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The Train to Zagreb

Huge and modern Prague Train Station For the second time this trip, we caught a train. This time we headed for Zagreb in Croatia.  W...

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hug-a-Sheep Day

Hug a Sheep!
I missed Spinzilla this year and was sad. I took heart when I read that Robin was celebrating Hug-a-Sheep Day at Meridian Ranch. Woooo hoooo! I was all set to go, but felt a tad run down. Then it dawned on me... what if I only brought me, to Hug-a-Sheep Day, leaving my spinning wheel and such at home? Yes! I was off to Vacaville with bells on my toes (see photo on right).

The day began looking like a storm, was nigh, but at noon, the sky was blue and the spinners, knitters, felters and 'sitter-outers' such as me, were all were sunny.

All the spinners were there with their facinating wheels, working on various cool yarns - cottons, silks, alpaca, Merino and Jacobs' wools. It. Was. Awesome.

pointy bobbin of fairy tale sort
One of the ladies had the coolest mini 'Great Wheel' - see below. Said she won it at a sheep festival. The mini-Great Wheel is plastic and its base is PVC pipes. It spins very fine (thin diameter) yarn, so she is currently using it to spin up some cashmere yarn. She turned the wheel using a little crank handle at it's spoke. This wheel's bobbin is the same as that of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. It's near sharp enough to prick one's finger, then take a long nap while waiting for your prince's smooch.

The coolest spinning wheel there today was this tiny wonder
Something else that caught my eye was spinnner Alison's wool vest. She knit it of Jacob Sheep wool. Jacobs are white with spots so yield black, white, and all shades of grey wool. Wish I'd taken a close up photo of her lovely vest. By the by, this is one of the two ladies who gave my chickens new homes a few years ago.

Allison in her cool vest, at her rad spinning wheel 
I took time to meander over to the barn to visit with the huggable Jacob ewes. Stephany, not a ewe, but one of Robin's Farm Club members was on hand to answer questions. Up front, we all know what a Miss Know-it-all I can be - don't you just want to slap me? I thought 'not much anyone can tell me about Jacobs'. Right... inside of 5 minutes Stephanie had given me loads of new information on Jacob sheep. I knew Jacobs are an old breed, but hadn't realized as an 'un-improved' breed, Jacobs being close to their primitive origins means their useful behaviors were never bred out of them. For example, they are still fantastic mothers. In contrast, a highly messed-with-breed, the Merino sheep - are notoriously bad Mothers. A Merino ewe might birth her newborn lamb, then wander off to see how the clover tastes on the other side of the pasture (Lamb? What lamb?).  But a Jacob ewe will birth offspring, but stay put, licking, fussing over and protecting her lamb. She might even be licking her twins or triplets as Jacobs may have more than one lamb. That reminds me, oh, I can't wait for spring and the new lambs!
One, two, three... HUG A SHEEP! 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Anyone Up for Wandering about in Sacramento's Bowels?

Old Sac's history museum on a sunny day
 For decades I've wanted to take a Sacramento Underground tour. Perhaps I should explain. Back when Sacramento was HQ for the 1849 Gold Rush, the city was raucous, lively and prone to massive flooding. In response, the city fathers (and some Moms) opted to 'raise' the level of the city streets to a level above, rather than below the river levees. The 'raising' took a whopping 16 years to complete. The end result was many buildings had their first floors became basements, and many second floors became first floors. 

Flash forward to 2016. The streets of Old Sacramento, along the Sacramento River, a bustling tourist trap (uh... I meant, place of immense curiosity and shopping opportunity) and much of it remains underground. Annually, in Autumn, various tours of the underground bits of Old Sac are offered to the general public. This was my time to take the tour with friends. 

Pre-tour pic of Jeri & Rick at museum
The original plan was for my friends Jeri, Rick and Nancy to take the night-time underground tour. Unfortunately Nancy had a health issue so had to forgo the treat. The rest of us sashayed down to the waterfront at the History Museum, arriving early and waiting about with a dozen or so other tour participants. As I said, this was a night tour, on a v. rare, ergo rainy night on which I used my sad old iPhone 5 for photos, so many photos are not up to even my normal crap standards, as per picture to left. 

A museum docent let us into the museum briefly prior to the tour so we could be outfitted with receivers and earphones (so we could all clear hear our guide). There was time for a few peeks at the museum's goodies. 
A little Dias de los Muertos - Day of the Dead - display
California Indian artifacts
Once outfitted we went back outside where we met up with our muleskinner/tour guide. He told us the night tours were earmarked for adults who wanted to hear 'adult' tales of the raucous Gold Rush era. I had thought the night tales were for ghost stories. Alas! That, it seems, is another tour for another time. After introductions, instructions and motley deductions we were off to our first stop: Eagle Theater. The theater was the first ever in California. It was built with lumber and canvas sails from boats abandoned by sailors turned gold prospectors.  Yes, it was raining heavily, & yep, this is drought stricken California.
The welcoming lady at the door is the museum docent that greeted us.
We tripped though the theater's bar to the wooden benches in the auditorium. There our boisterous guide told us the tale of the first hanging in Sacramento. Nice story for a dark and dreary evening. As the story progressed he picked tour members to play various roles in his tale. Note the prone guy in the photo below. No one asked him to act out murder of his character, but nonetheless he put on a grand performance, interspersed with his 'deceased' character shouting out comments at humorously opportune moments. 
Prone corpse, not as dead as one might imagine...
To the delight of Jeri and meself , Rick was called up on stage to play a part. He put in a great performance.
Rick, in his staring role as Sacramento townsmen
After the telling of the hanging tale, we returned to the bar in the back where the docent treated us to tiny tumblers of some good old fashioned sarsaparilla - I helped my greedy self to two. 

Our guide now took us to an underground system of tunnels and pillars. I loved how the air was heavy with the scent of soil. Guess this must be what it would feel like to be a mole or a gopher. Oh, except those varmints don't have nice wooden boardwalks to trod on.
Imagine soil scented air and wooden planks beneath one's feet
Entering a gambling den to learn to Gold Rush gambling ways, first hand
A 'Shut the Box' game set just like the ones we got to try out
Now came a fun bit - our guide led us to a room - which as pointed out earlier, was once the first floor of a brick building. There he told us how gamblers would - at prices exorbitant at either yesterday's or today's value - rent spots in saloons where they would entice pigeons - that is 'suckers' - to gamble. The game was 'Shut the Box'. The mark would throw die, then would lower numbered wood tiles to that same total (i.e., if you threw the die and got a 5, you could then flip over a 'five'. Perhaps turning down a
'5', or the '4 and a 1' or just the '2 and the 3'. You continued to throw the dice & lower tiles ALL of the tiles are lowered. Get all the tiles down and you win. That task is far more difficult than you may think. I couldn't stop snickering to myself over the similarity of 'Shut the Box' to 'Shut the Front Door'. Heck, I'm snickering as I type. Oh, and if they'd had the game on sale, the safest bet would be that I'd have bought one! I'm so very happy there were none to buy.

Next, we marched out of those tunnels and over to a different building. 

This underground area was strewn with items that were found in the underground soil were on display, or items from the 1860s were displayed. Other items were put on display to give the 'flavor' of the late 1800s.

Used to be restaurants, barber shops & such when this was street level
A few women started businesses that did quite well. One was an African American lady who not only owned her own building and ran her own business, and invested in insuring her holdings. So when a fire hit and burning her holdings to the ground, her building - unlike many others whose sites were charred - was quickly re-built. Uninsured sites has a much longer wait.
Site of where a women ran her own business - yes, where 'soiled doves' plied their goods

Rick and Jeri examining some choice remnants, goblets,  

bottles, pipes and plates from the gold rush era.

After the tour members enjoyed wandering around the deep diggings, our guide regaled us with several tales - some romantic - others of wealth gained &/or lost.

A view across the 'diggings'
Shoe shine stand
underground archaeological dig set up with grids 

Our tour group was walked down to second street. There, at tour's end, all participants were given a souvenir shot glass. Hum... 'Finest Soiled Doves in Sacramento City'.

How sweet! They prized dirty birdies in old Sacramento.  *wink*

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Train to Zagreb

Huge and modern Prague Train Station
For the second time this trip, we caught a train. This time we headed for Zagreb in Croatia.  We got up early, and while Jo ran an errand, I bought our tickets at the train station. Our train was leaving so we had to bustle go to the station and get on board. I believe our train trip took us out of Prague, through the Czec Republic, across a path through Austria's countryside, and even through Slovenia.
The scenery ranged from ho-hum to...
... the occasional dreamy castle on a hill - in Austria (center)
Lovely 'Sound of Music' countryside
View from dining car
A little Football (Soccer) going on   
At ever border crossing I was thrilled to hand over my passport to the border 'Policija'. They reminded me of Film Noir adventures in which I ought to have been smuggling Maltese Falcons, Pomeranian Kestrels or other internationally forbidden treasures. Alas, the officers were so polite and friendly they simply ruined my fantasies.  I mean, they might have at least pretended to threaten me with a year in the gulag if I didn't hand over the goods.
Not even pretending to be evil. How adorable is he?
To pass the time on the train, I sat staring blankly out of the windows. I was of course, looking for Claire bait: i.e., birds, horses or wildlife. Didn't see much of any of those. I did manage to get a gawdawful shot of a spotty horse and rider, trotting past horticultural bower in Austria. Not exactly the shot of a Lipizzaner and rider I'd wanted on this vacation, but better than a poke in the eye. 
See the horse & rider dead center? Sort of? Come on, pretend you see them!
While I enjoyed my isolationist, introverted activity (or inactivity) Jo bided her time, converting complete strangers into busom buddies. 
The red-head is not startled, it's just the best of a series of her pix
That's Jo & meself reflected in the glass behind yet another Weasley
That two of Jo's new friends I photographed were gingers is coincidence - or is it? I'll find some intrigue for this train ride if it kills me. Stay tuned for the Mystery of the Ginger Gypsies coming soon on PBS. 

My favorite 'selfies' on this train trip were taken in a peculiar little room. It was exotically fresco'd & festooned with yellow-fruit bearing trees. What was this magical place? You'll have to guess as I'm too much of a lady to say.
'Seated', and enjoying the view
In the late hours of the night, the train pulled into an old style train station, the sort you've seen in old black and white movies in Zagreb: a city of northern Croatia. Yay,  new country to explore!

I mean, did you EVER???
We had no hotel reserved in Zagreb. But we got a recommendation from a fellow train passenger. We disembarked and rolled our weary selves and our luggage across the wide city street to the Central Hotel.

Miraculously we scored a lovely room. We had two beds, one twin-ish, the other Queen sized. I selfishly grabbed the larger bed. I myself am larger and the ensie little so-called twin beds that seem popular here are getting tiresome.  The most striking feature of  the room was stunningly amazing and inexplicable - a square - I kid you not - toilet. Surprisingly, it fit my round bottom.
The room was both modern and a throwback with Art Deco mirror & such, but also a modern TV
And Hurrah for me scoring the larger bed!
Tomorrow we are off south to the Dalmation Coast.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Prague - Trial by Walk

St Vitus Cathedral on the Prague Castle grounds
Trial by walking - that's how I'll remember today for the rest of my natural life. Let me explain. Both Jo and meself love city bus tours and looked forward booking one here in Prague. After perusing a tour pamphlet at our hotel's concierge desk, we signed up & paid for the tour. That brings us up to this morning when a shared van transport picked us up at our hotel. That was followed by a pleasant 20 minutes or so, chatting with our fellow passengers, also Americans, and here in Prague for a wedding.
Jo on the right

We weren't the only van on this tour and everyone gathered together.

We met our v. adorable twenty-something year old Czech tour guide. Like every other Czech, she was fluent in English and heavenonlyknows how many other languages
Our guide for the day
Our tour guide told us all about our current local, then marched us to a second spot. From there she told us all about the 2nd Czech President Edvard Benes, at the base of his statue. Asked to take the photograph for a v. sweet couple from Asia, I did so. They liked the photo so much they made a happy fuss over it so I was asked to take several other photos for other people. Hum... second career on the horizon? Just kidding, but it certainly started us all group bonding. Our tour guide also gave us a choice of lunchs which were a part of the tour. Jo said we were going to have an awesome dinner so she was going light on lunch. I did the same and ordered salad. 
The Czech Republic's John Adams
Now we headed out again, walking further downhill to the great palace, which as can be seen below, is quite the popular tourist attraction. 

Prague Castle
Our guide told us we'd meet back in front of the palace, after we'd had 20 minutes to enjoy the area on our own. That gave everyone time to walk around and enjoy the festive atmosphere.
A motley pair 
Nearby there was a long row of independent booths.
Booths by the castle gates

The booths had all sorts of wares for sale, some manufactured using old ways, on the spot.

There were plenty of heavy duty snacks

including all the yummy Klobásas you could eat.

And if you weren't open for buying stuff or snacks, you could wander over to the edge of the palace mesa and look down to the panorama of the rest of the city.
Looking down towards the central area of the city
I was wondering when we would meet up with the bus for the remainder of our tour, when our guide gathered us up again. We got on line to enter the gates into the central palace area. We had to pass through a TSA like inspection of any handbags and such.

Thank heavens, the line into the inner castle area moved fairly briskly.

From the inner circle I got to watch as the royal guard goose-stepping their way to the front gates.

The castle grounds was chock-chock-a-block full of impressive buildings off all sorts. In the courtyard, there's the Královská Cesta Fountain, that dates back to the late 17th century.

the Královská Cesta Fountain
The castle grounds were immense with numerous museums, churches and such.

Area in front of  St Vitus Cathedral 

St. George's Basilica, which is pretty in pink

A big hit with the tour group was Mr. here on the left. Smug looking isn't he? Lots of women in our group touched his naughty bits in exchange - or so we were told - for increased girlie type fertility.

This git gets his nads handled & patted so often that his boy bits have been polished to a golden sheen. No wonder he seems so smug.

Which was oddly situated near the toy museum. There were several museums on the castle grounds but we didn't go into any of them.

Toys on display outside the Toy Museum

It took a couple of hours to wend our way to the rear of the castle grounds, and I looked around for the bus, but our tour leader had started down long, long l-o-n-g gently sloped stairs. I figured we'd get on the bus down the hill.
The long and winding stairs looking upward...
It was way past noon when I found myself trudging sullenly downhill. Where WAS the effing bus? I was starving and grumpy. At the bottom of the stairs, there were little shops with the yummiest treats on display, so cute and so fascinating I thought I must be hallucinating. The curly-cue things in the photo below are fried potatoes on a stick. Yum...
Some of the yummy snacks I walked past along downhill trek
At the bottom of the hill we were told, next on our agenda was the lunch we'd ordered hours ago. But first, we had to cross the lower palace grounds, which began with a beautiful pond with statues. There were a few birds - a Common Gallinule and some mallards, and I'm sparing you my umpteen photos of them.
The awesome little man-made lake
We continued marched, strung out along our route. The lower grounds were composed of beautiful buildings surrounded by carefully manicured lawns and highly polished statues.

And still I wondered, where was the effing bus? Exiting the lower palace grounds we headed uphill on adorable little Prague streets.

No wonder everyone says Prague is Europe's prettiest city - even the back alleys are show stoppers
A workman repaired damaged cobblestones. No wonder Prague's  paved streets stay so lovely
Our lunch was in a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that has proudly been in business since... wait for it... wait for it... 1375. <-- not a typo. It's been serving chow since the 14th century.

Serving beer and chow since 1375 (that's the year, not the address)
Not to be too whiney, but it was HOT in the restaurant and my salad was composed of lettuce with a lot of green pepper and maybe someone had waved a cuke over it. The salad lunch option contained no cheese, no meat - just a vegan meal (vegan meal = death by starvation).  I considered returning to the pond on the castle grounds to catch a duck and eat it raw. The lunch was a part of the trip but I was too much of a coward to fuss.

After lunch our tour guide told us were were headed for one of the most popular spots in Prague - Charles bridge. There we would take the river cruise included in the tour.

Slowly, my feeble and starved brain slowly mulled over the possible places we might board a bus - before or after the river cruise?
Headed for the Vltava River
Then it dawned me. Was there not going to be a bus? I mean, it was like one o'clock... was there no bus? Was I actually engaged in some sort of cruel medieval trickery and there was NO BUS? Maybe I'd gotten on the wrong tour, the one without a bus. We reached the Charles Bridge and our guide now led us down off of it, and we walked over to the boat dock.
Looking up at the Charles Bridge
Along the way I whispered my theory to Jo, who then  marched up to our guide, She asked the fated question to which our innocent guide responded, "Bus? No, no, this is 6 hour walking tour."

My reaction on hearing  '6 hour walking tour'
It was brought up that I could take a taxi back to the hotel, but I was having none of it. It was a matter of pride. It was a matter of shoes that were doing pretty damn good all considered. And, I was going to starve to death in short order so where the tour ended was a moot point.

But I did not starve. Our faithful tour guide gave us all treats  Some sort of jam filled, frosted gingercakes. I ate mine. I stole Jo's and ate it. I found another unguarded on board the boat and ate that too. I and my fat stores would survive the day. Pardubický perniks - Czech survival food!

Our cruise along the Vltava River was cool, relaxing and came with complementary drinks.
Cruise boat beneath the Charles Bridge
Hydras guarding a river bridge.
Note the discrepancy of 3 reptilian heads and four mammalian tits

Lovely pictures along the Vltava, which I took quick pix of and otherwise paid the scenery no mind. There were birds to shoot!  Mute Swans - actually a native species - numbered in the hundreds, mallards, Great Cormorants, several corvid (crow) species, and even a magpie and a Little Grebe. Hurrah, BIRDS!
Mute Swans by the hundreds, and mallards
Black-headed Gulls in alternate plumage

Following the cruise, we all climbed back up to the Charles Bridge. The bridge was jam packed with tourists.

The Charles Bridge is not just a way to get from shore A to shore B. 
Our tour guide and Jo on the bridge
All sorts marched along the bridge


Along the route there are artisans hawking their wares, performers putting on a show

The Crucifix and Calvary 
Oh! And thirty (30!) statues, mostly saints, begging attention.
Saint uh... well, saint somebody over the crowds below
The statues are touched for blessings, rubbing the touch spots golden
St. Norbert, St. Wenceslas and St. Sigismund
Patting a pooch for luck, at St John Nepomuk's statue
Approaching the end of the bridge

At the end stood the old town bridge tower.

Awesomely gruesome gargoyles dot the tower 
Below the tower, a ballet of swans performs
It was now late afternoon and many of the twenty-somethings on the tour had begged off, deserting the tour because they were tired. I'm not making that up. Jo and myself were determined to finish up the tour, as a matter of honor if nothing else. So, marching off, following our patient and sturdy leader.

Foot weary but arrived at the Old Town Square. The red roofed hostel - a dead gorgeous building - sits before the towering Church of Our Lady before Tyn.
Grand and beautiful old town square
Fancy shops lined the square
There were carriage rides about the square
On we walked, and finally we got to the tower, that Jo and I weren't able to find on our own the last couple of days: the Astronomical Clock Tower.

The clock celebrated it's 600th birthday 2 years ago
The clock tower is truly beautiful, and I nicked this info from the internet.

"Clockmaker Hanuš, who perfected the clock on this town hall façade in 1490, was supposedly blinded so that he wouldn’t make a more beautiful version elsewhere. As the perfect revenge, Hanuš stopped the clock from functioning, and it was a hundred years before someone would figure out how to repair it. "

On the Zodiac clock below, the Sun & Moon revolve the clock-face. At it's corners stand figures representing Vanity (man with mirror), greed (a Miser with bag o' gold), Death (skeleton) and Lust.  We were too tired to hang around watch, on the hour, the skeleton strike the time as the other figures shake their weary heads.
The Sun and the Moon orbit the face of this clock
A skeleton stands on the upper right corner
The lower clock is relatively new. It is face with the 12 apostles that bless the city on the hour. This gold faced clock was installed between 1865-1866 - it is the baby of the clock pair.

The Apostles ring the clock-face
Our you tired? I'm tired just reviewing this. After oggling the great clock tower, our tour was at an end.

I was thinking we could take a taxi back to our hotel, but despite the hustle and bustle of the square, there were no taxis. So, we walked. Whew! All in all we calculated we'd walked around 10 to 12 miles today. We survived a trial by walking the streets of Prague and lived to tell the tale.