faroe Island experience & only wish I had carried home a few wheels of Icelandic yarn while I was there, too. But that was back when I was still too sensible.

  16. Now I, too, want to take a Baltic cruise. I’m taking a closer-to-home type cruise in Sept, and I can’t help it, I am checking the internet for yarn shops to visit. Still, based on your Yllet experience, it does look like yarn will find a knitter even if she doesn’t go looking for it. I have some yarn from my Faroe Island experience & only wish I had carried home a few wheels of Icelandic yarn while I was there, too. But that was back when I was still too sensible.

  17. Is that a piece of red yarn curling it’s way on the map? Sure looks like it!

  18. So jealous of your travels, since I am so firmly planted at home this year. Thanks for taking me along with you through the blog!

  19. Why, is that Barbara Streisand I spy at the front of that seafaring vessel? Complete with bouquet of yellow roses and long flowing orange gown? It’s hard to hear her scream “Don’t rain on my parade” over all that water noise. Ah well, her dress color matches that boat. Maybe no-one will spot her. I almost didn’t.

  20. Even though Neil goes to Finland quite regularly I am always amazed when it turns out not to be an island. There is something about it that makes me think ‘island’ everytime. Re: Sweden, you should watch ‘Wallender’, the Swedish version, although the Ken Branagh version is acceptable. x x x

  21. here i am ready for my bedtime storey
    ann this has been a thinking time for a lot
    of us,its been a long hard year and
    so many changes .we just need a take a
    deep breath time ,sides if you are not
    knitting i can not see you njow can i
    this is grand writeing and the pictures
    are worthy of water colors
    i named the gargoyle? ollie

  22. Keep the photos coming! We just got back from a trip in the same area and I can re-live the fun we had through your photos and words. Hope you have as good weather as we did. Enjoy! I discovered that yarn stores in Stockholm and Helsinki had skeins of yarn hanging outside by their signs!

  23. Keep the photos coming! We just got back from a trip in the same area and I can re-live the fun we had through your photos and words. Hope you have as good weather as we did. Enjoy! I discovered that yarn stores in Stockholm and Helsinki had skeins of yarn hanging outside by their signs!

  24. We just got back from a Baltic cruise too and I really enjoyed it. Wait till you see Stockholm And the Vasa museum where they have recovered a ship sunk on its maiden voyage manyhundred years ago., The boys will love it. Stockholm is a beautiful city. Definitely take a boat tour of the city. St Petersburg is wonderful too. We saw many palaces, winter, summer and inbetween. Of course the Hermitage is amazing. Don’t forget to look at the floors! The parquet work is unbelievable. Glad to relive our vacation memories.

  25. Long time reader, first time commenter. Just to be the snarky one, it is quite normal for boats to sit at different heights in the water depending on the location. If you look at the side of the boat in the middle at the waterline there will be a plimsoll mark. This tells how much the boat can be laden before it is considered usafe. There are different marks for North Atlantic Winter, Tropical waters, freshwater etc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plimsoll_line#Load_line Anyway, this does not decrease my jealousy of your travels in Scandinavia. Cheers!

  26. I want to know what kind or color of wool will make your cat smile1!!!

  27. I’m glad your trip seems to have been a success, and once again I’m SO sorry if you never received my message on yarn shops in Helsinki… The darned thing always bounced, with a several day delay. Though you seem to have scored at Yllet in Sweden instead, if you couldn’t find the Helsinki shops. :)

  28. How nice to see that someone actually is in those cruise-ships that comes to Helsinki in the summertime. Waiting for your Helsinki -story…
    Tiina from Finland

  29. …fun to see the map and play ‘follow the dots’ along the path of your trip…
    …kitty: so obviously elated that the ‘eager’ knitting emotion is returning home to nest (so to speak), but wonders if enough yllet has been purchased to make a luxurious (what else?) bed for him…
    carry on!
    lovediane
    p.s.–where is holland–uh, the netherlands–anyway?

  30. Being a librarian as well as an avid traveler (and of course, a knitter) I just have to recommend one of my favorite books. It’s set — where else — on Gotland and is chock full of — what else– knitting!
    Safe Return by Catherine Dexter
    From Booklist: Based on a true incident in 1824 on an island in the Baltic Sea, this is a spare drama of people waiting for a ship to come home. The story is told with simple beauty in the voice of 11-year-old orphan Ursula. Her beloved aunt is one of the women who sailed to Stockholm to sell the island’s sweaters, which were knitted by everyone–men, women, and children–from the wool of the local sheep. There are storms at sea, and the ship is late returning. An outsider on the island, Ursula has never been able to learn to knit, but while she scans the horizon and hears the wind, she gets out her knotted mess of wool and painstakingly teaches herself to knit those rows in a pattern of waves. The knitting metaphor is rooted in a very real craft of needles, stitches, and yarn. As the days and weeks pass, readers will feel the dark dread of Ursula’s waiting and her effort to knit a pattern and make a miracle.

  31. You are back with a bang! Thanks for the great posts. Sorry about the illness – very unfortunate for DS to have to endure a long car ride while unwell. Good to see ole Chubby Cheeks back in the limelight in that last shot.

  32. We took a similar cruise several years ago. I don’t think I was in a knitting mode then. We didn’t stop at Gotland but stopped in Germany along some canal. I loved the cobblestone streets in Estonia until I tripped and sprained by ankle causing me to have to cancel my St. Petersburg tours. All in all the trip was a good one including the senior citizen day care activities. Some of us are in that category.
    tp

  33. Thanks for posting your vacation pictures. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next both in travel and unexpected yarn finds.

  34. That. yarn. is. so. beautiful.

  35. Love the yarn. Love the cat’s expression. Love Copenhagen — one of my favorite cities. Must revisit!

  36. Gotland sure is beautiful, and FULL of yarn – at least that’s how I remember it.

  37. Gotland sure is beautiful, and FULL of yarn – at least that’s how I remember it.

  38. Ann!
    Do you realize that you’re on the Yllet home page? Seriously, great shot! Am completely enjoying your postcards from the Baltic.

  39. Ann!
    Do you realize that you’re on the Yllet home page? Seriously, great shot! Am completely enjoying your postcards from the Baltic.

  40. Your travelogue is amazing. I just got back from a spinning workshop with Judith MacKenzie McCuin and we had a student who had just been to Gotland. She brought in some Gotland locks to spin and a Gotland fleece hide. It’s to die for. So soft, lustrous and curly. Now I’ve got a new place to put in my travel wishbook!

  41. Ann, have you read any of the Wallander mysteries? I got interested in them as soon as I saw that Kenneth Branagh was playing Wallander on PBS Mystery! (nothing like a good-lookin’ man to encourage folks to read). The all take place in Sweden (obviously — they’re translated from Swedish). The second one, The Dogs of Riga, has the eponymous detective crossing over to Latvia to try to solve a mystery. I found my understanding of the geography of that region became better from reading these books.
    Thanks for the photos and the narrative. It looks as beautiful as I’d imagined. (OK, there’s no Kenneth Branagh, but I could get over that. I think.)

  42. Could somebody please tell me what size needle to use when making the Log Cabin afghan?
    Thanks,
    Mary Pat Kline
    mpk8652@neo.rr.com

  43. Thank you, thank you, thank you. What a unique, sensitive, fun tour; what a treat for us. I guess those are just some of the qualities that are a draw to your and Kay’s books and blogs.

  44. Just stumbled upon this entry and thought a few of the photos looked familiar. Apparently we were in Visby at the same time. We rented the white stucco house over the street…omg, I am even in the photo…skirt under the arch. The internets is such an interesting place.
    Here’s my blog post about our trip: http://hamboneandspice.blogspot.com/2009_08_01_archive.html#6333622567246891033