Monday 30 September 2019

Seagulls and chickens

Whenever we're staying at our little getaway cottage in Belgium's beautiful west country, a day trip to the seaside is on our menu. However, as the end of our week's holiday doomed on the horizon, we still hadn't made it to the seaside as the weather gods had been conspiring against us.

Friday arrived and as we were keen to avoid the inevitable weekend crowds, this was actually our last chance.

We were in luck, as there was no mention of rain, even if the weather forecast said it would be a bit windy. Perfect for blowing away the last of the cobwebs, we thought.

But first things first, as before we can start the day's journey, I have to show you what I was wearing.

This vintage polyester frock is another one that has been residing in my wardrobe for ages. When I posted it on Instagram, someone remarked that the print reminded them of balloons flying up into the evening sky, which I thought was rather lovely. Alas, they're not balloons but flowers. I've included a close-up, so that you can see that they have leaves sprouting from their stalks.

Once again, the dress came with its own belt, which I replaced with a recently charity shopped white woven leather one, which is a current favourite. I opted for a light blue beaded necklace and wore my King Louie cardi in the same colour on top. 

The destination we'd decided on was the coastal town of Nieuwpoort, but first we drove down to De Panne, which is the resort nearest to where we were staying. There is a free car park here, less than a hundred meters from the nearest tram stop, so it is actually a no-brainer, as you can catch the tram to anywhere along the Belgian coast from there.

There was a gale force wind blowing, so any remaining cobwebs were soon dealt with the minute we alighted at Nieuwpoort Bad, the seaside part of the town.

After a spot of lunch, we walked along the beach, or at least we tried to, as the wind was either propelling us along at full speed or doing its best to keep us rooted at the spot while overdoing its Mr. Sandman routine if we tried to walk against it.  

Looking back at the promenade, you can see the seemingly endless line of high rise apartment buildings which are an unfortunate feature of the Belgian coast. The hotel De Barkentijn, as seen on the top left in the second collage, is a a lone survivor from a bygone age, while the Art Deco style yellow-tiled building on the top right does its best to bring some cheerfulness to the overall drabness.

We walked into the direction of the jetty, which is actually one of a pair built in 1865. This is the western one, with a length of 490 meters. The miniature lighthouse at its head (and that of its twin) houses a signal lantern and foghorn.

Having climbed a slippery breakwater, we were suddenly faced with a thick carpet of razor shells at the other side.

Back on the wet sand, the footprints left by my pink floral sneakers were joining those of the omnipresent squawking and wailing gulls.

We walked briefly along the jetty, but strong gusts of wind were soon forcing us back inland.

On the rocks below, all manner of seabirds were feasting on the hapless mussels and other shellfish which were left stranded by the tide.

The eastern jetty is slightly longer, jutting 543 into the sea. The two mighty jetties are ceremoniously guiding the River IJzer into the North Sea.

The River IJzer is unique in that it is the only Belgian river flowing directly into the sea and, at the confluence of the salty seawater and the fresh water of the river, is a nature reserve which has its own very distinctive fauna and flora. 

Due to the tidal movement a unique area of saltings and mud flats was created, an ideal breeding ground for a rich variety of worms, snails, algae, shells and crustaceans. The continuous interaction between the salt and fresh water in the IJzer estuary also created a special biotope characterized by various salt loving plants.

The nature reserve itself, which is on the right bank of the river, can only be visited with a guide, but you can walk alongside it on a path with several lookout points, a walk we did a couple of years ago.

Now, we limited ourselves by walking along the 2 kilometer boardwalk promenade which follows the river from the North Sea to the marina near the inland part of the town, Nieuwpoort Stad.

Several works of art could be admired along the route. The most striking was this one, called Plastic Fish (bottom right).

Exhausted and with eyes and ears stinging from the wind, we arrived at Nieuwpoort Stad, where we admired a mosaic bas-relief plaque on the façade of the fish mine, and then took the tram back to De Panne and our car.

Arriving back at our cottage in Poperinge, we were delighted to see that hop picking had finally started in the hop fields across the road and we watched the vertiginous proceedings from the perch of our first floor window.

Getting up on Saturday, we were greeted by sunshine and blue skies. The blasted weather forecast, however, said it would most definitely rain later that morning and again in the afternoon.

As we'd planned a walk in the area, we were none too pleased and dithered over what to do instead.

In the end, we decided to go ahead regardless, taking our raincoats and umbrellas and stopping at the local supermarket for sandwiches for our planned picnic. 

We also nipped into the town's small charity shop, where our efforts were rewarded by a funky glass dish, two Art Deco vases which were in a bargain bin and priced at € 1,50 for the pair, and some jewellery. I spotted the squirrel brooch as we were about to pay at the till.

Armed with sandwiches and drinks, we made our way to a nearby nature reserve called the Galgebossen, which translates as Gallows woods. Apparently gallows stood at the edge of them until the early 18th century.

Upon arrival, we were happy to see a picnic table in a small enclosure next to the car park, so that we could comfortably eat outside instead of having a car picnic. Not quite that comfortable, it turned out, as we were immediately accosted by a gang of chickens. Not only did we have to clean their mess off the table and benches, we had to share our sandwiches with them. Believe me, there was no saying no to this formidable chap (bottom right) which seemed to be the leader of the gang.

With all out dithering, we'd forgotten to take outfit photos, so we took them during our walk instead.

My second pair of trousers came out of my suitcase. This floral delight was a sales bargain from New Look last Winter, while both the sailor style short-sleeved jumper and the shirt (to which I'd pinned my new squirrel brooch) were charity shopped. Both are from the now defunct Belgian label Wow To Go. 

As I was about to retrieve my raincoat from the boot of the car, I was surprised to find it missing. It turned out I'd left it behind at the cottage, another victim of that morning's dithering.

Our walk took us through a mixture of woodland and fields, at one point crossing a road where a lonely house stood complete with a tiny chapel fixed to its façade.

It might have been only the first week of September, but it definitely felt like Autumn, especially when we were walking along that leaf-strewn woodland path. 

Patches of cloud and sunny spells alternated throughout our walk, but much to our relief we made it back to our car without facing even one drop of rain.

On our way back to the cottage, we stopped in Poperinge for an afternoon treat of cappuccinos and waffles. At that point, the sun was out in full force.

The forecasted rain finally came when we were back at the cottage, which seemed like a fitting end to our week's holiday.

Thursday 26 September 2019

On the cusp of Autumn

Apologies to those of you who have come here hoping to read another installment of my travelogue! I'm keeping the final episode simmering on the back burner for now and I'm treating you to a September recap instead.

Can you believe we've almost reached the end of September? It's quite dizzying how time seems to whizz by.

For two weekends in a row, we have been blessed with the most gorgeous sunny weather, which obviously we have been making the most of. 

By heading to one of our favourite nature reserves, for instance, which is what we did two Sundays ago, topping up our vitamin D levels in the process.

Isn't this green floral Diolen frock a delight? It was love at first sight when I spotted it on the rails at Think Twice about 4 years ago, and in spite of the fact that it wasn't in the greatest of conditions, resistance was futile: I  just had to make it mine!

The lining was in tatters, so I removed it completely, and there were quite a few rough patches caused by pilling, which I managed to make a whole lot better by patiently snipping off the worst offenders with a tiny pair of scissors. The things one does for love! I also replaced the less than perfect buttons with these buttercup yellow ones.

More yellow was added with my necklace and flower corsage, and I even wore a watch with a yellow strap. The colour pink was represented by the lacy cardigan I wore on top and my pink floral sneakers, which are vying with my Clarks Cloudsteppers for the title of most comfortable footwear.

You've already visited this nature reserve, which has over 675 hectares of marshland, ponds and lakes, with me several times before. It really is a place for all seasons, but our favourite times to visit are from Autumn to early Spring.

At the tail end of Summer, it is actually at its lushest, if slightly overgrown, with the green of the foliage close to its sell-by date, at that awkward between-the-seasons moment just before the leaves start to turn.

Passing the first of the ponds, we turned off towards the bird hide, which was covered in rampant garlands of ivy and hops. 

Hoverflies were flitting among out-of-season dandelions or joining the bees in feasting upon the pollen of the pink-hued Himalayan balsam, which they obviously think is the bee's knees!

The soundtrack was provided by their buzzing mingled with the droning of a plane far above our heads and the eternal bickering of the waterfowl.

But even if the weather was rivalling that of a warm Summer's day, the sights and smells were definitely those of these glorious days on the cusp of Autumn.

Woodland paths meandered beneath a canopy of green, which was shadow-playing with the sunlight filtering through the trees.

It's these fleeting peaceful moments that make my heart leap with joy!

We always stop at this rough-hewn bench, where we sit in quiet contemplation enjoying the stillness of the air.

The bench is quite high, causing my feet to dangle inches above the ground. No such problems for Jos though!

After this soul refreshing day, it wasn't easy getting back into working mode. As always, I tried to chase away the dark clouds, whether real or imaginary, by wearing my beloved vintage frocks.

I only managed outfit photos on a couple of days and, taken with my phone's camera, they are not the sharpest of the bunch.

On the left, the eagle-eyed among you might spot the vintage dress I'd recently scored at the charity shop, while the dress on the right is an old favourite in a water colour print of blues, purples and greens.

Friday's outfit was an exercise in pattern mixing achieved by combining this skirt and blouse, both of which had previously only been worn with plain items. 

The blouse is another one which I suspect to be the top half of a dress. Apart from its gorgeous blue and green florals, it was the cute white collar and button placket which persuaded me to buy it.

As a nod to impending Autumn - which I read started on 23 September this year - I pinned a wooden acorn brooch to the blouse's collar.

Speaking of acorns, we walked on a veritable carpet of them on Saturday, and escaped several others which dropped from the great height of the trees with a mighty plop.

On our way to our usual Saturday afternoon round of the charity shops, we stopped at a leafy park for a stroll. 

The sunlight bouncing off the semi-opaque water of the park's ponds was confusing my camera lens into creating this magical landscape where elves and fairies might be dwelling.

The dress I'm wearing was picked up for next to nothing at Think Twice earlier that week. The hem had dropped in several places and I spent an hour or so on Friday restitching it.

After all that effort, I thought I might as well give it an outing before packing it away for next Summer.

The chain belt - another recent charity shop find - seemed to be made for it, and I added a necklace in a similar colour, as well as an armful of bracelets and a vintage poodle brooch.

The basket bag is another favourite which has earned its place among my handbag collection. It's just big enough for weekend essentials, but would never work as a weekday bag.

After our turn in the park, we hit the charity shops, but pickings were meagre this time.

Nevertheless, I pounced upon this straw basket with appliquéd flowers and leaves. Not that I haven't got enough straw baskets already, but the truth is that I find them simply irresistible. 

My other buys were a bright orange cardigan in a shade that was I was still missing and a stretchy, long-sleeved grey top with a dainty pink flower print. 

Oh, and I found Jos a brushed leather Winter coat, which I presume will make its debut on the blog before too long.

I'm leaving you for now, as I've got things to do: I'm starting the weekend early this week by having a day off tomorrow. See you next time!

Sunday 22 September 2019

With love and squalor: a French adventure

Are you ready for another ride in the time machine? Well, fasten your seatbelts, as here we go, the time navigator set for the Thursday of the first week of September.

Tentatively lifting a corner of our cottage's curtains to see what the weather was like, we were pleasantly surprised to see the lake illuminated by mellow early morning sunlight. There were some dark clouds about as well, which for the moment we chose to ignore.

And look, here's one of the two resident sheep, coming up to the house for its morning treat!

It was a toss-up between a day at the seaside or a hop over the border into France, but when we learned that rain might be on the menu on this side of the border, while there was a sunny outlook for our planned destination in France, the decision was virtually made for us.

I decided on wearing one of the pairs of wide floral trousers I'd brought. I found this particular pair in a charity shop in Shropshire, and this was actually its first wear. My suitcase contained a choice of tops to wear with it, but I opted for full-on visibility by choosing this turqoise blouse with over-the-top blowsy flower print. It closes at the back with a very long zipper, which is only one of several indications that it started life as a dress. Isn't it wonderful that someone, somewhere, decided to salvage it by turning it into a blouse?

Having decided on a day abroad, our destination for the day was the town of St. Omer, 45 kilometers and a drive of just under an hour away. 

The town, which has medieval origins, boasts a rich heritage with several historical monuments, and - according to its website - is the ideal place to wander, with cobbled streets and lively squares.

We cursed under our breaths when soon after starting out, at the point when our satnav made us turn off the main road and onto her favoured small country lanes, the first drops appeared on our windscreen. 

It rained on and off for a while, then it stopped altogether, with more and more patches of blue emerging and the dove grey clouds being joined by white cotton wool ones.

The road meandered through endless acres of fields, and the landscape, which had been dotted with tiny hamlets and tumbledown farms with ancient equipment rusting away alongside them, was getting emptier by the minute, until we were driving through what looked like an enchanted forest laced with marshland patches. 

A sign told us that this was a nature reserve called le Forêt Dominiale de Rihoult Clairmarais (the Forest of Clairmarais), and soon we saw another one directing us to the Grotte de Clairmarais, a prominent place of pilgrimage. We parked our car and made our way to the grotto, where we burned a votive candle bought from the small white pavillion on its right, a self-service shop with an honesty box, selling an array of saintly goodies.

After this diversion, we finally arrived in St.Omer, our satnav directing us to the town centre. Having seen no car park signs, we parked opposite a forbidding Victorian style school building in the Rue St. Bertin, where we were assured by a passing town official that parking was free and the walk into town would only take 10 minutes.

In order to make sure we'd find our way back, I took a picture of the street name of the nearest side road, which was the Rue de Notre Dame de Patience.

By that time, I was getting quite impatient to go and explore the town.

We soon passed a small square on our right, the Place St. Denis, where the eponymous church (top right and bottom left), orginally dating from the 13th Century but partly rebuilt in the 18th Century, clearly seemed to have seen better days.

Continuing on the Rue St. Bertin, our eyes were drawn to the Italianate tower of the Jesuit Chapel, which the late morning sun was illuminating with an orange glow. We walked into its direction but found its doors firmly locked.

I'd printed a walk off a travel website but, before we could make a start, we wanted to get our bearings, so we went in search of the Tourist Office to get a map and some leaflets.

Following signs pointing us into the right direction, we found it tucked away in a courtyard off one of the town's main squares. Deckchairs printed with the town's name were set out on the lawn, which faces the side of the town's cathedral, and which we will visit in a minute. 

Armed with a town guide, we had a cup of coffee in the on-site café, a small pavillion which had the most fabulous wallpaper ever. Here you can see that, not trusting the weather forecast one bit, I was wearing my famous green raincoat!

As it was still too early for lunch, we thought we'd check out the cathedral first. 

Well, what can I say?  First of all, we were simply knocked over by its vast size of over 100 metres and, in places, a height of 23 metres.

Situated at the heart of its own close, the cathedral has been on the list of historical monuments since 1840.

Even from the very back of the close, and with the wide angle of my camera, it was virtually impossible to capture its full size in one photograph. The best we could do was using the cheapo fisheye lens we'd bought for our phones (top left).

Saint-Omer-cathedral, or to give it its proper name, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saint-Omer, was started before 1200 and was finally completed in the 15th Century.

Due to its magnificent interior, it is one of the richest churches in France. The organ (above, bottom right) is one of its main treasures. There are other exquisite details to explore as well: marble and alabaster chapels, classical and baroque paintings, funerary monuments, wood carvings and ancient floor tiles, this cathedral simply has it all.

There has been an extensive restoration programme in the last decade, and although there is still a lot of work to do, I have to admit that I thought the juxtaposition of the cathedral's opulence and delapidation particularly charming.

Case in point is the genuine Rubens painting, The Descent from the Cross, dating from 1616 (above, top left), in its ornate gilt frame, which is displayed rather incongruently in a grotty corner, behind a makeshift barrier even I could have jumped.

We explored the cathedral's fascinating interior with its endless nooks and crannies, until our stomachs told us it was now definitely time for lunch.

Before we go outside again, however, I wanted to show you the cathedral's innovative way of divesting you of your hard earned money (top, bottom left). No need to despair if you haven't got any cash on you, as you can make a donation or even buy a candle using your bank card!

Walking back towards the town centre, I remembered a restaurant recommendation from the website I'd downloaded the walk from. Called Les Frangins, it is one which is also frequented by locals? which is always a good sign. Looking up from consulting my paperwork for its address, I actually spotted its name at the far end of the square we'd just entered.

We both ordered salmon, which came accompanied by rice and locally grown veg - the area is particularly known for its cauliflower cultivation - not to mention a most delicious sauce.

After a "petit café", we were ready to roll again. 

By then , we had abandoned all pretense of following the walk's directions, deciding to just saunter around the town, following our noses and taking note of the squalor which went happily hand in hand with the splendour, a phenomenon which seems to be typical of the towns of the area.

We then retraced our steps to the Jesuit chapel as recommended by the lovely lady at the Toursist Office. Built between 1615 and 1640, it is no longer in use as a church. After its refurbishment between 2013 and 2016, this architectural jewel's lofty interior is now the place for exhibitions, concerts and seminars. 

We were in luck, as it was the final day of the current exhibition of early 20th Century black and white photographs of the town and the area.

We'd spotted a bakery a little further up the street - Artisan Boulanger, you can see its sign in collage number 5 above - where we stopped to buy a loaf of bread for our evening meal and breakfast. And no, it does not come with a recommendation, as that bread turned out to be quite unpalatable. Oh well, we probably should have bought a baguette. When in France, and all that!

Before calling it a day, there was one more historical site that we wanted to visit, which was at the other end of the street where we'd parked our car.

Close to the edge of town, where it meets the Canal de Neufossé and the marshy areas of the Forest of Clairmarais, lie the romantic ruins of Saint-Bertin-Abbey.

Created in the 7th Century, it was one of the first Benedictine abbeys to the North of Paris and it grew into one of the most powerful abbeys in Northern Europe during the entire medieval period. 

During the revolution, the abbey was closed and fell into ruin.

The site of the ruins, however, cannot be visited, but only admired from behind the iron railings surrounding them. On the square in front of the ruins is a marble statue of Abbot Suger, a benefactor of St. Bertin.

Rather then returning to our car, we took a paralell road leading us back into the town centre, as we couldn't possibly leave without any fortifications.

These we found at a Salon du Thé in the town's main square, situated rather appropriately inside the town's former town hall which due to its shape is fondly called "the coffee mill".

Here we had another "petit café", which was served in gold coloured cups, and scrumptious Moelleux au Chocolat with warm chocolate sauce.

Then it was really time to call it a day and return along those delightful country lanes, accompanied by great big skies full of clouds which appeared to be gliding over the harvested fields.

Linking my wide-legged trousers and floral blouse to Mica's Weekday Wear Linkup.

Wednesday 18 September 2019

The days grow short when you reach September

Although I still have two more episodes of my travelogue up my sleeve, I thought I'd squeeze in a little catch-up of what has been going on and, more importantly, what I have been wearing, since we came back from our short holiday.

As my blog is more or less my online diary, it just wouldn't do to publish a post highlighting the outfits I was wearing in the second week of September only several weeks later. Besides, chances are that in spite of extensive photographic evidence, it will have all but disappeared into the fog my menopausal brain often seems to be wading through.

So, let's make a start and journey back to just under a week ago. On Thursday, I got this glorious, pink-hued bouquet of flowers delivered to the office. It was a birthday present from my lovely bosses, who'd ordered it all the way from Miami.

Taking them home on the tram during rush hour, while simultaneously carrying my handbag and a wicker basket, was quite an undertaking, and it was nothing short of a miracle that they made it home without any casualties. 

That's me wedging them between my knees and the back of the seat in front of me on the top left, where you can catch a brief glimpse of the blowsy floral pattern on the skirt I was wearing.

As you can see, Phoebe was a big fan of them as well! I had a bit of a hard time keeping her away from them.

And here's what I was wearing on my birthday. The circle skirt with its abundance of flowers was a sales bargain from last Summer, but everything else I'm wearing is second hand. The vintage peplum top with its attached belt has already made several appearances on the blog and I'm sure my denim jacket does not need any introduction either.

The raspberry suede shoes were a charity shop find, as was the delightful squirrel brooch, which I picked up in Poperinge's small charity shop on the last day of our holiday.

A quick round-up of what else I've been wearing that week. 

From left to right: plums, pears and hydrangeas are part of the print on this lovely vintage dress I wore on Monday, while Tuesday's going-back-to-work outfit consisted of a vintage Lee Cooper denim skirt (a gift from my friend Ingrid) and a charity shopped short-sleeved King Louie jumper. 

Wednesday was brightened by this fiery orange and caramel, dagger collared vintage dress, topped by an abstract print blue cardigan, which was a charity shop find from earlier this year.

In spite of this being a short working week, the weekend couldn't arrive fast enough.

The week had been a mixture of sunny and dull days, and Friday firmly belonged in the latter category, with the gloom only lifting slightly by the end of the day.

This vintage dress, which skillfully combines several shades of green and blue, is another one which has made it to the blog more than once. I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that it's one of my favourites! I added a white vinyl belt to define my waist and chose a turquoise beaded necklace, but opted for a totally different colour for my brooch, a lovely orchid in a delicious caramel shade, which can also be worn as a pendant.

I went for a quick rummage in one of the Think Twice shops during my lunch break and pounced upon this navy shirt which has the cutest of prints. 

Their sales had started that day and everything was 30% off. Prices will keep going down until at the end of two weeks all that is left is going for € 1 a piece. I'm pretty sure this gorgeous shirt wouldn't have lasted until then!

We'd been promised a weekend of Indian Summer weather and for once they got it right as this is exactly what we got. Hurray!

Too good to be wasted indoors, we combined our usual Saturday charity shopping trip with a walk in the park.

There are several decades between the 1970s vintage skirt I'm wearing and the top, which was a sales bargain a couple of years back, but I think their combined naive flower prints are a match made in heaven. 

I found the skirt, which looked to be in unworn condition, in the charity shop in our village last Spring. In fact, I had to undress one of the shop's dummies for it, leaving the poor thing indecently exposed.

My outfit was accessorized with a red belt and necklace, while the gorgeous weather was asking for another outing for my Clarks slingbacks charity shopped in Bridgnorth when meeting up with Vix back in June. They might very well be my most worn shoes this Summer.

Oh, how I love this time of year! I'm sure there are a lot of you out there who prefer Summer, but I am definitely an Autumn girl!

And although this year's greenery has long lost its freshness by now, I love the mellow sunlight which has replaced the harsh glare of Mid-Summer.

The other thing I love about Indian Summer is that the heat of the days is book-ended by cool mornings and nights, making them all that more enjoyable.

From the park, we walked to the charity shop down the road, which is spread out over three floors.

We usually only have a cursory glance at the ground floor, which mainly has furniture, but I'm always having a browse at the jewellery display near the tills. Then it's off to the first floor, which has everything from household goods and decoration to books and records.

Our final stop is the basement which is completely dedicated to clothing and textiles.

Apart from one or two things you'll get to see later, this is what I found. It's been quite a while since I had such a great haul!

There was a short-sleeved top by Belgian label Lucy Has A Secret, as well as two long-sleeved shirts, which purely by coincidence are all in a similar colour range.

In stark contrast are the neon shades of the green printed cardigan and the massive dayglo pink chain which, after a minor intervention by Jos, I will be using as a belt.

Two necklaces and two bangles (one of them in painted wood) were my other jewellery finds.

A colourful vintage C&A dress was a surprise find, as vintage dresses are few and far between at the charity shops outside of their retro events. Its label was pristine and its polyester fabric still a bit stiff, as if it came straight from the C&A rails, so I don't think it was ever worn.

Then there was some interesting reading matter for Jos (and me as well, of course).

Last but not least, I happened upon this tiny Italian souvenir doll, still in her original box. I picked it up, remarking to Jos that it had probably been an unwanted present, when the illustrations on the box made me realize that this was proper vintage. 

It was obvious that the doll had never been out of the box and, as she is kept hostage by the elastic holding her in place, which has solidified and has permanently attached itself to the box’s back, she probably never will. For € 0,50, however, she has now found her forever home at Dove Cottage.

So, that was it for now. I'll be regaling you again with my travel adventures in my next post. 

Hope you'll join me again then.

Linking last Saturday's outfit to Nancy's Fancy Friday.