Wednesday 28 September 2016

Sweet September

We've been having golden September days, with lots of sunshine and hardly any rain worth mentioning. Temperatures have been exceptionally mild, giving our summer wardrobes a final run before being bedded for winter.

Ah, Indian summer! In Flemish we have another, in my opinion more fitting term for it: nazomer, which translates as "after summer". After all, meteorological summer ended on the first of September, so any summer weather beyond that date should be considered a bonus, a dessert after summer's main course of June, July and August.

But the signs are there that all is not as it should be. Summer's abundant growth is over, leaving seed-heads and berries in its wake. The leaves on certain trees are starting to turn and those that are still green have long ago lost their freshness. Chestnuts and acorns are littering the ground, and behind it all is the faint but unmistakable smell of decay.

The light has changed too, the sun no longer being so high, casting shadows where there weren't any before. There's a chill in the air in the mornings, dewy spiderwebs appear out of nowhere, and ribbons of melancholic mist are shrouding the landscape.

“Why is summer mist romantic and autumn mist just sad?”
Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle -

I've always had a soft spot for autumn. At least, I do for its mellow stage, until it turns nasty with drizzle and rain and stormy weather and it's all downhill to winter. More so than the First of January or the first signs of Spring, September signifies the excitement of change and new beginnings for me, which I've always attributed to the fact that I was born in September and that traditionally it's the start of a new school term.

"Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring.”
Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany's

There, I have quoted from two of my favourite books!

Last week I resumed my Friday afternoon shopping trips with Princess Inez, who'd given me a gift voucher from Think Twice for my birthday.

I wanted to spend the voucher on one single piece, but there wasn't much to tempt me in their new collection, so I'm keeping it for later, and only bought these little beauties, which I can't wait to start wearing.

The berets are both from the British Kangol label (I am still mourning the Kangol beret I've lost on the bus last winter) while the hat is Italian made.

Saturday was another glorious day. After taking some good old outfit photos, we headed to a seldom visited charity shop, which is a little out of our way, but which we have never ever left empty-handed.

Dress: one of my first vintage dresses, Think Twice
Brooches: last week's flea market
Beads, handbag: Think Twice
Cardigan and shoes: retail

Apart from an Italian made jacket for Jos and some books on Expo 58, we found this charming Lourdes wall hanging.

It is a little worse for wear, some of the embossed letters having worn off, and there is some foxing going on, but surely that just adds to its old-fashioned kitsch appeal.

After the obligatory picnic, we carried on to another shop, where we struck gold again.

This particular shop, which we often visit, has a good range of English language books, and these are the ones I picked up.

First up is a 1971 paperback edition of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood. As it features Elisabeth Taylor and Peter O'Toole on the cover, it is clear that it was printed with the upcoming 1972 film in mind.

The other book is something of a novelty, called The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures, by Caroline Preston. The blurb says "Full color vintage memorabilia on every page", and indeed it's full of vintage postcards, Jazz Age ephemera and typewritten snippets. And look: there's a Corona, just like mine!

You can have a further peek inside here.

My final purchases were a little red and white polka dot cardigan and an amazing green, vintage, three quarter-sleeve jacket. I have a strong suspicion that it was once part of a suit ...

It seems  I have found my charity shopping mojo again. In fact it's ...

 ... Mucking Fagic indeed!

(Photo taken at annoying and extremely noisy fun fair which took place in our village last weekend)

You are invited to join me again for the final stretch of our little trip in my next post. Hope to see you then!

Sunday 25 September 2016

Wake from your sleep

We won't forget our very first trip to Flanders' Westhoek back in 2012 in a hurry.

Here we were trundling along the motorway when, just after passing the city of Ghent, our car gave up on us. In the middle of the motorway! Fortunately, Jos had the presence of mind to steer her towards the hard shoulder.

As we have breakdown insurance, we made a phone-call and soon one of their mechanics pulled up in front of us. I remained in the car, and in my mind's eye I can still see him opening the bonnet, taking one look and slowly shaking his head. The verdict, which sealed our car's lot, was that the timing belt had broken.

Back in time: September 2012
The upside was that the insurance covered a replacement car for five days, which was exactly the length of our holiday.

A truck appeared to tow our car, we hitched a ride in the truck's cabin, and were given a replacement car, a brand new Ford Fiesta, which we liked so much that we bought exactly the same one as our next car. After all, we did the ultimate test drive, driving over 500 kilometers on all kinds of roads.

Now, I guess you are wondering what all this has to do with the next stretch of this year's holiday, but please bear with me, I'll get to that!

Back in time: September 2012
During that fateful 2012 trip, we visited the town of Veurne and had a little issue with parking. All inner-town parking in Veurne is with a parking disc, which is free but with a time restriction of two hours. However, our replacement car didn't have a parking disc! A kind parking attendant (they do exist!) allowed us to park and for me to stay with the car while Jos went up to the town hall to get one.

By that time, it was almost noon, so we only had time for a quick walk and some lunch before our two hours were up.

This year, we finally made up for that first visit and thanks to our friends, who often visit Veurne and even have family connections with the town, we found a shady parking spot just outside the town centre, which offered free and unlimited parking.

From there, it was only a short walk to the stunning market square (Grote Markt), where the majority of Veurne’s magnificent buildings are.

In the northwest corner is the town hall (stadhuis), built in Flemish Renaissance style between 1596 and 1612, with a blue-and-gold decorated stone loggia projecting from the brick facade.

Next door is the more austere Viscount Hall (Landshuis), in pure Renaissance style, with symmetrical pillars and long, rectangular windows, which now houses the tourist office.

The attached belfry (Belfort) was completed in 1628, its tower dominating the square's skyline.

Behind the Belfort is St-Walburga's Church. After the original church was burnt to a cinder in 1353 it was rebuilt in early Gothic style, but money ran out and it was never finished. Finally, the church was completed in the early 20th Century when the transepts and a short nave were added.

I was quite bowled over by the interior.

After admiring the square's buildings we paid a visit to the tourist office, where we obtained a leaflet describing a 3,8 kilometer town trail, but before heading off we had lunch at a charming little restaurant we discovered back in 2012.

After lunch, the town trail took us along the sleepy town's back streets, predominantly lined with yellow-bricked houses, taking in the details of the many listed buildings.

In the 14th Century, the town was hit by the decline of the cloth trade and people were leaving the town to look for work in the country, leaving the town in the hands of the retired, elderly people, living of private means, who were nicknamed “slapers” (sleepers). This in time became the nickname for the inhabitants of Veurne in general, hence this post's sleepy title.

The reason why Veurne's architectural beauties have survived the Great War and hardly suffered any damage, is because it was saved by the deliberate flooding of the River Ijzer, which effectively stopped the German progress to the sea.

The walk eventually led us to the canal at the outskirts of the town, where we sat in the shade to cool down and rest our wary feet, although I was wearing my red Clarks shoes, which didn't hurt a bit!

Enough already with the architectural and historical details, this leads me flawlessly to the dress I'm wearing, which for once isn't vintage nor even second hand.

This one is from Amsterdam based brand King Louie and was bought in the sales a couple of years ago. When packing, I threw in this dress, as well as the differently patterned one I was wearing while out cycling, at the last moment.

They both  proved to be very comfortable and practical for any outdoor activities, while looking pretty at the same time, so I think they will be a holiday staple from now on.

Wednesday 21 September 2016

A thousand boxes yet to tick

It's been quite a while since I went charity shopping, I've had to give flea markets a miss, and I hadn't seen the inside of my favourite vintage shops in weeks.

Come to think of it, I haven't done any outfit posts in a while either ...

On top of that, the fact that I've been blogging for six months now (the 5th of September was my first kind-of blogiversary) and that I recently published my 50th post, completely passed me by.

You know, life, with all its ups and downs, sometimes gets in the way, and all those things I mentioned haven't exactly been uppermost in my mind.

Shoes worn with all three outfits: Clarks, charity shopped at Oxfam

However, in the last week, I've made up for lost time in a big way, and so I am taking a little break from my travelling posts to give you an update of what I've been up to.

My birthday came the day after we got back from our holiday, and I treated myself to an extra day off, and a visit to one of my favourite charity shops.

Here are the things that came home with me.

First up are two hats, shown here by the faithful Twiggy.

I already wore the sunhat to work last week, as we were having a late heatwave here in Belgium. At some point Belgium was the hottest place in Europe, with temperatures of 30°C and more.

This Scottish souvenir scarf is a favourite find. As with so many things these last couple of weeks, this is reminding me of my dad, who loved Scotland very much.

Finally, this pretty handmade dress, which I wore to go to a flea market on Saturday. More about that later ...

On Thursday, during lunch break, I paid a visit to Think Twice, who were yet again in the middle of one of their famous sales. With prices down to € 4, I didn't restrain myself and bought several pieces.

As I was in a maxi mood, here are my favourites:

Handmade and lined, this Crimplene skirt was just the right length. The green shirt is made from Diolen fabric, but I replaced its tiny buttons with more appropriate ones from my stash of vintage buttons.

The label inside this polyester, bell-sleeved maxi frock reads "M. Fischer, Paris". Again, its length is just right for me.

The crocheted shawl was a birthday present from my friend Ingrid, who made it especially to be worn with my maxi dresses. I'm sure it will keep me warm and cozy on a chilly winter day.

As if that wasn't enough, a flea market was waiting for us on Saturday. It was quite a large one, being held in the streets of the nearby town of Mortsel. We try to go each year if the weather's fine, and we are rarely disappointed.

At the onset, it was quite cloudy, and I even thought I felt a couple of drops of rain, but in no time the sky had cleared and it became sunny and warm.

It didn't take long to make our first purchase, a Fire King Jadite sugar bowl, sadly minus its lid.

I love the opaque green of this glassware, and if space wasn't an issue I would collect the whole range.

Nevertheless, I can never resist picking up pieces now and again, when they are being offered at silly prices. This sugar bowl is going to join the cup and saucer and the two (!) milk jugs I already own.

A couple of stalls further on, we came across a stack of breakfast plates (Argenteuil by Boch), which we bought as we already have cups and saucers of the same design.

While I was paying for the plates, Jos bought this Lourdes music box souvenir.

Honest, it wasn't me!

Just as we were about to leave, I spotted this brown boxy handbag for € 2.

I was attracted to the flowers on this pretty wirework basket, as they are similar to the flowers on a 1940s brooch I own. As the asking price was only € 1, I could hardly leave it behind, could I?

Did I buy any brooches? Well, yes, of course!

I paid a total of € 10 for these six brooches, found at different stalls.

The celluloid brooch (top centre) alone is worth more than that and is now joining my little collection, making a total of four.

Our final purchase was this Côte d'Or tin. Côte d'Or is a famous Belgian brand of chocolate, which has been going around since 1883, and the iconic elephant is still adorning their packaging to this day.

I was sad, however, to read in last week's papers that Côte d'Or has been sold and that in future production of this chocolate will no longer be taking place in Belgium.

I remember that, when I was little, there was always Côte d'Or chocolate in the cupboard at my grandparents' house, and I wanted to eat just the squares with the elephants on them.

I'm not sure the chocolate even tastes the same nowadays ...

Sunday 18 September 2016

Voices heard in fields of green

Our little break in the Westhoek (literally meaning "west corner"), which is how the most westerly part of Belgium is called, passed like a dream.

It's hard to believe that only just over a week ago we were riding our bikes along the many winding lanes surrounding Poperinge, tempting to be explored.

Strictly speaking, they were not our bikes: they were on loan from our lovely host Johanna, who has become more like a friend over the years.

So, on our second day, we set off for a ride, taking a picnic (of course) as well as a cycling map of the area, so that we wouldn't get lost in the maze of country lanes.

Our first destination, along a rather bumpy and mainly unsurfaced road, was a little chapel we had been hearing about. It is called - rather tongue-twistingly - Ons Heerens Boompje, which literally translates as Our Lord's little tree.

There is a legend attached to it, of course. One fine day, a little wooden statue of Christ wearing a thorny crown was found near to where the chapel is now. Out of respect, the statue was brought to St. John's Church (St. Jan's Kerk), where the miraculous statue of Our Lady of St. Jan, which I blogged about in my previous post, was already being kept.

The next day, however, the little statue had disappeared and was later found in a bush.
After this had happened a second and a third time, a little chapel was erected near the bush where it kept disappearing to.

It's what is called a "fever chapel", where people come to pray for the relief of fever and pain.

The bushes and trees surrounding the chapel are hung with ribbons of fabric, and indeed whole garments of any shape and size, since legend has it that this would make fever or pain go away, being taken over by the miraculous statue.

On our way back from the chapel we spotted the domain with our little thatched cottage in the distance.

We continued our bicycle ride, which meandered between fields, encountering further chapels along the way. It is said that there are well over 200 chapels in the area around Poperinge, some of them quite neglected while others are lovingly maintained.

Of course, we had to stop at practically all of them and take photographs!

Many farms and old houses have little shrines (chapelettes, if you like) with statues of the Virgin Mary, sometimes accompanied by some kind of flower arrangement.

We even chose a shady chapel for our picnic.

On the return journey, we came across this folly in a field.  It dates from 1870 and was originally the orientation point of the maze belonging to Couthof castle. It is locally called the gallows (de galge), a symbol for the judicial powers of the lord of the castle.

A couple of days later, we took out the bikes again for a trip to Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery.

From 1915 until 1920 the hamlet of Lijssenthoek became the venue for the largest field hospital in the Ypres Salient. This explains the fact that some of the men buried at the cemetery died long after the war had ended.

Today, the cemetery is a poignant place of reflection, where Frenchmen, Americans and soldiers of the Commonwealth, alongside German prisoners of war, are commemorated under 10779 uniform headstones.

Uphill in France
Shortly after leaving the cemetery, we neared the French border, where we had a little uphill struggle along a street with Belgium on our left and France on our right.

Poperinge in the distance
Then we freewheeled back to Poperinge, where we finished the day with a well-deserved Belgian cappuccino (with whipped cream on top instead of the usual steamed milk) on one of the Market Place's terraces.