Among the Ruins

S:t Clemens Kyrkoruin Arch

The ferry ride across the Baltic dropped us off in Visby. Everywhere I turned there was beauty. This medieval town charmed with its cobblestone streets, quaint structures and immense ruins. In 1995, Visby was designated a World Heritage site.

“Visby is an outstanding example of a north European medieval walled trading town which preserves with remarkable completeness a townscape and assemblage of high-quality ancient buildings …” (UNESCO)

Striking features in Visby:

  • A town plan with an ancient street network.
  • Medieval warehouses, serving as sales premises and storerooms for the merchants of the town.
  • The town wall, built in the 13th and 14th centuries, is 3.4 kms long. 27 ground towers and 9 hanging towers have been preserved.
  • The 12 church ruins … remains of churches erected in the 13th and 14th centuries.
  • Well-preserved wooden buildings … (Gotland Municipality)

One of many church ruins inside the medieval walls.

Drotten Church was built in the 13th Century and dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Drotten Church is an old Norse word for “ruler” and “God.” (Swedish National Heritage Board)

Drotten Church Ruins 1

Drotten Church Window

The summer tourist season was over. They say Visby is beautiful in the summer. I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than the vibrant fall colors – all shades of reds, yellows and greens.

Fall in Visby 1

Fall in Visby 2

Fall in Visby 3

Fall in Visby - 11 Hästgatan

Imagine stepping into this rose garden from the back door of your home.

Visby Rose Garden

More sheep statues along the cobblestone streets.

Sheep Statues in Visby 1

Sheep Statues in Visby 2

Taking center stage on Stora Torget (Main Square) was S:ta Karin Kyrka (St. Catherine’s Church).

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As far back as 5,500 years ago, Stora Torget (The Main Square) was populated by Stone Age fishermen and seal hunters. Many artisans had their workshops here: comb-makers, shoemakers and tanners.

The Franciscan brethren were granted land on the south side of the square in the 1230s. They erected the church of St. Catherine with adjoining monastery buildings on this ground. (Gotland Municipality)

S:ta Karin Kyrka 1

S:ta Karin Kyrka 2

Looking up at the ceiling. Man-made brick by brick.

S:ta Karin Kyrka Stone Roof

S:ta Karin Kyrka Arched Hallway

S:ta Karin Kyrka Roof Arches

Next to Hotell St. Clemens where we stayed (and which we highly recommend), was its namesake,  S:t Clemens Kyrkoruin.

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S:t Clemens Kyrkoruin Arch

I could not resist this narrow stairway.

S:t Clemens Kyrkoruin Stone Stairway

At the top, I had this lovely view of the nearby homes.

S:t Clemens Kyrkoruin Top of Stone Stairway

Across the road from S:t Clemens were the Botanical Gardens (which I’ve written about in my previous post). At one end of the gardens was a large stone wall.

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More glorious fall foliage covered large portions of the medieval wall.

Visby's Medieval Wall with Foliage

I could almost envision viking warriors positioned inside the wall looking out to the sea for possible invaders.

Visby Medieval Wall Lookout

The Powder Tower was a defensive tower and is one of the oldest surviving secular buildings in Scandinavia, dating probably from the mid-12th century.

The tower acquired its name in the 18th century when the Crown had a powder magazine here.There are ancient inscriptions on doors and walls. There was no heating and the tower was never lived in, though it did serve for a time as a prison. (Swedish National Heritage Board)

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The Gotland flag. What is not to like about this place?!

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Garn on Gotland

Botanical Gardens - Yllet Yarn Close-up

Visiting an island with such a rich history and with its very own breed of sheep, yarn was unquestionably on the itinerary. Everywhere we walked in the old town of Visby, there were statues of sheep in recognition of the role that sheep have played in the island’s history. Farmers kept sheep and used their fleece to make clothing to keep warm during the snow-covered winters.

Sheep Statue on Visby

Nothing was wasted. The curly fleece could be found on bags, pillows, clothing, seat cushions and phone cases.

Kvinnfolki - Wool Items

One place to get all sorts of sheepish goodies was at Kvinnfolki. The items at Kvinnfolki are the handiwork of a women’s collective. They make everything by hand in their homes or studios, such as casting pottery and spinning their own yarn. They are located on Donners Plats, Visby’s town square.

Kvinnfolki - Yarn and Cuffs Display

These sheep pelts were oh-so-soft to touch and so warm! They even smelled sheepish. And see those fluffy slippers to the left? I brought Mom a pair. She says she puts them on as soon as she gets home every day and loves how they keep her feet warm and cozy.

Kvinnfolki - Sheep Pelt

Before moving on to the next shop, we required sustenance. At an adorable little place called Ett Rum För Resande Café (Room for Traveler’s Café), I had the Gotland island specialty – saffranspannkaka, a saffron pancake with red berries and cream. Paired with a cappuccino to warm up my bones, it was the perfect afternoon snack. The chef/owner of the tiny café was so down to earth. Customers of all ages would come in and catch up on the latest news. He must know everyone in town! We spent a while talking with him – he prepares and cooks everything himself using fresh ingredients. He always had some very cool music on and he made a killer pasta dish when we returned the next day for lunch.

Ett Rum For Resande Cafe - Saffron Dessert

Right across the cobblestone street from the café is an antiques store named Akantus. The middle and back rooms of Akantus are filled with wonderful antiques that included furniture, glassware, pottery, paintings and other decorative items.

Akantus - Antiques

In the front room, they stock all sorts of whimsical pretty things, like these mice in their cigar box bed – complete with knitted blanket!

Akantus - Mice in Cigar Box

Further down the street, there are no less than three yarn shops next to each other. One of them was closed for the season but fear not because the other two were open for business. The first stop was at Design & Hantverk Gotland which features yarn and many other hand crafted items from local artisans such as ceramics and glassware. The owners themselves design and make items in pewter, iron and wood.

Design & Hantverk Gotland - Storefront

Of course, my attention went straight to the beautiful yarn displays.

Design & Hantverk Gotland - Yarn Display 1

The owner told me that she hand knit all of these socks! They were thick and colorful and showcased the sock yarn in her shop.

Design & Hantverk Gotland - Knitted Socks

Immediately across the street was Yllet.

Yllet - Storefront

The owner, Frida, is a lovely young woman who inherited her love of yarn from her mother. Her mother used to export yarn spun from Gotland sheep. Now Frida is at the helm. She sources the fleece locally on the island and has it spun in Finland. She explained that the fleece of the Gotland sheep is very fine, more similar to mohair than wool. She found a spinnery in Finland with the right equipment for spinning the long, delicate fleece. She personally selects the dyes and sells the yarn under her own Yllet label. She is living the life I imagine!!

Yllet - Yarn Display 1

In addition to fabulous yarn for hand knitting, she has the yarn machine-knit into sweaters and other clothing. Local women assemble the machine-knit pieces. My husband liked a simple sweater with clean lines but they did not have his size available in the dark gray color he preferred. Frida made a phone call and a local seamstress assembled the sweater in his size and color of choice. It was ready the following day.

Yllet - Yarn Display 2

Toward the end of our stay, I decided to photograph my purchases in Gotland rather than waiting until I got home. Across the street from our hotel were the Botanical Gardens. Even in the Fall, the gardens were lush and verdant.

Botanical Gardens - Gazebo
Gazebo built in 1863.

The gardens had their own particular history.

In 1814 a few young men gathered to bathe in the sea, drink punch and socialize. They decided to form the Society of the Bathing Friends (DBW). After a short time they wanted to combine pleasure with usefulness… (Sign posted by the Friends of the Botanic Garden)

Among its contributions, the Society established a school for poor boys in 1815, a savings bank in 1830, and the Botanic Garden in 1855.

Botanical Gardens - Dáhlia
Dáhlia – Happy Single Wink
Crócus - Oxonian.
Crócus – Oxonian.
Rósa - Leonardo da vinci.
Rósa – Leonardo da vinci.

Botanical Gardens - White Dáhlia

What better place than the botanical gardens for a photo shoot? I took my yarn lovelies to the gardens and arranged them in various poses for the camera. We had so much fun!

Botanical Gardens - Yllet Yarn Close-up

I call this one, “yarn among the leaves.”

Botanical Gardens - Yllet Yarn

Walking around the gardens scouting good places for the photo shoot, there was this lovely sheep statue next to a fallen tree.

Botanical Gardens - Sheep

Also on the grounds are the ruins of S:t Olaf’s Kyrka.

St. Olof's Church - West Tower

In its day, St. Olof’s Church was among the biggest and most sumptuous churches in Visby. It dates from the early years of the 13th century. The church was named after the canonised king of Norway, Olof Haraldsson.

This church was a basilica, i.e. had a tall nave and lower north and south aisles. Parts of the west tower are all that now remains. The walls of the church were demolished after the Middle Ages and the stone was used for buildings in Visby.

Behind the church, the sun was filtering in through the trees.

Botanical Gardens - Undyed Wool 2

Botanical Gardens - Undyed Wool 1

I call this series, “yarn among the ruins.” (LOL)

Botanical Gardens - Angora Yarn

Just a few meters outside the medieval wall surrounding the gardens was the icy Baltic Sea. Even though the air was cool, the sun was shining on a magnificent day.

Ducks

A Few Hours on Fårö

Fårö is sparsely populated. The summer tourists were gone and the locals were not to be seen. We had the narrow roads all to ourselves.

Windmill on Fårö

I was on a quest to find Gotland sheep and Fårö satisfied. Along an empty road, behind a fence on a large pasture of land, I spotted them.

Gotland Sheep - Fårö

This fella’ (or gal) on the left was quite curious and walked over to me. Meanwhile, the two behind him were playing around butting heads.

Gotland Sheep playing on Fårö

As he got closer, I found his eyes to be quite interesting. Rather than round pupils, his were like horizontal slits. I had never noticed! Apparently this is quite typical for sheep. From a little research on the web, I found an article that explains how the shape of an animals’ pupils affects how well they can control light entering the eye.

Gotland Sheep eyes (Fårö)

… horizontally elongated pupils are nearly always found in grazing animals, which have eyes on the sides of their heads. They are also very likely to be prey animals such as sheep and goats. (Source)

Gotland Sheep grazing on Fårö

As we continued driving along, we pulled over to take a look at a Gotland farm. This farmhouse at Bondans was built in 1783. There was a visitor’s stand that provided the history of the farm. I snapped a picture of it so that I would remember the details and have transcribed parts of it here.

Bondans Farm

In bygone days, farms were largely self-sufficient. Stone was used to build houses and fences. The forests provided firewood and timber. Clothes were made from wool and linen. The people on the farm lived off their fields and animals, hunting and fishing.

The farmhouse is a ‘parhus’ – a traditional laterally inverted structure with a hall mid-front, backed by a small parlor, both flanked by a large room on each side. Other farm buildings include a cow-shed thatched with sedge, a barn with a threshing mill, a row of outhouses, a store with a goose shed, a cellar and flax-drying shed, where there is a kiln used to roast malt for beer. (Sign posted by the County Administrative Board of Gotland)

Stone structure and wall on Fårö

Even back then, these farmers were planting green roofs, which help with insulation.

Nature takes over.

When wood became scarce in the eighteenth century, the state granted twenty years’ tax relief to those who built houses of stone. In the stone houses that were subsequently built, the walls were no longer of finely hewn stone but of dry-walled stone, plastered both inside and outside. (Sign posted by the County Administrative Board of Gotland)

I found this little structure to be so quaint and wondered what it would look like in black and white.

Stone structure on Fårö in black x white

On the Langhammar Nature Preserve, before we reached the rock-covered beaches and giant rauks, we crossed an area with lush green vegetation.

Windmill at Langhammars

The vegetation at Langhammar and in the areas to the south have been strongly affected by long-term sheep-grazing. The south end of the reserve could almost be described as “discontinuous savanna”; pine groves alternate with barren, heath-like tracts of alvar, and smaller areas of somewhat more luxuriant wet meadows. In the central part of Langhammar, the rocky ground is largely covered by low, crouching juniper bushes, which have been stunted by sheep and the wind. (Sign at Langhammars Nature Reserve posted by the County Administrative Board of Gotland)

The Helgumannen fishing village is located on the Digerhuvud Nature Reserve. The cottages were all shuttered for the coming winter.

Fishing cabins at Helgumannen, Fårö

Near the Gamla Hamn Nature Reserve, we followed signs pointing to S:t Olof’s Kyrka. Instead of a building, we found only the foundation of the church which dates back to the Medieval period.

S:T Olof's Kyrka

According to tradition, Gotland was converted to Christianity by the saintly Norwegian King Olof. In front of you there are the foundations of a small wooden chapel called St. Olof’s Church. The chapel is surrounded by a circular churchyard. (Sign posted by the County Administrative Board of Gotland)

We didn’t see them but near the shore there is apparently a burial ground with various graves dating back to Medieval times. From the endless gray skies and chill from the wind, I can only imagine what it might have been like during the Ice Age, or to see Viking ships arriving at the harbor. We were only on Fårö for a few hours but I will remember it forever.

An Island in the Middle of the Baltic Sea

I understand why long ago people thought the earth was flat. Looking to the horizon, a pang of fear spread across my heart. If we kept going, surely we would fall off the edge…

Baltic Sea

From Stockholm, we took a bus from the central station to Nynäshamn, about an hour and twenty minutes’ ride. At Nynäshamn, we boarded a ferry to Gotland, a Swedish island in the middle of the Baltic Sea. The ferry ride took just over three hours. We rented a car and drove north. When the land ran out, we boarded another ferry for a seven minute ride to Fårö, our destination.

Tiny Fårö has expansive views of the sea. From its shores, the Baltic Sea is black and deep and cold. Ingmar Bergman, the famed Swedish director, lived and died on Fårö. Bergman also directed some of his films against the austere backdrop of the island.

Liv Ullman in Personal
Liv Ullman in Persona by Ingmar Berman (Source)
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Scene from Through a Glass Darkly (Source)

We drove straight to the shore to see the “rauks,” giant limestone formations molded over time by the sea. They stood there, towering in the distance.

Sea stacks at Langhammars
Sea stacks at Langhammars.

Here and there, we could see man’s attempts to create their own stacks.

Rock pile at Langhammars

To give you some perspective, I took this photograph of my husband walking toward the sea. It’s difficult to express the impact of the scene on my senses. How tiny I felt against the raw power of rock and water and wind. So beautifully breathtaking and alarming at the same time.

Man vs. Nature @ Langhammars

The seawater is clear and cold.

Pool of cold sea water @ Langhammars

At times, I felt like an astronaut staring at a moonscape – eerily barren but very much alive.

Moonscape @ Langhammars

Topology @ Langhammars

This man-made stack was over six feet high. I wonder how long it will stand against the winds?

Man interferes @ Langhammars

The rocks were cold but soft from the constant beating from the sea.

Close-up of limestone rock @ Digerhuvud
Close-up of limestone rock at Digerhuvud

Our last stop was at Gamla Hamn. Gamla Hamn stands for “ancient harbor” as this area is thought to have been used for fishing and trading in the Middle Ages. (Source)

Sea stacks @ Gamla Hamn

As we walked further down the beach, we saw the sea arch known as both “The Coffee Pot” and “The Dog.” In the distance, I guess it does look like a dog standing at attention.
"The Dog" sea stack @ Gamlahamn Close-up of "The Dog" sea stack @ Gamlahamn

There was no one besides us out there, which made it that much more magical and melancholy. Then we spotted two swans swimming in the bitterly cold sea.

Swans swimming in the cold Baltic Sea

For some reason, the landscape made me sad. I was somehow insignificant against its raw immensity. But still I marveled at its beauty.

View to the sea @ Gamlahamn

 

A Houston Fiber Festival

HFF Yarn Bomb 1

This past summer, the Knit at Night Guild (KANG) organized the first ever Houston Fiber Fest. The event took place the weekend of July 17-19, 2015. That very weekend, I was on my way out-of-town on business to South Africa and almost missed it. On Friday after work, I raced over to the Berry Center located in a suburb of Houston for about an hour before they closed. The exhibit area was large but very doable. Many yarn shops from the greater Houston area were there with their wares.

At Little Monkey’s Stitch and Spin, they had hand dyed two-stranded sock flats (those little bags hanging from the sides of the display). Each flat is already knitted together from 80% merino and 20% nylon. As you knit up your socks, you are basically, unraveling the flat. The result is two socks or mittens whose stripes or color patterns will match perfectly – very clever! You can find this shop on Etsy.

Little Monkey's Stitch and Spin

I thought the booth for The Barbed Dragon was a lot of fun. According to their website, the shop is “a Texan’s flight of fancy into the fiber arts.” The dragon motif carries through to the names of their gorgeous hand-dyed fibers and yarns such as Dragon’s Indulgence and Dragon’s Treasure. They are located in Burleson, Texas (had never heard of it) but you can find them online. I think this shop partnered with another called Brazen Stitchery because they had this wonderful sparkly yarn in the booth. The names of these yarns were also so creative like a sparkly hank of Zombie American Princess variegated sock yarn.

The Barbed Dragon

The Purl & Loop booth featured needlecraft kits by yet another Texan. I love Angela’s (the owner’s) story. As a career woman, she had little spare time to devote to crafting and would order kits that had all the materials needed to complete a project. Out of that need, she launched her shop primarily devoted to kits for the busy modern person who wants to create but has little time. She even features how-to videos on her website for weaving and needle felting.

Purl & Loop

Park Avenue Yarns lived up to its name with tastefully curated yarns and these lovely silk braids. The sheen is gorgeous and they are oh-so-wonderful to touch. They also carried packets of precut quilting squares in fabrics with modern designs and vibrant colors.

Park Avenue Yarns

Finally, the members of the KANG yarn-bombed the area outside the conference center with smile-inducing knitting and crochet. Trees, benches and even trash cans were covered in yarn! I particularly liked the crocheted mandalas hanging off the trees like ornaments. And no yarn-bombing in Texas is complete without a crocheted Texas flag!

HFF Yarn Bomb 1

HFF Yarn Bomb 2

HFF Yarn Bomb 3

HFF Yarn Bomb 4

HFF Yarn Bomb 5

It was one of the most delightful hours I’ve had. A bit rushed but very much worth the effort. Kudos to the KANG for a wonderful festival. The 2016 Houston Fiber Fest is scheduled for June 24-25, 2016. Mark you calendars!

HFF-LesterLogo

(Source)