dinsdag 17 oktober 2017

Don't go down to Doledrum

At the tail end of the week before last we were treated to some grey and utterly miserable days, with the rain turning the wind-blown leaves into a soggy mess, the wind tugging at umbrellas, turning them inside out and out of shape.

On days like these, there's cotton wool in my head and I would like to close my eyes and have a nap. A very long nap! You know, the one where you wake up and it's Spring again!

My lunch breaks were desultory affairs, as even my favourite pastime, having a rummage in Think Twice, was proving fruitless.

Imagine my delight when, walking past one of Antwerp's best know second hand bookshops, I saw this book in the window. There was no way I was going to let this one go!

I was more than ready for the weekend, which I started early by taking Friday afternoon off.

It had been raining heavily in the morning, but thankfully it had eased off by the time I met my friend Inez for coffee. Afterwards, we paid a visit to Think Twice, not expecting much. However, they'd just started their latest sales with 30% off on everything, and we each bought a dress, mine being this colourful psychedelic shift

Saturday proved to be another dreadful day, but with the addition of a significant drop in temperature.

As I'm in the middle of my wardrobe change, I already have quite a few long sleeved frocks to choose from. Surely, a couple of layers underneath and on top of this thin and unlined Paisley print shift dress would do the trick? After all, it isn't Winter just yet!

And I wore my first pair of opaques of the season! These bottle green ones were part of my birthday present from my friend Ingrid.

Green beads, navy booties and a blue round-necked cardie with a vintage brooch were the finishing touches.

I charity shopped this sumptuous green velvet jacket last November, and it now proved to be a very necessary final layer. The blue, pink and green floral scarf came from the same shop, while the brooch pinned to my jacket, a polished piece of beech wood, was brought back from Wales.

Saturdays are for charity shopping but, with one of their events coming up, for which they keep a lot of the nicer stuff behind, we didn't expect to find much.

Still, a a couple of things came home with us.

Mr. S. bought a Harris Tweed jacket, which he changed into immediately as the one he was wearing was far too thin for the cold snap we were having.  Admittedly, it looks much better on him than the jacket he found a couple of weeks ago, which was a bit broad in the shoulders, so that one will be re-donated.

My finds were a cute King Louie cardie ...

... as well as a yellow crushed velvet scarf and a red beret, both of which I left the shop wearing. Yes, it was that cold!

I also picked up a brown woollen jacket ...

... which I wore the next day, when we went to an indoor flea market in Antwerp, providing my own, portable sunshine with the ochre yellow scarf and flower corsage.

The dress is another one from my recently unearthed Autumn/Winter collection, in a light, but lined, polyester fabric, with three quarter sleeves and a pussy bow.

I love its Autumnal orange, brown and cream print, on which I based my accessories: orange necklace, cream butterfly brooch and cream and brown flower brooch. I cinched in my waist with an ochre yellow belt, and a cardie in the same colour went on top.

I wore another pair of opaques, in burnt orange this time!

Browsing through my blog posts from October last year, it seems I wore the dress then too, but styled slightly differently.

Now, on the flea market, which frankly speaking didn't live up to our expectations. For one thing, there was no sign of the Brooch Lady, whom we had come for especially.

After trawling a couple of aisles of uninspiring stalls, selling children's clothes and tasteless tat, we happened upon a stall run by two older ladies, whom I have bought from before.

They have a table piled high with costume jewellery (I promise to take a photo next time), so I was feeling like a child in a toy shop, especially after they gave me an under-the-counter box full of wonderful stuff to rummage through.

My bounty consisted of seven brooches, a carved celluloid scarf clip (bottom left) and a pendant with three tiny edelweiss (bottom right).

Oh, and there were these two necklaces as well. The one on the right has enameled discs, delicately painted with flowers and, judging from the closure, is quite old.

My final find was this chocolate brown handbag, the rim of its metal frame having a lacy pattern of leaves and, rather oddly, fish!

Wait a minute, is that a ray of sunshine I detect up there?

In fact, we have been enjoying a couple of days of glorious Summer weather as I write ...

So, Summer did not yet completely desert us after all!

Linking again to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style!

vrijdag 13 oktober 2017

A day in France

Having arrived at the last day of our little holiday, we decided to spend it abroad!

This isn't as big a deal as it sounds, though, as the French border is a mere 6 kilometers from where we were staying.

The aim of our visit was Cassel, a litle town perched on a hilltop 176 meters above the Flanders plain, in the north-eastern corner of France, in the newly formed French region of Hauts-de-France (a merger of the former regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy).

Easier said than done, though, as getting there proved to be fraught with obstacles.

First, we had to turn back after just a couple of kilometers as Jos had forgotten his flat cap, and refused to spend the day bare-headed.

Then, due to a major road diversion in border town Watou, we got a bit lost. Luckily we had good old "Marie-Jeanne" (our SatNav!) with us, who navigated us by way of narrow country lanes through fields and villages where time seemed to have stood still.

The final stretch of our journey was a cobbled road zig-zagging up the hill, until we finally arrived in the town centre. There, we snagged the last parking spot at the edge of the Grand'Place, near the town's main church, leaving our car in a rather precarious position.

Nearby, on a corner, was a little café, where we stopped for coffee in order to get our bearings.

Here, time seemed to have stood still too.

Apart from "le patron" and his dad, who sat at the table next to us painstakingly cleaning a head of lettuce for lunch, the charming café exuding the spirit of French Flanders, was empty.

While admiring the café's rustic decor, its tiled floor, the fringed mantelpiece with its ornate figurines, we suddenly noticed the fly paper hanging from one of the lamps, proudly displaying its hapless victims.

With that in mind, it was with some trepidation that I approached the toilets which, much to my relief, turned out not to be of the French variety!

We were told that people are proud of their Flemish heritage here and that there are still evening classes teaching the language, which, confusingly, is a little bit different from the Flemish we speak on the other side of the border.

I'd printed a town trail of approximately 3 kilometers, called "Cassel, par rues et ruelles" from the Internet, but we were given a colour map outlining the same by the café's landlord.

The town trail starts outside the tourist office in the Grand'Place, and can be followed by way of copper stud marks in the pavements.
In spite of the map and the stud marks, typically we still managed to get lost a couple of times!

After exploring the Grand'Place and its historical buildings, notably the The Noble Cour mansion, a 16th-century Flemish building, which is home to the Musée Départemental de Flandre, we continued the walk by turning into the Rue du Château.

This narrow lane passes through the old castle gate before leading up to a public garden on top of the hill, with several viewpoints and orientation tables.

The Casteelmeulen ("meulen" is old Flemish for mill, the modern word is "molen") is a post mill situated on the highest point of Cassel Hill, on the site of the former castle. The present mill dates from the 18th century and is a listed building. It is still a working mill and can sometimes be visited.

From the mill, there's a path climbing up to the equestrian monument of Marshall Foch, who had his headquarters in Cassel from October 1914 to June 1915, during the Battle of Ypres.

It was here that we had our first wobble, as it seemed that the pavement studs and the walk's instructions pointed us in different directions.

As it was nearly noon by then, we decided to retrace our steps to the Grand'Place and grab some lunch. In spite of an uncertain start, the sun was out in full force, and we were able to eat sitting outside on the terrace overlooking the Grand' Place.

Afterwards, we continued our walk, eventually finding the path downhill which led us in the right direction.

At the octagonal Horne Chapel, we turned left and at the bottom of the street, turned right on to Rue de Dunkerque, passing an old horse trough on our right.

Here, we were accosted by a scruffy Frenchman walking his dog, who told us we were a couple of months late, as apparently the trough had been refilled and the borders replanted back in the Spring.

He then continued with a rant involving the local authorities, the EU, and the general state of the world which, as we all know, is foutu. We politely listened, nodded and mumbled some standard French replies, while backing away, throwing a casual au revoir over our shoulders, with him still nattering on in the background.

Soon, another gate, the Porte de Dunkerque came into view. Passing underneath brought us back to the main church, Collégiale Notre Dame de la Crypte, and the café, where our car was parked.

Still, the walk wasn't finished!

Behind the church is the old Jesuits' chapel, with a listed façade dating from 1687. Here, we had to turn right on to Chemin du Chapître, an alleyway of sandstone steps, emerging at the bottom on to Rue du Maréchal Foch.

We had another wobble here. We kept on walking in the direction of the town centre, passing a bakery, where we bought a baguette and two brioches for our evening meal.

It then dawned on us that we'd missed a turning. We were supposed to pass beneath yet another gate, the Porte d'Ypres, but couldn't recall seeing it. Afterwards, looking through my photographs, I think the one on the bottom left in the above collage could have been it.

This should have brought us to a path called Chemin des Remparts, following the town walls. However, we were able to rectify our mistake without turning back as, almost immediately after passing the bakery, we came across a narrow alley leading to the Chemin de Remparts!

Back on track, we followed the path running at the back of the town's houses, with a variety of garden gates with peeling paint and rusty hinges, punctuating the walls.

We sat down on one of conveniently placed benches, soaking up the September sun and admiring the view.

The final stretch of the path becomes another alley, which at some point is only 70 centimeters wide, and emerges onto a road leading back to the Grand'Place and our car.

The next day, it was time to pack our bags and head home, saying goodbye to our little cottage and the lovely Johanna for another year.

--- The End ---

maandag 9 oktober 2017

About things today and fallen leaves

Lately I've been so busy telling you all about our travelling adventures, that I've been neglecting to properly show you what I've been wearing.

At this time of year, the weather seems to be all or nothing, with the sun working overtime one day - as if to make up for the dreadful Summer - and Autumn at its worst the next. Sometimes it's a struggle to get dressed appropriately in the morning.

I've been trying to make the most of what is left of the season, by wearing items from my Summer wardrobe for as long as I can.

Two weeks ago (how time flies!), this was what I was wearing for a Sunday walk in the park.

Such a gorgeous day it was, but with a hint of Autumn's earthiness in the air.

I chose a short-sleeved dress printed with flowers and fruits (I detect apples, pears, cherries and grapes) in hues of purple and green.

The burgundy booties I was wearing are very comfortable and perfect for a walk in the park. However, when we were walking towards the park I noticed that the top piece of one of the heels was coming loose. There was nothing for it but to continue but by the end of our walk, it had gone, so it must have joined the carpet of crunchy autumn leaves at some point.

Or maybe I lost it near this weathered tree trunk, among the prickly husks of chestnuts, some of them still harbouring their glossy reddish cargoes.

There was no need for a coat, but I did wear a chunky knit green batwing cardigan, which I'd charity shopped the day before (one of three I bought that day).

This  majestic 180 year old weeping beech (left) is fenced in to protect its shallow root system and delicate bark.

Elsewhere, several trees were strangely bandaged up, looking like casualties in a hospital. I'm sure there's a reason for this, but I've been too lazy to find out!

The late September sun was bathing everything in a hazy golden glow, making the park's folly, called the English cottage, look particularly charming and lighting up the Japanese anemones growing in its diminutive cottage garden.

Emerging from the trees, the castle appeared like a mirage on the horizon. The dancing nymphs were dancing their eternal dance around the trickling fountain, with the sun on their backs and their skirts fluttering in an invisible wind.

On our way out, we nipped into the walled public picking garden where, when in season, a variety of fruits - apples, pears, cherries and plums, as well as soft fruits like gooseberries and raspberries - can be picked at will.

The Gautam Buddha was presented by the Ambassador of Nepal in 2004, as a token of friendship between Nepal and Belgium.

Fast forward one week. On Saturday before last, we were getting ready for a surprise birthday party thrown by Jos's children.

He really had no idea, thinking we were going to have dinner at his son's. I still don't know what made him pull out all the stops and dress up like that. The pocket watch used to belong to his grandfather.

Ok, that's it, he's now been taking over my blog for long enough!

Let me show you what I wore!

I opted for a maxi dress with three quarter fluted sleeves and a fabulous print of blue and pink flowers and orange and blue stripes. It's got not one but two labels: one says M. Fischer, Paris and the other Femina, Limoges. Sounds posh, but what is that all about? Googling didn't get me anywhere.

We had quite a full-on weekend, as on Sunday we had a flea market to go to.

Dithering in front of my wardrobe and  dismissing several options, I finally chose this Lucie Linden two piece with a brocade-like flower pattern in citrus colours.

Underneath, I wore a turquoise three-quarter sleeve top, and I accessorized with orange beads (charity shopped in Wales), an orange and green print silk scarf (charity shopped), turquoise plastic flower ring (flea market) and a green squirrel brooch, which was bought new from a delightful shop in Antwerp.

The suit turned out to be a show stopper, and I was complimented on it quite a few times that day.

At first sight, the flea market seemed to be in full swing, but it wasn't very crowded and some of the sellers complained bitterly.

Now, without further ado, let me show you what I found:

The cherry brooch is 1950s and the cheap 'n cheerful cup and saucer one was found at the bottom of a carton. The seller looked at it as if she'd never seen it before.

I'm quite taken with the Lucite necklace, which came from the same seller.

Top right is the ultimate pussy bow top, printed with red-eyed Phoebes.

I'd seen the burgundy bag, with its Lucite handles, in one of the first aisles, but having quite enough handbags already, I didn't immediately buy it. Before we went home, I went back for it, though.

On the bottom right is a vintage enamel lunch box, made in Germany, for our kitchenalia collection.

Our last two finds came from one of our favourite sellers, Ilona.

Top left and right is a child's embroidery set, which came in a cute vinyl case. How I would have loved this as a girl, even though I was rubbish at sewing. It's hard to resist such vinyl cases, and I have several of them in my vintage Barbie doll collection.

Finally, on the bottom left, a plaster Bambi ornament. I really have to stop buying these, as we have run out of space to properly display them. The epitome of cuteness, I couldn't very well leave it behind.

Linking to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style.

After this little catch up, it'll be time for the final installment of my travelogue in my next post.

donderdag 5 oktober 2017

There's such a lot of world to see

As last Wednesday was Jos's birthday, I'd taken the day off to commiserate with him!

The sun was shining, which would have been enough to get us out of bed, if it weren't for Phoebe, who 'd brought Jos a present: a mangled spider which she deposited at his side of the bed. Very thoughtful of her, don't you think?

So, up we got and after a leisurely breakfast, we headed to the nearby town of Mortsel, where we parked our car and took a tram into Antwerp.

I had a hairdresser's appointment at 12 o'clock, but we were early, and ambled into the direction of the salon, playing at being tourists.

Antwerp's cathedral dominates almost every view and glimpses of it can be caught in the most unexpected of places.

These are just three of Antwerp's elaborate street corner Madonnas, dating from the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century. Today, about 160 of them remain, adding greatly to the city's charm.

While Jos was enjoying a cup of coffee, my hairdresser, Michel, who has been looking after my hair for more than twenty years, was working his magic.

It was Michel who pointed us in the direction of a nice little place to eat, d'Aa Toert, in a narrow street running almost parallel with Antwerp's Grote Markt. "Aa Toert" is Antwerp slang for old woman, its literal translation being "old tart" but without the connotations it has in English! Indeed, the place is renowned for its delicious cakes and tarts, which we as yet have to try out.

Stepping into the restaurant feels like entering a junk shop, with shelves full of mismatched china and knick-knacks, framed prints, ornate mirrors and an assortment of table lamps.

The place seemed to be full but when we mentioned Michel's name, we were promptly seated at a little table for two. After pasta (for me) and mushrooms on toast (for Jos), we received a complimentary coffee for Jos's birthday!

Afterwards, we sauntered towards the tram stop and waited for the tram to take us to our final destination of the day.

Our destination, as can be seen on the tram, was called Eilandje, or to give it its full name, Het Eilandje, which translates as "The Little Island".

Het Eilandje dates back to 1550 and is the oldest port site in Antwerp. During the French Regency (1795-1814), Napoleon ordered the excavation of the first two docks, which would turn Het Eilandje into a flourishing port.

In the 20th century, when the port expanded further to the north, the busy port life disappeared and people moved away from the area. For decades, it was a desolate area, a barrier between port and city.

This forgotten corner of Antwerp, with its moody, rundown hangars, has been patiently waiting for a new lease of life along the river, which it has finally been given.

In the last decade there has been a real urban metamorphosis which has turned the once down-at-heel area into an attractive neighbourhood consisting of water, contemporary architecture and culture, as well as a multitude of trendy cafés and restaurants.

There's a hint of nostalgia as well, in the historic warehouses, rusty cranes, sturdy bollards and old bridges and locks.

The jewel in its crown is MAS (Museum aan de Stroom, Dutch for Museum by the River), which was opened in 2011, and which was the aim of our visit.

The largest museum in Antwerp and certainly the most visually striking, MAS is a sight to behold, with its staggered rusty red brick levels, looking like a tower of containers stacked one on top of the other and rising to a height of 60 meters. 

It houses nearly half a million items, only 180,000 being on display, all focusing on the city of Antwerp.

Adorning the façade are 3,185 hand shaped ornaments, a homage to the symbol of the city.

The River Scheldt has been Antwerp's lifeline for many centuries, and water is a key element of MAS, with it rippling glass and watery reflections.

The museum is well worth visiting, even if you are only there for the views!

Escalators, and one final staircase, take you past nine floors to the top, treating you to a wonderful view of the city, which changes constantly as you rise higher, each floor opening up yet more vistas pulled slightly and disconcertingly out of shape by the rippling glass walls.

A breathtaking 360-degree panorama of Antwerp awaits you on the roof terrace: the inner city rooftops and its skyline towers, the River Scheldt snaking away beyond its bend towards the rest of the world.

Antwerp's landmark towers, with the cathedral taking its rightful place in a prominent position, seemed to be joined by an encroaching army of high-rise buildings rising up from the city smog.

We couldn't get enough of the bird's eye view of Antwerp, the city and port a Lilliput world at our feet.

There was time for some posing too, with me framed by the cathedral's towers. The orange leather jacket must be my best buy so far this year, accompanying me on many an outing. Here, I'm wearing one of my favourite skirts with it, in colourful floral Diolen, and a short sleeved black polka dot top with a notched collar. All vintage, from Think Twice.

After this visual treat, we descended to the ground floor again, taking in the building's stunning architectural details. 

We ended our visit in the museum café, where we treated ourselves to a restorative cup of coffee.