Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ávila - part one

I have been thinking about how it is a shame that we have not been to more of the "day trips" around Madrid. The weather is perfect right now, so I knew we had to go somewhere. There are so many day-trips from Madrid that we have not done, it was a little hard to decide. But in the end Ávila won.

An old wall with wild flowers

Ávila is a town North West of Madrid in Castilla y León. It is approximately 1.5 hours by train, or a little more then 2 hours (with a transfer) by Cercanias (the local Madrid train system). I convinced my husband to go on Friday. I figured less crowds, cheaper menús, and the weather was going to get hotter through the weekend.

What I think of as a California poppy

We have had an extra long Spring here in central Spain, and so there were still wild flowers and patches of green everywhere. Last year by this time everything had already been dry for at least a month. There were so many poppies that there would be fields of them on either side of the train. I could not take my eyes away from the scenery. Spain's countryside is so beautiful. 

Wild Geraniums!

A charming plaza

Ávila is so photogenic that this might be a four part blog series. We had a great time wandering around with out much of a plan and taking loads of beautiful photos. Ávila is full of churches as there is a cloister and a rich Catholic history. This next church you will see from several angles. I love it's old red-blonde bricks and it's shape.

San Pedro Church

Wait, what is this? Ok sure, there are strange lions licking urns, but there in the background is the reason we came to Ávila...a medieval wall. The old portion of the city is still completely surrounded by it's wall (something you can see on Google satellite view, if you wish. Click the link, go to the satellite view option, and start zooming into the Northwest portion of the city).

There in the distance is one of the main gates, la Puerta del Alcazar. In the foreground is a monument to soldiers (it did not say which war, at least that I saw). On the right are charming Spanish buildings. On the left is a new building and in the left hand corner? A Burger King, but don't worry that is about as American-ized as this town gets.

Charming winding streets
 They have kept most of the wall in very good repair. There are only some areas where it is crumbling. It is in such good repair, in fact, that you can walk along the top of most of it. 

A statue of Santa Teresa (the town's saint), at the base of the wall, surrounded by roses. 

In the next few posts you will see that I could not stop taking pictures of the wall...or of the mountains. You can see mountains in Madrid, that is, if there is not a building in the way.

I can not get enough of the Spanish tiled rooftops with the mountains in the distance. Another thing that we took of a lot of pictures of, were the Storks. Do you see them below? (click to enlarge). They like to nest on church/bell towers so there were always some circuling over head. If you see a big bird in one of my photos, it will be a Stork.

Next post: walking the wall.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


So there is this restaurant in my neighborhood called Cañada. It is a quaint no thrills restaurant. The type of Spanish restaurant where you picture that all of the regulars are used to sitting at there own table, everyday. There is a big screen TV playing either the news or the Simpsons that keeps the solo diners company.

In this place, the conversation stops when they hear English and resumes again when I switch to Spanish. The room is all white washed walls, dark wooden beams and a swath of mosaic tile on the wall. The food is good, cheap and comforting, and the staff are friendly. 

I have always translated the word "Cañada" into a more familiar "Canada" in my head. I laugh to myself or my husband about the name "The Canada", how silly is that?
 I do not know why I do this, maybe I am trying to find the familiar in the unfamiliar environs? I think that my husband has told me 100 times that "Cañada" means the "trail that sheep follow". You would think, given how obsessed with sheep I am, that I could remember that. So this last time we ate there (our second time dining there) I had my husband snap a few pictures of the goodies on the wall. I had forgotten that they were there too!

This next picture is of a "rueca" which means both distaff and spinning wheel in Spanish. It is a very traditional one. (I have seen one simular in museums here.) The wool is wrapped around that little bit of basket weave at the top end. They would have probably tucked the long end under their arm and spun with a hand held spindle on the oposite side.

Like in this painting I found on the internet (not in the restaurant).
There are also other sheep-y items. Like one of this lovely hay forks that are carved out of one tree.

And hiding above the rueca? A shepherd's crook!

Speaking of sheep, I have been doing some dying and playing around with gradients. These are not as dark as I would like them to be. These are more water color than vibrant. Perhaps I should spin one, just to...test it out?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Madrid food tour take two

I was lucky enough to go on another Madrid Food Tour this past Saturday. This time the tour was History, Tapas, and Taverns.

You can read about my first Madrid food tour, complete with pictures of food here. "Complete with pictures of food" you think, "why would a blog post about a food tour not have photos of the delicacies?" Simple enough, this blogger forgot to take pictures of the food. I was so enthralled by the history on the tour and the company, I simply forgot.

If you want to see some really wonderful pictures of Spanish food, I recommend that you go to the Spanish Sabores blog.

So lets talk about my night. I do not go downtown very often, and every time that I do I wonder why I do not go more. However, I have been downtown since I have moved to my new apartment, and when I go downtown I get off at the
Ópera metro station. I have never noticed that there is a small museum in the station!

It is the Museo de Caños de Peral (Spanish link) and it is pieces of a 16th century Aquaduct. At the time the museum was closed and we had a tour to go to, so my photos are through the glass. I definitely want to go back soon to see it, and I will report back on my findings. 

We met up with our tour guide, James, in the Plaza Isabel II. Here is a photo of the back of that queen dramatically backlit against the Madrid skyline.

I took some more photos of the views around the plaza. It really is one of the most beautiful plazas in the city.

If you are wondering what those little buildings are, there was a little market going on in the plaza. They were selling: cheese, baked goods, roasted nuts, wine, crafts, and clothing. These little markets pop up in Madrid all of the time, and I love them.

But we were not here to buy, we were here to tour.

As mentioned before, I was not really taking photos that night. To see all of the sights and to hear all of the history you really have to try the tour yourself. But I remember a couple gems that I will share with you. Below is a statue of Phillip the IV made in the 16th century. It is the first bronze statue, in the world, of a rearing horse. Galileo was asked helped to design it as they wanted the horse to rear, but it was not very stable on just the two legs. Galileo solution: the horse is also supported by it's tail which you can not see from the ground.

This beautiful building, located in Plaza Villa, was at one time the town hall of Madrid. It still serves as government offices.

If you walk around the corner, ok across the plaza and down Calle de Codo you will come to this door.
One day, I am going to do this (it was closed at the time of the tour). Here you can buy cookies from cloistered nuns. You ring the buzzer (ring the correct one as the others call the (non-cookie) nuns or the priests to come and consult with you about spiritual matters). Apparently you go in, and travel down a hall to arrive at a sort of wooden lazy susan in the wall. You talk with the nun about your cookie order, they are cloistered so you can not see them, and then you put the money in your half of the lazy susan and they turn it to take it and turn it back to give you your cookies and your change. I heard about this way before I moved to Madrid, and it did not think that it existed anymore. I will try this out too, and report back to you.

A small plaza across from the nuns a quiet and beautiful area of Madrid.

I leave you with an image of Federico García Lorca in the literary quarter. I am told his a wonderful poet and a good illustrator too. Read his history, if you dare, but I warn you it has a sad ending.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Have you heard of Vine?

Vine is an App that is an off-shot of Twitter. If you already have a Twitter account, setting up a Vine account is a snap. Instead of 140 characters you can record 6 seconds of video! The trick is you are only recording when your finger is on the screen. This means that you can put in as many frames as you want! Your video will also endlessly loop. Right now Vine is full of teenagers that are not sure how to use it, but there are a few of the crafty and creative there as well. Just think of the possibilities for really short tutorials and art pieces! I am going to open my new online shop "Mosaics in Fiber" at the end of this month. For the past month and a half I have been making these little videos for three reasons: to practice, to bring a higher maturity content to vine and to show my product to the world. The only down side is that there does not seem to be a way to change orientation. There are more Vines from me on Vine as "kaystir". For those of you curious about what my shop might offer. I have started a Facebook page that should give you an idea.

 The above shows some "stained glass monsters" that I am thinking of making a kit for in my shop. A nice easy kit for a beginner needle-felter.

 More Stained glass monster antics.

 "This is Your Brain on Wool" OR "Yarn Brain" OR "Wool Brain" OR "Wooly Thoughts".

  Other needle felted figures of mine, made before I have a tripods for my Iphone.

Friday, June 7, 2013


Not too much to report on here in Madrid. I am counting down the days to the end of the "school year". (The semester I teach ends on June 28th.) I am really busy getting things together behind the scenes for my little store that I will open in July.

Whenever I have a free moment I try and enjoy the flowers. We have had a very wet and cold Spring here and very little warmth and sunshine. But, the best part? We are having a Spring! The flowers are blooming slowly and with style.

 We even have days of Simpsons clouds.

I have added to my own little container garden too.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Wool brain

I had the awesome idea to make a picture of a brain, with the different areas done in different colors of yarn. So I go where I normally go for images to work from...Google search images.
My favorite was this one:

Source here

The more I thought about it the more I realized that maybe I was making the project to complicated for the medium of needle felting. I wanted to make a yarn brain, but the multiple colors might not make sense without a lot of detail. So I went on a hunt for brain colored wool in my stash. (OK I know that brains are not pink until exposed to air, but I wanted a pink-ish brain.)

I quickly discovered that I had some yarn the color that I wanted, but it was too tightly plied and the grist was too small to make the cerebrum's folds at the scale that I wanted. So I pulled out three colors of wool, carded them together, and spun a thick and thin single. Perfect color, perfect thickness.

Here it is on the spindle with the hand-dyed yarn I used for the crevices of the cerebrum.

As with all art projects, you tend to go where the work takes you, that is half of the fun.

I ended up trying some things and ripping them out. The best thing about needle felting is that it is really easy to rip out the wool and to try again if the shape or scale is off. 

At first I was using some handspun for the cerebellum, but the color, shape and texture was off. I ended up ripping it out and using the same color of wool that I was using in the crevices of the cerebrum. I added some dark red to the bottom, to add more depth to the section, and put as many white branches as possible in this scale to make the Arbor vitae.

I also ended up redoing a lot of the posterior folds.

I put an outline around everything so that it would stand out. I left off the face portion, because doing faces is not where my talent lies.

I really like how it turned out. A brain made of yarn. Yarn Brain. Wool Brain. This is Your Brain on Wool.

And that is why I really wanted to finish it, to play with the title. Well that and we need more science based art. 
Which title is best?