Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Like diamonds all the raindrops glisten

I'm the first to admit I'm feeling more than just a little bereft now that I've finished my travelogue. Telling you all about our little holiday was such a pleasure and reliving it all in the process was almost like having a second holiday.

But that's it for now, it's back to earth and the order of the day. What's more, with all that travelling, I really do owe you a recap of what else has been going on in my life.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May
~William Shakespeare, Sonnet XVIII

And what about steady downpours, drenching showers, hailstorms and temperatures in the low single figures? That first weekend of May we were served it all, including those rough winds. Not that there weren't any sunny spells on the menu, but they were brief and I'm sure they were only thrown into the mix to taunt us.

Sick of my Winter coats, I braved that wet and chilly Saturday wearing the slightly inadequate Phase Eight raincoat I charity shopped on the first day of our Salopian (*) holiday last year.

One upside of the unseasonable weather was that I was able to wear the long-sleeved frock I found while out vintage shopping with my friends on  Easter Saturday, before putting it to bed until Autumn.

The orangey tones in its print prompted the addition of an orange polka-dot cardigan, while I opted for a green belt and necklace to provide some contrast. The same shade of green appears in the brooch I chose, a multi-coloured enamelled butterfly.

Speaking of green, our little jungle of a garden was (and still is!) looking at its lushest, as it always is this time of year, and I'm sure it was welcoming the life-giving rain-drops with open arms. 

We weren't too pleased, though, as we had been looking forward to our first outdoor flea market of the year. Needless to say, the stormy weather firmly put paid to our plans so, desperate to be out of the house, we went charity shopping instead.

At first it looked as if we would be out of luck in that department as well, as we left the first two shops empty handed. Not wanting to give up just yet, we decided to try one more shop, and visit the one in our village before calling it a day.

And I'm glad we did, as less than a minute after walking in, I happened upon this fabulous book, a heavy and richly illustrated tome on Art Nouveau in Belgium.

The clothing department can be a bit hit or miss here, so I was happy to find these two new-to-me dresses in similar hues. On the left, another King Louie one and on the right, a pussy-bowed frock from Belgian label Mer du Nord, which I wore to work later that week.

There was a pair of  raspberry red suede Tamaris shoes waiting for me too. I didn't really need another pair of shoes and in fact I wasn't even looking, but what can I say? They caught my eye and they were my size and at € 4 too good a bargain to be left behind.

The weather gods continued to plague us on Sunday, so we stayed at home, making a start on browsing the bagful of holiday brochures and leaflets we brought back last year, and getting into the mood for our UK holiday towards the end of June.

In her comment on my previous post, Veronica asked me where exactly we were off to, which will be Shropshire and the Welsh borders, same as last year.  Less than 5 weeks to go now!

There was some improvement in the weather in the week that followed and one evening after work, I cut a posy of Lily of the Valley so that we could enjoy their intoxicating scent inside. 

We've inherited the plants with the garden, but they tend to travel around a bit and, having currently taken up residence in a small patch behind our garden angel, they're not in the best position for us to properly enjoy them.

Watching the bees stocking up on nectar, darting from one tiny flower of our Cotoneaster bush to another, is quite hypnotizing and the soundtrack created by their buzzing choir is nothing if not mesmerizing. 

Watching the garden grow and listening to the sound of honey being made is such a privilege, soothing my frayed nerves after a particularly stressful day at work. 

Modern technology is all very well, but being without internet for almost two days meant life at the office came to a grinding halt, and it certainly wasn't much fun having to catch up on a mountain of work when it was finally fixed.

As wearing colourful clothes always makes me feel better in my skin, I opted for full-on colour by choosing a blue skirt, in a textured fabric speckled with green, cream and red, and a black pussy-bow blouse covered in blowsy multi-coloured flowers.

A wide tan belt with a rectangular buckle, a red plastic ring and a pink and blue flower brooch pinned to my green cardigan were my accessories of choice.

Now that we're on the subject of brooches, how gorgeous is this vintage metal flower brooch? It was a present from my friend Inez, and I'm swooning!

And so, another weekend rolled along, bringing with it another charity shopping trip on Saturday before last.

In spite of the chill in the air, I was determined to wear short sleeves, and planned my outfit around this groovily patterned blouse in hues of navy, lilac and orange. However, I didn't feel the solid green skirt I'd originally planned to wear with it. Casting around for a suitable substitute, I finally hit upon this green plaid midi skirt in a polyester knit fabric.

A purple flower ring, cream beaded necklace and ditto flower brooch completed my outfit.

The yellow-based floral blazer, made from a light-weight tapestry fabric, wasn't nearly warm enough for what looked deceptively like a Spring day but I was determined to wear it anyway.

I was carrying the basket bag I bought in a cheap pop-up shop in Antwerp back in April and which I'm feeling slightly guilty about, especially after reading Vix's post.

I'm ending this game of catch-up by showing you our charity shop finds of that day.

The shop we went to is a new one, opened as a pop-up only the week before, after the lease of their previous premises had ended. We never liked that rather cramped little shop and are happy to report that their new location is not only larger but much better laid out too.

The jury is still out whether the dress Angelica is wearing here is me, but I love the unusual cutlery print and the olive colour. Oh, and it's Orla Kiely! Not bad for € 4, surely? And I've never ever found any Orla Kiely in a Belgian charity shop before.

I always love having a rummage through the boxes of belts and scarves for inexpensive additions to both of my already extensive collections. In fact, the vast majority of them are second hand.

This time, my finds included a funky scarf and two very different belts. The chain and tortoiseshell plastic belt is stamped with a Made in West Germany mark, which confirms that it is vintage.

(*) relating to or characteristic of the English county of Salop, now known as Shropshire, or its inhabitants.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

A trip to the seaside

As this is the last episode of my travelogue, I thought I'd treat you to a trip to the seaside!

Well, it's what we'd planned to do on Thursday, when the weather decided to play foul. Why not go today instead, we thought on Friday morning, when it looked as if the sun had joined us again.

So, after breakfast, we made our way to a seaside resort called De Haan, also known as De Haan aan Zee or its French equivalent Le Coq sur Mer, less than half an hour's drive from our B&B.

Being there on a weekday and out of season secured us a parking space free of charge, just outside the town's parking disc zone, and only a short walk from the town centre.

What distinguishes this charming little town from its peers along the Belgian North Sea coast is the absence of the ugly high rise buildings which seem to prevail elsewhere.

Instead, De Haan, which is renowned for its immaculately preserved and protected Belle Epoque quarter, has retained much of its old-fashioned seaside charm.

Our visit started at the little tram station, which currently houses the local tourist office. 
Dating from 1902, it is a perfect example of the Anglo-Norman style typical of Belle Epoque architecture.

Would you believe that this charming little building narrowly escaped demolition in 1977? Fortunately, it was saved by the town council, who bought it from the tram company for one symbolic Belgian franc.

Cotton wool clouds were chasing each other across a bright blue sky, propelled by a rather fierce sea breeze and, although I'd ditched the warm coat I was wearing the day before, I was glad that my orange leather jacket was sufficiently windproof to keep the shivers at bay.

Not wanting to make another footwear mistake, I opted for my Clarks Cloudsteppers, but make no mistake: I'm wearing a pair of nude tights, as it war far too chilly to go bare-legged.

We dashed into the tourist office for a leaflet detailing a 3 kilometer walk which would take us on a tour of the town's rich architectural heritage, conveniently starting just outside the tram station.

In spite of our knack of getting lost even with the best of instructions, I'm happy to report that we completed this walk without any hick-ups, although roadworks did their best to thwart us by hiding some of the copper studs the walk is signposted with.

We were joking that we needed some of our money back, though, as quite a few of the houses described in the leaflet were covered in scaffolding!

As is the case with most Belgian coastal towns, tourism started to take off shortly after Belgium's independence in 1831 with the beginning of train and tram transport for the masses. By the early 1900s, there was already a double  track steam tram line connecting almost the entire Belgian coastline.

Most of the coastal towns were mere fisherman's villages back then but, as tourism became a major source of income by the end of the 19th Century, clever businessmen saw a way of making money.

Soon, De Haan boasted a casino, two hotels and thirty or so villas for guests from Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent.

The casino, sadly, is no longer there. All that remains are its pagoda-like kiosks, silent witnesses to its glorious and decadent past.

De Haan owes much of its development to three enterprising gentlemen who, in 1889, negotiated a deal with the Belgian government, who owned the dunes between the tram-line and the coast, and were granted a long term lease (or concession) for 90 years on the 50 hectare plot of land.

Our walk now directed us through the picturesque "Concession" quarter, which is how the newly developed area commonly came to be known, with its typical Belle Epoque cottages and villas, characterized by surprisingly modern accents.

I wanted to move lock, stock and barrel into the cottage called Roodkapje (Little Red Riding Hood), even though we were intrigued that, in spite of the fact that her red coat is clearly hooded, she's actually wearing a green headscarf!

And even though we would pass many grander houses on our walk, I found this row of idyllic, white washed villas in a street called Rembrandtlaan particularly enchanting.

These were built between 1925 and 1927 by the architect Valentin Vaerwyck, who added to their romantic character by giving them red pitched roofs and colourful shutters, as well as their own individual details, often including decorative tableaux referring to their names.

We finally ended up at the promenade, walking its length before deciding on a place to have lunch. From our window seat, complete with Tiffany-style lamp, we watched the comings and goings of the out-of-season holiday makers, bundled up against the wind.

After a visit to the Ladies - note the nostalgic sign next to its door on the bottom right - I was ready to continue our walk.

Obviously, no visit to the seaside is complete without a spell on the beach, even if it was cut short by an icy cold wind and the sun playing an annoying game of hide-and-seek.

In fact, we stayed just long enough to take some photographs, offering you a slightly better view of the dress I was wearing. For a close-up, see here. Then we trudged back over wet sand (thank you Morrissey!), me ending up with my shoes full of sand after our final climb up to the promenade.

It was while walking into the direction of the town hall, which used to be a luxury hotel, that the first drops of rain started to fall. We sought shelter on the bandstand of the nearby La Potinière Park, which is the town's green lung, and taking a picture of the grand, turreted building dating from 1989 completely slipped my mind.

The eagle-eyed may have spotted the white bag I'm carrying, which contains the emerald green sandals I spotted in a shoe shop and just had to buy!

Eventually it stopped raining, even if it was just long enough to cross the street before the heavens opened again.

We shared the awning of a bicycle shop with some brightly coloured pedal carts. These carts come in all shapes and sizes, both for children and adults, and often with multiple seats, and can be rented out in all coastal towns. Just like donkey rides in the UK, they are an essential part of a seaside holiday in Belgium.

When I posted a photo of the poodle carts on Facebook, my friend Ingrid told me she had a photo of herself as a little girl riding such a poodle cart, and here she is, on the bottom left!

I'm a little bit envious here, as my parents hardly ever took us to the seaside and I don't remember much from the one visit when I was six going on seven, apart from playing in the sand and being told to beware of jellyfish!

Soon, the sun was out once again, and we continued our walk past wedding cake buildings with turrets and balconies and through streets with yet more traditional holiday villas.

The one on the bottom rights is on a street called Shakespearelaan. Its name is "Savoyarde" and its claim to fame is that Albert Einstein lived here for six months in 1933 after escaping the growing Nazi regime in Germany. 

Although it's a private residence and cannot be visited, the owners thoughtfully put a cardboard Albert Einstein in front of the upstairs window!

Our walk completed, we were in need of some sustenance, which we found in Hotel Des Brasseurs, where we had coffee and a waffle. While it was still very recognizable as the building in the photo, it had obviously lost much of its grandeur since it first opened in the late 19th Century.

On our way back to our B&B, we stopped at the local charity shop. While I was browsing the rails, rain started pelting down, so that there was nothing for it but to browse a little bit longer.

Here's what I found.

First up, a gorgeous King Louie halterneck sundress ...

And then, quite unusually for me, not one but two pairs of trousers!

The wide-legged ones are from Zara which, to be honest, is a shop I never frequent. They caught my eye when someone else was hanging them back on the rails. I thought I'd try them on for fun and quite liked what I saw. 

The cigarette trousers are stretchy and have a tiny print. They'll both be perfect for those not too bright days in the UK!

Well, that was over quickly, wasn't it? I'm already looking forward to our next trip, which will be our big UK holiday. And it looks like we've already got plans for our first day!

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Bruges on the quiet

Are you sitting comfortably? In this post, I'll continue where I left off, and tell you what we did on the third day of our little holiday back in April.

But before I regale you with an account of our adventures on Thursday, let's have a look at what I was wearing. 

I'd packed a choice of short-sleeved dresses, and that day I picked out one of my beloved Diolens, in bright tomato red printed with white flowers and green dots. Additionally, it's got a V-neck and one hell of a dagger collar!

A jade green cardigan went on top (it's looking decidedly greener in real life), to which I pinned a red cat brooch, a recent Think Twice find. Further accessories were a green beaded necklace, a green ring and a white vinyl belt with an oddly shaped buckle.

I'm in my gold slippers here, a pair of ballerinas which are faithful travel companions. Obviously, I didn't wear them out that day, although the ankle boots I did wear didn't do my back any good after a day's trawling of the city streets.

Seeing these photos, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was another glorious day, but alas it was not. We took the photos in the early evening when we were back at our B&B, sitting out on our little terrace when the sun had decided to pay us a brief visit after all.

Unfortunately, it had been a cloudy and rather chilly morning we'd woken up to, and while we were having breakfast, we noticed it was raining lightly. Thankfully, it had stopped by the time we started out, but due to the weather's uncertainty, we changed our initial plans for the day and went to Bruges instead.

From the car park, we wandered through a maze of cobbled back streets, soon losing our sense of direction, until we spotted the lofty spire of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady), which dominates the Brugian skyline with its 115,5 m high tower. Building work on the current church began in 1225, and it was crowned with its spire in the 15th Century.

Shortly afterwards, we passed a private car park on our right, with a complex of weathered brick buildings behind it, where groups of people could be seen strolling through the courtyard.

Consulting our map, I saw that this must be the Oud Sint-Jan (Old St. John) site, a former hospital, its origins dating back to the 12th Century, and the spot where one of the earliest infirmaries in medieval Europe once stood. When the hospital closed down in 1976, its spacious wards were revamped into a unique cultural site, as well as a congress and events centre.

We emerged from this peaceful oasis upon the busy Mariastraat (Mary Street) which, with the much visited Beguinage virtually around the corner, is lined with chocolate, waffle, lace and souvenir shops jostling for clientele. Here, you have to be careful not to be swept up by the never-ending stream of people crowding the pavements or be trampled under the clip-clopping hooves of the poor horses tasked with drawing the many carriages which pass this way.

Pranged between two of the streets' shops is a whitewashed gateway, ignored by most of the tourists intent on spending their money on postcards and sweet or tacky souvenirs.

Shall we go inside?

Hidden away from prying eyes and the hustle and bustle in Mariastraat is one of the 46 small groups of almshouses which can be found all over Bruges, most of them, like here, clustered around a cosy courtyard.

As good an opportunity as any to show you the teal vintage coat I was wearing, chucked into the car minutes before we left home, in case the weather turned cold. It's a good thing I did, as that day I was glad of its warmth.

Back on Mariastraat, we soon spotted a narrow alleyway between houses, which led to another group of almshouses, its courtyard entered through an iron gate in a creeper-clad wall. 

Jos was wearing his warm Loden, which he too decided to bring at the last moment. Note the splashes of colour provided by his ochre trousers and orange shirt!

The courtyard backed onto a canal, from where the magnificent Sint-Janshospitaal (St. John's Hospital), which backs onto it on the opposite side, can be glimpsed and from where, hidden away behind a bank of wisteria, the tourists in the passing boats can be spied upon.

Below is a better view of St. John's Hospital, taken from the spot where Mariastreet bridges the canal.

Rather confusingly, this is a different building than the Old St. John mentioned earlier.

St. John’s Hospital has an eight hundred-year-old history of caring for pilgrims, travellers, the poor and the sick. Now it is a museum where you can  marvel at the impressive collection of archives, art works, medical instruments, as well as six paintings by Hans Memling.

After braving the crowds in the epicentre of tourist-land, we neared our first destination, the enchanting Groenerei (Green Quay), whose tree-lined, cobbled quayside borders a particularly romantic stretch of canal crossed by several old stone bridges.

This has to be one of Bruges' most picturesque locations, yet, apart from those on board of the ubiquitous canal boats, there were relatively few people about.

Admittedly, we too had never made it here before, and might not have done so now if we hadn't been prompted by the lithograph by a French artist we bought at last month's flea market.

It was lunch time by now, so we made our way towards the Markt, where we once again joined the crowds. Finding ourselves a table on the covered terrace of our favourite of the tourist restaurants, St. Joris, there was an American couple who'd landed in Bruges while on a cruise seated at the table next to ours. I might have gained a fan there, as the lady positively gushed over my outfit, nodding knowingly when I told her my dress was vintage!

The thick blanket of grey above us didn't show any sign of dispersing and at some point, the sky seemed to be darkening, with a promise of imminent rain.

Still, we were determined to start a walk I'd earmarked and which would show us the quiet side of Bruges, where hardly any tourists venture, as most of them aren't inclined to leave the golden triangle of tourist attractions.

We'd hardly walked 10 minutes before laying eyes on the imposing St. Walburga's Church, the building of which began in 1619.

It is the most richly decorated church in pure Baroque style in Bruges.

Its literally dazzling interior boasts stunning architectural details and elaborately decorated church furniture. 

As we entered, we could hear baroque music playing through the sound system. A sign admonished us to be quiet, so we tiptoed around the church, hardly daring to make photographs lest our shutters would make too much noise, when suddenly the silence was rudely shattered by a particularly resonating organ point, which almost literally made us jump!

Continuing on our way past the atmospheric Hansa Quarter, where the former mansions of the wealthy international merchants, who established themselves here between the 13th until the 15th Century, line the wide canals, the dark and moody clouds had increased in intensity.

The rain held off until we were safely inside the Museum of Folk Life, housed in the row of whitewashed 17th Century single-room cottages on the top left. The sign on the bottom left belongs to the traditional on-site café (which is actually what a pub is called in Belgium), and - should there be any doubts - translates as "In the Black Cat".

Looking back the way we'd arrived on this quiet, cobbled street, you can see the tower of  the 15th-century Jerusalem Chapel, a jewel of medieval architecture which we must put on our itinerary during a next visit.

The museum's contents, laid out as  a classroom, a milliner's shop, a pharmacy, a confectionery shop and a grocery shop, amongst others, are a feast for the eyes.

I swooned over the child sized green tapestry coat!

The tailor was not the only occupant in the tailor's shop! I wonder, is he or she the black cat the café was named after?

It had stopped raining by the time we'd gone around the museum and had a drink in the café. 

However, we still had a long way to go, and my feet were starting to hurt me - I know, wrong footwear, but the ankle boots I was wearing never gave me grief before.

Anyway, we thought we'd call it a day and cut our walk short. It was still quite a trek back to the city centre and our car park, though, so we made a stop for cappuccino and cherry crumble along the way.

Now, if I haven't been able to convince you that Bruges is well worth a visit, maybe the city's official video, called Bruges in 60 seconds, will do the trick! 

Please do join me again for the final episode of my travelogue.

Linking with Patti's Visible Monday and Mica's Weekday Wear Linkup!

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

When April steps aside for May

I'm briefly interrupting my travelogue for an update of what else I've been doing and wearing. There might even be one or two finds to show you as well!

So, let's retrace our steps to the Easter weekend, and to Easter Day in particular.

We had been graced with the most delicious summery weather all weekend. Temperatures had soared into the mid-twenties and, while our neighbour was getting sunburnt up on his roof, we sought refuge from the ongoing sawing, hammering and drilling by going for a walk in the shade.

Just a short drive from Dove Cottage, in a neighbouring village, is a recreational area established at one of the chain of forts surrounding the city of Antwerp, built between 1859 and 1864.

A path alongside the old fort's moat takes you into the domain, with one or two paths leading off it and circuiting the fort. If you continue on the main path, at one point it takes you through some of the atmospheric, time-forgotten buildings.

I was barelegged but not bareheaded, wearing my favourite sunhat for the first time this year, with a scarf I'd scored the day before wrapped around it. My sunglasses, with their charity shopped frames, protected my eyes from the glare of the sunlight, which seemed to have doubled in brilliance when we emerged from the semi-darkness of the fort.

I'm sure you'll need sunglasses too when spying my glow-in-the-dark legs. Now where did I put that bottle of fake tan again?

My dress was charity shopped on my birthday in 2016, while both the woven fabric belt and the lacquered wicker bag were charity shop finds as well. 

Uncharacteristically, I was wearing sneakers, a retail buy from last year. I succumbed to them as they are a rare pair which doesn't have those thick white soles, which I'm not a fan of, to put it mildly.

So, what else did we do that Easter weekend? 

Retracing my steps even further, on Saturday I had a vintage shopping date in Antwerp with my friends Ingrid and Inez. You've already seen what I was wearing that day (here), but the question is, what - if anything - did I find?

I'm happy to say that we were all successful and went home with lots vintage and second hand treasures for next to nothing.

At Think Twice, where everything was € 3 that day, I found the floral maxi skirt and the lime green short-sleeved knitted top I am wearing in the above collage, as well as a lightweight denim skirt with a row of embroidered roses at the hem, which you can catch a glimpse of on the bottom right. We finished our shopping at Melting Pot, a shop selling vintage per kilo, where I picked up a long-sleeved polyester frock, black with a gorgeous orange and reddish brown print, and two scarves, one of which I'm wearing here, for a total of just over € 4.

Meanwhile, things have started stirring in Dove Cottage's wild jungle garden, watched over by Phoebe on her favourite perch. 

At the back of the garden, I spotted some gorgeous, tiny pink flowers, which I'm pretty sure weren't there before. Some googling revealed them to be Geranium purpureum, a wildflower commonly known as Little Robin,which probably arrived with the birdseed we scatter in Winter. How lovely they are! They can definitely stay. Dandelions are welcome in our garden too. 

We will have gooseberries aplenty as well. I'm quite impressed with the size of them this early on, although it will be a while before they achieve their final, ruby red hue.

As usual this time of year, our Cotoneaster bush is a-buzz with bees of all sizes and descriptions, who seem to be exceptionally fond of its diminutive flowers, their constant buzzing providing a drowsy summer soundtrack.

More treasures were found at the charity shops that weekend. Clockwise from top left: a handmade cotton circle skirt trimmed with rick-rack, a hand-painted wooden bangle, two necklaces - note the fabulous polished wooden one on the left, which I'm wearing with my Think Twice finds above - and a multicoloured, woven belt.

Browsing the rail of new arrivals, I discovered this gem of a Crimplene shift dress. The colours might be a little muted compared to my usual colourful attire, but surely the Paisley print more than makes up for that!

By the time I was back at work after our short holiday, all traces of summer had disappeared, leaving us with temperamental weather more suited to an average March day.

In my reluctance to break out the long-sleeved frocks again, I thought Crimplene would at least keep me warm enough, especially with an extra layer worn underneath. Taking the lead from the greyish blue notes in the dress, I chose powder blue for my cardigan and accessories. You might notice I'm wearing ankle boots in the same colour as well. They were picked up in the sales last Winter, but as they are suede, and thus a bit delicate, I haven't been wearing them much.

My ceramic brooch, with its little boat sailing off into the sunset, was a gift to myself from a craft shop in Cardigan in June 2017, and so will be forever linked to that rather washed out holiday.

I only had two days of work to go through before our public holiday on the First of May. I can't say I minded very much.

Making use of the time on my hands, I sorted out my boots and shoes, putting away most of my Winter ones and bagging up those which didn't pass muster for charity.

Then I brought out all of my Summer shoes and sandals and sorted them by colour, adding one or two pairs to the charity bag. There were still more than enough left, though.

Those of you with minimalist tendencies, please look away!

All of these have been neatly put away into my IKEA shoe boxes, which have semi-opaque flaps closing with Velcro, and which live in a tower building in our spare room, each one resting on its own pair of shelf brackets.

I had the brainwave of making a snapshot of each pair of shoes before putting them away, putting them into an album I can scroll through on my phone for easy reference.

Now, which pair shall I wear today? 

As at the time of writing the weather is still letting us down, I was actually wearing boots today, but never mind ...

I am leaving you now with my latest find, a tapestry evening bag I happened to run into at Think Twice last Friday. 

How gorgeous is that print? And how often do you come across a green tapestry bag? I'm sure you'll agree that this has my name written all over it.

There will be another episode of my travelogue in my next post. Will you join me again?

Linking my Paisley print Crimplene frock to Nancy's Fancy Friday.