Wednesday 29 May 2019

Swallows and flowers

We were all set to go to our last indoor flea market of the year on Sunday before last.

It was, in fact, the perfect outing for the neither here nor there weather we'd woken up to. It had rained during the night and, while the sun was out for the outfit photos taken just before we left, the weather forecast was indecisive and more rain had been predicted.

The vintage dress I'm wearing, its print vying with the best of herbaceous borders, has been hanging unworn in my wardrobe since last Summer. The fabric is fairly heavy, and the dress is fully lined to boot, making it too warm for balmy Spring days, let alone hot Summer ones, while its just-over-the-elbow bell sleeves make it hard to add a layer on top during the colder months.

But ah those sleeves! Surely you can guess that this was one of the dress's selling points? And what about that fabulous print?

No need for layering that Sunday, as the temperature was just right for wearing the dress on this mediocre May day.

My necklace, with its colourful wooden beads, and the fuchsia vinyl belt, were charity shopped, as was the scarf I'm wearing with my faithful orange leather jacket, which was a Think Twice find.

In spite of the weather, our expectations for this end-of-season flea market weren't great, but we were still a bit letdown when we spied the half-empty hall, and the many gaps between stalls.

But if we'd initially thought we'd made a wasted journey, this turned out not to be the case. Still, it took us until we came across Tanja's stall for us to make our first purchases.

Tanja is a follower of my blog, and her stall is always a joy to behold. I even remembered to take some pictures of it for once. They're the ones on the top left and right.

On the bottom right is the stall of another one of my followers, Rita. The picture of the jumble of buttons was taken at a random stall. I'm usually far too busy browsing to take any pictures. Plus, lighting conditions at the venue aren't exactly ideal.

In fact, with my new glasses, my eyes had a bit of a problem adjusting to the event hall's light conditions. Their website boasts that it has natural lighting during the day, due to the profusion of oval openings in the roof construction. You can pay a virtual visit to the hall here, so that you can see what I mean. All very well in theory but alas, even on the clearest of days, there never seems to be enough light and what's more, those pesky skylights play a very annoying game with the artificial lighting.

But enough about that. I'm sure you're all dying to know what we found, so without further ado, here's a group photo of all our treasures, displayed on our garden table after we got home. And look, it turned out to be sunny after all.

In case you are wondering: yes, we bought the plants at the flea market too! 

Let's start with our finds from Tanja's stall. 

I love all kinds of vintage packaging, and even more so when they still contain the product, so a lovely little carton of laundry whitener and a pack of Q-tips have joined our collection.

Talking of Q-tips, here are some vintage ads for you to enjoy!

The floral canister decorated with quintessential Summer flowers like foxgloves and delphiniums, was made in England, and will be used for storing odds and ends in our bathroom.

Finally, I also fell hard for this turquoise beaded bag.

Tanja threw in the pink storage box for free! Isn't that sweet?

These leather watch straps were a bargainous € 1 each. The lady we bought them from had boxes full of them which she told us were deadstock from the shop her mother-in-law used to have. 

I have several cheap watches which I'm using on rotation, and I like having straps in a variety of colours, to coordinate with my outfits!

Always on the lookout for additions to my ever growing collection of brooches, I was happy to find no less than seven.

Five of them were picked up from the same stall, the odd ones out being the celluloid dog brooch (above, top left) from Rita's stall, and the Lucite roses brooch (below, bottom right).

There's an intruder in there! As I didn't have enough brooches to fill this collage, I sneaked in this gorgeous little flower, which is currently going strong in our garden. Self-seeding like mad and popping up in the most unexpected of places, Aquilegia 'Nora Barlow', with its frilly petticoated flowers, has been residing in our garden for many years. 

In one of the flea market's last aisles is a stall selling all manner of vintage haberdashery, where I usually have a good rummage through the boxes of buttons. 

As many of you are aware, I only have very limited sewing skills, but it often only takes a change of buttons to completely transform a garment. Some of my stash might never get used, but I simply cannot resist beautifully crafted old buttons. It must be something in my genes, as I remember playing with the buttons in both my grandmothers' sewing boxes when I was a little girl.

Our star find of the day were these vintage canisters, displaying their contents in both of Belgium's national languages, Flemish and French. I was instantly drawn to their swallow decorations and rich colours. Dating from the late 1920s, early 1930s, they are in extraordinary condition considering their age, with hardly any scratches and with only a smidgen of rust at the edges.

When we showed them to Tanja, she advised us to use some WD-40 to stop any rust in its tracks and give them some shine, a job which had been added to Mr. S.'s to-do list!

As we walked past the plant stall upon entering the flea market venue, we promised ourselves to buy some summer flowers before leaving. We hadn't made it to the garden centre yet, and the area just outside our back door was badly in need of sprucing up.

Apart from pots of Million Bells, Dianthus and Osteospermum, we chose a couple of pink Pelargoniums to be put into the green enamel cone-shaped planters hanging on our potting shed.

These were found at Blender Vintage Shop many years ago, and nobody seems to know what they were originally used for. There's a hole at their tapered ends, allowing for drainage, which makes them the ideal plant holders.

Now, what else can we add to our garden to rival with the flowers on my dress?

Saturday 25 May 2019

I can see clearly now

Hello my friends! No, you don't have to adjust your screens, nor is there something wrong with your eyesight! There is - or rather was - something wrong with mine though, and rather than just have my prescription lenses upgraded, I thought I'd splash out on some swanky new eye-wear.

Thanks to my Mum, I've been short-sighted since my early twenties. Well, probably even a bit longer than that, but as long as it was still a minor thing, I chose to ignore it, rather than having to wear glasses, which I dreaded.

Stubbornly, I kept squinting and sitting in the front row at the cinema until it was no longer comfortable and there was nothing for it but to purchase my first pair of glasses. I hated them with a vengeance and only wore them when strictly necessary, so that at first not many people saw me wearing them!

So reluctant was I to give in to the inevitable that by the time I was in my late twenties, I decided to try contact lenses. Bye, bye horrible glasses!

Then, in the early noughties, I developed a problem with one of my eyes, and was advised to stop wearing lenses for a while. Not wanting to be seen dead in my old pair of specs, I treated myself to some sassy new ones. They had thin, rectangular red frames, and were tiny, which was all the rage back then. I loved wearing them and got so many compliments that I never went back to contact lenses at all. I even bought a second, similar pair in purple!

I've had my current pair, the ones you've all come to know, for about six years and while I still love them, I thought it was time for a change. Besides, I needed another adjustment and, since age-related farsightedness had cropped up over the years and I've had a prescription pair of reading glasses for quite a while, I thought I'd take the plunge and try multifocals!

They felt weird at first, and although I'm still not fully used to them, I can definitely appreciate the advantages.

Last weekend started early, as I'd taken Friday afternoon off, to allow myself two and a half days of trying them out, without having to sit in front of a computer screen for most of the day.

My outfit that day was a happy marriage of retail and second hand. The floaty floral dress was a sales buy at C&A two Winters ago, while my pink cardigan, the belt and beaded necklace, as well as the velvety PANK (Sheila's word!) jacket were charity shopped.

Both the plum coloured shoes (they're from Hotter, and were a silly € 2) and the brooch were flea market finds.

Speaking of charity shopping, this is what we usually do on Saturdays. Plus, I felt the need to try out my glasses in all kinds of situations, including shopping!

And what a joy it is not having to squint when trying to read labels and book spines, or checking over a garment for any defaults or stains.

But the weather was gorgeous, so a walk in the park was on the cards as well.

Oh, how I love the fresh greens of Spring, the lushness still full of promise and hope. The park is sprinkled with flowers: from the timid lacecap Hydrangeas to the showy Rhododendrons, they all fill my heart with joy.

It must be a good year for daisies, as the lawn near the pond was absolutely covered in them.

Just look at them, all innocence an purity, their pollen covered yellow hearts slightly staining my peachy pink ankle boots, which had their very first outing. They're from the New Look closing down sale, and together with the necklace I was wearing, they were the only retail buys in my otherwise second hand and shop-my-wardrobe outfit.

I've had the Diolen skirt, an early Think Twice find, for many years and I'm still very much in love with its exuberant floral print. The orange velvet jacket was charity shopped back in April, while the brooch I pinned to it was a flea market find from December 2017.

The basket bag is one of my favourites but I've been racking my brain as to where it came from. If you're reading this sentence it means I still haven't got a clue!

The short-sleeved top is another old favourite, bought from Think Twice at around the same time as the skirt. There was no way I could resist its funky print! The brooch I pinned to its collar was part of a huge haul from a Carmarthen antiques shop on a rainy day in June 2017.

And here's the other retail buy, my necklace, which came from Accessorize, who used to have a shop near my office. After more than ten years with regular outings, it has earned a permanent place in my jewellery collection!

If you half-close your eyes, the banks of Rhododendrons reflected in the pond turn into an impressionist painting. There's cow parsley everywhere, as well as the first of the dog roses.

Mingled among the reeds bordering the pond are the gently nodding heads of Yellow Flag Iris, thought to be the inspiration for the fleur-de-lis symbol.

With its variety of views, from long and mid distance to close-ups, our walk in the park proved to be the perfect exercise for my eyes. 

So was our visit to the charity shop within walking distance of the park.

Scrutinizing the jewellery stand, I found these three bangles, two of which are Bakelite! Nobody seems to have a clue at this shop, as they're all priced the same, € 1,50 each.

These two necklaces came home with me as well! I particularly love the one on the left, which reminds me of a set of wooden mosaic tiles I played with as a child.

My final buy, and the only one from the clothing aisles, was this cute top with unusual lobster print, complete with tag and spare button. It's from Flair Goes Retro, and was produced in 2015 for Belgian magazine Flair, which is aimed at young women. I used to read it when it first appeared in the early 1980s.

There's no way I would ever forked out its original retail price of € 49,95, but couldn't resist it at € 4.

Last weekend's adventures weren't finished yet, as we had a flea market on Sunday. But that will be for my next post!

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

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Like diamonds all the raindrops glisten

I'm the first to admit I'm feeling more than just a little bereft now that I've finished my travelogue. Telling you all about our little holiday was such a pleasure and reliving it all in the process was almost like having a second holiday.

But that's it for now, it's back to earth and the order of the day. What's more, with all that travelling, I really do owe you a recap of what else has been going on in my life.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May
~William Shakespeare, Sonnet XVIII

And what about steady downpours, drenching showers, hailstorms and temperatures in the low single figures? That first weekend of May we were served it all, including those rough winds. Not that there weren't any sunny spells on the menu, but they were brief and I'm sure they were only thrown into the mix to taunt us.

Sick of my Winter coats, I braved that wet and chilly Saturday wearing the slightly inadequate Phase Eight raincoat I charity shopped on the first day of our Salopian (*) holiday last year.

One upside of the unseasonable weather was that I was able to wear the long-sleeved frock I found while out vintage shopping with my friends on  Easter Saturday, before putting it to bed until Autumn.

The orangey tones in its print prompted the addition of an orange polka-dot cardigan, while I opted for a green belt and necklace to provide some contrast. The same shade of green appears in the brooch I chose, a multi-coloured enamelled butterfly.

Speaking of green, our little jungle of a garden was (and still is!) looking at its lushest, as it always is this time of year, and I'm sure it was welcoming the life-giving rain-drops with open arms. 

We weren't too pleased, though, as we had been looking forward to our first outdoor flea market of the year. Needless to say, the stormy weather firmly put paid to our plans so, desperate to be out of the house, we went charity shopping instead.

At first it looked as if we would be out of luck in that department as well, as we left the first two shops empty handed. Not wanting to give up just yet, we decided to try one more shop, and visit the one in our village before calling it a day.

And I'm glad we did, as less than a minute after walking in, I happened upon this fabulous book, a heavy and richly illustrated tome on Art Nouveau in Belgium.

The clothing department can be a bit hit or miss here, so I was happy to find these two new-to-me dresses in similar hues. On the left, another King Louie one and on the right, a pussy-bowed frock from Belgian label Mer du Nord, which I wore to work later that week.

There was a pair of  raspberry red suede Tamaris shoes waiting for me too. I didn't really need another pair of shoes and in fact I wasn't even looking, but what can I say? They caught my eye and they were my size and at € 4 too good a bargain to be left behind.

The weather gods continued to plague us on Sunday, so we stayed at home, making a start on browsing the bagful of holiday brochures and leaflets we brought back last year, and getting into the mood for our UK holiday towards the end of June.

In her comment on my previous post, Veronica asked me where exactly we were off to, which will be Shropshire and the Welsh borders, same as last year.  Less than 5 weeks to go now!

There was some improvement in the weather in the week that followed and one evening after work, I cut a posy of Lily of the Valley so that we could enjoy their intoxicating scent inside. 

We've inherited the plants with the garden, but they tend to travel around a bit and, having currently taken up residence in a small patch behind our garden angel, they're not in the best position for us to properly enjoy them.

Watching the bees stocking up on nectar, darting from one tiny flower of our Cotoneaster bush to another, is quite hypnotizing and the soundtrack created by their buzzing choir is nothing if not mesmerizing. 

Watching the garden grow and listening to the sound of honey being made is such a privilege, soothing my frayed nerves after a particularly stressful day at work. 

Modern technology is all very well, but being without internet for almost two days meant life at the office came to a grinding halt, and it certainly wasn't much fun having to catch up on a mountain of work when it was finally fixed.

As wearing colourful clothes always makes me feel better in my skin, I opted for full-on colour by choosing a blue skirt, in a textured fabric speckled with green, cream and red, and a black pussy-bow blouse covered in blowsy multi-coloured flowers.

A wide tan belt with a rectangular buckle, a red plastic ring and a pink and blue flower brooch pinned to my green cardigan were my accessories of choice.

Now that we're on the subject of brooches, how gorgeous is this vintage metal flower brooch? It was a present from my friend Inez, and I'm swooning!

And so, another weekend rolled along, bringing with it another charity shopping trip on Saturday before last.

In spite of the chill in the air, I was determined to wear short sleeves, and planned my outfit around this groovily patterned blouse in hues of navy, lilac and orange. However, I didn't feel the solid green skirt I'd originally planned to wear with it. Casting around for a suitable substitute, I finally hit upon this green plaid midi skirt in a polyester knit fabric.

A purple flower ring, cream beaded necklace and ditto flower brooch completed my outfit.

The yellow-based floral blazer, made from a light-weight tapestry fabric, wasn't nearly warm enough for what looked deceptively like a Spring day but I was determined to wear it anyway.

I was carrying the basket bag I bought in a cheap pop-up shop in Antwerp back in April and which I'm feeling slightly guilty about, especially after reading Vix's post.

I'm ending this game of catch-up by showing you our charity shop finds of that day.

The shop we went to is a new one, opened as a pop-up only the week before, after the lease of their previous premises had ended. We never liked that rather cramped little shop and are happy to report that their new location is not only larger but much better laid out too.

The jury is still out whether the dress Angelica is wearing here is me, but I love the unusual cutlery print and the olive colour. Oh, and it's Orla Kiely! Not bad for € 4, surely? And I've never ever found any Orla Kiely in a Belgian charity shop before.

I always love having a rummage through the boxes of belts and scarves for inexpensive additions to both of my already extensive collections. In fact, the vast majority of them are second hand.

This time, my finds included a funky scarf and two very different belts. The chain and tortoiseshell plastic belt is stamped with a Made in West Germany mark, which confirms that it is vintage.

(*) relating to or characteristic of the English county of Salop, now known as Shropshire, or its inhabitants.

Thursday 16 May 2019

A trip to the seaside

As this is the last episode of my travelogue, I thought I'd treat you to a trip to the seaside!

Well, it's what we'd planned to do on Thursday, when the weather decided to play foul. Why not go today instead, we thought on Friday morning, when it looked as if the sun had joined us again.

So, after breakfast, we made our way to a seaside resort called De Haan, also known as De Haan aan Zee or its French equivalent Le Coq sur Mer, less than half an hour's drive from our B&B.

Being there on a weekday and out of season secured us a parking space free of charge, just outside the town's parking disc zone, and only a short walk from the town centre.

What distinguishes this charming little town from its peers along the Belgian North Sea coast is the absence of the ugly high rise buildings which seem to prevail elsewhere.

Instead, De Haan, which is renowned for its immaculately preserved and protected Belle Epoque quarter, has retained much of its old-fashioned seaside charm.

Our visit started at the little tram station, which currently houses the local tourist office. 
Dating from 1902, it is a perfect example of the Anglo-Norman style typical of Belle Epoque architecture.

Would you believe that this charming little building narrowly escaped demolition in 1977? Fortunately, it was saved by the town council, who bought it from the tram company for one symbolic Belgian franc.

Cotton wool clouds were chasing each other across a bright blue sky, propelled by a rather fierce sea breeze and, although I'd ditched the warm coat I was wearing the day before, I was glad that my orange leather jacket was sufficiently windproof to keep the shivers at bay.

Not wanting to make another footwear mistake, I opted for my Clarks Cloudsteppers, but make no mistake: I'm wearing a pair of nude tights, as it war far too chilly to go bare-legged.

We dashed into the tourist office for a leaflet detailing a 3 kilometer walk which would take us on a tour of the town's rich architectural heritage, conveniently starting just outside the tram station.

In spite of our knack of getting lost even with the best of instructions, I'm happy to report that we completed this walk without any hick-ups, although roadworks did their best to thwart us by hiding some of the copper studs the walk is signposted with.

We were joking that we needed some of our money back, though, as quite a few of the houses described in the leaflet were covered in scaffolding!

As is the case with most Belgian coastal towns, tourism started to take off shortly after Belgium's independence in 1831 with the beginning of train and tram transport for the masses. By the early 1900s, there was already a double  track steam tram line connecting almost the entire Belgian coastline.

Most of the coastal towns were mere fisherman's villages back then but, as tourism became a major source of income by the end of the 19th Century, clever businessmen saw a way of making money.

Soon, De Haan boasted a casino, two hotels and thirty or so villas for guests from Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent.

The casino, sadly, is no longer there. All that remains are its pagoda-like kiosks, silent witnesses to its glorious and decadent past.

De Haan owes much of its development to three enterprising gentlemen who, in 1889, negotiated a deal with the Belgian government, who owned the dunes between the tram-line and the coast, and were granted a long term lease (or concession) for 90 years on the 50 hectare plot of land.

Our walk now directed us through the picturesque "Concession" quarter, which is how the newly developed area commonly came to be known, with its typical Belle Epoque cottages and villas, characterized by surprisingly modern accents.

I wanted to move lock, stock and barrel into the cottage called Roodkapje (Little Red Riding Hood), even though we were intrigued that, in spite of the fact that her red coat is clearly hooded, she's actually wearing a green headscarf!

And even though we would pass many grander houses on our walk, I found this row of idyllic, white washed villas in a street called Rembrandtlaan particularly enchanting.

These were built between 1925 and 1927 by the architect Valentin Vaerwyck, who added to their romantic character by giving them red pitched roofs and colourful shutters, as well as their own individual details, often including decorative tableaux referring to their names.

We finally ended up at the promenade, walking its length before deciding on a place to have lunch. From our window seat, complete with Tiffany-style lamp, we watched the comings and goings of the out-of-season holiday makers, bundled up against the wind.

After a visit to the Ladies - note the nostalgic sign next to its door on the bottom right - I was ready to continue our walk.

Obviously, no visit to the seaside is complete without a spell on the beach, even if it was cut short by an icy cold wind and the sun playing an annoying game of hide-and-seek.

In fact, we stayed just long enough to take some photographs, offering you a slightly better view of the dress I was wearing. For a close-up, see here. Then we trudged back over wet sand (thank you Morrissey!), me ending up with my shoes full of sand after our final climb up to the promenade.

It was while walking into the direction of the town hall, which used to be a luxury hotel, that the first drops of rain started to fall. We sought shelter on the bandstand of the nearby La Potinière Park, which is the town's green lung, and taking a picture of the grand, turreted building dating from 1989 completely slipped my mind.

The eagle-eyed may have spotted the white bag I'm carrying, which contains the emerald green sandals I spotted in a shoe shop and just had to buy!

Eventually it stopped raining, even if it was just long enough to cross the street before the heavens opened again.

We shared the awning of a bicycle shop with some brightly coloured pedal carts. These carts come in all shapes and sizes, both for children and adults, and often with multiple seats, and can be rented out in all coastal towns. Just like donkey rides in the UK, they are an essential part of a seaside holiday in Belgium.

When I posted a photo of the poodle carts on Facebook, my friend Ingrid told me she had a photo of herself as a little girl riding such a poodle cart, and here she is, on the bottom left!

I'm a little bit envious here, as my parents hardly ever took us to the seaside and I don't remember much from the one visit when I was six going on seven, apart from playing in the sand and being told to beware of jellyfish!

Soon, the sun was out once again, and we continued our walk past wedding cake buildings with turrets and balconies and through streets with yet more traditional holiday villas.

The one on the bottom rights is on a street called Shakespearelaan. Its name is "Savoyarde" and its claim to fame is that Albert Einstein lived here for six months in 1933 after escaping the growing Nazi regime in Germany. 

Although it's a private residence and cannot be visited, the owners thoughtfully put a cardboard Albert Einstein in front of the upstairs window!

Our walk completed, we were in need of some sustenance, which we found in Hotel Des Brasseurs, where we had coffee and a waffle. While it was still very recognizable as the building in the photo, it had obviously lost much of its grandeur since it first opened in the late 19th Century.

On our way back to our B&B, we stopped at the local charity shop. While I was browsing the rails, rain started pelting down, so that there was nothing for it but to browse a little bit longer.

Here's what I found.

First up, a gorgeous King Louie halterneck sundress ...

And then, quite unusually for me, not one but two pairs of trousers!

The wide-legged ones are from Zara which, to be honest, is a shop I never frequent. They caught my eye when someone else was hanging them back on the rails. I thought I'd try them on for fun and quite liked what I saw. 

The cigarette trousers are stretchy and have a tiny print. They'll both be perfect for those not too bright days in the UK!

Well, that was over quickly, wasn't it? I'm already looking forward to our next trip, which will be our big UK holiday. And it looks like we've already got plans for our first day!