Thursday 27 September 2018

Bats in the belfry

On the Thursday of our holiday week, our weather app said it would be cloudy but dry, and we would get to see the sun in the afternoon. I said, let's wear a dress!

The dress I chose is one you've seen before, quite recently actually. But you know what, I do wear my clothes more than once, especially when it's such a gorgeous one. I fell in love with its mustard colour and orange, green and white flower print the minute I clapped eyes on it at Think Twice two years ago. This time I accessorized it with my green, round-buckled vinyl belt and green beads (the ones on the front have a flower design on them) and, on its collar, I pinned a 1950s brooch, which looks as if it was made of tiny white flower petals.

I added a cardigan and my orange leather jacket for the day, not to forget my Clarks Cloudsteppers, which must be the most comfortable holiday shoes ever.

We were off to France - the border's just under six kilometers from our cottage - and our destination of choice was a town called Bergues, which is about nine kilometers from Dunkerque, in the Hauts de Flandre region.

Our satnav, which clearly loves getting us off the beaten track, soon made us turn off the main road, and onto twisting and turning single track roads, through fields heavy with crops and tiny timeless hamlets.

It was then that the first drops of rain started to fall, getting more and more intense, until we could barely make out the road signs. The rain stopped as abruptly as it has started, at which point it dawned on us that we must have passed the French border and were now in France!

After about half an hour we arrived in Bergues. The town came into the spotlight with the successful French comedy, "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis", which was filmed in Bergues and released in 2008.

For the French, the North isn’t somewhere they choose to go! Apart from that obvious culprit, the weather, there's the so-called Ch’ti patois (or slang), which is different from the standard French, giving rise to a general presumption that the region is unsophisticated.

As a result of the film, which became one of the best selling French films ever, all things "Ch'ti" became trendy almost overnight, giving tourism a boost, with the number of visitors flocking to the town rising dramatically.

There's a theory which claims that the "Ch'ti" nickname for the inhabitants of the north of France (a contraction of "Ch'timi") was invented by French soldiers in the trenches when confronted with their northern counterparts and their local dialect, where "c'est toi" and "c'est moi" sounded like "ch'ti" and "ch'mi". 

I'd printed out a 5,2 kilometre walk  called "Bergues: Nature and History", which started at the cattle market, Place de Marché aux Bestiaux, where there was ample space to park.

The charming but dilapidated wooden building with its peeling pale blue paint, is home to the market's cattle scales and from what we could see through its slightly grimy windows, it seems to be still in use.

Surrounded by ramparts and canals, the fortified town of Bergues is dominated by the silhouette of its belfry.

The tourist brochures claim that whether you arrive in Bergues by road or by waterway, you will always be welcomed by the sound of the chimes of its belfry.

There were no chimes for us, though: it was just our luck that scaffolding had been erected all the way up the 47 metre high tower, silencing the carillon with its 50 bells in the process.

Below is how the belfry, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, looked like in better days. The postcard on the left shows the previous version of the belfry dating from the late 14th Century, before its destruction in the Second World War, after which it was rebuilt between 1958 and 1961.

The fine Flemish-style town-hall was initially built in 1665 in another location.  In 1871, it was moved and rebuilt, stone by stone, in its current spot. With its mullioned windows, pilasters and sculptured obelisks, it is reminiscent of buildings from the same era in Flemish towns on the other side of the border, in Belgium.

After all, this is a French town with a long-standing Flemish history!

Our walking leaflet directed us to the right of the town hall and then, where the road forked, to bear left into Rue des Annonciales. This had us stumped as the mentioned street clearly was the one to the right, not the left. Did we already get it wrong this early in the walk? Blaming it on a bad translation of the original French instructions, which was later confirmed, we took the mentioned street, where we could soon see a magnificent if time-worn marble arch in front of us.

Beyond the arch, which marks the entrance to the Jardin Public (public garden), and at the end of an uphill path, we could see two ruined towers standing guard.

These are all that remain of the once important abbey of Saint Winoc, which was torn down during the French Revolution.

Bergues was founded on this small hill, and took its name from the Flemish “groene berg”, meaning “green hill. The first mention of Bergues dates back to 857. In 885, Bergues was fortified by Baudouin the Bald, Count of Flanders, to protect it from the Vikings. The Count entrusted the local religious authorities with the relics of  Saint Winoc, a patron saint who converted the region to Christianity at the end of the 7th century.

In 1022, the Benedictine abbey of Saint Winoc was founded and remained very influential in the region until the French Revolution.  

Apart from the marble arch, only the Square and Peaked Towers, which acted as a landmark for navigation for ships entering the Dunkirk Channel, survived the destruction.

The Square Tower, built at the transept crossing of the old abbey, is the town's oldest construction, while the Peaked Tower was located at the entrance of the abbey.

Now, we were instructed us to leave the public garden and turn right on a residential street towards the town walls. Here, we had to pass underneath an arch, then down a set of steps, until a quiet, enclosed path, running between the ramparts and the moat, which circles them, was reached.

The ramparts, 5300 meters long, have surrounded almost the entire town for many centuries.

Originally fortified as early as the 9th century, the defenses of the town of Bergues were rebuilt in 1383, and modified by Vauban in the 17th century.

It is possible to walk either on top or alongside of them, the latter of which we were doing, until the walk's instructions directed us up a flight of steps, and back the way we had come but this time on top of the walls.

All this exercise had made us peckish, and as it was getting late, we were all set to make a detour back to the town centre in search for a place to eat.

By now, we were back in the public garden and crossing it as directed by our guide, when suddenly, like a mirage, a chalet housing a restaurant appeared as if out of nowhere.

Perusing the menu, and liking what we saw, we went inside, and ordered herby brochettes, which came accompanied by a fresh salad and Tabbouleh in cute little tagine pots.

It would be our best meal of the entire week, and the service couldn't have been friendlier either. This little gem, called l'Aubette, comes fully recommended should you ever find yourself in Bergues.

After lunch, our walk found us back alongside the ramparts, but at least we were now out of the woods, if only literally.

Soon we arrived at a busy road leading into town, which we had to cross. We then passed the Porte aux Boules, one of the town's five gates, beyond which we needed to rejoin the moat.

Here we met another example of things getting lost in translation, as we were instructed to walk along the left of the moat, whereas we had to keep the moat on our left!

We meandered along this particularly picturesque part of the moat, which is called the Canal du Roi, with the curtain walls of the ramparts reflected in the tranquil waters.

Where the moat ended, we walked along a stretch of tarmacked road, until we reached the Canal de Bergues. This is one of the oldest French canals, started in the 16th century, and connecting Bergues with the port of Dunkerque.

In order to return to the town centre, we re-crossed the busy road we'd crossed before. The resident gaggle of geese seemed to know their traffic code, as they patiently waited until the road was clear before crossing.

Back in town, we passed the municipal museum, housed in an elegant 17th century building, which used to be the Mont de Piété (Mount of Piety), an institutional pawnbroker ran as a charity.

The museum has a large collection of mostly Flemish paintings and drawings from the 16th to the 19th century, as well as a natural history collection. 

Finding ourselves once again at the Belfry, we concluded our visit to Bergues with a cup of coffee in one of the small cafés lining the main square, the Place de la République, before returning to our starting point and car.

One day, when the Belfry's restoration has been finished, we would like to return and climb its 193 steps for a bird's eye view of this lovely little town.

Sunday 23 September 2018

The burrs and the bees

I've been making the most of the last of the Summer days by wearing some of the things which were still rattling around unworn in my wardrobe.

With the Summer we've been having, my beloved polyester dresses must have thought their days were numbered, the heatwave dictating that I wore most of my cotton frocks, which in Summers past hardly left the suitcase they are stored in.

If I'd heeded the advice of those who are supposedly in the know, to let go of anything that hasn't been worn for over a year, these would have been ditched long ago.

Instead, any unworn Diolen, Trevira et al. dresses, apart from one or two which will be culled at my next wardrobe changeover, will live to shine another day.

I was quite surprised I hadn't even worn this red dress once,  with its cheerful print of green dots and white flowers, as it usually makes at least one Summer appearance (see here and here).

So, on Friday before last, I wore it to work, with a white belt for contrast. I pinned a big, white-rimmed plastic brooch to the green cardigan I'd added, while further accessories were a string of green beads and a yellow and pink swirled plastic ring.

As it has been getting quite chilly in the mornings, I also wore a jacket on top . This vintage black and white hounds-tooth jacket, with its shiny black buttons rimmed with gold, is a firm favourite. It's got belt loops but was lacking a belt when it first became mine, which was soon remedied by adding a slim shiny black belt with a gold buckle I already owned.

My dark red chiffon scarf added another pop of colour.

I'd taken the afternoon off and after Jos met me from the tram, we made a detour to the nearest charity shop before heading home.

I can never resist a wicker sewing basket! This one hadn't even made it to the shelves yet: I found it lurking beneath a large serving dish at the bottom of a crate of items ready to be shelved. Priced at € 1, it was obvious it had to be mine!

The jewellery display didn't disappoint either, with a necklace of rose pearls and translucent plastic beads, a bracelet and two bangles, and a delightful apple pendant.

Two new-to-me retro-print blouses also came home with me and while they are waiting their turn to be worn by me, Angelica was more than happy to model them for you!

The sun was shining on Saturday morning, but by the time we made it to the park clouds had gathered once again. We ate the sandwiches we'd brought for our picnic while sat on a bench, trying to avoid the omnipresent wasps which were intent on sharing our lunch.

The brightly coloured plaid print dress I was wearing is well travelled. It came with us to Wales last year and I'd packed it again for our week away earlier this month, although it didn't leave my suitcase on both occasions. 

Time to give it an outing before being packed away for Winter.  Besides, I thought its autumnal hues were perfect for this time of year!

My vintage jacket, made from cobalt blue crepe, was a lucky find in a charity shop in Newcastle Emlyn, Wales, a couple of years ago. 

The eagle-eyed among you may notice that I was wearing the bracelet and one of the bangles I found on Friday. The blue bangle and blue and white necklace were charity shopped as well, as was the handbag, but I can't remember where the brooch, a tiny plastic hat decorated with flowers, came from.

The half-elasticated belt was bought retail many years ago. I have it in orange as well.

And look, the dress has got pockets!

You can see a close-up of the brooch I'd pinned to its lapel, which I found at a flea market in Carmarthen, Wales, back in 2015, in one of the collages below.

The sun kept playing hide and seek while we went for a short stroll around the park.

I don't know what it is about September, and why it makes me feel quite so wistful. Might it be  because it's the month that I was born in, and when I first drew breath, I breathed in the bittersweet scent of September?

There is a hint of earthiness in the air, a heady mixture of delight and melancholy that I wish that I could bottle.

"The breezes taste
of apple peel.
The air is full
of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
burning brush,
new books, erasers,
chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
well-honeyed hum,
and Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
with suds, the days
are polished with
a morning haze."
~John Updike, September

Summer foliage has had its time and is fading to hues of a mouldy, greyish brown, while solitary bees were feasting on the last of the late Summer flowers basking in the mellow sunlight.

One cannot deny that there is a subtle change in the light in these days which have Autumn breathing down their necks. The sun, when she graces us with her presence, is veiled by an almost imperceptible haze.

I was being attacked by burrs, so it was time to leave and cross the street to the charity shop which is almost opposite the park.

Here I found another stack of bangles as well as two vintage summer frocks, which will be put away for next year, by which time they'll be a surprise as I'll probably have forgotten all about them.

Then we had to dash home as we were going out that night, to the theatre, no less.

We were off to see a musical in which Jos's multi-talented 18 going on 19 year old granddaughter was performing, as she does each September. This year it was Grease! We admit not really being fans of the genre, but obviously we gladly make an exception for her. 

In my book, theatre-going equals dressing up, and I chose a long-sleeved ankle-length dress with an eye-catching blowsy flower print, which I'd bought at the tail end of the C&A sales earlier this year. 

In the end, I decided not to wear the shawl, crocheted for my birthday by my friend Ingrid two years ago, as it was quite a balmy night.

We made outfit photos before we went out, but as the colours were slightly drained by the evening sunlight, we re-did it on Sunday morning to offer you a better view of the details.

Look at how different the light is, changing the colours significantly!

My necklace, brooch and ring echo the colours of the dress's print, while the pink floral jacket, a present from Vix, provided contrast to the predominant dark tones of the dress.

This is the outfit I'll be linking to Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style.

It's almost unimaginable that I was posing in our sunlit garden only a week ago, as it's been raining heavily while I'm typing these words, and the temperature has dropped considerably.

I'll be continuing my travelogue in my next post. Hope you will join me again on my travels?

Wednesday 19 September 2018

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

The sky, while still quite overcast, was looking just a tiny bit brighter on Wednesday morning. No longer trusting the weathermen, who seemed to be constantly contradicting each other, and with the weather app on Jos's phone claiming there would be an 50% chance of rain, I decided to wear one of the two pairs of trousers I'd packed.

This navy pair was bought in the H&M sales and their subtle, almost tone-on-tone print, makes them practically a neutral, so that choosing a top was easy.

The tropical print short-sleeved jumper was another new-to-me King Louie find and, bought at a time when it was still much too hot for a jumper, even a lightweight short-sleeved one, this was its very first wear. I added a slightly longer string of pale blue plastic beads.

Before we left I swapped the orange ballerinas for a sturdy pair of walking shoes and took both a cardigan and a raincoat with me. I'm happy to divulge that I wouldn't need the raincoat!

But first, we made time for a leisurely breakfast, which is something we treasure as we're usually unable to do this on a weekday morning.

Soft boiled eggs with soldiers and cups of strong coffee were on the menu!

The less than perfect weather also determined our plans for the day, deciding against a ramble in the hilly countryside south of Poperinge. 

Instead, we found ourselves driving down to the quiet little town of Diksmuide, less than half an hour away in north-easterly direction.

Last time we were here, there was free and unlimited parking near the station but, although parking was still free, there was a time limit of two hours. While making inquiries, Jos bumped into a very nice chap, who escorted us to a free car park at the other end of town, where we grabbed the last parking spot.

From there, it was only a short walk to the town's main square, the Grote Markt. 

What a peculiar place, we mused, as we passed some trees, their trunks decorated with macrame spiderwebs. At our feet, we noticed some strange copper studs in the pavements. And that was before we came across the man in the moon!

Diksmuide is another market town which was reduced to rubble during the First World War and painstakingly restored.

The resurrected Grote Markt has an array of attractive buildings and it's hard to fathom that almost everything in sight was rebuilt in the 20th century. 

In a prominent position is the recently renovated town hall. The original hall was built in 1428 but after its destruction it was rebuilt in 1923 in Flemish Renaissance style with the addition of a belfry tower.

Typically, there was no sign of the forecasted rain. Better still, while we were exploring the buildings surrounding the Grote Markt, the grey clouds made way for a timid blue sky and a hesitant sun was bathing the buttery brick façades in a golden glow.

Behind the town hall lies the Sint-Niklaaskerk (St. Nicholas Church). This too was completely reduced to rubble in the war and what you see is a reconstruction of the Gothic building with an elegant 18th Century spire. If you look at the black and white photograph taken in 1918, I'm sure you agree this was quite a feat!

Inside the church some fragments of the original building can be found, including a glass case containing a battered weather vane.

The oak churchwardens' bench on the top left is a replica of the original from 1542.

Back in the square, we admired the statue of General Baron Jacques de Dixmude, which has been guarding the town since 1930.

In 1914, he was commander of the Belgian troops in Diksmuide, and he is considered a military hero of the First World War.

After lunch in one of the restaurants lining the square - a mediocre affair - we explored the rest of the town by walking the 3.2 km-long town trail, indicated by the copper pavement studs I mentioned before, with information panels at various locations.

In addition to this, we also had a leaflet outlining the walk, but unfortunately this often contradicted the pavement studs, which wasn't very helpful for people who are notorious at getting lost!

Our walk passed through the town park, which is laid out on the old ramparts, where a mixed couple of swans was reigning the roost on the moat. 

Soon after emerging from the park we came across the Post Office. This was the residence of the Spanish governor during the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648). After 1918, it was rebuilt in line with the original, with the addition of stepped gables and tabernacle windows.

Here, we had to descend a flight of steps leading down to the town canal towpath.

It would have been tempting to keep following the canal, but then we would have missed two highlights, the first being the Fish Market, where fisherman’s wife Jette is a bronze reminder of the town's former fish trade.

Crossing the bridge over the canal, the copper studs pointed us into the direction of a narrow street opposite the fish market, which led to the town's small beguinage.

From the 13th Century onwards, the resident beguines made a living washing, bleaching and processing wool, cloth and linen, breeding animals and even brewing beer. After the First World War, the beguinage was rebuilt. However, the beguines did not return and the beguinage was given a social function.

We retraced our steps to the waterside, leaving the town behind, and venturing into open countryside. With fields offering a view to Diksmuide on our right, we walked alongside a small stream which shortly joined the town's main river, the IJzer (or Yser). This is the famous river which played such a crucial part in the course of the First World War.

Beyond the compact marina, we could see the striking IJzertoren (Yser Tower) which is the town's main attraction. As well as a monument to peace, it is a 22 story war museum, which we have yet to visit.

Instead, we opted for indulgence in the form of warm apple pie with ice-cream and whipped cream, which we ordered on the terrace of a tearoom facing the tower.

Unfortunately, a whole army of pesky wasps made a beeline (I guess wasp-line would be more appropriate here) to our table, intent on gorging on our sugary offerings and spoiling our appetites.

Then, after a quick visit to one of the most depressing charity shops ever, it was time for our last port of call for the day.

The Dodengang (or Trench of Death),  just 1,5 kilometers along the river from Diksmuide, is the last remnant of the Belgian First World War trench system. 

There is an visitor centre outlining the history of the infamous trench through interactive applications, pictures, film footage and over one hundred original objects. 

But it's the network of trenches itself that really gets under one’s skin. Now the place is clean, orderly, and reinforced with concrete, making it almost impossible to imagine the unbearably harsh conditions soldiers fought and lived under in this godforsaken hellhole.

This one kilometre long network of revetments, saps (the extension of a trench to a point below the enemy fortifications) and dug-outs was one of the most dangerous Belgian positions on the Western Front, situated just 50 metres from a German bunker. As a result, the trench was subjected to almost constant fire from the Germans. 

Finally, in 1917, a big concrete shelter with lookout holes called the "Mouse Trap" (bottom photo in the above collage) was built to stop the Germans from infiltrating the Belgian trenches at the ends of the saps.

As if on cue, the sun had disappeared, leaving a moody sky, its slate grey matching the somberness of a war scarred landscape, the only colour provided by a single red poppy raising its head.

* Post title taken from In Flanders Fields by John McCrae

On a lighter note, I am linking my outfit to Nancy's Fancy Friday this week. Do go and have a look at the other entries!

Friday 14 September 2018

Seaside nostalgia

I have a bone to pick with the weathermen!

In the week before our holiday, they all raved about the gorgeous late Summer weather we would be having, and I'd already mentally packed a suitcase full of Summer frocks. By the end of the week, however, things had quite literally cooled down considerably. They even managed to squeeze in a rainy day in the middle of our holiday!

Now, what to pack? Even if we were only going for a week, I needed to consider all options, including the fact that they might easily have got it wrong again. Panicking, I chucked in all kinds of everything, including lots of cardigans and a variety of things to layer underneath. For good measure, I packed not one but two raincoats!

The sky we woke up to on our first morning held a definite promise of rain, and indeed, even before we finished breakfast we could see the first raindrops making tiny concentric circles in the pond.

In spite of the inconclusive forecast, it looked set to be an utterly miserable, grey day, the kind that drains everything of colour.

Not to be deterred, we decided to go to the seaside as planned, so I provided some colour of my own by wearing a sky blue patterned dress and orange cardigan. As a nod to our destination, I added a sailing boat brooch.

It rained on an off while we were on our way to the small seaside resort of Westende. Parking our car in a free car park in De Panne, the seaside town nearest to us, we continued our journey on the coast tram, which travels all along the Belgian coastline, getting off at Westende-Bad about 40 minutes later.

Hemmed in by an encroaching army of ugly high rise apartment buildings - the curse of the Belgian seaside - this delightful villa on a busy road in Westende is a throwback to a bygone era.

Built in 1922 by architect Oscar Van de Voorde for a doctor's family from Ghent, Villa les Zéphyrs gives us a taste of how a well-to-do family would have spent their summer holidays on the Belgian coast in the 1930s.

Entering the house from the adjacent modern extension housing the town's tourist office, the first room you see is the amazing bathroom, with its sunken marble bath, terrazzo floor and tiles featuring the popular thistle motif of the era.

I think I may have gasped upon entering the dining room with adjacent fumoir (smoking room) which could be closed off with a pair of plush rose red curtains.

Turquoise tiles and brass adorn the splendid fireplace, complementing the original wood panelling and sideboards.

All of these are much older than the house, as they were designed by renowned Art Nouveau architect and designer Henri Van de Velde in 1889. They were only attributed to him in 2006 after the director of the design museum in Ghent found the designs in the catalogue of the furniture workshop ran by Van de Velde in the late 19th century.

This to-die-for Art Nouveau cabinet caught my eye in one of the other downstairs rooms, as did the two fabulous light fittings.

More treasures were to be found in the basement kitchen, the domain of the family's personnel.

The framed January page of a 1934 calendar was advertising some of the soaps we have on display in Dove Cottage's kitchen!

Upstairs there was an array of seaside holiday related items, including some fine costumes and a poster advertising a sandcastle competition complete with its rules.

Another eye-catching feature are the highly decorative stained glass windows with their floral motifs.

After leaving the villa, it was time for lunch, so we walked into the direction of the promenade.

Soon, the light but consistent drizzle had blurred my glasses but although we were carrying umbrellas, we were reluctant to open them, thinking we'd soon be inside.  So, we plodded on, walking the length of the rather forlorn and deserted promenade in search of place to eat, in the end settling for the only decent looking restaurant, which by then we'd walked past twice already.

The windswept beach was empty apart from some seagulls huddling together after a meal of mussels left behind by the retreating waves.

Making use of the restaurant's facilities, I almost did a double take when I noticed this strange, wild haired creature staring back at me in the mirror. The wind and drizzle had conspired with the salty sea air in providing me with a unwanted new hairdo. No amount of patting would get it to lay down, and as I didn't have a brush or comb in my bag, this is how my hair would look like for the rest of the day.

I'm sure it wasn't just my colourful attire which made people stare at me!

The rain had thankfully, if only temporarily, stopped by the time we left the restaurant, so we briefly walked along the beach, taking in lungfuls of bracing sea air. We still had the place almost to ourselves, with only the gulls and a handful of other people foolhardy enough to venture outside for company.

Apart from the two of us, some welcome colour was provided by a lonely yellow striped beach hut rather uselessly advertising deckchairs and windshields for hire and a shop displaying a garish array of buckets and spades, which nobody in their right mind would be buying on a day like this.

After our exhilarating walk, we retraced our steps to the tram stop for our return journey, but before returning to our car, we made another stop along the way.

Near the seaside resort of Koksijde are the ruins of a Cistercian monastery. The so-called Abbey of the Dunes dates back to the 12th century and was abandoned in around 1600.

From 1949 onwards, excavations and painstaking restoration campaigns have unearthed the abbey's foundations.

A separate, modern museum, with scale models, dummies and multimedia presentations is doing its best to bring the past back to life. This wasn't so much our cup of tea, especially the many waxwork tableaux of monks, some of them looking creepily lifelike. 

Dotted around the domain, there were several of these forbidding looking giant red monks. Apparently they are by an artist called William Sweetlove and made of plastic.

Children of all ages could be entertained with the various games laid out along the approach to the ruins.

We decided to try our hand at a game of skittles. It took Jos only one attempt to knock them all over. Look at that action photo! Needless to say, clumsy me was totally crap at the game!

And with that, I am leaving you for now, hoping that you will join me again on for the next installment of our holiday.

I'm linking my seaside outfit with Patti's Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style. Do go and check out the other visible ladies!