Monday, 9 December 2019

The sea and the sand

You know how it is with the best-laid plans, and how they often go awry!

Even if we had quite a laid-back approach to our little holiday, there were still one or two things on our mental list that we'd hoped to tick off. One of these was a walk in a nature reserve in the north of the Walcheren peninsula along the North Sea Coast.

The weather forecast for Thursday looked promising, so imagine our dismay upon waking up once more with the rain lashing against our bedroom's skylight window.

But Jos's weather app said it would clear up by 11 am, so after moping around a bit I had the brainwave of visiting Middelburg's edge of town charity shop first. However, the shop is only open on certain days, and apparently I got my dates muddled, as the shop's entrance remained firmly closed.

By then the rain had lessened considerably and it looked as if that weather app had been right for a change. With that in mind, we decided to drive down to the coastal town of Domburg, even if it was just for a short walk along the beach and lunch at a restaurant we'd been to last year.

Domburg is one of the oldest and most famous seaside resorts in Zeeland.

In Roman times, there had been a temple to honour the goddess of Nehalennia. This goddess was seen as a patroness of traders and sailors and was often depicted with a basket of fruit and a dog, which were believed to be signs of prosperity and fertility. And here she is, sitting next to me on the so-called Mondriaan bench. But more about that later.

A seaside resort since the 19th century, Domburg owed much of its popularity to physiotherapist Dr. Johann George Mezger. Being a promoter of the beneficial effects of sea water and salty air, he set up shop in Domburg in the late 1800s, bringing with him a wide circle of famous patients.

Undeniably, an air of artistry surrounds Domburg, as many artists made their way to the town at the beginning of the last century, attracted by the peaceful atmosphere, the unspoiled surroundings, the sea, and perhaps more than anything by the famous light of Domburg. 

The most renowned of these artists is undoubtedly Piet Mondriaan. There is a Mondriaan walking route you can follow, which takes you past the many locations painted by the artist in Domburg and the surrounding area. There's no doubt that you will pass the bench painted in the typical red, blue, yellow and black colours associated with the Dutch art movement De Stijl (The Style), of which Mondriaan was one of the central figures 

People still flock to Domburg in their masses in high season, but arriving there on a cold and grey November morning, the small town's high street was virtually deserted and we had the wide beach practically to ourselves.

The tide was starting to come in and the gently lapping waves provided us with a soul-soothing background for a bracing walk along the shoreline. The sky above us was still layered in shades of grey, but didn't look quite as menacing as before and any sign of rain had disappeared around 11 am as promised.

The sea air had made us hungry and we retraced our steps back up to the promenade, meeting this rather creepy sandman stoically awaiting his lot along the way.

Once back on the high street, which wasn't nearly as deserted by that time, we made a beeline for By Juuls, our restaurant of choice. Recommended by Jos's son, we had lunch there last year as well, and it certainly warranted a return visit. 

It was clearly too early for lunch for most people, as we were the first ones to arrive at the restaurant, enabling us to select a choice table near the fireplace, but it was quite busy by the time we left.

Here's a little glimpse of the vintage dress I was wearing underneath my green coat, as well as the brooch and beaded necklace I accessorized it with. 

While we were enjoying our meal, a miracle had taken place: just look at that gorgeous blue sky!

What a turn-up for the books, and the perfect weather for the walk we'd planned in that nature reserve I mentioned at the start of my post.

I'd downloaded two walks within the reserve, which is called De Manteling, both starting from Westhove Castle, lying within the reserve about halfway between the resorts of Domburg and Oostkapelle.

Making our way back to the car, we passed Het Zwaailicht, a delightful clothing shop selling lots of King Louie amongst other things. They had a rail of colourful waterproof coats out on the pavement. and in spite of the fact that I initially baulked at its price (I am used to charity shop prices after all), Jos persuaded me to buy this Polyester Princess worthy blue floral coat to replace my boring black Gore-Tex one, which I never wore for obvious reasons.

Talking to the lovely lady at the shop, she recommended starting our walk from Domburg instead of from the castle, so we dropped off our purchase in the car, and set off.

De Manteling is a nature reserve of about 740 hectares comprising woodland and dunes, as well as some estates belonging to Middelburg's wealthy merchants who liked to build their country houses in this sheltered part of Zeeland in the 17th and 18th century.

The name De Manteling hints at the traditional function of this wooded area. Like an overcoat (coat is mantel in Dutch) it protects the north of Walcheren against the fierce sea wind.

De Manteling is also quite special because nowhere else in Europe deciduous trees are growing this close to the coast. 

We'd forgotten to retrieve our walking sticks from the car, and as Jos was still suffering from his back, he was happy to find this rather fetching shepherd's crook-like stick in the undergrowth.

A series of decorative kissing gates gave access to one of the estates. Passing through them, we continued our walk along the winding woodland paths.

Having no map or directions, we were careful to keep close to the coastline, using the striking water tower, which is Domburg's main landmark, and visible from far and wide due to its position on top of the dunes, as a beacon.

Eventually, we emerged in a sheltered valley in the dunes, reaching as far as the eye could see, all autumnal colours and long shadows.

If it was looking quite outlandish warmed by the weak autumn sun and with a backdrop of cotton wool clouds, I'm sure it would have sent shivers down my spine, literally as well as metaphorically, had we happened upon it on a dark, sunless day.

Paths lead into all directions, but we opted to climb the dune separating us from the sea and make our way back to Domburg across the dunes.

Soon we spotted our friend, the water tower, and walking uphill in its direction, we could see Domburg and its coastline spread out before us as soon as we'd crested the hill.

The sun had dipped behind the clouds again when we drew level with the tower, its silhouette contrasting sharply against the shadow-playing sky.

Back in Domburg, we returned to our car, and drove back to Middelburg. But we didn't go straight to our little cottage, as we were invited for coffee and cakes by one of Jos's acquaintances, who happens to live in the town.

A very enjoyable end to an almost perfect day!

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Colour magic

In these ever darkening days, when every fibre of my being craves hibernation, it's hard sometimes to drag myself out of bed on weekday mornings.

But needs must and I have to face the music, even if it consists of the jarring tunes of a rainy commute, overcrowded public transport or a long wait for the latter in the bitter, toe-freezing cold.

But once out of bed, my wardrobe never fails to put a smile on my face, its rainbow of colours always a pick-me-up and especially so at this time of year. It's colour magic!

On the first week back from our Zeeland break - the travelogue of which I briefly interrupted - I just couldn't summon the energy for an indoor outfit photo session after work, so you'll have to take my word for it that what I was wearing was every bit as colourful as you've come to expect from me.

This is what I wore on the Friday of that week. I usually finish work a bit earlier on Fridays and so we were able to catch the sun's last rays before she dipped below the horizon, making way for darkness to descend. 

The vintage shift dress is an old favourite and one of an ever growing selection of black printed dresses residing in my wardrobe.

Its eye-popping floral print offers endless accessorizing opportunities and this time I opted for opaques in a fiery magenta and a chunky long line cardigan in the same colour. The cardigan is from Belgian brand Hampton Bays and a fairly recent charity shop find. Their cardigans retail at over € 100, so this one was a snip at just € 4.

The beads were a hand-me-down from a friend, while the large flower brooch, which provided an unexpected pop of turquoise, was bought from the Brooch Lady back in Spring.

And this is how people saw me during my commute for most of that week. 

I'm trying to alternate my Winter coats to make sure that they are all getting worn. This handmade vintage 1960s beauty was a lucky find at Oxfam several years ago.

My purple scarf, which features a bright green stripe, and my sage green beret helped to keep me warm and toasty that day.

Apart from my opaques and boots, everything in my outfit was bought second hand.

We couldn't wait for Saturday to arrive as we were looking forward to a good old rummage in the charity shops. Apart from a brief visit to a charity shop in Middelburg, it had been three weeks since our last proper shopping trip.

My outfit that day was an organically evolved symphony of blues and greens.

Stopping at the entrance of the museum garden further up our street, we took the opportunity of its photogenic rusty gates, as well as the dry and reasonably mild weather conditions, to take some detailed outfit photos.

My vintage new wool jacket in a scrumptious shade of teal with a dove grey furry collar was a Think Twice find, as was the Burberry beret I wore with it. I've been wearing the scarf - an old retail buy - a lot lately, as it's just perfect for those in-between days, plus it compliments most of my coats.

I fell head over heels for the soft wool knit skirt with its gorgeous jacquard pattern when I spied it on the rails at Think Twice. It was during one of their sales and I just couldn't get my head around the fact that it hadn't been snapped up yet. By then, it was going for just a couple of  €, so I was feeling double lucky. 

It's by Hess Natur, a German label which has been promoting fair fashion since 1976.

Look at that glorious pattern!

The blouse, in black Diolen printed with diagonals and flowers, was another Think Twice find, predating the skirt by many years: it was one of my very first vintage buys. Apart from the obvious attraction of the print, it's got the most divine but virtually unphotographable buttons.

The belt was a cheeky retail buy from a well known Belgian haberdashery and accessories shop during that week. The shop has got a good selection of opaques, which is why I went in there in the first place. They had some belts going at half-price - and no, it wasn't on Black Friday - and I simply couldn't resist this zebra striped one.

The aqua beads are charity shopped but originally from H&M. I know this for a fact, as I used to have them before, but stupidly sold them at a flea market in a moment of madness.

As for our charity shopping trip, this was a bit of a disaster. 

We'd been to the garden centre first, as we needed some peanuts, mixed seeds and fat balls for our garden visitors, as well as a couple of plants for our newly acquired plant table, and when we finally arrived at  the first shop on our list we noticed that it was unusually busy. It transpired that there was some kind of Christmas fair going on. Nevertheless, we persevered as we needed some ceramic pots for the plants we'd just bought. It took us ages to park, then we had to trawl through tables groaning under the weight of all sorts of Christmas tat, and finally queue for ages at the checkout.

After that, we gave up on our plans and just drove home instead.

The weather forecast for Sunday looked promising: it was going to be chilly but with lots of sunshine. However, a light blanket of grey was obscuring the sun when we drew our curtains that morning.

But never mind, as we had plans for the day, and you'll never guess what they were: we were going back to Zeeland!

No, I'm not joking! 

We weren't going on another holiday, mind you. Instead, we were off to visit friends who live in a  part of Zeeland known as Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (good old Wikipedia offers the English name of Zeelandic Flanders), lying south of the Western Scheldt which separates it from the remainder of Zeeland to the north and bordering Belgium to the south. It's just under an hour's drive from where we live.

One of our friends is my wonderful ex-colleague Kris, who moved to Zeeland, where he and his husband Marnix are running a farm. 

As a tribute to the Netherlands, my outfit of choice involved a lot of orange, the country's national colour, starting with my 1970s Petri dress, which I accessorized with orange opaques, beads and belt. There's orange in my striped cardie as well. 

Leaving our village, we could see a misty veil on the horizon, which by the time we reached the motorway had developed into a full-blown dense blanket of fog. While this might have made for some atmospheric photos, driving conditions were precarious, so that we were more than relieved when we reached our friends' welcoming farm house.

Don't wear your best shoes, Kris had warned us, it's quite muddy here!  So we heeded his advice and what's more, we removed our shoes and boots at the door, replacing them with our clog slippers from Middelburg! When in Holland, and all that! It goes without saying that much hilarity ensued!

Alas, poor Marnix couldn't be there, as he had work to do on the farm, but we were joined by the adorable resident cats, Kiki (top left) and Dries (bottom right).

We were treated with Kris's home homemade cake and chocolate truffles while we chatted and were given a tour of the house's latest transformations, including a dressing room I am quite, quite envious of.

The fog had become even denser by late afternoon, so that the first part of our journey home was a particularly scary one. I'm glad to say that conditions improved greatly once we'd left the low-lying countryside behind and were heading towards the motorway, but we still breathed sighs of relief when we finally got home.

So that was another weekend come and gone!

I'll be treating you with another episode of the Zeeland travelogue in my next post.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

A rainy day in Zierikzee

On our third day in Zeeland, we had plans to go a bit further afield and leave the Walcheren peninsula which Middelburg is part of.

For the record, and in order to explain what follows, Zeeland mainly consists of a number of islands and peninsulas, a large part of which are below sea level, hence its name, meaning Sealand.

And for those of you who have been wondering - some of you actually asking the question in their comments - New Zealand was indeed named after Zeeland after it was first sighted by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman.

But let's get back to our itinerary for the day, which included a one-hour journey and took us over a magnificent feat of engineering: a nine-kilometer-long storm surge barrier, which we crossed to the island of Schouwen-Duiveland.

The catastrophic North Sea flood of 1953, which killed over 1800 people in Zeeland, led to the construction of the protective Delta Works, which consisted of building dams, sluices, locks, dykes, and storm surge barriers.

The Oosterscheldekering (Wikipedia offers the phonetic [oːstərˌs̺xɛldəˈkeːrɪŋ] so that you can try and pronounce this tongue-twister) or Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier, is the largest of these works and was opened in October 1986.

Initially designed as a closed dam, after public protests huge sluice-gate-type doors were installed. These doors are normally open, but can be closed under adverse weather conditions. In this way, the saltwater marine life behind the dam is preserved and fishing can continue, while the land behind the dam is safe from the water.

The views of the estuary, with the greys of the sky almost disappearing into the greys of the river, were breathtaking, the wind turbines standing sentinel ready to fool any modern day Don Quixotes into believing they're mighty giants.

Our destination for the day was a pictureque harbour town called Zierikzee. For all non-Dutch speakers: the zee part of the town's name is pronounced somewhat like zay, meaning that this post's title actually contains an internal rhyme. 

With its 568 official monuments, a unique medieval street pattern and the oldest still playing carillon of the Netherlands, it is a tourist hot spot, but on this rainy November day not too many tourists apart from ourselves were out and about.

Our Zeeland guide directed us to a large parking lot at the edge of the town, called Hoofdpoort, to which our satnav smoothly directed us, as she was clearly having a good day.

From there, it was only a short walk along the waterfront to the Nieuwe Haven (New Port) and the local tourist office where we went to get a town trail and map. After a chat with the assistent, a very nice lady whom I promised to send the link of this blog post, we were ready to start our 3,8 kilometer walk along the town's jewels.

It was at that point that the rain, which had been threatening all through our journey, decided to be killjoy. By the time we were on the right track - even if the walk started right outside the tourist office, we still managed to get lost before we'd even started - we had to make use of our umbrellas. This made consulting our map, while simultaneously checking out the points of interest and taking photographs, quite impossible.  

We'd already missed a couple of sights when we arrived at the Dikke Toren (Thick Tower), officially the Sint-Lievensmonstertoren, the 62 meter high tower which is all that remains of a late gothic church which was destroyed by fire in 1832.

The neoclassical New Church was built between 1835 and 1848 as its successor.

We had a brief respite from the rain while we were at the church square, but soon it was pelting down again, and as lunch time was fastly approaching, we decided to walk into the direction of the town centre in search of a bite to eat.

Zierikzee's heart is its Havenplein (Port Square), where shops, cafés and restaurants, as well as the ubiquitous, often covered and heated, terraces determine the pace.

Too wet to explore our possibilities, we dived into the first inviting looking place, called Brasserie Concordia. In spite of this being only November 13th, the place was already decked out like Santa's grotto, which I admit initially put me off a bit. Anyway, the food was more than plentiful: Jos had lemon sole, while I opted for vegetarian pasta, which came in a large frying pan!

I couldn't resist taking Jos's photo with the state portrait of the Dutch King and Queen taking pride of place behind him. 

Outside our window, a cheeky crow was scavenging for leftovers and watching us dolefully.

After lunch, we tried to get our bearings to continue our walk, which was easier said than done. As it was still raining lightly, our town trail booklet was starting to get pockmarked by raindrops.

And while we still managed to more or less follow its route, we lost track of the buildings we passed, making some random snaps of any interesting looking ones.

The house on the left in the above collage is called De Haene (The Cock) and with its origins in the 14th century, it is allegedly the oldest one in Zeeland.

The sculpture on the bottom right represents a typical medieval herring fishing boat, but it wasn't mentioned in our booklet, and alas I wasn't able to find out anything further about it online.

Opposite the oldest house is the 16th century town hall with its slender, richly decorated octagonal tower topped by an unusual weathervane: a gilded statue of Neptune brandishing his trident. The statue is a fairly recent replacement dating from the 1960s, its original being on display in the town hall museum.

The sudden appearance of the sun prompted us to make the town tour's proposed detour to the Nobelpoort, one of the three remaining medieval city gates (bottom left and top right).

Returning to the main part of the town trail, we passed windmill De Hoop (The Hope), a stone mill which replaced the original wooden one in 1850 and is still active today.

This offers the perfect opportunity for a closer look at what I was wearing. I was so glad I'd had the presence of mind to bring one of my warmest Winter coats. This vintage, bottle green, fur collared woollen coat was a Think Twice find many years ago. Both the purple scarf and beret were second hand finds as well. Underneath the beret, I was wearing an ear warmer headband I'd picked up in Middelburg the day before. Yes, it was that cold!

Continuing our town trail, we'd arrived once more at the Havenplein (Port Square) which borders the Haven Park (Port Park) lined with the distinguished and lavishly decorated houses once belonging to the aristocracy.

The statue of the man holding a fish in his hand is that of Job Baster (1711-1775), a townsman and botanist, known for importing goldfish into the Netherlands. 

Beyond the park is the old port, with its picturesque old drawbridge and another one of the medieval city gates, the Zuidhavenpoort, or South Port Gate, behind it. Flanking the port on the other side, out of the photograph's frame is the Noordhavenpoort, or North Port Gate. The cobbled road inside this port, and through which - incredibly -  traffic is allowed, is pictured in the centre of the above collage.

By then, the sun had disappeared yet again and rain was imminent, resulting in a very atmospheric photograph with me as a solitary figure just off-centre.

As it had started raining more heavily by then, we frantically looked for shelter, which we found on the opposite side of the New Port, across yet another drawbridge, in Grand Café De Werf.

Here we enjoyed our customary cappuccinos, while waiting for the rain to stop, which it did eventually, giving up its hide-and-seek game with the sun for the day.

Deciding to come back another time to properly finish what we'd started, we recrossed the second drawbridge (an imposter erected in 1980) and walked the length of the New Port back to our starting point.

As the sun was dipping towards the horizon, another atmospheric image appeared to feast our eyes upon. 

This view of the ships moored beyond the New Port, flanked by the silhouette of the windmill (this one is called De Haas, or The Hare) could have been painted by an old Dutch master.

We rejoined our car but instead of driving back the way we'd arrived, across the storm surge barrier, we left the island by way of the Zeeland bridge.

The bridge, the longest one in the Netherlands, was built between 1963 and 1965, and has a total length of 5022 metres.

I just managed to snap a quick photo of the bridge in the far distance before a truck passed us from the other direction (top left).

The late afternoon sky offered magical cloud formations, with the icing on the cake, a flock of birds - could they be a murmuration of starlings, or are they rather a murder of crows  - swooping across the darkening November sky.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

November odds and ends

I'm taking a brief breather from the travelogue to show you what I've been wearing lately.

Travelling back in time to the weekend before our Zeeland break, this is what I wore to go to our favourite flea market on Saturday, 9 November.

Normally held once a month, this year an extra edition was scheduled, so that it was only two weeks since the last one, and while we never say no to a good flea market, quite a few of the regular stallholders were giving it a miss. Too much of a good thing, perhaps?

I'd recently found the plaid wool jacket in a vintage shop opposite my hairdresser's.  The shop, which used to sell vintage per kilo, but has recently switched to fixed prices, is just a little bit out of my way for a browse during my lunch breaks, but I always have a quick look whenever I visit the salon. 

The jacket has the softest furry collar ever and was a warm and snuggly choice for that Saturday morning as temperatures had entered the single figures.

You've already seen both my pink beret and my brown-and-mauve mix scarf, so only my gloves, a pair of vintage button edged tan coloured ones, need some further introduction here. 

Yes, yes, but what about that maxi skirt, I can hear you think. Well, I'm no longer keeping you in suspense. I stumbled across this swoon-worthy velvet skirt about a year ago. My original plan was to wear it on New Year's Eve, but I changed my mind at the very last moment, and then promptly forgot all about it. Yes, I know!

It's got the most stunning floral print (I've added some close-ups in the collage below), is fully lined with a very swishy maroon fabric and for ease of movement, it has a generous slit up one side, which offers the opportunity to show you my lilac opaques!

The shirt with its psychedelic print, originally from a Belgian high street shop, was a charity shop find, which I topped with a vintage green short-sleeved open weave cardigan in a Dralon wool blend.

A sage green woven belt, white metal pendant and pale pink plastic ring completed my outfit.

But let's return to that flea market we were going to. I don't think we've ever come back empty handed from this particular one, and we certainly didn't this time, even if our finds were less prolific. 

In fact, it turned out to be quite a satisfactory edition, with lots of lovely things on offer, but I guess we already had our trip to Zeeland on our minds!

We'd hardly walked into the venue when we came across this wall plaque at one of the very first stalls. She was marked at € 4,50 but the seller, from whom we've been buying for years, let us have the lovely lady for € 3.

As you might have guessed, she'll soon be joining the wall of heads!

I only found four brooches this time! 

Both the elephant and the leopard came from the same stall and so couldn't possibly be separated. They are both vintage pieces, as is the lady with the outrageous hat, while the green floral one is modern, but nevertheless worth having in my collection. 

But the best was yet to come! 

We were delighted to see that one of our favourite sellers, Ilona, was trading again, and Jos fell head over heels for a mid century plant stand, in the typical shape an colours of the era.

We didn't have time to give it a proper place and decorate it before we left, but last weekend we shuffled around the furniture in our tiny sitting room and then decked it out with some plants and ornaments. We wanted to add another plant, but Phoebe had other ideas, as she kept attacking the poor thing, so that we had to put that one well out of her reach.

The zebra stripe ashtray with the Atomium is original merchandise sold at Expo 58, the famous World Fair held in Brussels in that year. The space age thermometer is one of my most treasured objects, as it used to belong to my parents.

The lamp on the bottom shelf is actually a jar containing a string of battery operated toadstool shaped lights.

Here's a little view of our predominantly 1950s corner, including original cocktail chairs, floor lamp, iconic Tomado book shelves, a Bakelite radio and original EXPO 58 poster, among other things.

But our sitting room is really a mish mash of eras, with even some good old IKEA thrown in. The throws on the sofa and footstool were charity shop finds while the granny square covered cushions were made by my friend Inez's Mum.

I'm time-travelling back and forth between the weeks, as this was what awaited me when we came back from Zeeland on Saturday before last.

It was a late birthday present handmade by my friend Ingrid! Doesn't she know me well? And how serendipitous that I was already wearing a matching vintage jumper!

Apart from unpacking, running a machine wash and catching up with my blog reading, I didn't do very much else that Sunday. 

But I did assemble a couple of outfits for the impending working week, and in order to beat the lack of daylight throwing a spanner in the works on week nights, I cheated and showcased them for you there and then between showers!

First up was my recently acquired flower pot print dress, in the softest of wool blends, which I wore with a charity shopped green cardigan and turquoise opaques, which you can just catch the merest glimpse of.

The green beret - a second-hand find last year - originally had an unsightly patch sewn onto it, which I swiftly removed, but alas its contours remained visible. This usually prompts me to wear it backwards, but then I suddenly remembered this flower pot brooch, which I'm sure you'll agree couldn't be a better match with the print of my dress!

And oh, isn't the dress's label adorable as well? 

My final outfit of this post is one I wore later that week and which was built around one of my all-time favourite frocks found in a local charity shop about three years ago. It has already made more than one appearance on the blog as, even if it hasn't been worn the elusive 30 times yet, it is still being worn several times a year during the cold weather season.

A Diolen delight in a lovely bottle green and with the grooviest of prints, it was love at first sight. The only thing that bothered me were the buttons, which were promptly replaced by more fitting ones from my stash of vintage buttons. 

Taking my lead from the dress's print, I used yellows and a dash of orange for my cardigan, opaques and accessories.

Surely nothing beats some bright colours on these grey - or at best mediocre - November days!

I will be cracking on with the travelogue in my next post. Do come and join me again then.