Sunday, 13 October 2019

Who'll Stop the Rain?

It soon became clear how much luck we’d had with the weather on our day trip to Bruges, as the delicious Autumn day we’d been treated to turned out to be a one-off.

That weekend, the last one of September, was a total washout, as was the week that followed.

There was nothing much on the agenda that weekend, which was a good thing as any plans for doing something out of doors would have been scuppered by the endless and relentless rain.

In the final run-up to my seasonal wardrobe swap-over, I was trying to give some of my unworn short-sleeved frocks the last chance of an outing.

Admittedly, the Autumnal print of this dress prevents me wearing it at any other time of year, but this dull, grey Saturday was just perfect for it, providing some well-needed sunshine.

The dress is an old wardrobe staple and there’s every indication that it was handmade. I thought it would have become too snug by now due to the dreaded menopause playing havoc with my waistline, so I was delighted and greatly relieved, to find it was still a perfect fit.

And aren’t these covered buttons sweet?

I piled on even more sunshine by adding ochre beads, while I opted for a tan belt to define any waist I’ve got left, and tan leather boots. These were a € 2 charity shop steal last year.

The back of my coats cupboard revealed this bright ochre cord jacket I’d almost forgotten about. Any out-of-season jackets are folded and put away in the cupboard’s bottom drawer to save on hanging space, and for some reason this one got wedged at the very back.

For want of something better to do, we did a round of the charity shops and wouldn’t you know: the first thing to catch our eye was this giant vintage tin decorated with Bruges scenes!

Yes, I know, I wasn’t going to buy any more tins, but surely at € 1,50 this serendipitous find needed to come home with us.

The jewellery display yielded no less than seven brand new painted wooden bangles, and I found another King Louie dress as well, which you’ll get to see later in this post.

On Sunday we woke up to rain drumming on our stairwell skylight and trickling in never-ending rivulets down our windows. The outside world was looking soggy and sorry for itself, so staying in and not doing very much at all (not my forte!) was the only option.

While pottering about upstairs and tentatively lifting the lid of the huge antique linen chest my out-of-season clothes are stored in, I noticed this dress lying on top of the vacuum bags containing all my stuff.

Short-sleeved, but in a thick knit polyester fabric, it’s one of those dresses that often fall by the wayside.

I was glad of its Autumn flavour, not to mention its warmth, when I wore it to work later that week.
I added a matching orange belt but wore a contrasting mustard cardigan, to which I pinned one of my recent flea market brooches.

My ring is a medley of all the outfit’s colours. It’s made of fused glass and I bought it – together with four of its friends – from a stall near the busy Dijver canal in Bruges on our recent day trip.

Here’s a look at the others.

Surfacing from the metro on Wednesday morning, my heart skipped a beat upon spying golden sunlight illuminating Antwerp’s Art Deco skyscraper and my office building, which is on the right, with the overhead tramlines intersecting the deep blue sky.

I just had to stop for a photograph, even if I was in the middle of a busy pavement with people milling all around me.

Less than an hour later, this was my view from the office window.

But never mind, as I was wearing my new-to-me King Louie frock!

As it is short-sleeved, my first thought was to add it my pile of soon-to-be packed up things for next Summer, but then I had an aha moment!

Layering a long-sleeved t-shirt underneath meant I didn't have to wait to wear this groovilicious frock. I opted for a matching colour, but will try it with a contrasting one next time, as I've got long-sleeved tops in every colour under the sun.

I did choose a contrasting, burgundy belt, which prompted me to dig out my beloved burgundy vintage boots found at Think Twice last Winter.

A string of graduated, colourful wooden beads, a vintage bracelet and a purple hued plastic ring were my other accessories.

And oh, my huge wooden fish brooch! I'd been sorting my bangles and found it lurking underneath. What with all that rain, it certainly wasn't feeling like a fish out of water, and felt quite at home pinned to my dress.

My final outfit was another attempt to stop the rain and lure the sun out of her hiding place.

I combined a green skirt (which is looking decidedly greener in real life) with one of my all-time favourite blouses. I picked up this vintage beauty with its almost over the top flower print in green, yellow, pink and white, at Think Twice last Spring. 

My accessories were a wide tan belt, green plastic ring, green beads and an Autumn leaf brooch, which I pinned to my bright yellow cardigan.

And although I didn't manage to magic away the rain, wearing my own portable sunshine definitely made me feel happier.

Linking to Nancy's Fancy Friday, do go and check this lovely lady out!

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Day Trippers

It's been raining virtually non-stop here for the last two weeks or so, but as luck would have it, the last Friday of September turned out quite nicely.

I'd taken the day off to celebrate Jos's birthday and, as we had plans for a day trip, we'd been anxiously eyeing the weather forecast for days.
We needn't have worried, as the weather gods presented us with a one-off day of sunshine, although it did rain briefly at one point later in the day. What a perfect birthday present!

This time, I planned my outfit with care. The chocolate brown maxi skirt with its sprinkling of flowers was snapped up at Think Twice in June. Fully lined, it made a satisfactory swish-swish sound with every step. The lilac pussy-bow blouse with its abstract purple and orange print, also came from Think Twice, where I sourced it many years ago. I added my orange elasticated belt - so comfy - and my most comfortable booties, as we'd planned to do a lot of walking.

Not wanting to be stuck in traffic, we waited until well after rush hour to make a start, and arrived at our destination about one hour and 15 minutes later.

By then it was late morning and, after having parked our car, we proceeded to walk into the direction of the town centre by way of some less busy side streets, well away from the crowds who are drawn like moths to a flame to this town, which has around 8 million visitors annually.

Has anyone guessed where we are by now?

Ah, the t-shirt in the shop window on the bottom right is giving the game away!

And here's birthday boy himself ...

Having arrived at the huge main square, we sat for a while on a bench on the lower covered gallery of the Historium, a museum housed in a bluestone building with a neo-renaissance appearance completed in 1921, which allows you to revisit medieval Bruges.

From this vantage point, we watched the hustle and bustle on the square with the tall belfry reigning over it, then walked over to the belfry and through the passageway beneath it to reach its inner courtyard. The steps I'm standing on lead to a first floor gallery, from where it is possible to climb the belfry tower, if one is so inclined and able to get one of the limited tickets.

After lunch, for which we returned to a small bistro we'd passed in a quiet side street, we walked wherever our feet would take us, without any itinerary whatsoever.

And although Bruges is a tourist honey-pot all year round, we found it to be much quieter on this sunny Autumn day than on our last visit back in April.

We were even able to make some relatively crowd-less photographs of the Dijver canal and the Rozenhoedkaai, a most popular area which is usually thronged with sightseers, with a constant stream of canal tour boats churning up the water.

There's no doubt that Bruges is beautiful in all seasons, but I found it particularly picturesque surrounded by Autumn splendour and bathing in that low-slanting golden sunlight which is one of the crowning glories of the season.

It's surprisingly easy to get off the beaten track in Bruges if you just wander a street or two away from the so-called golden triangle containing the majority of the city's major tourist attractions.

The delightful tree-lined Groenerei (above) is just minutes away from one of the busiest corners in Bruges, yet it was relatively quiet apart from a handful of people joining us in strolling along its cobbled quayside.

Crossing the busy Langestraat at the end of the quay, we walked alongside a wide canal towards the Hansa Quarter. 

Here, in this now peaceful corner of Bruges, the canals are flanked by the residences and warehouses built by medieval merchants from across Europe in an enchanting medley of architectural styles.

At this point, our plan was to walk back into the direction of the town centre, but we were distracted by the sight of a cozy little terrace, where we grabbed a seat and enjoyed a cup of coffee while resting our feet.

We then wandered around the corner and strolled along the narrow Gouden-Handrei, which must be one of Bruges' loveliest streets, its canal-side lined with a string of delightful summer houses belonging to the houses fronting the street behind. 

The sun, which had been playing hide and seek with the clouds for a while, was now making up for its bad behaviour, and was assisting the tranquil waters of the canal in producing the most picturesque reflections.

We kept on walking and drinking in the views and at one point found ourselves lost in a maze of cobbled streets. At that point, the clouds had won the game they had been playing with the sun, and decided to treat us to a shower.

As luck would have it, we came across the St. Jakobskerk (or St. James's church), providing us a with a sanctuary to escape the rain.

We got talking to a friendly and very knowledgeable guide, rather incongruously dressed in ill-fitting shorts and t-shirt and wearing a rather unsightly bumbag, who was pleased to point out the church's main treasures to us, including some age-old graffiti on the choir stall benches.

Emerging from the church, it was clear that it had rained quite heavily while we were inside. In fact, we were not out of the woods yet, as the odd raindrops were still trying to get us to open our umbrellas. But we didn't, as I suddenly realized where we were, which was around the corner from the town's Think Twice shop!

Inevitably, I had to go for a browse and I even found one or two things, but these will be for a future post. 

We were quite parched by then, so we went into a well-known establishment on the market square for refreshments. 

As it was still too early for dinner, so we strolled towards the imposing Burg square, where several magnificent buildings are vying for attention. It was well after closing time and the square was relatively empty of people, so that we had all that splendour practically to ourselves.

Tarpaulined canal tour boats were lined up along the Dijver canal and the first of the twinkling evening lights appeared in the shop windows.

But even this late in the day, people were still taking pictures on the tiny hump-backed Bonifacius bridge (bottom right), although the usual queue of selfie-stick wielding tourists had thankfully gone.

While having dinner on the heated outside terrace of our favourite restaurant, it started raining again, briefly but quite heavily.

Thankfully, it had stopped by the time we left to make our way back to the car park, with the golden evening sunlight providing a grand finale to our day.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

A basketful of bargains

I have to confess that I'm always feeling a tiny bit bereft whenever I finish a series of travelogues. Not only do I love writing these posts, they are the perfect way to relive those short-lived, carefree days and smell those roses one more time.

The best thing to do to combat post-travelogue blues is to book another another trip, methinks!

But for now, I'm reverting to my usual workaday schedule of outfit posts mixed with a dose of charity shopping, walks in the park and the occasional day trip.

And flea markets!

In spite of the fact that Indian Summer still firmly ruled two weeks ago on Sunday, we were more than happy to go to our first indoor flea market of the season. The last one had been in May and, as this Summer's outdoor markets had been rather disappointing, we were starting to get serious withdrawal symptoms.

Unusually for me, there was no forward planning involved in assembling my outfit, which was pulled from my wardrobe at the last moment on Sunday morning.

Funnily enough, this floral maxi skirt, which consists of a gauzy layer with a solid yellow underskirt, hadn't been worn at all during the Summer months, and it had been even longer since the green short-sleeved vintage jumper embroidered with pink and white flowers had seen the light of day.

I only wore my blue and orange charity shopped blazer to walk down to our garage, but henceforth it was left behind in the car.

As expected, the gorgeous weather meant that the venue wasn't booked to its full capacity, with quite a few empty spaces.

If initially it was rather disappointing to have our suspicions confirmed, it soon transpired that quality ruled over quantity as we ended up with quite a decent haul.

Here are all our buys displayed on our garden table and as you can see there is a little bit of everything. Intrigued? Then let's have a closer look!

First up are these two tins. I keep telling myself I should stop buying tins as we've long run out of space for them, but well, it seems that once again I stubbornly refused to listen to my inner voice.

I couldn't resist the gorgeously decorated tin (top and bottom left) which, judging from its colours and motifs, I suspect to date from the 1930s. The famous Belgian chocolate brand Côte d'Or is marked on its bottom, so no prices for guessing its original contents! The small yellow Maggi tin, which used to contain stock cubes, has already found a home among our kitchenalia. 

At one of our favourite stalls, belonging to our friend Tania, I spotted this tiny wooden souvenir windmill from Middelburg in Holland. As we'd spent a couple of days there last November, it obviously needed to join our growing collection. Yes, we actually have a small collection of these kitschy wooden souvenirs in our hallway, quite a few of them featuring tiny windmills. They must have been all the rage at one point, as I clearly remember one adorning the wall of my grandparents' sitting room! Lovely Tania let me have the windmill for free! 

Tania's stall is a treasure trove, and we usually end up buying one or two things. This time, my eye was caught by a colourful basket, which Tania said came from France. There's always room for another basket at Dove Cottage, especially as I'm using the majority of them for storage of some kind.

I found the yellow beads on another stall but I thought they contrasted strikingly with the basket.

This vintage lacquered bamboo basket was a steal at € 2. It opens on top, which makes it ideal for use as a small picnic basket. But then again, it'll make a nice handbag too! Either way, it will need an inner make-over as the lining is beyond redemption.

My heart skipped a beat when I spotted this vintage vinyl lunch box, delightfully decorated with two tiny children hitching a ride on a snail. The style and handle reminded me of vintage vinyl Barbie doll cases. Here in Europe, these cases were often made in France, as was this one. I'd say it dates from the early 1960s.

It was quite filthy but nothing I couldn't handle, so it came home with me.

Any additions to my burgeoning vintage fashion library are always welcome. This one on the 1940s look is an interesting read with plenty of illustrations.

Another collection of ours (I was born with the collecting gene, after all) is Tala ware, which started quite unintentionally when we picked up a Tala icing set in a tin box in an antiques shop in Rye, specializing in kitchenalia, many years ago.  

Tala is a well known British baking and kitchenware brand, and one of its oldest, founded in 1899 in Stourbridge in England's Black Country. 

This set of cookie cutters is complete and still in its box, which unfortunately isn't in the best of conditions. We would have paid more than € 3 if it had been, though, as I found a similar set in my Miller's kitchenware guide, which mentions an average price of  € 40-45 for one in mint condition.

Ah, brooches! 

I don't think I've ever left this flea market without any new treasures in that department. They were all found at different stalls at prices varying between € 2 and € 15.

Can you guess which was the most expensive? (*)

Here's a closer look at two of them. Aren't they exquisite? I particularly love the tiny birds perching on a tree branch in the one on the right, which is celluloid mounted on a metal background and decorated with filigree.

The brooch on the left is painted ceramic in a pearly frame.

The final week of September was a blur of rainy days and a busy work schedule, so I only managed outfit photos on two occasions. 

One of my outfits was based around the Springlike hues of this vintage dress, in a pale blue plaid pattern dotted with pink roses.

My accessories consisted of a pink beaded necklace, a tan leather and cream lace belt, and a vintage early plastic butterfly brooch. I wore a bright pink cardi on top, and look: I'm wearing boots for the first time this season!

This Diolen delight with its busy orange, yellow and green floral pattern on a deep aubergine background, made it the perfect choice for a dull Autumn day.

I stirred things up a bit by accessorizing it with sunshine yellow and fiery orange. I'm not sure the lady on my brooch approves, as she seems to favour blue!

One of the bright spots of my week were the final sales days at my favourite chain of vintage shops, Think Twice, where I snapped up these beauties for € 4 each.

Featuring my beloved flower prints, both the black, three-quarter sleeved one on the left and the high-necked and long-sleeved chocolate brown one on the right, are welcome additions to my Winter wardrobe.

And then there was this blue dress with flowers tumbling towards the hem. As the weather has definitely taken a turn for the worse, I'm not sure I'll be able to wear it before next Spring, but it's definitely one to look forward to.

(*) The most expensive of the brooches, for which I paid € 15, was the celluloid butterfly! Did you guess it right?

Linking my maxi skirt to Mica's Weekday Wear linkup!

Monday, 30 September 2019

Seagulls and chickens

Whenever we're staying at our little getaway cottage in Belgium's beautiful west country, a day trip to the seaside is on our menu. However, as the end of our week's holiday doomed on the horizon, we still hadn't made it to the seaside as the weather gods had been conspiring against us.

Friday arrived and as we were keen to avoid the inevitable weekend crowds, this was actually our last chance.

We were in luck, as there was no mention of rain, even if the weather forecast said it would be a bit windy. Perfect for blowing away the last of the cobwebs, we thought.

But first things first, as before we can start the day's journey, I have to show you what I was wearing.

This vintage polyester frock is another one that has been residing in my wardrobe for ages. When I posted it on Instagram, someone remarked that the print reminded them of balloons flying up into the evening sky, which I thought was rather lovely. Alas, they're not balloons but flowers. I've included a close-up, so that you can see that they have leaves sprouting from their stalks.

Once again, the dress came with its own belt, which I replaced with a recently charity shopped white woven leather one, which is a current favourite. I opted for a light blue beaded necklace and wore my King Louie cardi in the same colour on top. 

The destination we'd decided on was the coastal town of Nieuwpoort, but first we drove down to De Panne, which is the resort nearest to where we were staying. There is a free car park here, less than a hundred meters from the nearest tram stop, so it is actually a no-brainer, as you can catch the tram to anywhere along the Belgian coast from there.

There was a gale force wind blowing, so any remaining cobwebs were soon dealt with the minute we alighted at Nieuwpoort Bad, the seaside part of the town.

After a spot of lunch, we walked along the beach, or at least we tried to, as the wind was either propelling us along at full speed or doing its best to keep us rooted at the spot while overdoing its Mr. Sandman routine if we tried to walk against it.  

Looking back at the promenade, you can see the seemingly endless line of high rise apartment buildings which are an unfortunate feature of the Belgian coast. The hotel De Barkentijn, as seen on the top left in the second collage, is a a lone survivor from a bygone age, while the Art Deco style yellow-tiled building on the top right does its best to bring some cheerfulness to the overall drabness.

We walked into the direction of the jetty, which is actually one of a pair built in 1865. This is the western one, with a length of 490 meters. The miniature lighthouse at its head (and that of its twin) houses a signal lantern and foghorn.

Having climbed a slippery breakwater, we were suddenly faced with a thick carpet of razor shells at the other side.

Back on the wet sand, the footprints left by my pink floral sneakers were joining those of the omnipresent squawking and wailing gulls.

We walked briefly along the jetty, but strong gusts of wind were soon forcing us back inland.

On the rocks below, all manner of seabirds were feasting on the hapless mussels and other shellfish which were left stranded by the tide.

The eastern jetty is slightly longer, jutting 543 into the sea. The two mighty jetties are ceremoniously guiding the River IJzer into the North Sea.

The River IJzer is unique in that it is the only Belgian river flowing directly into the sea and, at the confluence of the salty seawater and the fresh water of the river, is a nature reserve which has its own very distinctive fauna and flora. 

Due to the tidal movement a unique area of saltings and mud flats was created, an ideal breeding ground for a rich variety of worms, snails, algae, shells and crustaceans. The continuous interaction between the salt and fresh water in the IJzer estuary also created a special biotope characterized by various salt loving plants.

The nature reserve itself, which is on the right bank of the river, can only be visited with a guide, but you can walk alongside it on a path with several lookout points, a walk we did a couple of years ago.

Now, we limited ourselves by walking along the 2 kilometer boardwalk promenade which follows the river from the North Sea to the marina near the inland part of the town, Nieuwpoort Stad.

Several works of art could be admired along the route. The most striking was this one, called Plastic Fish (bottom right).

Exhausted and with eyes and ears stinging from the wind, we arrived at Nieuwpoort Stad, where we admired a mosaic bas-relief plaque on the façade of the fish mine, and then took the tram back to De Panne and our car.

Arriving back at our cottage in Poperinge, we were delighted to see that hop picking had finally started in the hop fields across the road and we watched the vertiginous proceedings from the perch of our first floor window.

Getting up on Saturday, we were greeted by sunshine and blue skies. The blasted weather forecast, however, said it would most definitely rain later that morning and again in the afternoon.

As we'd planned a walk in the area, we were none too pleased and dithered over what to do instead.

In the end, we decided to go ahead regardless, taking our raincoats and umbrellas and stopping at the local supermarket for sandwiches for our planned picnic. 

We also nipped into the town's small charity shop, where our efforts were rewarded by a funky glass dish, two Art Deco vases which were in a bargain bin and priced at € 1,50 for the pair, and some jewellery. I spotted the squirrel brooch as we were about to pay at the till.

Armed with sandwiches and drinks, we made our way to a nearby nature reserve called the Galgebossen, which translates as Gallows woods. Apparently gallows stood at the edge of them until the early 18th century.

Upon arrival, we were happy to see a picnic table in a small enclosure next to the car park, so that we could comfortably eat outside instead of having a car picnic. Not quite that comfortable, it turned out, as we were immediately accosted by a gang of chickens. Not only did we have to clean their mess off the table and benches, we had to share our sandwiches with them. Believe me, there was no saying no to this formidable chap (bottom right) which seemed to be the leader of the gang.

With all out dithering, we'd forgotten to take outfit photos, so we took them during our walk instead.

My second pair of trousers came out of my suitcase. This floral delight was a sales bargain from New Look last Winter, while both the sailor style short-sleeved jumper and the shirt (to which I'd pinned my new squirrel brooch) were charity shopped. Both are from the now defunct Belgian label Wow To Go. 

As I was about to retrieve my raincoat from the boot of the car, I was surprised to find it missing. It turned out I'd left it behind at the cottage, another victim of that morning's dithering.

Our walk took us through a mixture of woodland and fields, at one point crossing a road where a lonely house stood complete with a tiny chapel fixed to its façade.

It might have been only the first week of September, but it definitely felt like Autumn, especially when we were walking along that leaf-strewn woodland path. 

Patches of cloud and sunny spells alternated throughout our walk, but much to our relief we made it back to our car without facing even one drop of rain.

On our way back to the cottage, we stopped in Poperinge for an afternoon treat of cappuccinos and waffles. At that point, the sun was out in full force.

The forecasted rain finally came when we were back at the cottage, which seemed like a fitting end to our week's holiday.