Somewhere else

This week, we had a rather more unusual destination north of the border. Business took us to Mannheim on the Rhine/Neckar rivers for a couple of days. Not terribly far from where I was born, it’s not a place I’d been to before, certainly not that I remember. A relatively small university town in Germany, its population is actually nearer that of our largest Swiss city, Zurich. Its location on the meeting point of three provinces and where the rivers meet, too, meant that we were quite curious to see it. Unusually in Europe, the centre of town was built on a grid system as early as the 17th century – apparently so that everyone would have a view of the palace, which, we’re told, is the second largest Baroque palace (presumably after Versailles).

  Sadly, the weather wasn’t playing along too well in the short time we had to explore the town and we didn’t get to go and look at the Luisenpark, which we heard has lovely gardens and other attractions. Instead, we did have a wander through the small park at the Friedrichsplatz with the large Wasserturm, which was much more cheerful with its spring plantings of colourful tulips, daffodils and violas than the heavy grey skies.

 With the university and important businesses being  based in Mannheim, it’s a surprisingly international place and we heard many different languages – and almost no local dialect in our two days there! Apart from the historical parts of town and the parks, the city comes across as fairly ordinary so one of the last things we expected was to find ourselves greatly enjoying two wonderful meals. Our rather run-of-the-mill hotel with somewhat helpless receptionists initially left us a little frustrated and feeling that we were having to settle for the hotel restaurant – which turned out to be extremely high class and utterly delicious! Thwarted by the weather on day 2, we accepted a recommendation to a restaurant at the top of a department store and again, wow! One of the best meals we’ve ever had – and we are truly spoilt with gourmet restaurants in Switzerland.

So a lasting memory of Mannheim, as we waited for our Inter-City Express train in a rather grimy lounge, was the unexpectedly exquisite food, from beautifully composed salads, duck and fish to exquisite oysters, pata negra, lobster and guinea fowl and finished by a touch of panna cotta with rose syrup, strawberries and rhubarb… sigh! The touch of Champagne was rather good, too :).

Perhaps next time the sun will be kinder to us and we will get to appreciate more of the sights – certainly, the food could tempt us…

 Ah well, back to the grindstone – though with the view above from my window, sunshine and temperatures at home due to go up to 26°C today and tomorrow, I have little call for complaint. 🙂


Saving Kermit

Although the Swiss are not, like the English, all that sentimental about animals, being more of a farming people, you may be surprised to hear of what goes on each year in early spring.

As seen on the main lakeside thoroughfare along Lake Constance as well as on many much quieter roads in our local countryside!

Literally, a frog-saving drive… although drive is not really the right word, since the object is to actually prevent drivers running over the frogs returning to their places of birth to lay their frog spawn. Since wild animals cannot be expected to have any road sense and silly humans build roads wherever they see fit, without these warnings, any number of little green amphibians would get squashed on their way home. Goodness knows how the population survives in the rest of the world, but Switzerland is always a bit different and special, and the Swiss have taken it upon themselves to save the frogs. (On exiting the stairwell from the subway to the platform in Lucerne last week, I noticed a chap scrubbing the walls with a stiff brush… and only in Kloten airport have I ever witnessed anyone washing the machine that takes your ticket at the exit/barrier… but I digress!)

In addition to the warning signs (and this one is 6 feet or more high), the most dangerous parts of the road (for the frogs) also feature little plastic fences about 8″ high pegged along either side of the roads…

Apparently, there is an American proverb that claims “You can’t tell by looking at a frog how high he will jump”, but the Swiss have obviously decided that about 8″ is the limit. I gather that this project does save thousands of frogs each year, which of course go on forth to multiply and therefore make it imperative that these protective measures are put in place year after year to make sure that Kermit does not become extinct. I know I sound flippant, but I do take the point – so many of our native species now have restricted habitats that it is important to make sure they don’t die out. Really, I’m very impressed by this initiative to save the frogs on their “amphibian wanderings”, as the frog-saving website puts it!

 Rana temporaria L. (apparently!)


Until next year…

Well, in case you did bother to count, I can confirm that there were 8 bunnies hiding in the last picture! Here are my little white bunnies who come out for a visit every Easter – and there were another four on the serviette 🙂 There is one more little china bunny but he is keeping a birdie company elsewhere…

We are now in utter torpor after a huge family brunch, hoping not to have to think about food for a couple of days, at least! Actually, a bit like those bunnies up there!


Spring greens

 Clara dress by Karin Vestergaard Mathiesen in Peruvian 50% alpaca/ 50% wool by Isager in Chartreuse colourway

The most adorable little knitted dress in the softest, loftiest 2-ply Isager Alpaca yarn, which finished itself faster than you might think, despite small needles! However, beware – although this is the yarn originally recommended and my gauge was spot on, the sizing seems rather optimistic. This is supposed to be the 18 mth size and I’ll be lucky if it fits 6 mth old Mireille (who is average-sized) – plus, although I followed the instructions for the neckline and back fastening, I will have to steek for it to even go over her head… 😦

Having said that, it’s a lovely little pattern and would be pretty in any number of attractive yarns of fingering weight and a slightly larger gauge to size it up a bit. (It takes well under 500m of yarn, I would estimate that a 100g skein of 420+m of yarn would do it…)

Jamieson & Smith’s is the last Shetland wool broker, sadly, but look what their Easter bunny sent me! A mixed bag of 8 balls of natural-coloured real Shetland wool destined for a Fair-Isle project – and a book of pattern inspiration. This really is a “pattern book” in the sense that it features several hundred traditional band patterns, with examples in a few colourways, rather than actual jumper/sweater/cardigan or other patterns. Whether you’re looking for an edging pattern for a border or want to combine a number of patterns all over a sweater or just around a neckline or a hat, here you’re spoilt for choice. Woolly eye candy.

 A Swiss Easter bunny sent me this box of goodies – the “Strickcafé” who, much to my surprise, had a couple of skeins of MadelineTosh hanging around, so I simply couldn’t resist!! Pretty, eh?! The Lace is a very fine Drops alpaca/Mulberry silk lace which is so light as to be practically featherweight, as well as beautifully soft, while the darker red yarn is the same mix (70% alpaca/30% Mulberry silk), also by Drops, but dare I say it, “heavier” yarn at 167 m/50g – it’s still wonderfully airy and weighs almost nothing. Yum yum yum. And better for me than chocolate!