Thursday, 18 October 2018

Walking up that hill

We're more than halfway through October, and I've just realized I still owe you the last episode of my travelogue of our week's holiday back in September.

So, let's get started with what I was wearing as usual. You might have noticed that I did make a point of posing for outfit photos on our little balcony each morning!

This was the second day that the sun was already there to greet us when we got up. However, the temperature had dropped quite considerably and even if the wind had died down by now, it was rather chilly out there.

I'd already worn my trousers a couple of days earlier, but here they are again. Styled differently, obviously. I'm including a close-up of their print, as I was asked by Tina whether I was wearing denim when I first wore them. They're from this Summer's H&M sales and the same style as the floral pairs I picked up at the same time.

My long-sleeved top with its profusion of Summer flowers on a cobalt blue background, was a charity shop find and, as it is rather loose-fitting, I added a hessian belt - also charity shopped - to define my waist.

A chunky pink ring, beaded necklace and flower corsage completed my outfit. Oh, and I added a green cardie on top.

The weather forecast promised another dry, if cloudy, day, and we had plans! I'd printed a seven kilometer walk off the Internet, in the hilly country to the south of Poperinge, called Heuvelland (transl. Land of the Hills), which would skirt and climb the hill Kemmelberg. While the word berg is Flemish for mountain, these are all just hills really. In a low country like Flanders, anything bigger than a molehill is already considered a mountain!

Imagine our disappointment when, arriving at our destination, we found the village square and surrounding streets fenced off due to a cycling event. Even in the unlikely event that we would have found a parking spot, there was no way we were going to risk getting run off the road by a bunch of doped up cyclists!

Now, what to do? 

Consulting our walking map, we decided to drive in a westerly direction and go for a walk on another hill, the Catsberg. If this conjures up a hill full of cats, then I have to disappoint you, as the name is derived from a Germanic tribe, the Chatti.

And so it is that we found ourselves in France by accident!

The Catsberg or Mont des Cats is situated near the village of Godewaersvelde, its Flemish name indicating that historically this was part of Flanders, but now lying just over the border with France.

In order to get our bearings, we stopped and strolled around the village, which is classed as a Village Patrimoine, a traditional village of historical interest. Godewaersvelde is a typical border village, and its economy used to thrive on its proximity with Belgium, when there was still a border as such. 

We explored its picturesque streets with taverns on virtually every corner, and visited its church built in the neo-Gothic style in 1906.

Intriguingly, the book sharing box (below, bottom right) contained a copy of the London A-Z!

We came across a road signed to the Catsberg, but before rejoining our car, we had a fortifying cup of coffee in one of the village's taverns, Het Blauwershof. Once again, this is a Flemish name, suggesting that this used to be the haunt of smugglers, who are called blauwers in the local slang.

Following the signs, we then proceeded up a winding road ascending the 150 meter high Catsberg until we reached its highest point where a splendid panorama of unspoilt countryside awaited us.

Here we parked our car and ate our picnic sitting on a bench and admiring the view.

On top of the Catsberg is the abbey of Sainte-Marie du Mont, dating from 1825, where cheese and beer is still produced by Trappist monks.

The abbey's buildings are partly hidden from view by high walls, and can only be fully admired from a distance.

After lunch, we decided to do the shorter of the indicated walks, the Balade des Katts, for which pink signs had to be followed. Should be a doddle, no?

The walk started by a descent into the wood, which are called the Heremietenbos (Hermit's Wood), and where soon a little chapel could be glimpsed between the trees.

A mossy sign told us that this was the Chapel of the Passion, dating from 1857. This is a so-called "fever chapel" where people came to pray for the healing of the sick, leaving behind pieces of cloth and tissues belonging to those who were unable to make the journey.

Disappointingly, the chapel doors were firmly locked - possibly to avoid the spreading of disease on account of all those tissues! - but there was a grimy porthole through which we could see its interior and make a hazy photograph.

Having long lost the pink signs by then, and with paths leading in every direction, it was inevitable that we took a wrong turning, ending up in a field with a 200 meter television transmitter.

On a clear day, the transmitter is visible from our cottage's balcony, and even more so after dark, when it is lit up with a row of blinking red lights.

Finally, we found a pink sign among the profusion of way markers, and we were back on track on a path through the woods.

Shortly after emerging from the trees, we joined a tarmacked lane from where we could see the abbey lying in the distance across the valley.

Having finished our circuit and made it back to our starting point, the day wasn't over just yet. 

On our return journey to Poperinge, we stopped at another French border village with a Flemish sounding name: Boeschepe. 

This sleepy village's claim to fame is its magnificent post mill, the Ondankmeulen (yet again an old Flemish name), which dates back to 1802.

We have, in fact, been here before, back in 2013. At the time of our visit, on a blisteringly hot day, we met two village officials, the older one still speaking the peculiarly old-fashioned sounding version of Flemish (or Vlemsch, as opposed to Vlaams, which is what we speak) which used to be the prevailing language here.  We talked with them about the mill's deterioration and their plans for funding its restoration, so we were happy to see a sign mentioning that the mill was restored in 2016.

Next to the mill is another tavern with a Flemish name (De Vierpot), and from the grassy field surrounding the mill, the transmitter on top of the Catsberg could clearly be seen. 

We were feeling a bit wistful, as one does on the last day of one's holiday. This rang especially true this time, as at that point we weren't sure whether we would ever be able to return. 

Now that we know that we probably will, looking at all the photographs we made while sitting on our balcony isn't all too poignant.

On our last morning, before packing up and driving home, there was time for one more photo session.

I was wearing the skirt I'd arrived in but added a different top this time. My short-sleeved nautical style jumper, originally from Belgian label Who's That Girl, was a lucky charity shop find. I have it in navy too.

So, it is goodbye but not farewell to our lovely little thatched cottage. Hope to see you again next September!

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Pinks and greens

As September segues into October, and Autumn is slowly creeping up on is, the balmy weather we've been blessed with is starting to feel slightly unreal.

The garden is still wearing its overgrown lushness with relish and, even if the process of decay is unavoidable, its verdancy soon making way for mouldy browns and greys, for now it is dressed in hues of pink and green.

And so am I!

I've centered my outfit around this new-to-me green and pink pussy bow blouse which, after a bit of head scratching, I teamed with a green floral print vintage skirt. At my waist, a sage green woven belt

Both green and pink are represented in the rest of my accessories: a green beaded necklace and a chunky plastic ring in bright pink. Even the Bambi in my vintage brooch is frolicking on a pale green background!

The exuberant bush behind me is our beloved Fuchsia magellanica, which really comes into its own this time of year, providing a late-summer pit stop for visiting bees.

Another bee magnet is Sedum spectabile, the colour of which perfectly matches my pink Tweed jacket. I only needed it for my commute in the morning and had to carry it home in my bag as it was far too warm for a coat by then.

Here, I just threw it on for the purpose of this post, with the late afternoon sun illuminating the pinks with a magical glow.

The last Saturday of September was another one of those picture perfect Autumn days, with a sunlit afternoon inviting us for a walk in the park. 

The low, slanting light was almost too bright, adding to the unsettling poignancy of the season, knowing that the blue skies will all too quickly fade into a long season of grey.

The short-sleeved plaid dress, with its shades of green and olive, neck tie and box pleats, was a charity shop find from years back. Sadly, it was too large, but I took the plunge anyway, and had it taken in by a local seamstress. 

I used shades of rose red and pink for my accessories: a vinyl belt with a slanted buckle, beaded necklace, ring and orchid brooch.

I secured the neck tie with a vintage diamanté tie clip.

My cropped red cardie was only worn briefly, just long enough to show you my brooch with the cloche hat wearing lady.

Autumn still has to begin in earnest in the park as well. While the leaves have long ago lost their freshness, the trees are still holding on to them, only a handful wearing their bright autumnal coats.

There's still a scattering of dog rose and mallow flowers, their pinks a startling contrast with their withered and long-dead neighbours.

I was wearing plaid on plaid, adding my royal blue, chartreuse and white plaid Lilli Ann coat, a lucky € 4 find at Think Twice back in February.

It's not in the best of conditions, but good enough for a walk in the park.

Beyond the trees are pools of hazy Autumn sunlight and walking in their dappled shade, we delighted in the seasons's sights, smells and sounds, appreciating the rhythm of nature.

Oh, who could find a dearth of bliss
With autumn glory such as this!
~ Gladys Harp

Indeed, it's days like these that get my spirits soaring, realizing it's useless to mourn the passing of Summer. Surely, Autumn is nothing if not atmospheric!

To end this almost perfect day, we had a quick dash around the charity shop up the road, where I found a handful of necklaces and a scarf. While we were jokingly telling each other we now needed something to carry them around the shop in, I happened upon this tiny wicker basket, which was ours for € 0,25.

Green, ruffles and a row of self covered buttons at the cuffs. What's not to like? As luck would have it, this blouse was exactly my size too! There was no room left in the basket, but it still came home with me.

All I need now is some decent Autumn weather to wear it!

Meanwhile, I am taking my pink and green outfit to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style as soon as the link is up!

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Going to the docks

It was Jos's birthday in the last week of September, and just like I did last year, I'd taken the day off so that we could spend it together.

The day was almost a carbon copy of last year's too, the sun shining just as brightly in a deep blue sky.

Admittedly, this was kind of a busman's holiday for me, as here we were waiting for the tram, which would take us into Antwerp.

I was still making the most of my Summer wardrobe by wearing this short-sleeved black frock with a Peter Pan collar, a row of sky blue buttons and loops and a striking floral and geometric print.

For some reason, this dress only seems to come out of my wardrobe this time of year, just before the big wardrobe changeover, as the last time I wore it was in September 2017

Accessorizing is easy when there are so many colours to choose from. For my birds-in-flight brooch and necklace, I took the lead from the blue of the buttons, choosing more vibrant shades for my bracelets in turquoise and red with - again - a Millefiori design. I was tickled pink when I found out that all the way over in Australia, Sasha has exactly the same bracelet!

I had a hairdresser's appointment - which sounds uncannily like last year as well - and while ambling towards the salon, I took in some of the details which normally all but escape me. Would you believe these snaps were all taken in the street where my office is?

Just a couple of doors away from my hairdresser's is an Oxfam shop, which we went into as we were early. We were actually in search of a Winter coat for Jos, but no joy in the men's department: just a small rack of shapeless, tired-looking coats one wouldn't be seen dead in.

But then there was a mannequin wearing this delightful cape. Its label said Chartage by Luc Bex, whom I'd never heard of , but who, according to the almighty Internet, is a Belgian jewellery designer. Couldn't find anything about the cape itself, or even if he actually designed clothes as well. One thing is certain: there was no way I was going to leave this much fabulousness behind!

After Michel, my hairdresser, had worked his magic, it was time for lunch. 

We'd booked a table at the same little restaurant we went to last year. Not only is it very cosy, with all its assorted junk a little reminiscent of Dove Cottage, the food is delicious, and it's quite unpretentious, which is just how we like it. 

Afterwards, we went for a browse in a second hand shop we'd passed earlier. Much to our delight, there was an extensive selection of menswear, including a wide choice of coats. After trying on a gorgeous leather jacket, which sadly was too big, we finally found this sheepskin coat, which fit the bill (and Jos!) perfectly.

Walking towards the River Scheldt, we passed this ornamental, neo-classicist gate, which was constructed between 1859 and 1862, and belongs to St. Paul's Church (Sint Pauluskerk).

The church itself was completed in 1639. Originally, St. Paul’s Church was part of a large Dominican monastery. It was consecrated in 1571 as a replacement for an earlier church. A new Baroque steeple was built after a ravaging fire destroyed the church in 1679.

While the main entrance of the church is around the block, this gate, which for once stood invitingly open, leads to a secluded garden complete with Lourdes grotto, in the shadow of the monastery ruins.

Nearing the river bank, I was struck by the plentiful architectural references to Antwerp's maritime tradition.

Thanks to its location at the upper end of the tidal estuary of the River Scheldt, Antwerp has become what it is today: a metropolis with an international seaport, and the city's fortune has always been closely tied in with that of its port.

We strolled along the river's quays up to 't Eilandje (Little Island) with the impressive MAS Museum, which opened in 2011, as its focal point. 

It's where we ended up last year as well, but now, instead of walking up to the viewing platform on top of the museum, we just walked around the docks surrounding it.

This formerly abandoned dockside district has been turned into an attractive neighbourhood. Its rundown historic warehouses have been refurbished and its grubby cafés frequented by drunken sailors have made room for hip coffee bars.

I love how the museum's undulating glass panes resemble waves, another tribute to Antwerp's relationship with its river.

Just a short walk along the quays from the museum is the world’s largest museum collection of harbour cranes and, right in front of MAS is its real showpiece: the oldest crane in the collection.

This is a ten ton manually operated crane from German manufacturer Stuckenholz, which was purchased by the city of Antwerp in 1884 for handling heavy loads and mounting shore cranes.

The four larger than life sculptures which seem to be climbing on top one of the renovated warehouses (top right) are part of an interactive art installation called the Antwerp Whisperer (de Antwerpse Fluisteraar). The sculpture on top of the roof  whispers general and personal messages that are received by a fifth sculpture, which is positioned below near the dock, but not pictured.

Apparently, you can record your own message for € 1,99 by using a free App. An idea for Jos's next birthday, perhaps?

All too soon, the afternoon was drawing to a close, but before taking the tram home, we stopped for coffee in the museum's café.

And finally, better late than never, I am linking my black frock to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style!

Friday, 5 October 2018

Sand dunes and salty air

It was on the Friday of our holiday week back in September (can't believe it's already one month ago!) that we were finally greeted by the sun.

Drawing back the curtains, we were met by a sun-drenched landscape as far as the eye could see, even if the hills we were supposed to see in the distance were still obscured by a haze.

Neither a dress nor a pair of trousers were my outfit of choice that day: I'd brought a jumpsuit I'd bought from New Look, and I thought it was about time we went out together!

I used the scarf clip on the bottom right, with its exquisite Millefiori design, for modesty purposes, even though I was wearing a tee shirt underneath. With so many colours to choose from, I picked out blue for my accessories which, apart from the scarf clip, consisted of a belt, beaded necklace and ring.

If you look sharply, you can see I'm being photo-bombed! The tiny figure on top of the ridge where the dark green of the shrubs and the bright green of the field meet is actually the resident goat! Can you spot it?

Not having had our full fix of sea air yet, we decided to make the most of the sunny weather and return to the coast.

So, again we drove down to our nearest seaside resort, De Panne, which also happens to be Belgium's most westerly coastal town, just a stone's throw from the border with France.

Walking towards the seafront, we were welcomed by the statue of Leopold I, the first King of the Belgians. Brushing up my knowledge of Belgium's national history, and educating my non Belgian readers in the process, when Belgium became independent in 1830, its constitution declared that we should have a King. After considering several candidates, the honour fell to Leopold von Saksen-Coburg, who was born in German, but who lived in England at the time.

The new King arrived in Calais by boat on July 17, 1831, from where he was taken to De Panne by coach. The statue was erected in the spot where he first put foot on Belgian soil.

It was quite a blustery day, and as soon as we arrived at the seafront and ventured away from the shelter of the promenade, Jos had to make a run for his hat, which had decided to go its separate way.

Walking along the promenade and then down to the beach, we were leaning into the gale, with the roaring of the waves obliterating every other sound.

Where sky and sea meet, the horizon seemed to be hemmed in a choppy silver line.

No intentional silly pose: I actually had a problem staying upright, and it truly felt as if I was being tossed about by the wind.

The legs of my jumpsuit were flapping about, the thin fabric no match for the tempestuous wind, and putting on my scarf wasn't an easy task, as it kept trying to escape, following the example of Jos's hat.

Walking on the beach, eagerly breathing in the sea's briny aroma, we were mesmerized by the mermaid's call of the waves, overlapping each other in rapid succession, their tips edged by bubbling white foam.

Several years ago, we walked for miles in a nature reserve in the dunes, walking the final stretch along the coastline towards De Panne on the beach.

It had been a glorious Summer's day and we recalled eating our picnic at a viewpoint in the dunes which, in our imagination, wasn't all that far from where we were now.

What if we walked to the viewpoint from here? However, as the tide was high, we had to abandon the beach and walk along the sea wall.

As soon as we'd reached the path leading off the coast, and into shelter of the dunes, the cacophony created by the wind and the waves died away and it was as if we'd entered another world.

Shortly after entering the nature reserve, we started climbing until the aquamarine sea could be glimpsed in the distance. The whitewashed and red-roofed cottages are all that's left of the fisherman's village, where the town's origins lie and where fishing still flourished 100 years ago.

No fisherman could afford to live there now, as the cottages have been turned into exclusive residences.

The 340-hectare Westhoek nature reserve is the only dune area on the Flemish coast where nearly all dune vegetation is represented in one unbroken dune landscape. This is due to two artificial breaks in the dunes (called "slufters") where sea water penetrates into the nature reserve at high tide, making the vegetation and wildlife here of particular interest.

This is a region of rolling sand dunes interspersed with dense thickets of thorny shrubs, where it is possible to wander for hours, feeling miles away from the rest of the world.

The meandering sandy path took us deeper and deeper into the dunes, but we kept going, expecting the viewpoint to appear around the next bend.

We were just about to give up when suddenly there it was. It was hard slog climbing up to the platform erected on top of a dune through the soft and shifting sand, but the panorama which awaited us was definitely worth the effort.

We returned the way we'd come, passing a lonesome and bedraggled cormorant along the way. 

It was getting late and back at the promenade the newly renovated Kursaal beckoned us for lunch.

Sufficiently restored, we explored De Panne's one kilometre-wide sandy beach, which is the widest on the Belgian coastline. 

There's a huge variety of boldly coloured and striped old-fashioned beach huts, which are quite irresistible and a magnet for my camera lens.

Many of these have wheels, looking as if they have just arrived by time machine from a bygone age, when bathing machines, which allowed people to change into swimwear at the water's edge before wading into the sea, were an essential part of sea-side etiquette.

They huddle together in clusters, their colours and names identifying the different rental agencies.

Apart from the quintessential striped ones, I especially loved the blue and white huts named Alice (my late Mum's name), which were decorated with a yellow scallop shell.

We walked all the way along the beach, past a graveyard of empty razor shells and a lonely yellow buoy left landlocked in the rippled sand, to neighbouring resort St. Idesbald.

The wind had lost some of its enthusiasm by then, so that the going was somewhat easier. 

We almost had the beach to ourselves. On this wind-blown day, it was almost devoid of holidaymakers and day-trippers, with only a handful of people like ourselves blowing the cobwebs away. 

Our feet tired after all this walking, we took a breather and then returned to De Panne by tram.

Just one more day, and our holiday would be over ...

Linking my jumpsuit to Nancy's Fancy Friday!