Saturday, 19 May 2018

A lawn full of Daisies

There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, 
the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.  
~Through The Garden Gate, Elizabeth Lawrence~

Last Saturday, we packed a picnic and went to the park.

The weather forecast said it was going to be a fine day, so I went bare legged for a change, but even after multiple applications of body lotion lashed with self tan, my legs were still a milky white.

The dress I'm wearing was a last minute choice and in spite of initial misgivings, it turned out to be a good one. It was warm enough to go without a jacket, so I'm just wearing it here for some quick photographs before stuffing it into the boot of our car and setting off.

Strangely enough, the orange felt flower was the only brooch I was wearing that day.  I kept the rest of my accessories in shades of butter fudge brown, in keeping with the flowers in my dress's pattern.

It's mid-May and the park is almost at its lushest. The paths between the trees, meandering and disappearing from sight, hold promises of a fairy land beyond, where ivy cascades over tangled thickets of thorn, growing tendrils in all directions, with Sleeping Beauty's castle tucked away in its heart.

There's a grassy scent in the air, and soon there will be the cloyingly sweet smell of flowering privet hedges, transporting me all the way back to my childhood.

The village I grew up in was still quite rural back in the early sixties. Our house was at the end of a cul-de-sac in a new housing development. Ours was one of the first houses to be built there, so for the first few years we were mostly surrounded by wasteland and semi-meadows. 

These were the perfect places for adventures involving the building of camps and hide-outs. 

I had my first experience of stinging nettles there, and in Spring and Summer there were wildflowers to pick and assemble into small posies, which my mum put in lemonade glasses on the kitchen sill. 

Dandelions and Buttercups. Cuckoo Flowers and Campion. And Daisies! Let’s not forget about them! Daisies could be linked into chains and made into crowns which turned little girls into princesses, or fashioned into makeshift jewellery. Their yellow hearts left a pungent smell which clung to my fingers as their “he-loves-me, he-loves-me-not” crowns of pure white petals were blown away by a summer breeze.

Somehow the days seemed to be longer then - sunnier and more fragrant too. Now the hours seem like mere minutes, chasing each other around the clock until they become days which string together into a row of tomorrows.

The sun was climbing higher, almost reaching her zenith, so we carried our picnic basket to a secluded bench near a bank of lilac rhododendrons.

Here you can see one of my dress's redeeming features, two large patch pockets! 
They would have come in handy for carrying treasures, but the dresses I wore as a little girl never seemed to have pockets. They were made by my grandmother and all of the same rather shapeless variety, interchangeable but for the fabric they were made of.

I love Daisies in a lawn, the more the merrier! The little girl in me wants to walk among them barefoot and let them tickle her toes.

There's a sea of fluffy Dandelion spheres too, their seeds drifting like tiny parachutes in a crazy choreography. 

Here's your chance to see me without glasses. In the top right photo I'd taken them off to rub off a fingerprint, just when Jos clicked the shutter. It took me years to reconcile myself to having to wear glasses, preferring contact lenses, but I'm so used to them now that they've become an essential part of me.

Part of the park's pond has been drained for some reason, and a family of ducks was foraging its silty bottom in search of tasty bites to eat.

White geese were having a siesta in the shade of a tree, honking lazily at our approach. Oh, it's them, I could almost hear them think!

At the water's edge, clumps of yellow flag Irises were dancing like exotic ballerinas among the reeds.

Doing a double take: while Jos was making photographs, I snapped him with my phone's camera, his orange shirt coordinating with the yellow-leaved tree beyond.

Leaving the park behind, we would have been mad not to visit the nearby charity shop, where one of our first finds was this sturdy wicker basket, a snip at € 0,50. It definitely came in handy for carrying all our other finds!

Then I came across an orange skirt in a light wool fabric, still with its tags on. All skirts were half price, so I paid the princely sum of € 2. As luck would have it, there was a pair of orange shoes in my size as well! They were mine for € 4.

Here's me modelling my orange finds in the garden. I added a short-sleeved white polyester blouse sprinkled with chocolate brown spots in different sizes. They do look a bit like the chocolates at Choco Story in Bruges!

Other finds included two jewellery trees (both € 0,50), which I initially planned to use at my flea market stall in July. Meanwhile, they have already found a home in Dove Cottage.

The jewellery, two necklaces and a bracelet, were charity shopped as wel.

Next up will be not one but two flea markets to go to. I wonder what will cross our paths there!

I'm taking my orange skirt to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Let there be light ... and chocolate!

On Monday, the last full day of our extended weekend break in Bruges, we lingered over breakfast, loading up our plates with different kinds of bread and other delicacies, while enjoying glasses of home made apple juice and strong cups of coffee.

Rain kept plinking into the puddles which had formed overnight, drenching what we could see of the garden through the rivulets of raindrops which had gathered on the breakfast room's windows.

When the rain finally eased off, we made a beeline to our car and drove down to Bruges, where we once again left our car at the station car park and made use of public transport to reach the city centre.

The rain might have stopped but it was still gloomy, with nasty clouds promising more rain overhead. This, however, did not deter our fellow tourists, who had once again gathered in their masses, intent on taking over every square centimeter of the city's cobbled streets.

From the bus stop, we meandered in the opposite direction of the day before, making our way via the Vismarkt (Fish Market) and a narrow passageway going under the quirky name of Blinde Ezelstraat (Blind Donkey Street) to the Burg, which might very well be Bruges' most architecturally interesting square.

At the end of the alley, a gateway passes under a building which seems to come straight out of a fairy tale. This is the Civiele Griffie (Old Civil Registry), which was built in the Renaissance style in 1537.

Before walking underneath the archway, we looked up to see Solomon standing tall with Prosperity to the left and Peace to the right.

On the Burg itself, the full splendour of the building is revealed, its recently restored facade opulently decorated with columns and gilded friezes and statues, with Lady Justice balancing the scales in a prominent position on top.

The crowned shield flanked by the gilded lion and brown bear represents Bruges' intriguing coat of arms.

And look, only one tourist in front of the building. Quick, let's grab this unique photo opportunity!

Next door is arguably the most impressive building on the Burg, the Town Hall. This magnificent  Gothic building dates from 1376, making it one of the oldest in the Low Countries. Its facade is richly decorated with gothic windows, turrets, statues of the Counts of Flanders and biblical figures and the coats of arms of subordinate towns.

In a corner of the square is one its smallest buildingsthe Basilica of the Holy Blood. The flamboyant facade, with its gilded statues and medallions representing the Counts of Flanders and their partners, is actually a 16th century staircase that connects two chapels: the lower Romanesque Saint-Basilius-chapel and the upper neo-gothic Holy Blood-chapel.

The church houses a relic of the Holy Blood allegedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders. Originally built between 1134 and 1157, the church was promoted to minor basilica in 1923.

After admiring the square's lavish architecture, we were getting hungry, so we made our way to the nearby Markt, where we had a meal on the terrace of the same restaurant we went to on our first day.

It was cold and the first drops of rain were starting to fall, so we were glad the terrace was covered and that we were sitting quite close to a heater.

We both had a craving for witloof in de oven, a classic of Belgian cuisine, which we'd seen on the menu. The dish consists of endives (or chicory) heads, which are rolled in ham, covered in a cheesy bechamel sauce and cooked in the oven, usually served with mashed potato. Yummy!

It was clear by now that we weren't going to see the sun again that day, so we had to make do with this sun-shaped cracker which came with our drinks!

We'd planned to walk to the Hansa Quarter after lunch, which we did, but the weather gods were well and truly against us, as it had started raining heavily.

There was nothing for it but to bring out the unwieldy umbrellas, which made taking photographs quite an ordeal. Along the way, we'd bought some cheap see-through plastic rain ponchos, looking a bit like oversized rain bonnets. At one point Mr. S. decided to wear his, which ended in fits of laughter. No way was I going to wear this!

From the 13th to the 15th century, Bruges was the most important trading centre in North-West Europe. In the old Hansa Quarter you can admire the mansions of the wealthy merchants of the era, and the whole quarter is drenched in a timeless atmosphere which is particularly charming, even on a rain drenched day!

And look, there's that bear again! This one is taking pride of place in a niche of the Poortersloge (Burgher's Lodge), which was built towards the end of the 14th century, and which was the place where wealthy citizens and foreign merchants met socially.

There's a legend attached to the bear, of course, involving a knight in shining armour called Baldwin Iron Arm, who heroically freed the city from a particularly aggressive bear. You can read the full story here.

Pelting down ever more more relentlessly, the rain drove us to a nearby museum. Or rather: two museums housed in one building, for which we bought a combined ticket.

The most popular one, Choco Story, tells the history of cocoa and chocolate, from its Mayan and Aztec origins to chocolate as we know it today.

Our ticket came with a free bar of chocolate (displayed on the museum guide on the top left) and it all started very promisingly with a huge chocolate egg, marking the museum's opening in 2004.

The museum is laid out over three floors and the average visit is supposed to take about one hour.

First we were taken through the customs, beliefs and everyday lives of the Mayas and the Aztecs, how they used cocoa as an offering to the gods, later using cocoa as a drink (equivalent to today's champagne - top right) and as a currency. On the bottom left is a piggy bank containing cocoa beans.

Later, the Spaniards adopted the drink, but added sugar to it, after which the sweet drink became the favourite beverage at Europe's royal courts.

All very interesting, if the crowds of tourists hadn't all decided to come as well, blocking the displays and making the going quite tough. As if this wasn't bad enough, there were bottlenecks at the three spots which had chocolate dispensers and where you could eat as much chocolate as you want. Needless to say, these were very popular!

Anyway, let's proceed with the history of the chocolate bar, which started much later that that of the drink. I was surprised to find out that in 1847 the first tablet of chocolate was moulded in England! 

Initially, chocolate was made by craftsmen only, but then industrialization gradually took over chocolate production and the rest, as they say, is history!

In the last part of the exhibition, we admired the many chocolate moulds, and learned about the history of Belgian producers, like Côte d'Or and Jacques (below). In these displays we recognized some things from our own little museum at Dove Cottage!

By then, we'd had quite enough of chocolate, not to mention the crowds, so we made our way to the turnstile entrance of the second museum, Lumina Domestica.

The museum contains the world’s largest collection of lamps and lights. More than six thousand objects tell the story of interior lighting, from the earliest prehistoric clay lamps and oil lamps that look like they’re holding a genie, to the light bulb and even LED.

We'd left the crowds behind stuffing their faces with free chocolate as, apart from one other couple, we were all alone, so that we could admire this amazing collection in peace!

We were quite dazzled by the time we left the building, finding that mercifully, if only temporarily, it had stopped raining.

Before heading back to our B&B, there was time for one more photo of me posing on one of the bridges crossing the Spiegelrei, a particularly picturesque corner of Bruges.

Friday, 11 May 2018

All around my hat

With still one day of our weekend in Bruges to go, I wanted to give you a break by reporting you about last Saturday's flea market.

The rain clouds which had dominated our little sojourn had evaporated by the time I had to go back to work on Wednesday. Typical, isn't it? But we were in luck as when the weekend rolled along we were back to Summer weather and it was as if nothing had happened.

Saturday was a glorious day and perfect for our first outdoor flea market of the year.

In our haste to get going, we forgot all about outfit photos, and I had to recreate Saturday's outfit on Sunday, with photos taken in our garden. Yes, that's the assault of greenery you can see behind me!

But let's get back to the flea market first. I'd taken my compact camera with me but even if it was dangling from my wrist for most of the time, hardly any photos were taken, as I was far too busy browsing.

I started out wearing a lightweight turquoise jacket but after lunch (I'm sure you won't be surprised if I tell you we'd brought a picnic) it was stashed away as it was getting quite warm, but with a welcome breeze preventing it from becoming too hot!

My white wicker handbag was charity shopped for next to nothing, and it was with some glee that during one of my lunch breaks this week I happened to see a similar one in Mango retailing for just under € 50.

If you look carefully, you might notice the change of hats! Initially I grabbed the hat I wore all through last Summer, a plain one which I'd customized by adding a hair band. You can see a close-up of it here.

But then I fell in love with this little hat which was on display behind one of the market's stalls. As luck would have it, it was my size, so not only did I buy it, I spent the rest of the day wearing it too!

I was wearing a maxi skirt with blue and yellow flowers interspersed with blue, green and black diamonds and stripes on a burgundy background. I bought it back in Autumn and this was actually its first wear. The blouse with its floppy pussy bow and psychedelic floral print in yellow, orange and white, has been in my wardrobe for at least two Summers. Both came from Think Twice.

The straw belt was a high street find and very comfortable to wear as it's got some stretch in it.

I was complimented quite a few times on my outfit and at one point I overheard one of the stall holders, who must have been English, exclaiming to his neighbour: look at how well turned out she is - and her husband's the same! I liked that last part the best, and obviously Jos was very chuffed when I told him.

Only minutes into the flea market my eye was caught by a cup painted with the most exquisite flowers on an otherwise quite uneventful stall at the end of a row. I picked it up to have a better look but then thought the better of it as we do have quite enough solitary cups already. Rounding the corner, I saw a bag full of assorted tableware, with not only a second cup but two saucers and two dessert plates as well, both in a quirky octagonal shape.  For € 5, there was no way we were going to leave these behind. The porcelain is quite thick and sturdy and made in Italy.

Shortly afterwards, I zoomed in on this pair of suede and patent leather Hotter shoes, still in good nick, and in a lovely burgundy, almost plummy colour. They were a size 5 (I usually take a size 4 to 4 ½) but they were a perfect fit. Even better, they were only € 2! 

Some Googling revealed that the model is called Valetta and when I Googled that I came across a blog post from 2012 from Mim! It's a small world, isn't it?

Continuing on our rounds, we happened upon a stall we immediately recognized as Ilona's. She's one of our favourite sellers, with a stall full of the most wondrous stuff, from which we never come away empty handed.

This time, a green ceramic deer and two tiny Scottie dogs caught our eye.

The Scotties are mounted on magnets which, as magnets are wont to do, pulls them together, while at the same time they start chasing one another when one of them turns tail.

Aren't they the cutest pair ever?

Doesn't the green deer look familiar? Well, it did to us, putting us in mind of the green deer lamp we bought at the castle back in April.

We thought that they could be friends, and here they are, living happily ever after on our mantelpiece.

Then there was a stall selling vintage and retro clothes, where I picked up two deadstock vintage frocks in pristine condition. Quite a rarity these days, especially at flea markets!

The first one, in blue Trevira with a diamond pattern featuring dainty rose buds, came with a self fabric belt with a slide buckle. 

There's no label in this pretty frock, which has a print of tiny squares in different blues, green, orange and white, with a solid white collar and cuffs and a tie belt. I'm sure it would look equally good or even better with a belt in one of the print's colours.

Sunday was spent at home and in the garden, doing nothing much. I'd taken a tumble down the stairs on Saturday night, leaving me with a bruised left arm and painful muscles in both upper arms, so I was sort of licking my wounds!

Anyway, it looks like we will have a bumper crop of gooseberries this year. I don't think we ever had so many. I do hope they will have ripened to a rich red and be ready to eat before we're off to Shropshire mid June.

Before I sign off, I wanted to show you two of my garden favourites, which are currently in full bloom, Allium (I think they are  Allium aflatunense, which is the most common type) and Aquilegia 'Nora Barlow' with its double pink blooms with white tips, resembling pom poms!

Watch out for my next post, in which I will regale you with our adventures on our last day in Bruges!

Meanwhile, I'm taking my outfit to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style!

Monday, 7 May 2018

Right as rain

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll proceed to tell you about our first full day in Bruges!

Having woken up to an utterly grey and ominously clouded morning, the first drops of rain starting falling while we were having breakfast.

Not to be deterred, we dressed warmly (I'd switched to my Winter coat at that point), grabbed our umbrellas and drove down to Bruges, where we managed to find a spot at the car park near the station. You're getting a really good deal here: not only are you paying a maximum of € 3,50 for 24 hours, your ticket entitles you to free public transport to the town centre for up to four people.

Still raining ... look, there's our bus!

Soon we climbed aboard a crowded bus, which dropped us off at the Dijver, one of Bruges' most popular canals, by which time the rain seemed to be petering out.

Much photographed, the romantic Rozenhoedkaai, where the Dijver meets another of Bruges' canals, the Groenerei, was a mooring place for ships back in the late Middle Ages.

Needless to say, the crowds were thick here, with groups of people waiting outside the museums, accompanied by guides speaking every language under the sun, or queuing on the landing stages for a boat trip on Bruges' picturesque canals.

But we had our own agenda, which involved dodging the crowds (in as far as possible) and doing our own thing, wandering the city streets wherever our feet would take us.

From the Dijver, we entered an archway leading into the compact Arents Courtyard, surrounded by the Arentshuis after which it was named and which has temporary exhibitions of fine art, the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady), and the Gruuthuse Museum, known for its superb collection of 16th and 17th century tapestries, next door.

In the far corner of the courtyard is the tiniest of humpbacked bridges, St. Bonifaciusbrug, which is one of Bruges' most picturesque and certainly most photographed bridges. No photograph was taken, alas, as the bridge was full of people brandishing selfie sticks. I wonder if any of them realized that the bridge, which is looking decidedly medieval, was only built in 1910?

Looking upwards, we could see Bruges' smallest Gothic window (top left in the collage below), from which the Gruuthuse family used to keep watch on their landing stage below.

Immediately after crossing the bridge (which was't easy because, you know, selfie stick people), we passed through a gate leading to a quiet back street, where we admired two pink stuccoed Art Nouveau inspired houses dating from 1904.

The relative quietness was quite short lived as the end of the narrow cobbled street was blocked by people queuing at the entrance of Sint-Janshospitaal (St. John’s Hospital) immediately opposite. This is one of the oldest preserved hospital buildings in Europe, where you can learn about hospital life in the past. The museum also owns six masterpieces by the Flemish primitive artist Hans Memling, as well as many religious paintings and sculptures.

All very interesting, but on a quiet(er) weekday perhaps?

The hospital backs onto the canal, another one of Bruges' much photographed corners, which you can admire on the bottom right.

Meanwhile, we had reached the inner sanctum of touristland, where shops selling tacky souvenirs, lace items and chocolate lined the streets cheek by jowl. Or perhaps you would care for a waffle on a stick?

Ambling towards the Begijnhof (Beguinage) we came across a couple of bronze horse sculptures adorning a horse trough. Some real life horses eating their lunch from a nosebag made us realize we were hungry so we went in search for a half-decent restaurant to have lunch in.

While we were there, we noticed that passers-by were carrying umbrellas, but having been to Wales, we weren't put off by a little bit of rain, so we continued our walk without opening the cumbersome things. Jos did have his cap, but I'd forgotten the beret I'd brought at our B&B.

After crossing a bridge and entering through a lavishly decorated gate (above, bottom right), the Beguinage enfolds as a rough circle of delightful whitewashed houses surrounding a central green.

The best time to visit is in Spring, when the green is carpeted by daffodils. The bulbs, a total of 8000, were presented to the Beguinage by a Mrs. Sander in 1936, and at their peek this obviously is another much photographed scene.

Most of them were faded and dying by now, but it was still a magical experience to be walking among them, which we later found out was strictly forbidden.

The sun was trying her best to break through the thick layer of grey, enhancing the ethereal atmosphere under the canopy of the slightly crooked elms dotting the green.

Although the sun was beating a rapid retreat, the rain had temporarily eased off, allowing us to circle the Beguinage, which was founded in 1245, and admire the individual houses at peace, helped by the fact that the place was relatively devoid of tourists.

One of the houses, Begijnhuisje, can be visited, providing a peek into Beguinage life. Look at me, being all devout and trying my hand at being a beguine! But the bed behind me was too short, even for "petite" me!

By then, it had started raining again, in earnest this time. The tranquil lake known as the Minnewater (freely translated as Lake of Love), with its resident colony of swans, was looking rather forlorn, with a hazy fog fading out the spire of the Church of Our Lady in the background.

Legend has it that if you walk across the Minnewater bridge and kiss your loved one, it will become eternal love. But oops, we forgot to kiss!  A good thing then that we don't believe in that nonsense, although admittedly, it is a rather romantic thought!

The tower at one end of the bridge is called Poertoren (toren is the Flemish word for tower), which rises more than 18 metres above the water line. It was constructed in 1401 and is a remnant of the late-medieval city walls. At that time, the city used the tower to store its supply of gunpowder.

Back at the Markt, we dashed into Grand Café Craenenburg, one of the cafés lining the square, for a restorative if rather overpriced cup of Cappuccino. 

Our umbrellas finally came out for our walk back to the bus stop. Even though it was a Sunday, quite a lot of the shops seemed to be trading. And look, isn't that a Think Twice shop over there? 

There was no way I could pass the shop without having a browse, especially as it was near the end of the shop's sales and everything was € 3.

I might have gone a bit mad and splashed out on this flouncy frock!

See you soon for the final episode of my weekend in Bruges.

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