Wednesday 27 November 2019

November odds and ends

I'm taking a brief breather from the travelogue to show you what I've been wearing lately.

Travelling back in time to the weekend before our Zeeland break, this is what I wore to go to our favourite flea market on Saturday, 9 November.

Normally held once a month, this year an extra edition was scheduled, so that it was only two weeks since the last one, and while we never say no to a good flea market, quite a few of the regular stallholders were giving it a miss. Too much of a good thing, perhaps?

I'd recently found the plaid wool jacket in a vintage shop opposite my hairdresser's.  The shop, which used to sell vintage per kilo, but has recently switched to fixed prices, is just a little bit out of my way for a browse during my lunch breaks, but I always have a quick look whenever I visit the salon. 

The jacket has the softest furry collar ever and was a warm and snuggly choice for that Saturday morning as temperatures had entered the single figures.

You've already seen both my pink beret and my brown-and-mauve mix scarf, so only my gloves, a pair of vintage button edged tan coloured ones, need some further introduction here. 

Yes, yes, but what about that maxi skirt, I can hear you think. Well, I'm no longer keeping you in suspense. I stumbled across this swoon-worthy velvet skirt about a year ago. My original plan was to wear it on New Year's Eve, but I changed my mind at the very last moment, and then promptly forgot all about it. Yes, I know!

It's got the most stunning floral print (I've added some close-ups in the collage below), is fully lined with a very swishy maroon fabric and for ease of movement, it has a generous slit up one side, which offers the opportunity to show you my lilac opaques!

The shirt with its psychedelic print, originally from a Belgian high street shop, was a charity shop find, which I topped with a vintage green short-sleeved open weave cardigan in a Dralon wool blend.

A sage green woven belt, white metal pendant and pale pink plastic ring completed my outfit.

But let's return to that flea market we were going to. I don't think we've ever come back empty handed from this particular one, and we certainly didn't this time, even if our finds were less prolific. 

In fact, it turned out to be quite a satisfactory edition, with lots of lovely things on offer, but I guess we already had our trip to Zeeland on our minds!

We'd hardly walked into the venue when we came across this wall plaque at one of the very first stalls. She was marked at € 4,50 but the seller, from whom we've been buying for years, let us have the lovely lady for € 3.

As you might have guessed, she'll soon be joining the wall of heads!

I only found four brooches this time! 

Both the elephant and the leopard came from the same stall and so couldn't possibly be separated. They are both vintage pieces, as is the lady with the outrageous hat, while the green floral one is modern, but nevertheless worth having in my collection. 

But the best was yet to come! 

We were delighted to see that one of our favourite sellers, Ilona, was trading again, and Jos fell head over heels for a mid century plant stand, in the typical shape an colours of the era.

We didn't have time to give it a proper place and decorate it before we left, but last weekend we shuffled around the furniture in our tiny sitting room and then decked it out with some plants and ornaments. We wanted to add another plant, but Phoebe had other ideas, as she kept attacking the poor thing, so that we had to put that one well out of her reach.

The zebra stripe ashtray with the Atomium is original merchandise sold at Expo 58, the famous World Fair held in Brussels in that year. The space age thermometer is one of my most treasured objects, as it used to belong to my parents.

The lamp on the bottom shelf is actually a jar containing a string of battery operated toadstool shaped lights.

Here's a little view of our predominantly 1950s corner, including original cocktail chairs, floor lamp, iconic Tomado book shelves, a Bakelite radio and original EXPO 58 poster, among other things.

But our sitting room is really a mish mash of eras, with even some good old IKEA thrown in. The throws on the sofa and footstool were charity shop finds while the granny square covered cushions were made by my friend Inez's Mum.

I'm time-travelling back and forth between the weeks, as this was what awaited me when we came back from Zeeland on Saturday before last.

It was a late birthday present handmade by my friend Ingrid! Doesn't she know me well? And how serendipitous that I was already wearing a matching vintage jumper!

Apart from unpacking, running a machine wash and catching up with my blog reading, I didn't do very much else that Sunday. 

But I did assemble a couple of outfits for the impending working week, and in order to beat the lack of daylight throwing a spanner in the works on week nights, I cheated and showcased them for you there and then between showers!

First up was my recently acquired flower pot print dress, in the softest of wool blends, which I wore with a charity shopped green cardigan and turquoise opaques, which you can just catch the merest glimpse of.

The green beret - a second-hand find last year - originally had an unsightly patch sewn onto it, which I swiftly removed, but alas its contours remained visible. This usually prompts me to wear it backwards, but then I suddenly remembered this flower pot brooch, which I'm sure you'll agree couldn't be a better match with the print of my dress!

And oh, isn't the dress's label adorable as well? 

My final outfit of this post is one I wore later that week and which was built around one of my all-time favourite frocks found in a local charity shop about three years ago. It has already made more than one appearance on the blog as, even if it hasn't been worn the elusive 30 times yet, it is still being worn several times a year during the cold weather season.

A Diolen delight in a lovely bottle green and with the grooviest of prints, it was love at first sight. The only thing that bothered me were the buttons, which were promptly replaced by more fitting ones from my stash of vintage buttons. 

Taking my lead from the dress's print, I used yellows and a dash of orange for my cardigan, opaques and accessories.

Surely nothing beats some bright colours on these grey - or at best mediocre - November days!

I will be cracking on with the travelogue in my next post. Do come and join me again then.

Saturday 23 November 2019

A leaf kicking kind of day

I confess that we only had the vaguest of plans for our Zeeland break, opting to let our moods and the weather - that often pesky spoilsport - be the deciding factor on how to spend our days.

Monday evening saw a return of the rain, which continued overnight, at one point turning into a clattering of hailstones, with rumblings of thunder in the far distance. And all this accompanied by a stormy wind - always a presence to be reckoned with in these parts - which was making windows and roof-tiles rattle.

It was a bit disheartening waking up to the pitter-patter of raindrops on Tuesday morning, but by the time we'd dragged ourselves downstairs and were having a breakfast consisting of bread and omelettes washed down by copious cups of coffee, the sun had decided to grace us with her presence after all.

We wasted no time in starting our next adventure, retracing Monday's steps back to the town centre and making a beeline for the Lange Jan tower. The tower belongs to a large abbey complex established around 1100 by Flemish monks, the abbot becoming the most powerful and influential person in Zeeland. That is, until the monks were forced to leave after the conquest of the city by the Prince of Orange in 1574. The complex now functions as the seat of government of the Province of Zeeland and also houses a museum.

In Summer, you can climb the 207 steps up to the top of the Lange Jan for a spectacular view over the town and the entire Walcheren peninsula, on which the town is situated.

But what had made us come back here in particular were the three adjacent, interconnected churches which are also part of the complex, and which we had to skip last year due to lack of time.

So, imagine our disappointment when we found our entry barred as new floor tiles were being laid in the entrance hall. The man on the job didn't really have a clue but supposed there was another entrance at the back, so we traipsed all around the abbey complex, trying every door we came across, but finding them all firmly locked.

Then, walking into the large abbey courtyard, I was totally transfixed by the thick carpet of Autumn leaves in its centre. All thoughts of looking for a way into the churches vanished from my mind, as I couldn't wait to indulge in some long awaited and longed-for leaf kicking!

I've added some close-ups of my vintage coat, a lucky charity shop find a couple of years ago.

After making some inquiries, a helpful man directed us to an ancient red door which creaked open to give access to some atmospheric cloister passageways complete with intricately carved ceilings.

Opening a side door revealed a tiny courtyard herb garden, which unfortunately wasn't looking its best courtesy of the season and the deadly box tree moth which had clearly been decimating the hedges.

And although there were doors supposedly leading to the churches, they turned out to be all locked as well, so that we had to give up and turn heel.

It was nearly lunchtime by then, so we walked back into the direction of the town centre, passing the St. Jorisdoelen building, originally built in 1582 but rebuilt in 1969-70 after being largely destroyed during World War II.

Note the pink hued water in the fountain in front of it, to raise awareness for breast cancer. We thought it looked rather sinister, and were debating whether a mangled body might have been dumped into the fountain, but perhaps we've been watching too many crime series! Middelburg murders?

We had a light lunch in the café of a well-known Dutch department store and were dismayed to find the streets wet upon leaving the building. How fickle the weather is as it had only been about 45 minutes since I'd photographed that bright blue cloudless sky!

It started drizzling again and we ducked into a shop doorway to consult Jos's weather app, which said it was just a blip and it would stop raining soon. 

Not worth the hassle of opening our umbrellas for, we initially thought, but as the downpour increased in heaviness, Jos eventually opened his, if only to allow me to take photographs during our wander, which took us into the direction of the Dam square and the rabbit warren of streets beyond.

After a stop-start game, the rainclouds finally decided they had pestered us for long enough and departed elsewhere.

We'd arrived at the Oostkerk (East Church), a monumental octagonal cupola church, built in the baroque style around 1667. After 350 years of being a protestant church, it is now being used for concerts, lectures and exhibitions. Again, we found its door firmly locked, but I've since read that this was simply a case of bad timing, as supposedly all churches and other historical buildings are only open at certain times until November!

I'd downloaded a map of a walk on my phone, but its instructions weren't always clear, as by this time we'd lost our way on more than one occasion. Well, that's how it usually is with us! So, we decided to just wander and see where our feet would take us, while our eyes feasted on the glorious - and sometimes funny - architectural and other details. 

Our feet finally took us back to the Dam Square, which ends in a small park, beyond which stretches out the old port area.

As you can see, blue skies reigned again, the fluffy white clouds having chased away the last of their dark grey cousins.

So, in spite of our weary feet and Jos's aching back, we wanted to make the most of the change in the weather by making a little detour to one of  Middelburg's best kept secrets: the Kuiperspoort.

This picturesque cobbled courtyard, with its 17th century gabled warehouses formerly belonging to the Coopers' Guild - now turned into undoubtedly desirable residences - is entered through a wooden gate leading off the Dam square, with a second entrance on the windy quayside around the corner.

Stands the clock at ten past three, to misquote Rupert Brooke's poem, we ambled back towards the town centre, not for tea with honey, but for our customary cappuccinos and a shared piece of delicious cheesecake.

Jos insisted I took a photograph of the interior of Jamin, a famous Dutch sweets shop. The coloured stripes you can see on the bottom left are huge tubes filled with different coloured candy. Just looking at them is giving me toothache!

Our energy levels - albeit temporarily - restored, we took the long way home by walking a short stretch along the town's ramparts, which have been turned into a delightful 4 kilometer long park.

While Jos sat down on one of the park's benches to spare his back, I went to explore the nearby Seismolen (molen is Dutch for mill), a former corn mill dating from 1728 and one of the oldest still existing windmills in Middelburg.

Two cormorants sat drying their wings and digesting their meals, and we sat watching these gangly, almost pre-historic looking birds, until one of them took flight.

Taking this as a sign that it was time to head home as well, we crossed the bridge leading over the canal, enjoying the relative warmth of the late afternoon sun on our backs and rejoicing in the glorious golden glow of Autumn.

She stands
 In tattered gold
 Tossing bits of amber 
And jade, jewels of a year grown old: 

~Zephyr Ware Tarver (1886)

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Bright lights on a cold night

Hello there! Remember me? While we've only been away for five days, it somehow feels much longer, which surely must be a sign that we really did get away from it all. On the other hand, it does feel as if the days whizzed by at the speed of light, which is strangely contradictory.

I had to go back to work on Monday, and when I unlocked the door that morning and walked into the semi-darkness of the office, taking note of the mountain of unfinished files on my desk, I wistfully thought back to the Monday of last week when, after a bit of a lie-in and a leisurely breakfast, we put our luggage into the boot of the car and drove off to pastures new. Well, not that new actually, as we'd already been to the same place last year but I'm sure you're getting the gist.

Our destination was Middelburg, the charming capital town of the province of Zeeland in the south west of Holland. And while it is safe to say that we were going abroad, the journey only took us just over an hour!

After a gorgeously sunny but crisply cold weekend, it was a bit of a letdown that the weather forecast for the week ahead wasn't looking all that good. In fact, dark clouds had been gathering all morning  and it started raining before we were even halfway there!

We'd booked the same airbnb as last year, a small but perfectly formed cottage dating from 1890, which has been tastefully decorated and equipped with all mod cons.  After all, the cottage's owner, Eveline, actually lives there herself when she is not renting it out.

We arrived at about 1 pm and after helping us unload our luggage and guiding us to a nearby street where our car could be parked (the street the cottage is on is narrow with very limited parking), our thoughtful host left us to make ourselves at home. 

It was still raining at that point, so I'll show you around the cottage first. 

There's a cosy sitting room with a large sofa and an Art Deco style armchair arranged in front of a wood burner.

The sitting room leads through to an open plan kitchen with dining area, with French windows giving access to a tiny courtyard garden. There's a compact but comfortable bathroom leading off the hallway, while a flight of stairs takes you up to a large bedroom under the eaves.

We had a late lunch and, as the rain still didn't show any sign of abating, we decided to go grocery shopping before hitting the town. I'm happy to say that by the time we left the small local supermarket, a watery sun was finally showing its face.

I was snug as a bug in my travelling outfit consisting of a warm lined green with a bit of red tweed skirt and green fur collared vintage jacket (an all-time favourite), which I wore with a scarf in autumnal shades of browns and purples and a jaunty pink beret.

The boots were a retail buy from last month. I'd been looking for an affordable pair of tall, comfy boots in this particular yummy shade of chocolate brown for years, so I was overjoyed when I came across these in a recently opened high street shop in Antwerp. I'd brought a spare pair of boots with me as they hadn't yet been properly broken in, but there was no need as I wore them all week, walking for miles without the least bit of pinching or soreness.

Our cottage is on the outskirts of the town, but only a mere 5 minute walk from the town centre, along and across a picturesque canal, and then crossing a second one.

Before the weather gods had the chance to change their minds, I quickly snapped the pale blue, almost wintry sky peeking through one of the trees lining the canal, bare-branched with only a handful of withered leaves still hanging on for dear life.

On the bottom left is the striking Kloveniersdoelen building with its Flemish gables. Built in 1607, it has served as a place for target practice for marksmen (‘kloveniers’) and as a military hospital. At present, it is home to a small cinema and a restaurant.

Our first port of call was a street called Langeviele, and in particular a shop selling all manner of souvenirs, as Jos was intent on buying a pair of slippers shaped like traditional Dutch clogs. 

Slightly envious of the pink pair adorned with the obiquitous Dutch kissing boy and girl which I bought at the same shop last year, he was sorely disappointed when they didn't have the yellow ones in his size back then. As luck would have it, he was now able to grab the very last pair in his size! 

The Langeviele leads into the direction of the town's main square, passing some empty and forlorn café terraces along the way. 

The square itself is presided over by the former town hall (bottom right), a lavish late Gothic building, with its oldest parts dating from 1458. Its façade is covered with sculptures of the lords and ladies who have once ruled Zeeland.

We also caught our first glimpse of the iconic 14th century Lange Jan tower (top right) which is part of a large abbey complex. With its 90 metres, the tower is soaring above the town and is visible from far and wide in Zeeland's flat-as-a-pancake landscape.

It was well past 4 pm by then and daylight was starting to fade in favour of the gloaming. Twinkling lights were appearing in shop windows and spotlights were bathing the historical buildings in a magical glow. 

But while I was still snug as a bug, Jos was feeling the cold in his leather jacket. As he was in desperate need of a proper winter coat - we had been scouring the charity shops for months - we decided to do a rare spot of retail shopping, finding this gorgeous duffel coat - a true classic - in C&A. As you can see, he started wearing it straight away, carrying his leather jacket - and the clogs - in a bag.

It was getting late and we were getting peckish, so we dived into a café where we indulged in cakes and cappuccinos.

Our spirits sufficiently restored, we wandered through the cobbled lanes, ending up at a little square right in front of the Lange Jan, lured by a flower shop's luxuriously illuminated windows and some gilded poems set into slabs among the square's paving stones.

The poem on the slab I'm standing on freely translates as: the cloud rains out into sea, bird after bird falls apart, feet feet take us with you.

The tower itself, with its lavishly decorated wedding cake layers, was looking particularly enchanting, glowing like a magic lantern in the fading daylight.

There was even more magic back at the main square, and it wasn't just the town hall's splendour which was being spotlighted here. 

One shop in particular was prematurely sporting seasonal decorations, while cozy lamplight was spilling from the still empty pubs in an attempt to draw us in.

But not even the gaily lit stall selling the traditional oliebollen - a kind of fried doughnut balls - was able to tempt us, as those late cakes were still a bit in the way.

Soon we were back at the canalside, where the imposing Kloveniersdoelen building was putting in its two pennies worth by being lit up like the proverbial tree. 

Then we recrossed the canal and, finally on our homestretch, the remaining daylight was now beating a hasty retreat, with the distant traffic lights painting the water with rainbow coloured stripes.

One by one, lights started appearing in the windows of the houses opposite, where fires were lit to accompany people on their evening routines.

And soon, we would be home too and doing the same, settling in for a cozy evening in front of the fire, mulling over our dream of a day and making plans for the next.

To be continued ...

Wednesday 13 November 2019

Tales of a wet weekend

By the time you are reading this, we will be in the middle of a mid week break abroad, but as I still had a couple of loose ends to tie up, I thought I'd treat you to a scheduled post.

The First of November, All Saints Day, is a public holiday here in Belgium, and as this year it was on a Friday, we had a long weekend to look forward to.

Typically, after a working week full of gloriously sunny Autumn weather, Friday was another damp and dismal day.  

I tried to keep my spirits up by wearing this vintage, mustard yellow shift dress. Its print, with its scrolls and giant flowers, always reminds me of opulent wallpaper.

I kept my accessories relatively simple with a multicoloured necklace, a turquoise chunky ring and a gold rimmed ceramic brooch displaying some oriental poppies. Well, it was that time of year again when one wears poppies, wasn't it?

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that I was wearing the bright blue ankle boots I snapped up in a charity shop the previous weekend. Did I mention they only cost € 6?

In spite of the weather playing foul again, it wasn't a totally wasted day, as I had a visit from a lady who bought lots of stuff from me at our flea market back in July. She came for a rummage through my bags full of Winter clothes, and I'm happy to say she went home with no less than five dresses, three skirts, a jumper, a blouse and a jacket, leaving me with quite a bit of pocket money!

Initially, there was some improvement in the weather on Saturday: even if it was quite windy, at least it wasn't raining, so that there was no need for an umbrella. Charity shops, here we come!

If you think you've seen this skirt before, you are absolutely right: it is a fairly recent find, which Angelica was modelling a couple of weeks ago. Now, finally, it was my turn!

There's a choice of colours in its print, but I decided on autumnal shades to keep it company.

The tweed jacket, which has both green and purple in its plaid, was bought from a local shop eons ago and after narrowly escaping the giveaway pile a couple of years ago, it has now fully earned the space it takes up in my coats wardrobe. To its lapel, I pinned my official poppy brooch bought in Ypres. My other outerwear consisted of a sage green beret and a purple crushed velvet scarf.

I struggled a bit with what to wear with the skirt, finally settling on this rose red blouse, which I bought back in 2013 from a delight of a vintage shop which has sadly stopped trading. Further accessories consisted of a pale green belt and beaded necklace. Oh, and did you notice that my opaques and ankle boots were an almost perfect match?

Our rummage in the charity shops yielded some cozy knits and a tweed skirt, but alas I forgot to photograph them. But our main find was this utterly kitsch 1950s ornament.

When I pointed it out to Jos, mentioning that € 7 was quite a fair price, he exclaimed over it, as it turned out his childhood home contained something quite similar.

There's even some photographic evidence. Here's a thirteen year old Jos, with his Dad, Mum and sister and yes, there it is on the mantelpiece!

We added some battery-operated fairy lights which makes it look quite atmospheric at night.

Now I've truly had it with the weather forecasters, as Sunday, which they had promised would be mainly dry with a possible guest appearance of the sun, turned out to be a wet day through and through.

We were off to an antiques fair in a romantic castle about half an hour from where we live, which is being held biannually, in April and November.

As the fair itself isn't huge - browsing it takes about an hour or so - we usually combine it with a walk around the estate. In all the years we've been going there, this was the first time the weather wasn't cooperating.

Still, after our visit to the fair and a car picnic - the photo in the below collage, top right, was taken through our windshield - we took our ancient umbrella from the boot and went off for a wander.

No photos of the castle itself this time, as it was almost completely covered in scaffolding, but you can catch a glimpse of it across the lake, with me doing my Mary Poppins impersonation in the foreground.

The incessant rain had formed a thin layer of mist which curled around the edges of the lake and hung indolently between the tree tops, slightly veiling their autumnal splendour.

The once crunchy carpet of leaves had become a soggy, slippery mass, so that the longed for leaf kicking was out of the question.

I did my best to match their vibrant shades by wearing pumpkin colours: a burnt orange beret and an embellished crushed velvet scarf edged in tiny pumpkins ... err ... pom poms!

It was my boots' final voyage as the years had finally taken their toll, but what a grand finale they had walking along the leaf strewn woodland paths.

And here's what I was wearing beneath my old tweed jacket. The bottle green cord midi skirt was a recent find from the vintage per kilo shop. I combined it with an aubergine spotty blouse from Think Twice and a charity shopped belt and cardigan.

And now, without further ado, here are the things I found at the fair.

First up is the odd one out. I simply couldn't resist this chestnut brown croc handbag.

It almost goes without saying that I found some brooches. In fact, I bought a total of nine brooches from different sellers.

On the top row, another micromosaic one and a behatted and furred lady's head, which both came from the Brooch Lady's archives.

My two favourites are on the bottom row: a celluloid brooch featuring two Scotties in a sailing boat and a gold-rimmed Lucite brooch containing some garden pinks.

Here are the others. Clockwise from top left: top hat and riding crop, a handmade leather Scottie dog, a waterside scene, a large, shiny gold tone flower and a pearl bodied fish.

What is your favourite?

I will be back with another set of adventures next week!