With building work still going on next door on Saturday the 6th of August, we once again sought peace and quiet elsewhere. What's more, wanting to get as far away from the headache inducing racket as possible, we decided to go abroad for the day!
If you're doing a double take and reading that last bit again to make sure you've got it right: we're not that far from the Dutch border, so going abroad for a day isn't as far-fetched as it might sound. Our destination of choice was Middelburg, the charming capital town of the Dutch province of Zeeland, a leisurely drive of just over an hour from Dove Cottage's front door.
Long-time readers have accompanied me here a couple of times before, as we spent two short holidays in Zeeland, in November 2018 and November 2019, staying in a lovely airbnb on the outskirts of Middelburg.
We therefore know the town quite well, and what's more, we knew exactly where to find free parking, on a street parallel to the one our airbnb cottage used to be in. From there, it is just a 10 minute stroll into town. Before doing so, however, we had a sneaky peek at the cottage, which it seems has been sold on in the meantime, and sadly is no longer available on airbnb.
The walk into town is delightful, crossing a picturesque canal with a park laid out on the old town ramparts and then, after passing the Kloveniersdoelen, an imposing building dating from 1609 (above, top right), crossing a second one which takes you straight into one of the town's busiest shopping streets.
If it all looked familiar but strangely out of kilter to us, it must have been because we'd only ever seen Middelburg in November. Admittedly, I thought that whitewashed windmill De Hoop (above, top left) didn't look quite as atmospheric as it did in Autumn. Have a peek here
, so that you can judge for yourselves ...
Having yet again made a late start, it was soon time to look out for a place to eat. It didn't take long for us to be enticed inside a café called Reynaert
, and back out again into its sheltered garden terrace where, as luck would have it, there was a free table for two.
Jos was wearing the short-sleeved shirt I found for him in the charity shop the other day. It's from C&A and although clearly a men's shirt, it was mixed up in a rail of women's blouses. I've added a close-up of its lovely sailing boats and palm trees pattern for you to admire.
We ordered toasted sandwiches with cheese and ham, which came on sourdough bread, with a salad and tomato ketchup, presented on a rustic wooden board covered with newspaper-print greaseproof paper.
Luckily for us, non-alcoholic Leffe - a Belgian beer - was on the drinks menu, so that we didn't have to assault our taste buds with non-alcoholic Heineken!
After lunch, we continued along the Langeviele shopping street, passing up the various offers of the local delicacy, Zeeuwse Bolussen - a sticky sweet bun made from white bread dough rolled in dark brown sugar - or one of the many cheeses Holland is famous for.
We could hear a veritable cacophony of sounds reaching us from the direction of the Market Square. Apparently, Middelburg's yearly fun fair (or kermis in Dutch) was taking place and the square was filled with the most outrageous fairground attractions, their thumping sound systems vying for attention, with the ubiquitous chorus of screams emanating from the most spectacular ones.
Needless to say, we couldn't get away fast enough ...
Once past the Market Square we strolled through Middelburg's main shopping street, Lange Delft, and went in and out of a couple of shops in search of a light jacket or cardigan for Jos to wear. He'd left his linen jacket in the car but as the day's highs of 22°C came accompanied by a brisk breeze - as it often does here in semi-sea locked Zeeland - he was starting to feel the chill.
After purchasing an ochre denim shirt, which I'm sure will get plenty of wear in Autumn, we turned into one of the narrow side streets leading towards the town's most famous - and certainly most visible - landmark, the Lange Jan.
This 90,5 meter high wedding cake layered tower belongs to the town's large abbey complex which was established around 1100 by Flemish monks.
During our last visit, in November 2019, we had made an attempt to visit the three interconnected churches which are also part of the complex. Much to our dismay, however, we couldn't find a way in, even after a helpful man directed us to a door behind which lay some atmospheric cloister passageways complete with intricately carved ceilings. Here too, any doors which could have given us access to the churches were firmly locked. Back at home, the mystery was solved when we found out that the churches are only open to visitors from Easter until end of October.
Now, we were finally able to have a peek inside the Nieuwe Kerk (above), which was built in the 16th century, and the Koorkerk (below), which dates from the 14th century. The churches are joined by a central choir called the Wandelkerk.
Afterwards, we sauntered through the cloisters which, in stark contrast to our previous visit, we didn't have completely to ourselves. Not that you'd notice in the photos! I'm sure you know by now that - unlike in other areas of life - I've got the patience of a saint when it comes to taking photos.
At the time of our visit, Middelburg was hosting Façade, a contemporary art festival, which is still running until the 6th of November.
At the end of the cloister, coming from the direction of the abbey courtyard, there was a shallow, bowl-shaped mirror consisting of hundreds, perhaps even thousands of triangular mirror fragments. This work of art is called Random Triangle Mirror and is the work of the British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor. Come close enough and you will see yourself in an infinite number of self portraits, in the artist's own words, the ultimate selfie moment!
The red door in the photo on the top right gives access to a small herb garden, a place for quiet contemplation, although not in high season with so many people milling about.
One of the benches is permanently taken by a sculpture of Hans Lipperhey (1570-1619), a German-Dutch spectacle-maker commonly associated with the invention of the telescope, as he was the first to try and obtain a patent for it. He settled in Middelburg in 1594 and remained there until his death in 1619.
You can catch a glimpse of my outfit here, built around the flower-infused 1970s does 1940s Diolen dress which is a firm favourite in my wardrobe.
My Clarks Cloudsteppers, of course, were essential for a day of sightseeing.
We emerged from the cloisters into the abbey courtyard, where we paused for a while and checked out a giant, blue dolly rope (plastic thread which is attached to fishing nets) covered hand by Kianoosh Gerami, who is based in the Zeeland town of Zierikzee. According to the Façade website there should have been three of these hands. I wonder what happened to the other two ...
We continued our wanderings, interrupted by cheesecake and cappuccino in a favourite café, coming across yet more works of art at regular intervals.
At one of the entrances of the tranquil Kuiperspoort, three and a half metres above the unsuspecting spectator’s head, a garland of spiky grey spheres has been suspended (top centre). They are by Dutch artist Tanja Smeets. The Kuiperspoort itself is a picturesque 17th century cobbled courtyard. Jos is standing just inside one of its other entrances in the photo on the top right.
On the bottom left is part of an installation by Austrian artist Erwin Wurm (he of the melting sailing boat in Middelheim), who became world-famous for his sculptures about the absurd and the paradox in our society. Here, he has attached second-hand furniture - a complete interior, actually - to some walls.
By late afternoon our feet were getting tired, so we walked all the way back across the town to where our car was parked, picking up some food to eat at home along the way.
Our journey home was uneventful, except for a 10 minute wait at a drawbridge to give way to some sailing boats.
In the meantime, much to our relief, our neighbour had started work on the new wall. It would steadily grow higher in the next days. It still hasn't reached the required height as I write and it certainly won't be in the running for any beauty contests. However, once it has been insulated and finished, it is expected to look a whole lot better. I will keep you posted, obviously.
I'm now skipping two weeks, fast-forwarding to Saturday the 20th of August. I'll be posting about the weeks in between shortly, but as we made another trip to Middelburg that Saturday, I thought it only fitting to include it here as well.
Creatures of habit that we are, we immediately made our way to Reynaert upon arrival. While we were waiting for our lunch to arrive, I had a look at the map, plotting our itinerary for the afternoon.
First up was a rummage in a second hand clothing shop established on the premises of an old tobacco factory (top left). Disappointingly, there wasn't anything which caught our fancy, but while we were contemplating the impressive row of Lourdes holy water bottles displayed in the windows above the shop's door, we got talking to two nice German ladies, who'd just arrived back from Cornwall and were slowly making their way to the North of Germany. By bike! I was quite chuffed when they told me they were impressed with my command of the German language, which I'm sure reading Beate's
posts in the original language has contributed to.
We were pleased to see that the fun fair had upped sticks, so that the Middelburg's magnificent town hall was once again in command of the Market Square.
It was voted the second most beautiful monument of the Netherlands and with its richly decorated façade, its profusion of statues and little turrets and its charming red, white and yellow shutters, it's easy to see why.
Building began in 1452 and took over 80 years and several generations of an architect family from Mechelen (Belgium) to finish.
I might have left that second hand clothing shop empty handed, but finding four brooches at Sebastian den Herder Vintage & Designers
more than made up for this. It turns out that Sebastian is a collector of brooches himself, and it was nice chatting to someone so passionate and knowledgeable about them.
The little bird brooch on the bottom left is Lea Stein, by the way.
After having made our purchases, we continued our meander through Middelburg's maze of cobbled streets. Once again, we strolled through 17th century Kuiperspoort (above, bottom left and right), exiting this inner-city oasis at the quayside, where we walked along a stretch of canal lined with monumental old merchant's houses and filled with quirky houseboats.
And just look at that brilliant blue sky!
Before I go, let's have a look at what I was wearing that day, for which I'm taking you to the peaceful abbey courtyard.
My midi-length circle skirt usually has many admirers. Charity shopped back in 2019, it is something of an oddity. Although there is a label, I suspect it is a personalized one and it is actually somebody's handiwork. Apart from its mid-century style print, it has a visible red side zipper and features random felt circles and visible stitching.
The green lacy short-sleeved jumper was an old Think Twice find, while the red cropped cardigan, as well as the belt, necklace and bangles were picked up in various charity shops. The enamelled butterfly brooch was a flea market find.
I'm currently counting down to our trip to Belgium's west country next week, but before I leave I promise to be back with a round-up of August's outfits and happenings.
See you soon!