Sunday, 19 September 2021

West side story, Part 2

Hello, and welcome to the second episode of this year's West country travelogue.

It was Monday the 6th of September and, after a restful night, we'd woken up to the first proper day of our little holiday. Another blue-skied and sunny day had been forecasted, with temperatures which were expected to climb steadily towards the high twenties.

Drawing the curtains of Marjolein's French windows leading to its balcony, the sight that greeted us was as magical as ever, the view across the lake and the patchwork of fields gently rolling towards the French-Flemish hills still managing to delight us after all those years.

We'd brought essentials such as bread, butter and eggs with us, as well as the remaining perishables from our fridge at home, but in our haste we'd left the contents of our fruit basket behind. Therefore, instead of our usual fruit and yoghurt breakfast, we had a starter of berries with a dollop of yoghurt, followed by one of Jos's delicious omelettes and slices of bread and butter. Washed down with cups of strong coffee, obviously.

We hadn't made any definite plans for our holiday, letting our moods and the weather be the deciding factors each day instead. That morning, we got it in our heads to go abroad for the first time since the pandemic. This isn't in any way as far fetched as it seems, as the French border is less than six kilometer from our cottage! France, here we come!

So, we set the controls of Truus, our satnav, towards the charming little town of Cassel, a journey of less than half an hour. This wasn't exactly new territory for us, as we first visited the town back in 2017. But while Marie-Jeanne, our old satnav, took us along winding country lanes through tiny hamlets and fields ripe for harvest, Truus seemed to prefer busy main roads. These we followed until we passed the ghostly empty shell of the former border control building followed by the sight of an unusual church tower which halted us in our tracks.

As we'd just passed a village sign, we knew we were in a little town called Steenvoorde which, in spite of being just across the French border, is a decidedly Flemish sounding name. And no wonder, as this area of present-day France was once part of the historical County of Flanders.

We decided to investigate, so we parked our car and walked into the direction of the church dedicated to St. Peter, its 92 meter spire guiding us like a beacon. 

The church, whose origins date back to the 12th century, has had quite a turbulent history. It fell victim to Iconoclasm - in fact, it was here that the Dutch Revolt started in 1566 - and after being burned down and destroyed in the 16th and 17th centuries, it was rebuilt in the late Gothic style between 1660 and 1664. The tower is from 1712 and the spire was added in the late 19th century. After being badly damaged again in May 1940, the church was finally restored in 1950.

Making our way to what appeared to be the town's market square in search of a boulangerie in order to buy a baguette and some brioches, I was drawn like a moth to a flame to a rusty post box and a row of houses which appeared to be in a serious state of disrepair. This kind of delightful dilapidation seems to be par for the course in these parts.

A friendly waitress was laying tables on the terrace of Brasserie Le Faucon, and after successfully scanning our Pass Sanitaire (vaccination certificate) we were allowed to sit down and enjoy un petit café before continuing our journey to Cassel.

Lunchtime was approaching when we reached the town and by the time we'd parked our car in the last available spot in the free car park near the Grand' Place I remembered from our previous visit, our stomachs announced they could do with some fortification.

Spotting a couple of inviting terraces further along the Grand' Place we strolled into their direction and, after perusing the menus, selected Café-Brasserie A l'Hôtel de Ville. Judging from the office workers who joined us shortly afterwards, it was a local favourite.

Again, our vaccination certificates were successfully scanned, after which we both ordered faux filet au poivre, which came accompanied by a salad and what I'm reluctantly calling French fries (as opposed to the correct Belgian fries) since we were in France.

We might have been drinking our usual alcohol free beers, but a rusty plaque announced that the place was granted the licence to sell alcohol and spirits in September 1940!

Hunger pangs satisfied, we briefly returned to our car as I'd forgotten my hat, after which we decided to once again attempt the town walk we did back in 2017. 

The walk, which is waymarked by copper studs (below, bottom right) starts almost opposite the restaurant, in front of the Musée de Flandre, details of which you can admire in the above collage, bottom left and right. A photo of the stunning 17th century Flemish building can be seen in the first Cassel collage on the top left. 

Originally established by the Romans on top of the 176 meter hill now known as Mont Cassel,  overlooking the lush rolling pastures of French Flanders, the small town is considered one of the most picturesque in the area. In fact, it was voted one of France's favourite village (Village Préferé des Français) in 2018.

From the Grand' Place, the walk climbs to the top of the hill by way of the Rue du Château, passing under the Porte du Château, or Castle Gate, a replica of the 17th century original.

However, Mr. and Mrs. Know-it-all preferred to take a different route. After all, we'd been here before. Never mind that we got a bit lost at the time ...

After a stiff climb upon a winding cobbled path, we eventually arrived on the summit, where a magnificent panorama of the town and surrounding countryside awaited us.

There's the Jesuit Chapel with the town's main church, Collégiale Notre Dame de la Crypte, on its right in the collage's central picture. We visited the church last time we were here. Now, it was partly covered in scaffolding, which I conveniently cropped out of the frame here.

There are several viewpoints with orientation tables, this one pointing us not only into the direction of Steenvoorde, where we had our morning coffee, and Poperinge, but our hometown of Antwerp as well. 

My outfit of the day was built around the recently charity shopped zig-zag patterned skirt which I combined with another recent charity shop find, a lightweight yellow top with a delicate leaf pattern, which had its origins in a high street shop. Both the belt - one of my beloved stretchy ones - and the sandals were retail buys, the latter picked up in the Clarks sales in a Shropshire town in June 2018. 

After admiring the attractions of Mont Cassel, the Casteelmeulen (Castle Mill, top left) and the equestrian monument of Marshall Foch (bottom right), who had his headquarters here during the Battle of Ypres, we took a path downhill to arrive on the sleepy Rue de Bergues. As you can see, the street signs are all bilingual, Bergenstraete being the local Flemish dialect. In the Flemish spoken by us at the other side of the border it would be Bergenstraat.

Just after the octagonal Horne Chapel we turned left and walked into the direction of the Rue de Dunkerque, where an open garage door allowed us a peek into the premises of the Mont Cassel brewery with its vintage Citroën delivery van.

At that point, it was only a matter of passing through the Porte de Dunkerque to arrive back at the car park, where we had a welcome break and another alcohol free beer on the terrace of the café on the corner. On our first visit, we'd parked our car directly opposite the café and had a coffee to get our bearings. At that time, we were both mesmerized and horrified by the old-fashioned sticky fly paper full of hapless victims hanging from one of the café's lighting fixtures. Admittedly, we were quite disappointed to see that this part of the decor had gone.

We might have been back at the car park, but that didn't mean our walk was finished. Suitably refreshed, we continued following the copper studs, pointing us into the direction of the Jesuit Chapel - and other cases of delightful dilapidation - and the Chemin du Chapitre, with its steps taking us down another level. 

At its bottom an atmospheric old cemetery awaited. The sun had momentarily dipped behind a veil of clouds, turning the delightfully dilapidated jumble of graves quite spooky. Especially since I was all alone there, with Jos resting his weary feet on a bench at the roadside.

The final part of the walk took us along the Chemin des Remparts, a footpath running parallel with the Grand' Place, offering yet more panoramic views.

Having walked roughly half of the path's length, we decided to cut our walk short by taking a street passing under another town gate, the Porte d'Aire, leading straight back to the Grand' Place.

We had both grown quite tired by now, which wasn't helped by the temperature, which had easily reached the predicted high twenties.

Finding a shady bench, we sat and stared for a while before returning to our car, which obviously had turned into a hot oven by now. 

With the airconditioning on full blast, we started the bumpy ride down the winding, pot-holed road leading us to the bottom of Mont Cassel, towards Poperinge and our lovely little cottage. 

But that didn't mean the excitement was over for the day!

I was just stepping out of the shower that evening, when Jos told me to hurry up and have a look outside. Apparently, a hot air balloon had only just avoided having to make an emergency landing in the field beyond the lake!

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

West side story, Part 1

Hello my lovelies, how are you doing? I'm doing fine, thank you for asking, although I'm still trying to get my head around the fact that our longed for holiday is well and truly over.  In fact, I am due back at the office tomorrow!

The crazy thing is that it feels as if we were away for much longer than a week, while simultaneously, as if in a parallel world, it seems like it was only yesterday that we packed our bags and drove off in a westerly direction.

Since then, we've been treated to a mini heatwave, and I turned a year older. For those who have been wondering when I mentioned milestone birthday: yes, I did turn 60 last Sunday, which still feels quite unreal and definitely hasn't sunk in yet. After all, apart from feeling relaxed and recharged after our holiday, I'm not feeling any different.

But let's not be hasty: in these photos I was still a 59-year-old, as I hadn't finished blogging about the month of August yet. As uneventful as its final week was, it would be a shame to let the handful of outfits we managed to photograph go to waste. 

A short ride in the time machine takes us back to August's final Friday, which my journal tells me was a cloudy day with rainclouds scudding on the horizon and a measly 20°C.

After our customary charity shopping trip - it was my free Friday after all - we only had just enough time for a couple of outfit photos before it started pelting down yet again.

My wildly patterned short-sleeved blouse was a vintage find from Think Twice and has been in my wardrobe forever. It certainly isn't making its debut on the blog! This time, its companion was the high street skirt I charity shopped earlier that month. It's got a gauzy patterned layer over a solid orange one and, apart from navy, it repeats all of the blouse's colours. 

Navy is echoed in my shoes and floral perspex ring, while I used orange again for my necklace and brooch. My belt, with its faux tortoiseshell hexagonal buckle, was a rare retail buy back in May. A wise investment, it seems, as I've been wearing it lots.

Here's a quick peek at what came home with me from the charity shops that day. However, I'm starting with the vintage denim button through skirt, which is the odd one out, as I found it in a vintage per kilo shop during one of my lunch breaks that week. It fits, although only just, and as it has got zero stretch, I'll have to lay off the munchies for a while in order to comfortably wear it. Being back at the office full-time hasn't been exactly beneficial in that department.

A brief look at the zig-zag patterned skirt, which came on holiday with me and which you'll therefore see me wearing soon!

The sky blue dress with its garlands of predominantly pink flowers had me stumped at first. It's got a deep V at the back, which I initially mistook for the front, and almost made me leave it behind as it looked rather weird. It was only when I discovered the label sewn in the V that the penny dropped.

My final finds that day were four necklaces which have joined my burgeoning collection. One can never have enough accessories, surely!

Saturday was another mixed weather day, and although the thermometer only indicated 21°C, it felt quite muggy outside. Inside was quite a different story, though, and I was glad of the long-sleeved yellow t-shirt I layered under my flimsy dress.

The eagle-eyed might recognize it as the purple based Esprit dress with its Paisley-esque pattern I charity shopped the previous week. 

All my accessoires were either charity shop or flea market finds as well, including the necklace, originating from Veritas, a Belgian chain of haberdashery and accessory shops, but found new on card in a charity shop in Antwerp a couple of years ago.

My journal tells me that we ran a couple of errands and were invited by our new neighbours across the street to have a look at their ongoing renovation work. The rest of the day was spent doing some leisurely pottering, including throwing together a couple of things I thought we might need on our holiday. 

Perhaps a little earlier than other years, our garden's mood is clearly Autumnal, although our herbaceous Clematis, officially known as Clematis jouiniana 'Mrs Robert Brydon', seems to be right on schedule.  

I cannot wait for its profusion of tiny buds (top left) to fully open into clusters of lavender blue flowers.

The only outfit I've got to show you in my final, pre-holiday, week is this one. Built around the folksy vintage skirt - a firm favourite - charity shopped last Summer, I picked up the fuchsia colour of the flowers by adding a fuchsia three-quarter sleeved top. I added oodles of blue with my belt, necklace, brooch and cardigan, while a hint of fuchsia reappears in my ring.

Can you believe the proportion of those Nasturtiums though ....

The week before any holiday is always a stressful one for me at the office, as I need to prepare everything for my part-time colleague to take over my job when I'm away.

This time, the stress levels were exacerbated by a crisis at work, while on the evening of my penultimate working day, a crisis of a different kind at our next door neighbours left us reeling.

While I cannot go into detail on either issue, needless to say it was quite a relief when Saturday arrived, with packing for our holiday the only item on our to-do list.

We were due at our holiday cottage on the outskirts of Poperinge by mid-afternoon on Sunday, and as it's only a one and a half hour drive from Dove Cottage, this left us plenty of time for both breakfast and lunch, not to mention giving lots of cuddles to a non-suspecting Bess.

The forecast was for a sunny day, with temperatures nudging the mid-twenties, and indeed as the afternoon progressed the scattering of cotton wool clouds dispersed, revealing a sky of the brightest and deepest blue.

Our holiday cottage, a compact studio above the owner's car port in a thatched oak framed building, will probably need no introduction. This is, after all, our tenth stay here, and the sixth time it appears on my blog. For any new-time readers though, I'll try to incorporate some details in my upcoming travel posts.

After making ourselves at home and having a restorative cup of coffee, it was approaching 4 pm when we once again stepped into our car for the 10-minute drive to Poperinge itself. We know our way around a bit by now, and easily found a free parking spot a mere 5-minute walk from the town centre.

As you can see, things were definitely heating up: the thermometer outside a chemist's shop was indicating a mind-blowing 28°C and there wasn't a cloud to be spied in the sky.

At first glance, Poperinge might be just a sleepy provincial town near the French border in Belgium's rural west. Don't be deceived, though, as it has got several claims to fame. 

The area around Poperinge is known as the hop capital of Flanders so perhaps it isn't surprising that it has its very own Hop Museum, which we visited in 2017.


Arriving at the town's market place, Poperinge's imposing town hall, built in 1911 in neo-Gothic style, is a sight to behold.  The building has a slender belfry tower crowned by a dragon and a facade with two superimposed loggias. 

And then there's its Great War history, in which Talbot House, opened in 1915 by British army chaplain Philip Clayton as a soldiers' club, is playing a major part. We revisited it later that week, so I'll show you around in a later post.

We always seem to end up in Poperinge's Dirk Frimout park, named after one of the town's most famous sons who, in 1992, was the first Belgian in space. 

On the way up, we met a pot-bellied blue bear on a bench. This is Warme William, who is the mascot of a campaign to encourage young people to talk about their feelings and to listen to those who are having a hard time. I might not be the right age, but I still had a thing or two to discuss with him ...

The park offered the perfect opportunity to show you my outfit, which consisted of a flower strewn cotton H&M skirt charity shopped last Summer and a red and white polka dot cotton blouse from Think Twice. Apart from my red belt, my only other accessory was a wicker vintage brooch embroidered with poppies. The perfect accessory for a visit to Flanders Field country!

The market place's terraces were inundated with people making the most of the first (and perhaps the last) gorgeously sunny Sunday in a long time. It was nothing short of a miracle that we were able to snap up a table for two and have a refreshing non-alcoholic beer before returning to our cottage.

After our evening meal - we'd brought the ingredients for a salad - we sat on our little balcony watching the sun go down over the lake. Just like I imagined doing in my penultimate post!

More travel adventures will follow in my next post. Hope to see you again soon!

Monday, 6 September 2021

Stuck in the August rain

If all goes according to plan, by the time you are reading this we are recharging are batteries on our yearly sojourn to Belgium's west country. 

Having had a bit of a turbulent week, the weekend and our subsequent week away were obviously welcomed with open arms. However, as we were leaving on Sunday, this meant I only had Saturday at my disposal to check off my packing and to-do list, decide which clothes to take, and squeeze in the writing of this scheduled post. Not to mention giving Bess the cuddles she'll have to miss out on in the week ahead.

So, without further ado, I'm taking you back to two weeks ago on Friday, which was the 20th of August.

Although the mercury climbed to 22°C it was another wishy-washy, grey and rainy day, which only started brightening by late afternoon.

The white blouse with its black vertical stripes and scattering of tiny red and green flowers was among my charity shop haul of the previous week, but never made it to the blog. I decided to continue with the red and green theme by teaming it with a green textured Crimplene skirt. The latter is part of a set, its companion a short-sleeved jacket. I don't think I ever wore it as a set though, and of the two pieces the skirt definitely gets the most wear.

A pale green beaded necklace was added, while further accessories were all of the red variety: a woven belt, plastic ring and a vintage cherry brooch.

It was my weekly day off, and as you'll probably know by now, these usually start with a charity shopping trip. This time we drove down to the three-storey charity shop in the neighbouring town of Duffel, which is one of our favourites. I even remembered to finally take some photos!

While I was trawling the clothing aisles in the basement, Jos had a look around elsewhere, and then grabbed a coffee at the first floor cafeteria, or Koffietheria, as they are calling this particular one.

With my trolley full of treasure, I then joined Jos for a chocolate coffee and showed him my finds.

First up in yet another King Louie dress, its pattern of medley of blowsy, pink, grey and cream roses on purple. 

There's quite a bit of purple in the second dress, which is by Esprit, as well. Its lining is a solid purple, for starters. I grabbed it from a rail in passing but couldn't be bothered to return to the fitting rooms where I'd just had a massive trying on session.

I fell hard for its Paisley-esque orange, yellow, white, purple and lilac pattern, and although its silhouette is a bit out of my comfort zone, it turned out to fit me perfectly.

Yet more purple came in the form of this plastic bracelet and the purple flowers among its yellow, red and green sisters in the vintage acryl blouse. 

My final find is vintage as well. With its thick polyester fabric, it would be out of the question to wear this beige-based sleeveless dress with its cinnamon and brown rushes and birds print on a warm Summer's day. I'm thinking of wearing it in Autumn, layered over a long-sleeved top and opaques in a contrasting colour.

While Jos was finishing his coffee, I went to have a look at the bookshelves, selecting these three books to come home with me.

On Saturday, the temperature was supposed to climb to 25°C. I’m not sure it did but it was very humid, ending in a thunderstorm complete with heavy rain in the early evening.

I wore the short-sleeved Only dress I'd picked up at the charity shops the week before, picking the pale green colour from its print for my accessories.

The brooch is by Miracle and was a flea market find about three years ago. I think the ring was a flea market find as well, while the rest of my accessories were a mix of vintage, charity shop and retail buys.

Weather-wise, Sunday was another mixed bag of sunshine and showers.

We were invited to a barbecue to celebrate the 50th birthday of Jos's eldest daughter, Els, taking the inevitable rain into our strides as this seems to be something of a family tradition.

We started with drinks - mine was homemade elder flower cordial - and homemade pizza made in their state of the art outside pizza oven. 

Centre of attention, of course, was the youngest family member, three-month old Cas, here with pater familias Jos.

As it befits a milestone birthday, we'd all chipped in and bought Els a drawing table and chair to pursue her painting hobby.

But she wasn't the only one who got a present! Jos's children had chipped in to buy me a present as well, although my milestone birthday is only the 12th of September. 

I received a small bag containing a riddle I was supposed to solve first, but couldn't make head or tail of the pieces of nougat, caramel and chocolate and the cuberdon, which is a traditional Belgian sweet. 

To cut a long story short, my present was a voucher for our favourite B&B, Het Soetewater, near Bruges. And the riddle, well, it referred to the B&B's rooms, which are called ... you've guessed it, Nougat, Caramel, Cocolat and Cuberdon!

As the temperature barely reached 20°C - if that - and we didn't know we'd be inside or outside, I dressed warmly, starting with the lined palazzo trousers charity shopped back in February.

The Kookai blouse, with its galaxy of stars and flowers and pink frills at the yoke, was another charity shop find, almost exactly a year ago.

A yellow suede belt, multicoloured wooden necklace and another Miracle brooch - a flea market find in Carmarthenshire back in 2015 - completed my outfit. 

The temperature in August's final full week continued to go up and down like a yo-yo, flirting around 20°C and with the by now familiar mixture of clouds, sunny spells and showers.

It's been an awful Summer so far - and technically speaking, Summer is over by now. Quite a large chunk of my Summer clothes remains unworn and I have barely touched the hot weather stuff.

The garden has long ago lost its initial Summer freshness, although our Fuchsia magellanica and Japanese Anemones are both in their prime. Can you spot the shy butterfly hiding behind the pretty in pink Anemone? You can actually see the top of its antenna peeking out in the photo on the top right!

We only managed outfit photos a couple of times that week, these ones taken on Wednesday the 25th of August. 

I hadn't worn this black-based floral dress for ages and I doubt that it ever made it to the blog. It was among my earliest Think Twice finds and I remember wearing it for the first time for a dinner date, only to discover it had several split seams while we were about to meet Jos's son's in-laws for the very first time. Oh dear! 

As I'm a firm believer of the fact that pink and green should always be seen and taking advantage of the green stalks in the dress's print, I picked green for all my accessories apart from the pearly brooch.

It was the perfect opportunity to give my green 1960s shoes - charity shopped back in July - another outing.

Meanwhile in the garden ... can you believe the size of that Nasturtium leaf? It won't be long before our old parking meter is completely hidden from view!

Now I'm sure that you'll all be wanting to see how Bess has been coming along in the meantime.

Well, we've just bought her a lovely new cat bed, which so far she is totally ignoring. Actually, madam prefers to sleep on top of her Snooze Bay, which is actually supposed look like this. Cats, you've got to love them!

So, that's rainy August wrapped up.

I'll be back with - hopefully sunny - adventures next week. See you on the other side!