Sunday, 23 September 2018

The burrs and the bees

I've been making the most of the last of the Summer days by wearing some of the things which were still rattling around unworn in my wardrobe.

With the Summer we've been having, my beloved polyester dresses must have thought their days were numbered, the heatwave dictating that I wore most of my cotton frocks, which in Summers past hardly left the suitcase they are stored in.

If I'd heeded the advice of those who are supposedly in the know, to let go of anything that hasn't been worn for over a year, these would have been ditched long ago.

Instead, any unworn Diolen, Trevira et al. dresses, apart from one or two which will be culled at my next wardrobe changeover, will live to shine another day.

I was quite surprised I hadn't even worn this red dress once,  with its cheerful print of green dots and white flowers, as it usually makes at least one Summer appearance (see here and here).

So, on Friday before last, I wore it to work, with a white belt for contrast. I pinned a big, white-rimmed plastic brooch to the green cardigan I'd added, while further accessories were a string of green beads and a yellow and pink swirled plastic ring.

As it has been getting quite chilly in the mornings, I also wore a jacket on top . This vintage black and white hounds-tooth jacket, with its shiny black buttons rimmed with gold, is a firm favourite. It's got belt loops but was lacking a belt when it first became mine, which was soon remedied by adding a slim shiny black belt with a gold buckle I already owned.

My dark red chiffon scarf added another pop of colour.

I'd taken the afternoon off and after Jos met me from the tram, we made a detour to the nearest charity shop before heading home.

I can never resist a wicker sewing basket! This one hadn't even made it to the shelves yet: I found it lurking beneath a large serving dish at the bottom of a crate of items ready to be shelved. Priced at € 1, it was obvious it had to be mine!

The jewellery display didn't disappoint either, with a necklace of rose pearls and translucent plastic beads, a bracelet and two bangles, and a delightful apple pendant.

Two new-to-me retro-print blouses also came home with me and while they are waiting their turn to be worn by me, Angelica was more than happy to model them for you!

The sun was shining on Saturday morning, but by the time we made it to the park clouds had gathered once again. We ate the sandwiches we'd brought for our picnic while sat on a bench, trying to avoid the omnipresent wasps which were intent on sharing our lunch.

The brightly coloured plaid print dress I was wearing is well travelled. It came with us to Wales last year and I'd packed it again for our week away earlier this month, although it didn't leave my suitcase on both occasions. 

Time to give it an outing before being packed away for Winter.  Besides, I thought its autumnal hues were perfect for this time of year!

My vintage jacket, made from cobalt blue crepe, was a lucky find in a charity shop in Newcastle Emlyn, Wales, a couple of years ago. 

The eagle-eyed among you may notice that I was wearing the bracelet and one of the bangles I found on Friday. The blue bangle and blue and white necklace were charity shopped as well, as was the handbag, but I can't remember where the brooch, a tiny plastic hat decorated with flowers, came from.

The half-elasticated belt was bought retail many years ago. I have it in orange as well.

And look, the dress has got pockets!

You can see a close-up of the brooch I'd pinned to its lapel, which I found at a flea market in Carmarthen, Wales, back in 2015, in one of the collages below.

The sun kept playing hide and seek while we went for a short stroll around the park.

I don't know what it is about September, and why it makes me feel quite so wistful. Might it be  because it's the month that I was born in, and when I first drew breath, I breathed in the bittersweet scent of September?

There is a hint of earthiness in the air, a heady mixture of delight and melancholy that I wish that I could bottle.

"The breezes taste
of apple peel.
The air is full
of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
burning brush,
new books, erasers,
chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
well-honeyed hum,
and Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
with suds, the days
are polished with
a morning haze."
~John Updike, September

Summer foliage has had its time and is fading to hues of a mouldy, greyish brown, while solitary bees were feasting on the last of the late Summer flowers basking in the mellow sunlight.

One cannot deny that there is a subtle change in the light in these days which have Autumn breathing down their necks. The sun, when she graces us with her presence, is veiled by an almost imperceptible haze.

I was being attacked by burrs, so it was time to leave and cross the street to the charity shop which is almost opposite the park.

Here I found another stack of bangles as well as two vintage summer frocks, which will be put away for next year, by which time they'll be a surprise as I'll probably have forgotten all about them.

Then we had to dash home as we were going out that night, to the theatre, no less.

We were off to see a musical in which Jos's multi-talented 18 going on 19 year old granddaughter was performing, as she does each September. This year it was Grease! We admit not really being fans of the genre, but obviously we gladly make an exception for her. 

In my book, theatre-going equals dressing up, and I chose a long-sleeved ankle-length dress with an eye-catching blowsy flower print, which I'd bought at the tail end of the C&A sales earlier this year. 

In the end, I decided not to wear the shawl, crocheted for my birthday by my friend Ingrid two years ago, as it was quite a balmy night.

We made outfit photos before we went out, but as the colours were slightly drained by the evening sunlight, we re-did it on Sunday morning to offer you a better view of the details.

Look at how different the light is, changing the colours significantly!

My necklace, brooch and ring echo the colours of the dress's print, while the pink floral jacket, a present from Vix, provided contrast to the predominant dark tones of the dress.

This is the outfit I'll be linking to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style.

It's almost unimaginable that I was posing in our sunlit garden only a week ago, as it's been raining heavily while I'm typing these words, and the temperature has dropped considerably.

I'll be continuing my travelogue in my next post. Hope you will join me again on my travels?

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

The sky, while still quite overcast, was looking just a tiny bit brighter on Wednesday morning. No longer trusting the weathermen, who seemed to be constantly contradicting each other, and with the weather app on Jos's phone claiming there would be an 50% chance of rain, I decided to wear one of the two pairs of trousers I'd packed.

This navy pair was bought in the H&M sales and their subtle, almost tone-on-tone print, makes them practically a neutral, so that choosing a top was easy.

The tropical print short-sleeved jumper was another new-to-me King Louie find and, bought at a time when it was still much too hot for a jumper, even a lightweight short-sleeved one, this was its very first wear. I added a slightly longer string of pale blue plastic beads.

Before we left I swapped the orange ballerinas for a sturdy pair of walking shoes and took both a cardigan and a raincoat with me. I'm happy to divulge that I wouldn't need the raincoat!

But first, we made time for a leisurely breakfast, which is something we treasure as we're usually unable to do this on a weekday morning.

Soft boiled eggs with soldiers and cups of strong coffee were on the menu!

The less than perfect weather also determined our plans for the day, deciding against a ramble in the hilly countryside south of Poperinge. 

Instead, we found ourselves driving down to the quiet little town of Diksmuide, less than half an hour away in north-easterly direction.

Last time we were here, there was free and unlimited parking near the station but, although parking was still free, there was a time limit of two hours. While making inquiries, Jos bumped into a very nice chap, who escorted us to a free car park at the other end of town, where we grabbed the last parking spot.

From there, it was only a short walk to the town's main square, the Grote Markt. 

What a peculiar place, we mused, as we passed some trees, their trunks decorated with macrame spiderwebs. At our feet, we noticed some strange copper studs in the pavements. And that was before we came across the man in the moon!

Diksmuide is another market town which was reduced to rubble during the First World War and painstakingly restored.

The resurrected Grote Markt has an array of attractive buildings and it's hard to fathom that almost everything in sight was rebuilt in the 20th century. 

In a prominent position is the recently renovated town hall. The original hall was built in 1428 but after its destruction it was rebuilt in 1923 in Flemish Renaissance style with the addition of a belfry tower.

Typically, there was no sign of the forecasted rain. Better still, while we were exploring the buildings surrounding the Grote Markt, the grey clouds made way for a timid blue sky and a hesitant sun was bathing the buttery brick façades in a golden glow.

Behind the town hall lies the Sint-Niklaaskerk (St. Nicholas Church). This too was completely reduced to rubble in the war and what you see is a reconstruction of the Gothic building with an elegant 18th Century spire. If you look at the black and white photograph taken in 1918, I'm sure you agree this was quite a feat!

Inside the church some fragments of the original building can be found, including a glass case containing a battered weather vane.

The oak churchwardens' bench on the top left is a replica of the original from 1542.

Back in the square, we admired the statue of General Baron Jacques de Dixmude, which has been guarding the town since 1930.

In 1914, he was commander of the Belgian troops in Diksmuide, and he is considered a military hero of the First World War.

After lunch in one of the restaurants lining the square - a mediocre affair - we explored the rest of the town by walking the 3.2 km-long town trail, indicated by the copper pavement studs I mentioned before, with information panels at various locations.

In addition to this, we also had a leaflet outlining the walk, but unfortunately this often contradicted the pavement studs, which wasn't very helpful for people who are notorious at getting lost!

Our walk passed through the town park, which is laid out on the old ramparts, where a mixed couple of swans was reigning the roost on the moat. 

Soon after emerging from the park we came across the Post Office. This was the residence of the Spanish governor during the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648). After 1918, it was rebuilt in line with the original, with the addition of stepped gables and tabernacle windows.

Here, we had to descend a flight of steps leading down to the town canal towpath.

It would have been tempting to keep following the canal, but then we would have missed two highlights, the first being the Fish Market, where fisherman’s wife Jette is a bronze reminder of the town's former fish trade.

Crossing the bridge over the canal, the copper studs pointed us into the direction of a narrow street opposite the fish market, which led to the town's small beguinage.

From the 13th Century onwards, the resident beguines made a living washing, bleaching and processing wool, cloth and linen, breeding animals and even brewing beer. After the First World War, the beguinage was rebuilt. However, the beguines did not return and the beguinage was given a social function.

We retraced our steps to the waterside, leaving the town behind, and venturing into open countryside. With fields offering a view to Diksmuide on our right, we walked alongside a small stream which shortly joined the town's main river, the IJzer (or Yser). This is the famous river which played such a crucial part in the course of the First World War.

Beyond the compact marina, we could see the striking IJzertoren (Yser Tower) which is the town's main attraction. As well as a monument to peace, it is a 22 story war museum, which we have yet to visit.

Instead, we opted for indulgence in the form of warm apple pie with ice-cream and whipped cream, which we ordered on the terrace of a tearoom facing the tower.

Unfortunately, a whole army of pesky wasps made a beeline (I guess wasp-line would be more appropriate here) to our table, intent on gorging on our sugary offerings and spoiling our appetites.

Then, after a quick visit to one of the most depressing charity shops ever, it was time for our last port of call for the day.

The Dodengang (or Trench of Death),  just 1,5 kilometers along the river from Diksmuide, is the last remnant of the Belgian First World War trench system. 

There is an visitor centre outlining the history of the infamous trench through interactive applications, pictures, film footage and over one hundred original objects. 

But it's the network of trenches itself that really gets under one’s skin. Now the place is clean, orderly, and reinforced with concrete, making it almost impossible to imagine the unbearably harsh conditions soldiers fought and lived under in this godforsaken hellhole.

This one kilometre long network of revetments, saps (the extension of a trench to a point below the enemy fortifications) and dug-outs was one of the most dangerous Belgian positions on the Western Front, situated just 50 metres from a German bunker. As a result, the trench was subjected to almost constant fire from the Germans. 

Finally, in 1917, a big concrete shelter with lookout holes called the "Mouse Trap" (bottom photo in the above collage) was built to stop the Germans from infiltrating the Belgian trenches at the ends of the saps.

As if on cue, the sun had disappeared, leaving a moody sky, its slate grey matching the somberness of a war scarred landscape, the only colour provided by a single red poppy raising its head.

* Post title taken from In Flanders Fields by John McCrae

On a lighter note, I am linking my outfit to Nancy's Fancy Friday this week. Do go and have a look at the other entries!

Friday, 14 September 2018

Seaside nostalgia

I have a bone to pick with the weathermen!

In the week before our holiday, they all raved about the gorgeous late Summer weather we would be having, and I'd already mentally packed a suitcase full of Summer frocks. By the end of the week, however, things had quite literally cooled down considerably. They even managed to squeeze in a rainy day in the middle of our holiday!

Now, what to pack? Even if we were only going for a week, I needed to consider all options, including the fact that they might easily have got it wrong again. Panicking, I chucked in all kinds of everything, including lots of cardigans and a variety of things to layer underneath. For good measure, I packed not one but two raincoats!

The sky we woke up to on our first morning held a definite promise of rain, and indeed, even before we finished breakfast we could see the first raindrops making tiny concentric circles in the pond.

In spite of the inconclusive forecast, it looked set to be an utterly miserable, grey day, the kind that drains everything of colour.

Not to be deterred, we decided to go to the seaside as planned, so I provided some colour of my own by wearing a sky blue patterned dress and orange cardigan. As a nod to our destination, I added a sailing boat brooch.

It rained on an off while we were on our way to the small seaside resort of Westende. Parking our car in a free car park in De Panne, the seaside town nearest to us, we continued our journey on the coast tram, which travels all along the Belgian coastline, getting off at Westende-Bad about 40 minutes later.

Hemmed in by an encroaching army of ugly high rise apartment buildings - the curse of the Belgian seaside - this delightful villa on a busy road in Westende is a throwback to a bygone era.

Built in 1922 by architect Oscar Van de Voorde for a doctor's family from Ghent, Villa les Zéphyrs gives us a taste of how a well-to-do family would have spent their summer holidays on the Belgian coast in the 1930s.

Entering the house from the adjacent modern extension housing the town's tourist office, the first room you see is the amazing bathroom, with its sunken marble bath, terrazzo floor and tiles featuring the popular thistle motif of the era.

I think I may have gasped upon entering the dining room with adjacent fumoir (smoking room) which could be closed off with a pair of plush rose red curtains.

Turquoise tiles and brass adorn the splendid fireplace, complementing the original wood panelling and sideboards.

All of these are much older than the house, as they were designed by renowned Art Nouveau architect and designer Henri Van de Velde in 1889. They were only attributed to him in 2006 after the director of the design museum in Ghent found the designs in the catalogue of the furniture workshop ran by Van de Velde in the late 19th century.

This to-die-for Art Nouveau cabinet caught my eye in one of the other downstairs rooms, as did the two fabulous light fittings.

More treasures were to be found in the basement kitchen, the domain of the family's personnel.

The framed January page of a 1934 calendar was advertising some of the soaps we have on display in Dove Cottage's kitchen!

Upstairs there was an array of seaside holiday related items, including some fine costumes and a poster advertising a sandcastle competition complete with its rules.

Another eye-catching feature are the highly decorative stained glass windows with their floral motifs.

After leaving the villa, it was time for lunch, so we walked into the direction of the promenade.

Soon, the light but consistent drizzle had blurred my glasses but although we were carrying umbrellas, we were reluctant to open them, thinking we'd soon be inside.  So, we plodded on, walking the length of the rather forlorn and deserted promenade in search of place to eat, in the end settling for the only decent looking restaurant, which by then we'd walked past twice already.

The windswept beach was empty apart from some seagulls huddling together after a meal of mussels left behind by the retreating waves.

Making use of the restaurant's facilities, I almost did a double take when I noticed this strange, wild haired creature staring back at me in the mirror. The wind and drizzle had conspired with the salty sea air in providing me with a unwanted new hairdo. No amount of patting would get it to lay down, and as I didn't have a brush or comb in my bag, this is how my hair would look like for the rest of the day.

I'm sure it wasn't just my colourful attire which made people stare at me!

The rain had thankfully, if only temporarily, stopped by the time we left the restaurant, so we briefly walked along the beach, taking in lungfuls of bracing sea air. We still had the place almost to ourselves, with only the gulls and a handful of other people foolhardy enough to venture outside for company.

Apart from the two of us, some welcome colour was provided by a lonely yellow striped beach hut rather uselessly advertising deckchairs and windshields for hire and a shop displaying a garish array of buckets and spades, which nobody in their right mind would be buying on a day like this.

After our exhilarating walk, we retraced our steps to the tram stop for our return journey, but before returning to our car, we made another stop along the way.

Near the seaside resort of Koksijde are the ruins of a Cistercian monastery. The so-called Abbey of the Dunes dates back to the 12th century and was abandoned in around 1600.

From 1949 onwards, excavations and painstaking restoration campaigns have unearthed the abbey's foundations.

A separate, modern museum, with scale models, dummies and multimedia presentations is doing its best to bring the past back to life. This wasn't so much our cup of tea, especially the many waxwork tableaux of monks, some of them looking creepily lifelike. 

Dotted around the domain, there were several of these forbidding looking giant red monks. Apparently they are by an artist called William Sweetlove and made of plastic.

Children of all ages could be entertained with the various games laid out along the approach to the ruins.

We decided to try our hand at a game of skittles. It took Jos only one attempt to knock them all over. Look at that action photo! Needless to say, clumsy me was totally crap at the game!

And with that, I am leaving you for now, hoping that you will join me again on for the next installment of our holiday.

I'm linking my seaside outfit with Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style. Do go and check out the other visible ladies!

Monday, 10 September 2018

These things take time

On Monday last week, we set out on our yearly sojourn to the Westhoek, the most westerly part of Belgium.

For seven years now, we have spent the first week of September in this area, which is sandwiched between the North Sea coast and the French borders.

This is the landscape where the battles of the Great War were once fought, its panoramic views and its gently rolling hills, silent witnesses.

Our journey coincided with the first day of school, so we set out after rush hour but, as it is only a two-hour drive, we still managed to arrive at our destination shortly after midday.

Our cottage, a studio apartment in a thatched wooden building, was as delightful as ever, and so was the unprecedented view from its little balcony. Still, all was not as it as it should have been.

When we waved goodbye to owner Johanna last year, little did we know that it would be for the last time. When we tried to contact her back in May to make arrangements, we were saddened to learn from her daughter that Johanna had passed away. She was only in her early 50s.

Even if we didn't know her all that well, as we only saw each other once a year, there was a certain connection: we kept in touch by email, and I know she sometimes read my blog.

The news had somewhat knocked us for six and, although we'd gotten used to the idea by now, her absence still cast a bit of a shadow on our holiday, especially when we were in the cottage and contemplating the landscape around it, where Johanna's presence seemed to be poignantly tangible.

The empty poles in the hop fields opposite the cottage were a case in point, as they managed to look even more barren than usual.

There were reminders even in the streets of nearby Poperinge, where a strange heaviness seemed to be lingering. 

For once, the square in front of the yellow bricked town hall was empty, and one of the gargoyles hiding in a corner of the stonework seemed to be playing a sad song for further emphasis. 

We always gravitate towards Poperinge on our first day, sampling the atmosphere of this deceptively quiet little town, and taking in the familiar sights like the Hop Museum (top left) and Talbot House (bottom left), which we visited back in 2016 and 2017.

Our visits usually end with a walk in Poperinge's enchanting Burggraaf Frimoutpark.

The park, covering 3 hectares, is the town's green lung, affording views of its skyline. Unfortunately, this view has been marred by one or two cranes for the past couple of years. Thankfully these can be photographically erased with some careful framing.

A new artwork has popped up, and no, it hasn't toppled over, this is the way it is meant to be.

The hollow, bronze sculpture, which is six metres long, is called "Shot at Dawn" and its creator, Anno Dijkstra, who was inspired by Poperinge's War Memorial in the Market Square, is issuing an invitation for reflection.

In his words: In my imagination I carefully tilt the monument. It is now lying on its back. The bottom of the pedestal has become a gigantic black hole. I can just about see the starting point of the soldier, the soles of his shoes, his legs. And then it gets really dark. Do I see his chest, his neck? Can I look inside his head? The darkness is impenetrable. The pedestal lying down looks like a funnel. Through the funnel the present slinks in: it brings some clarity to that darkness. Or is the funnel a horn through which the past tries to shout out something at us? An oracle? Do we hear the enthusiasm of the first weeks of the war, the homesickness, the pride, the doubt, the blood lust, the rattle of death, the cries of victory? Or do we mainly hear a rustle? The rustle of our own blood?

The park is named after Dirk Frimout who was born in Poperinge and who, in 1992, was the first Belgian in space. He is now an honorary citizen.

We walked the length of the park, with its many water features. This one is looking a bit like a miniature flying saucer, which has just landed in one of the ponds.

We are on the cusp of Autumn, a delightful juxtaposition of seasons. The beginning of the end of a never-ending process. A reminder, both of nature's fragility and strength, and the passing of time. 

These things, like all things, take time.

A black cat was about to cross our path. At first all we could see was its two pointy ears. Its interest piqued, it emerged from the grassy verge. But, keeping in mind that curiosity killed the cat and all that, it then  seemed to think it was better to be safe than to be sorry, with one backward glance slinking off the way it had come.

While admiring the imaginative planting near the main pond, we were accosted by a gaggle of ducks.

Jos magicked some biscuits from his inside pocket, which he proceeded to distribute among the gang, making him look like a kind of pied piper. Aren't they the most funny creatures? At one point, the most forward of the white ones were trying to eat Jos's shoe-laces. My favourite was the one with the punky hairdo on the bottom right.

We returned along a boardwalk leading us over the ponds and through a marshy area.

The statuesque figure of a blue heron was patiently waiting for its evening meal at the other side of the pond.

Here I am posing for one more photograph before returning to the town in search of our own evening meal.

We sat down outside on the terrace of Hotel de la Paix in the Market Square, sampling glasses of Palm Green, a deliciously punchy non-alcoholic beer, while waiting for our meal to arrive.

Then it was back to our cottage, where we watched the sun go down from our little balcony and retired to our comfortable bed for a good night's sleep.

Watch out for the continuation of my travelogue in my next post!

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