Monday 29 January 2018

Water under the bridge

Rather unexpectedly, the sun was out in full force on Sunday before last.

With no flea market on the cards and uncertain weather being forecasted, we hadn't made any plans but, knowing a good opportunity when we see one, we dropped everything, made a couple of sandwiches, and stepped outside.

Having both in abundance, I'm making an effort to wear more skirts and blouses.
I admit that, given the choice, I usually opt for frocks: you just pick one, add a belt and some accessories, add a cardigan or jacket if the weather's colder, and you're ready, which is quite convenient when you're forever strapped for time.

Planning an outfit around separates requires a little bit more thought, and I often play it safe, by combining a plain skirt with a patterned blouse, or vice versa.

Ever since I started blogging, though, I've been encouraged to be more adventurous and try some pattern mixing, with rather, err, mixed results!

The skirt is an old favourite. In the past, I wore it with a plain orange-red blouse. Now, I wanted to try something different for a change and I must say that I'm quite pleased with how it turned out.

While exploring different possibilities, I noticed a resemblance in the stylized flowers appearing in both the skirt and the blouse, tying the outfit together.

The  lilac pussy-bow blouse, with its pattern of purple and orange flowers, and tiny black pearly buttons, isn't an obvious choice for this time of year. As the fabric is quite thin, I wore a long-sleeved tee underneath. The blouse's label was hiding a second label underneath, and look: it's Diolen!

I added an orange belt and topped it with my long orange cardigan, which I've been wearing rather a lot. It's quite surprising how many outfits it goes with!

We decided to walk along the river. Or rather, rivers!

About 15 kilometers downstream from Lier, the little town we recently visited, the river Nete arrives in Rumst where it joins the river Dijle arriving from Mechelen, giving birth to the river Rupel, the only river in Belgium which isn't born from a source.

This watery beauty spot is part of so-called Riverland (Rivierenland), a water-rich region in the southwest of the province of Antwerp, where no less than five rivers are determining the landscape.

Their freshwater tidal action also ensures a unique fauna and flora.

The scenic point in Rumst, where the three aforementioned rivers meet, is the perfect starting place for walking and cycling, and the rivers' dykes and towpaths form the backbone of a footpath and cycle network.

As getting across the rivers meant a detour of many kilometers, two foot and cycle bridges were created here in 2002, one across the river Nete and one across the river Dijle, nicknamed the "Blue Bridges" for obvious reasons.

The dykes and towpaths give access to various nature reserves, providing diversity and the possibility of shorter and longer, circular and linear walks.

You can easily put together your own walk with the help of a handy and comprehensive map of walks.

Unfortunately, the towpaths and the bridges are regularly being terrorized by groups of cyclists, identically dressed in typical cycling attire, who look down their noses at ordinary walkers and people riding their bikes.They are a real plague and when out walking one must be prepared to jump out of their way or be mown off the path.

One such group arrived with screeching brakes just after we'd crossed the second bridge. They'd stopped for a drink and I could hear them sniggering at the sight of my hat when we walked past.

Not that I care. The thought of being dressed in one of those silly monkey suits they were wearing fills me with horror.

We have often visited this area in the past, just walking the towpaths in either direction or veering off them to explore the sometimes muddy byways. Once, on a particularly balmy day in December, we did a full day's circular walk.

The above photo collages (which before blogging I posted on my Facebook page), are dating from 2013 to 2015.

I couldn't quite believe it's been that long since we've been there and that I've therefore never blogged about the area before ...

This time, we crossed both bridges and walked in a westerly direction, along the river Rupel, with its rich history of brick-making on the right bank.

Then we veered away from the river onto a path to the left,winding through gently undulating fields and meadows, with far-reaching views and a backdrop of great big skies.

Upon reaching a bench we'd spotted from a distance, we sat down to eat our sandwiches, the sun warming our backs.

Afterwards, with the sun regularly dipping behind the clouds, we walked back towards the bridges, admiring their clever construction, somehow fitting seamlessly into the landscape.

Crossing once more to our starting point, the sun had admitted defeat, giving free reign to the eternal blanket of clouds. But never mind, we'd had our Vitamin D fix!

At a chalet belonging to a fishing club, frequented by locals who were playing cards and watching sports (cycling, of all things!) on television, we had a Belgian cappucino, topped with a snowy mountain peak of whipped cream!

I'm taking my outfit, including crazy hat, to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style!

Thursday 25 January 2018

I don't care if Monday's blue

From blue skies to Blue Monday: what a difference a day makes! The sunny spell on Sunday before last turned out to be a one-off, as on Monday we were back to the watershed which seems to be our lot this Winter.

In fact, Blue Monday quite lived up to its name this year.

Through the rain beating against the office windows, I could just make out the huge canvas covering the building opposite, advertising Côte d'Or chocolate. But even a serotonin boosting bar of dark chocolate wouldn't have been enough to trick my brain into thinking happy thoughts.

By the end of the week, I was feeling worn out and more than just a little dejected, especially as I'm still on my own in the office for most of the time. Believe me, having only yourself to talk to can be quite exhausting, especially as my imaginary speaking partner seems to know all the answers and can be quite rude at times ...

The weather kept me from venturing too far in my lunch breaks, often just nipping over to the indoor shopping centre across the road, where I managed to find two pairs of gloves, with 70% off: a pair of leather gloves in gold and a pair of hot pink ones, in brushed wool and with a little velvet bow.

There was a tiny light at the end of the tunnel as not only was I taking Friday afternoon off, the sun decided to make an brief appearance that very day.

I was wearing the charcoal grey River Woods skirt I'd scored for € 5 on Saturday, combined with a black pussy-bow blouse from Think Twice, abundantly printed with multicoloured blooms.

On top, a bright blue cardigan, with one of my oldest brooches - in terms of ownership - pinned to it.
I love this white metal scroll with its dangly little chains ending in tiny pearls.

I added bright blue tights (just visible in the first collage) and a wide bright blue belt.

The boots aren't my most exciting pair, but they are ultra comfortable and waterproof, as well as being made of the softest faux leather.

Talking of boots, I am once again looking for a pair of burgundy ones. I though my search had ended last year, when I stumbled upon a fabulous pair of Finnish made boots at Think Twice. Alas, they are the pull-on kind, without a zip, and therefore the kind of boots you need to get up earlier for if you want to wear them. All the pulling and pushing has wreaked havoc with the inner heel of one of the boots, creating an uncomfortable bulge which makes walking in them an ordeal.

So, after work, Jos picked me up and we stopped at several shoe shops on our way home.

Not surprisingly, I didn't find what I was looking for, but I did pick up this divine pair of booties covered in a holographic floral velvet.

It started raining again on Friday night, and it kept raining heavily well into Saturday, its constant murmuring lodging itself into my brain.

We tossed around a couple of plans for the weekend, but on Saturday I was happy to sleep late (ish!) and potter around the house, showing you some of Dove Cottage's nooks and crannies in the process.

But there was nothing for it, we did have to brave the rain on Saturday afternoon!

We were visiting Jos's son and daughter in law, meeting their adorable British Shorthair kitten, Abby, for the first time.

Warning: cuteness alert!

Incidentally, I was wearing a very similar grey!

The grey cardigan has been living in my wardrobe for many years. It's from C&A and dates from before my second hand/vintage days. I can't remember when I last wore it but, casting around for a suitable cardigan, and taking my cue from the grey belt, I suddenly remembered this one.

My pleated, red checked skirt has been hanging ready for wear ever since I picked it up at Think Twice a couple of months ago. Although it's got a certain kind of frumpiness to it, it is also deliciously swooshy, and I loved wearing it!

Long time no wear for this black blouse, found at Think Twice, with its little shawl collar, slightly gathered sleeves and sprinkling of red, pink and orange flowers. I love how the sleeves are absolutely covered with them, while they are sparser on the bodice and collar.

In keeping with the grey theme, I added a plastic grey swallow brooch, prompting Jos to say that one swallow does not make a Spring, although I believe in English it should be Summer, not Spring.

Back to our visit, where we were treated with coffee and some very indulgent chocolate tart. Yummy! We even got leftovers to take home with us.

We spent the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday relaxing inside Dove Cottage, doing some reading, eating more tart, and watching the final episode of Endeavour, Season Four.

The episode had Morse talking to an American lady, who disclosed she was from Omaha, Nebraska. Thinking of Goody, we said "Omahahahaha" in chorus!

A few hours of unexpected sunshine on Sunday made us grab our coats and go for a walk. But that will be for my next post!

Sunday 21 January 2018

Mr. Blue Sky

Opening our curtains on Sunday morning, we were met by a strange phenomenon: a bright blue sky and pale amber sunlight. After all those grey days, it felt really weird, as if aliens had landed in our back garden.

No time to waste, so after breakfast we dressed warmly (it was a bit chilly) and went outside for a long overdue top up of our Vitamin D levels.

This dress, in a funky rust and brown printed fabric, was a € 4 bargain from Think Twice, bought back in November. I secured its tie with a Cameo brooch with unusual pale green background, and added a belt in forget-me-not blue.

On top went the "hairy" green cardigan I'd charity shopped on Saturday, adding a contrasting rust coloured enameled brooch. The ring is one of my € 1 buys from last week.

My Tweed jacket, which you have seen before and is part of a suit, kept me warm all day, helped by a green knitted scarf and green woolly hat. I wore flat heeled boots this time, a very comfortable pair which was definitely made for walking!

Our destination was a small but charming town less than half an hour's drive from Dove Cottage, which goes by the name of Lier.

Lier is located at the spot where two rivers, Grote Nete (Big Nete) and Kleine Nete (Small Nete) meet, creating a third river which, flowing downstream from Lier, is simply called Nete.

We parked on the outskirts of town, then walked along the river's towpath until St Margaret's Church could be glimpsed rising above the rooftops, shimmering brilliantely against the deep blue of the sky.

The church is reigning over the cobbled streets of the enclosed beguinage, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.

In its quiet streets time seems to stand still, in spite of the constant stream of tourists, their voices echoing in this tranquil place, where once widows and unmarried women led a religiously inspired but independent life, under the leadership of a "grand dame", or "grootjuffrouw" in Flemish.

Surprisingly we almost had the place to ourselves on this sunny Sunday morning. When we passed one of the beguinage's gates on our way back in the afternoon, we could see that it was quite crowded.

They say the early bird catches the worm. Well, here the early bird was rewarded by endless photo opportunities without having to constantly work around the crowds!

This particular type of beguinage is called a 'street beguinage", and the one in Lier has 162 houses spread over eleven narrow streets.

At the centre stands St Margaret's Church, constructed in the 17-18th century. Construction started in 1664 and the church was dedicated in 1671. The top section of the front wall, together with the bell tower, was only completed one hundred years later. This period of time is shown by the architectural styles: while the main part of the church is baroque, the bell tower shows a clear rococo influence.

This narrow passageway is called "Hemdsmouwken" (meaning "shirtsleeve") due to its shape, and it is only 98 centimeters wide at one end. It was originally meant as a fire-break, to stop fire from spreading from one row of wood-and-loam houses to another.

The houses in this street, dating from around 1720, were the beguinage's last extension. With their generous proportions, they were inhabited by rich and aristocratic ladies. They were built on the site formerly used by the beguines for washing and bleaching linen and wool. The street's name, "Grachtkant" (meaning "canal side"), refers to the beguinage canal which used to run here.

By the time we left the beguinage, our stomachs were rumbling, so we ate the sandwiches we'd brought sat on a bench overlooking a bend in the river.

Afterwards, we strolled towards the town centre, along a scenic and much photographed stretch of the river, with classic views of the Hoogbrug (High Bridge), with some old town houses beyond.

Across the river is the picturesque building, "De Fortuyn", its striking, red and green shuttered façade, enhanced by the blue of the sky, meeting its reflection in the gently rippling water.

Can you spot the duck who had the audacity to disrupt the building's mirror image?

As we were in need of a hot beverage by then, we decided to check if the coffee shop we'd often frequented in the past was still in business. It was, so we sat ourselves down and warmed ourselves on cappuccino and hot chocolate, for which I seem to have a craving lately.

We'd ordered some chocolates (pralines) to go with our drinks, and Jos's coffee came with a complementary chocolate with the shop's name printed on it.

We made our way back via the Grote Markt, Lier's main square, and through Lier's main shopping street until we reached the town ramparts.

The statue on top the building on the top right is still sporting a Santa hat. Somebody should tell him Christmas is well and truly over!

Upon reaching the ramparts, which form a green belt around the town centre, we followed these until St Margaret's Church and the beguinage came into view, and we were nearing the end of our walk.

By then, clouds were starting to gather once more, a foreboding of the stormy weather to come.

Linking to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style, as usual.

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Mellow yellow

After hearing about the extreme weather conditions in other parts of the globe, it seems a bit silly to complain about grey skies and a bit of rain.

Still, there have been more rainy days than we've bargained for and we've hardly seen more than a few hours of sunshine in the last two months.

When the weather forecast promised us a long-awaited sunny weekend, we did a little jig and made some plans.

But Saturday dawned with a persistent fog, against which the feeble January sun hardly stood a chance.

To cheer ourselves up, we decided on some retail therapy, in our case, of course, involving a trip to the charity shops! What an exciting life we are leading ...

A long overdue outing for this mellow yellow dress!

It's made from a heavy polyester fabric, which the label identifies as Crinklé Terylene. The bulk of the dress has got a simple, slightly shiny, yellow flower print on an off-white background, with strips of solid yellow accenting the collar and the fake pocket tabs. The buttons are covered in the same yellow fabric.

To break up the pattern I used a shiny vinyl belt in a caramel brown, echoing the hearts of the flowers in the print. My other accessories were amber coloured beads and a blue framed plastic flower brooch.

Another wear of my burnt orange tights! They seem to go with quite a lot of my outfits, so it's a good thing I was able to find another couple of pairs at the market stall. To balance it out, I added the chunky orange cardigan I charity shopped during the Christmas break.

The embellished brown boots (I love the cutouts at the top) were charity shopped as well, back in December.

In fear of getting bored with the coats and jackets I have on rotation, I pulled out this brown checked swing coat, which I found it at Oxfam about two years ago.

You've probably noticed my yellow beret, which I couldn't take off as my hair was all over the place. I also wore my green furry supermarket scarf (so soft and cosy!) and a pair of teal gloves. I love how my cardigan's orange cuffs are cheekily peeking out from under my coat sleeves ...

On to our shopping trip, which certainly wasn't a wasted one. Minutes after walking into shop number one, we spotted this plaster bust of a pale but blushing Mary and baby Jesus. Even though poor Mary has had an accident, they pair came home with us joining our little collection living on top of a bookcase in our front room.

I also found several items of new-to-me clothing. From top to bottom: a blue and pink cardigan from retro label Zoë Loveborn, a hairy green cardigan from Thelma & Louise (a ridiculously expensive Belgian label), a King Louie dress and a charcoal skirt in a fine charcoal corduroy fabric by River Woods.

If I'd bought these new, they would have cost me around € 300 - gasp! - so the € 19 I paid for all four items can be considered quite a bargain!

The sun was making headway through the clouds when we came out of shop number two so, as we were parked near the small park in Duffel, we wasted no time, threw our gear in the boot, grabbed the camera and went for a walk.

The perfect backdrop to show you my final finds of the day: these two miniature Spanish fans, for € 0,25 each. Even though they are tiny, they seem to be quite effective, so ideal for keeping in my handbag to combat any hot flushes en route.

The park in question is not very large, but always a joy to visit, with its imaginative planting, water garden with stone fountain, pond complete with waterfowl of all plumage, and access to the adjacent river's towpath.

But all is not well. Although the council is doing its utmost to keep it all nice and tidy, their well meant plans keep being thwarted by the resident hoodlums, who leave mountains of empty beer cans as well as a trail of destruction in their wake.

An avenue of newly planted trees had been decimated, several young saplings deliberately snapped off.

At least this tree was allowed to grow old and die gracefully and is now playing host to a colony of fungi.

As the sun was sinking lower, we made our way back to our car, with sore feet in my case, as my boots were definitely not made for any substantial walking.

Before I sign off, let me show you some of the bargains I bagged in the sales last week.

These rings were going at € 1 each in the closing down sale of an accessories shop.

And last but not least, these wonderful teal Miz Mooz shoes, which I managed to grab with 60% off, including a snug orange box for Miz Phoebe!

Linking again to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style!