Tuesday 30 April 2019

Away from it all

We'd planned the perfect getaway. At least, that's what we thought! We'd booked a mid-week break at Het Soetewater, a B&B in the rural area around Bruges, leaving on the Tuesday after the Easter school holidays in Belgium. In addition to avoiding the worst of the crowds, this would give us a head start, using the long Easter weekend - my office closes on Good Friday as well as Easter Monday - to pack and generally get into holiday mood.

But, as is often the case with the best laid plans, it didn't turn out quite like we'd imagined.

Our new neighbour, who has bought the house next door which had been empty for years, chose the Easter break to completely renovate his roof down to the roof-beams. Being highly sensitive to noise at the best of times, this came on top of weeks of ongoing renovations at my office building.

It's a good thing the weather was gorgeous, so that we could make our escape for a couple of hours, but still my nerves were frayed by the end of each day, and blogging or reading required the aid of some white noise, found on YouTube, played through my headphones.

Needless to say, we couldn't get away fast enough on Tuesday, and after an hour's drive, by early afternoon we were happy to find ourselves in a completely different, and mercifully quiet, place!

It was our second stay at this delightful B&B, as we'd been staying there courtesy of Jos's children last year, and we were welcomed by our hostess, Veronique, with a cup of coffee and home-made cakes. Not to mention a choice of scrumptious mini chocolate Easter eggs, a huge glass bonbonnière of which was at our disposal in the cozy breakfast/sitting room, and which I confess was virtually empty by the time we left.

Housed in what used to be the barn belonging to Veronique's parents' farmhouse, our room was comfortable and spacious as well as tastefully decorated, with the equally spacious but cosy bathroom having the luxury of both a huge bath and a shower.

Having re-acquainted ourselves with our surroundings, it was time for a first outing to Bruges.

It was mid-afternoon by then so, rather than using the cheapest parking option at the station, which includes free public transport to the city centre, we made use of a huge, underground car park in a central location situated a mere stone's throw from all the main tourist traps attractions.

We had no itinerary but to wander around this magical, dreamlike city, which even after several visits didn't fail to captivate us. 

Wanting to avoid the crowds, we immediately veered off the main shopping street leading all the way to the Markt, the epicentre of all things touristy, opting for narrow, cobbled back streets off the beaten track, until we reached the busy Dijver canal.

Not quite ready to face the crowds just yet, we entered the picturesque courtyard garden belonging to the 18th century Arentshuis Museum. The garden contains an arrangement of bronze sculptures called The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the works of Belgian sculptor Rik Poot, and created between 1981-87.

One of Bruges' picturesque canals virtually runs underneath the building and through the garden, with a constant stream of canal boats taking tourists on 30-minute boat trips along the city canals. It's quite a feat to photograph this fairytale like stretch of canal without one of these boats marring the view! 

In the corner of the courtyard, there's an eternal bottleneck created by a tiny hump backed bridge, or rather, by the selfie-stick wielding masses intent on taking their picture on it.

The ancient looking Bonifacius bridge dates from early 20th century and is one of Bruges’ youngest bridges, a fact that most people seem to be blissfully unaware of.

By some stroke of luck, there suddenly was a gap in the crowds, so that I too could have my picture taken there. Snap! Jos had to be really quick, though.

A note about my outfit. It was a gorgeous, yet slightly windy day, so I wore my dark denim jacket with a yellow felt flower pinned to it, over a vintage, flower sprigged two piece, accessorized with a mid blue belt and beaded necklace. My emergency booties (see here) must be one of the most comfortable pairs I've ever worn. And enter my new zipped-top cross body bag, which turned out to be the perfect travelling companion.

We meandered through the garden of the Groeninge Museum, which offers a varied overview of the history of Belgian plastic arts, to re-surface once more onto the crowded Dijver canal.

A short walk brought us to one the most photographed spots in Bruges, the picture postcard perfect Rozenhoedkaai. 

I was able to snap around the many canal boats again, but note the mass of people queuing for boat trips on the left, just to the right of the weeping willow.

The tall tower just off centre belongs to Bruges' iconic belfry, a close-up of which you can see on the top right.

Here, the crowds are virtually unavoidable, so, taking a deep breath, we dived in and made our way past the boat tours' ticket office towards the Vismarkt (Fish Market) from where a narrow alley would take us under an archway to Bruges' most opulent square, the Burg.

Among the hustle and bustle there was a stall selling stunning fused glass jewellery, where I succumbed to these two rings.

The weather was in stark contrast to last year's, when we visited the Burg on a grey and rainy day.

Now, a blue sky with fluffy white clouds was the backdrop to the square's collection of stunning buildings vying for attention.

The gilded reliefs and statues adorning the Brugse Vrije (Liberty of Bruges) glinted in the sunlight, crowned by the blind-folded statue of Lady Justice balancing her scales. This was the place from which independent magistrates exercised jurisdiction over the region from the late Middle Ages until 1795.  It later served as the Court House and today it houses the city council administration.

Next door is the awe inspiring gothic City Hall, its facade clad with statues representing the Counts of Flanders and biblical figures. It was built in 1376, making it one of the oldest in the Low Countries.

The low, dark building tucked away in the corner is the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which is famous for a crystal vial reputed to contain a drop of Christ's blood brought back from the Holy Land in 1149. The facade of the basilica with its three arches and gilded statues was erected between 1529 and 1534.

Leaving the Burg, we finally made our way towards the Markt, lured by the siren call of the tall belfry tower, which is Bruges' most distinctive landmark. The 83-meter-high belfry is one of the finest bell towers in Belgium. Construction of the tower, which still contains a carillon of 47 bells, began in 1282, and the crowning octagonal upper section was finally completed in 1482.

At the Markt, those tourist who haven't succumbed to a boat trip, are persuaded to fork out for a ride through Bruges' historic winding streets by horse-drawn carriage.

Pangs of hunger dictated that we search out a place to eat. Our favourite among the many cafés lining the square turned out to have its closing day, so we reluctantly selected another, joining the throngs of tourists, while soaking up the historic splendour around us.

Then it was back to the peace and quiet of our B&B for some more peace and quiet, a blissful soak in the bath and a good night's sleep.

But not before showing you the two frocks I found at Think Twice, which we happened upon quite by chance. Yes, really! I'm sure you'll agree that, with prices down to € 2 that day, it would have been silly not to buy them.

I hope you'll join me for the continuation of our travel adventures in my next post!

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

Thursday 25 April 2019

Greetings from Bruges

If all goes well, by the time you are reading this we are having a little break, enjoying some dolce far niente at a Bed & Breakfast near Bruges.

As I still hadn't finished telling you about the weekend before last, I thought I'd squeeze in one more post and schedule it. After all, it wouldn't do to post about my mid-April adventures well into May!

It was Sunday the 14th of April, and the sun which had saved the day on Saturday had packed her bags and gone elsewhere, leaving us with an impenetrable grey sky and a hint of frost.

Out of my between-the-seasons capsule wardrobe, I pulled another long-sleeved frock which was actually well overdue an outing. 

Black, with a swirly kaleidoscope print, its plain black cuffs trimmed in orange and with orange stitching at the yoke, it has a close fitting bodice and a flared skirt. 

Here, the kaleidoscope print is joined by panels of plain black material, significantly augmenting its swoosh and twirl factor.

I added orange accessories: a plastic flower ring, chunky necklace and wide elasticated belt.

Over the years, the belt, which was an old retail buy and is still a firm favourite, had developed a couple of chips in its buckle. After giving it some thought, my Eureka moment arrived in the cosmetics aisle of the low countries' equivalent of Superdrug. This Rimmel nail polish, called Ora-Ngy Vibe, turned out to be the perfect match!

My outfit was completed with blue opaques and cardigan (not shown), while the icy temperatures dictated that my teal jacket with the grey fur collar had to work for its money again. 

To tie in with the orange in the frock, I pinned an orange based brooch to the jacket's collar and wore my orange beret.

Roses adorn the tapestry handbag which, having featured on the blog before, I'm sure needs no further introduction. 

It is big enough for all my essentials as well as some of the smaller treasures we were hoping to find at our destination for the day: our favourite indoor flea market in Mechelen.

As it happens, we found larger treasures as well. Both of these handbags are vintage and in impeccable condition warranting the slightly higher price tag:  € 10 for the snakeskin clutch and € 15 for the red bag with its unusual closing mechanism. To open it, the tab at the front has to be pulled upwards.

This 1950s tin, depicting scenes from The Three Bears, was picked up at one of our favourite sellers' stall. It is from Belgian chocolate brand Côte d'Or, and usually commands higher prices than the € 10 we paid for it. What's more, the € 10 also included the small wooden trinket box, which you can see in the next collage!

We already own the tin's sibling, displaying The Three Little Pigs. This one is a family heirloom which used to belong to my paternal grandparents, and which has been used to store a set of dominoes for as long as I can remember. In fact, it still has the same domino set inside!

And here's the trinket box I mentioned before. Its roll top cover is intricately painted with a colourful scene.

I couldn't resist the cute round Easter themed tin, its sides decorated to look like a basket. This came from Tanja, another favourite seller, and follower of my blog.

Not too many brooches this time, but still enough to satisfy my collector's hunger. I found the three gold tone brooches at one of the first stalls we looked at. I already have the hedgehog with green eyes instead of red. The flamingo was found in one of the last aisles and no, it isn't Lea Stein!

This hand coloured and signed lithograph caught my eye because of its colours as well as its subject matter, a picturesque corner of Bruges. It was ours for € 3. A bit of googling revealed that the artist, Barday, is French, and was active between ca. 1925 and 1945. I came across several of his (or her) original lithographs, the cheapest of which was for sale at $ 60!

The weather improved steadily during the week that followed, reaching balmy temperatures in the mid twenties by the Easter weekend.

Earlier that week, a package arrived for me from Ghent! It was from the lovely Kezzie, who'd spent a couple of days in Belgium. She sent me a batch of coloured tights she's no longer wearing, knowing I would give them a new lease of life. Also included was a brooch and a lovely greeting card. 

I'm leaving you now with a look at what I was wearing last Saturday to go vintage shopping with my friends Ingrid and Inez.

The maxi skirt was a € 3 Think Twice find from that week. I spent an hour or so on Friday hand stitching the hem which had dropped in several places. The skirt is made from a waxed cotton, marked as Veritable Java Hollandais. I fell head over heels for its crisp and colourful print.

Combined with a red cotton polka dot top, and accessorized with a yellow beaded necklace and wooden flower brooch, it was the perfect outfit for a fun (and successful!) shopping trip.

But that will be for a next post. 

I will be catching up with you this weekend!

Sunday 21 April 2019

Instant Karma

While we are currently enjoying temperatures of 25° Celsius and more, last weekend they were in the single figures, with a frosty start to the day. Well, I guess that's April for you, showing us who's boss and hitting home the fact that we're not out of the woods just yet!

Bad timing, as on that Friday I'd taken the afternoon off to continue the wardrobe change-over I'd started the week before. Putting away the bulk of my Winter dresses - leaving out a small segment of lighter long-sleeved ones for chilly days - and replacing them with a rail full of short-sleeved frocks, took up most of the afternoon. I'll be changing over skirts, coats and shoes later, but at least this means the main part of the job is done!

One of the remaining long-sleeved frocks came out to play on Saturday. Outside, an icy wind was blowing, but Dove Cottage's walled garden has a micro climate of its own where, protected from the worst of the wind, it is always about two degrees warmer. 

The sky blue dress with its intriguing print, was bought at Episode, part of a Dutch chain of vintage shops, on the day they re-opened in Antwerp after several years of absence, back in 2015.

Inspired by Ivana, I dug this sewing box out of my wardrobe. Bought at a flea market last Spring,  with the intention of using it as a handbag, I'd all but forgotten about it! Isn't it sweet?

In the end, I thought it was too bulky for our afternoon plans, but at least it got its outing, even if it was only into the garden!

I automatically think yellow whenever I'm wearing this dress, and I don't think I've ever worn it with any other colour. So, my round buckled yellow belt and yellow cardigan and opaques were the obvious choices.

The yellow, white and orange beads, which always remind me of the chewing gum I used to get from the vending machine outside the corner shop back in the early 1970s, came from the sadly missed Blender Vintage Shop. Other accessories were the sparkly yellow ring, a retail buy, and my blue-rimmed plastic flower brooch, which was a charity shop find.

On our way to the charity shops, we stopped for a short stroll and some photos at the large park in Boom, which we hadn't visited since last Summer. I particularly love this part of the park, with its little wooden bridge, reminiscent of the Monet painting, crossing one of the rills.

Wood anemones, some showing their purple streaked undersides, were joined by the first of the bluebells and, in front of the bridge, a small patch of forget-me-nots.

I wore my vintage plaid swing coat with its droopy half belt and it was chilly enough for a beret and woollen scarf, in complementing blue and yellow. 

I succumbed to the basket bag I'm carrying in a pop up shop in Antwerp last week. I was looking for a zipped-top cross body bag to take on our trip next week, which I found, but I was very naughty as this one came home with me as well.

If the weather gods were determined to play their devilish tricks on us, the charity shop goddesses more than made up for their foul behaviour! It must have been our reward for all the stuff we've donated lately! 

There was a shoe sale going on, with all shoes regardless of whether they were quality or cheapo brands, priced at € 4. 

The black sandals are Clarks, while the caramel Mary Janes and the orange sling backs are Tamaris. I have those in pale turquoise as well. The red and white retro style pumps are from Diba, a brand I haven't come across before. All four pairs are as good as new!  

I find it hard to resist straw or wicker bags, so I fell for this navy one, which closes with a tab at the top. The carpet handbag was a snip at € 2, while a rummage in a box full of scarves - always worth a look! - yielded these two beauties. The silk scarf with its delightful print on the bottom left is vintage St. Michael.

I can see raised eyebrows here! If you are wondering whether I've gone mad and photographed the result of a visit to the local bakery, then I urge you to look twice!

This loaf shaped money box was on the miscellaneous shelf of our most local charity shop for € 0,50. We had no intention of buying it until we spied the back which proudly proclaimed it was  Made in England. Oh go on, it's only € 0,50, we thought!

While I was trawling the clothing aisles, Jos plonked himself down in a conveniently placed easy chair and googled the thing on his phone. Turns out it's from around 1940 and that is was made for Hovis. That, in its turn, reminded us of the framed Hovis ad on our kitchen wall. Incidentally, we also have a vintage bread board, very similar to the one the boy in the ad is playing with, which we picked up in an antiques shop in Rye many years ago.

But let's go back to those clothing aisles I was browsing while Jos was doing his detective work.

Did I find something? Well, yes, and here I am wearing my finds. All you can see here, except for the tights and belt, which I was already wearing, was charity shopped that day!

I'm sure you've already spied the shoes, basket and scarf, but let me take you through the rest of my finds.

First up is a deadstock vintage skirt, with a delightful daisy print. As is often the case, I had to plunder a shop display for it.

The orange velvet blazer is by Belgian label Avalanche and a trawl on the Internet revealed it must have retailed for well over € 100. I'd been dithering over this, as it was € 10, which I thought was a bit expensive, but in the end I gave in as it's such a nice fit, not to mention a gorgeous colour.

My final buy was this ruffle front skirt from Gigue, an absolute bargain at € 4 as the original retail price for this too was in excess of € 100.

Don't you love a bit of charity shop Karma?

I am actually counting the days, as in only two days we will be going away on a little break.

The weather has made a complete U-turn by now, so hopefully it will stay on the straight and narrow until at least the end of the week! But, knowing our luck as well as the famously fickle Belgian weather, it will probably rain!

Wednesday 17 April 2019

All's fair at the castle

During two weekends a year, in Spring and Autumn, Castle de Renesse is the romantic setting for a small antiques fair, which we have been visiting for quite a few years now.

The castle is located in the sandy soiled and pine rich countryside to the north of Antwerp, just over half an hour's drive away.

Landscaped gardens and parkland complete with a picturesque lake and a couple of smaller pools surround the castle, blending seamlessly into ancient woodland.

As quite miraculously we always seem to have the weather gods on our side on our outings to the castle, an hour's browsing of the stalls set up in the castle's rooms is usually followed by a picnic and a meander through the castle grounds and beyond.

On the first Sunday of April, the weather gods were more than compliant, with lots of sunshine and temperatures of up to 20° Celsius.

I very daringly opted for short sleeves, choosing a turquoise Crimplene frock with a groovy cream, green and grey print. For contrast, the dress's collar was adorned with a posy of cheerful orange flowers, but indulged some matchy matchy-ness by choosing green beads and a turquoise belt.

Green opaques balanced the outfit, and my feet were more than happy in the emergency booties I was obliged to buy a couple of weeks ago.

As I was mentally going through my jackets for the perfect one to wear, I was reminded of a green new wool suit I bought at a vintage market several years ago. Its jacket turned out to be the perfect match, even if, combined with the sweat-inducing Crimplene, it would be much too warm later in the day.

Making our way to the bridge which would take us to the castle's courtyard, we were disappointed to see that scaffolding had been erected, spoiling the enchanting view of the castle and its reflection in the moat.

It's a good thing we'd been there before, so that I could pinch some of the photos I'd taken on previous visits for you to admire.

Against the faded grandeur backdrop of the castle's interior, all manner of delectable objects are displayed, many of them with a price tag well beyond our budget.

However, there are still enough reasonably priced goods on offer for us to return year after year..

Following her absence last Autumn, we were relieved to see that the Brooch Lady was once again presiding over her folders of brooches. As she's well into her 80s we were more that just a little bit worried. It turned out that she'd taken a fall back then, but had now sufficiently recovered to take up her pitch at the castle again.

These are the five brooches I bought from her.

The brooch on the top right dates from the second world war. It is handmade and the beautiful lady with her 1940s up-do and string of pearls is painted directly on a piece of fabric. Below, on the bottom right, you can see how the brooch's back has been constructed.

The plastic anchor brooch is a souvenir from a Belgian seaside resort.

By lunchtime, we picked up our picnic basket from the car, and made our way to the one and only picnic table in the vicinity of the castle.

It offers a fabulous view of the castle across the lake but, as even from this distance the scaffolding was all too prominent, no photographs were taken this time, except for the sunbathing tortoises and the topsy-turvy duck performing its ablutions.

By then, I'd removed the chiffon scarf I was wearing and tied it to my handbag's handles. Do take a good look, as it'll be the last you'll see of it. It was only by the end of our walk that I noticed its absence ...

Our walk took us pas the ice house, which has a gazebo built on top of it. This is more of a folly than a real gazebo, as there is no entrance at all.  One can only walk around it and glance through its intricately grilled windows.

The ancient oak tree on the bottom left has been cordoned off to protect it, with the path which used to run next to it diverted to the other side of the picturesque pool you can see below.

What a joy it was to be walking along this delightful avenue of trees. Clothed in clouds of youthful green, a gentle breeze sighing among them, they seemed to be whispering secrets.

It was while we were taking a break at a picnic table hidden in the woods that I noticed my scarf was gone. I scanned the straight road we had just walked along but to no avail.

Back at our starting point, we were both in need of a restorative cup of coffee which, in a mad moment, we decided to accompany by ice cream with hot chocolate sauce. Little did we know that they would be so huge!

I'll finish by showing you our other finds of the day. 

There are always vintage buttons galore at one of the stalls upstairs, and I picked up three cards for my stash. How charming are those navy celluloid ones carved with red, turquoise and yellow flowers? 

The mystery objects on the bottom left are tiny boxes containing 35 mm film reels. There was a whole box of them, from which Jos selected these three for our manually operated toy projector. Dating from the 1950s, it was given to Jos by his brother-in-law in the early 1960s.

Finally, joining our collection of kitsch is this old religious print. Adorning the mantlepiece of many a Flemish living room back in the day, it admonishes not to swear, as god can see you. As I'm always pointing out to Jos, it doesn't mention that god can hear you, so we're quite safe with this on our kitchen wall.