woensdag 24 augustus 2016

At home she feels like a tourist

Last Monday dawned bright and sunny and as I wasn't expected at the office, we took our car and drove to Brussels, about 38 km from our home. The aim of our visit was the Atomium. Our Sat Nav, stubborn as she is (she's a she, called Marie Jeanne), totally ignored the signs to the Atomium as well as a side street, where we could see it beckoning in the distance. When she tried to get us to take the next turning, it turned out to be closed off for traffic. After leading us on a sight-seeing tour past the Royal Palace, we finally managed to reach the main avenue leading right up to the Atomium where, as luck would have it, we soon found a parking space. Quite a feat, I can tell you, since it was a public holiday.

I took the opportunity to pose in front of the Atomium in my new-to-me repro mid-century dress, which I'd especially chosen for the occasion. At first I was a bit reluctant to wear a repro dress, but then it dawned on me that the Atomium is wearing repro as well, the spheres' original sheets having been replaced in 2006!

The fountain was already there in 1958, as you can see in this postcard.

But enough of that, as you will probably be dying for a look inside!

As it was such a fine day, we presumed everybody would be on their way to the coast, but no: it was quite busy, with lots of tourists queuing for tickets and every imaginable language being spoken.

Left: waiting for the lift which is inside the central tube
Right: going all the way up to the top sphere
After a security check, we were ready to start the first part of our visit, and awaited our turn to take the lift up to the uppermost sphere.

The weather was glorious and so the 360° view from the top was clear.

The above two buildings are actually one and the same. It dates from 1930, but in 1958 a new, temporary façade was put in front of it to make it blend in with the rest of Expo 58.

Look at Brussels sprawled out in front of us.

This is "Mini Europe", which is nestling at the foot of the Atomium. Look, here are Bath's Circus and Royal Crescent!

For the second part of our visit, we had to descend to the ground floor again to continue with our tour, this time by stairs and escalators, leading up to middle sphere: a total of six levels.

On the first two levels, there's a permanent exhibition on Expo 58.

The stairs and railings, with their typical 1950s colours, are still the original ones from 1958.

The three next levels are reserved for temporary exhibitions.

At the time of our visit this exhibition consisted of a sound and light show called Talk and, although the light effects were spectacular at times, it was all rather dark, so that it was hard to appreciate the spheres' layout.

Then it is down again to level six, where there is a viewpoint.

A couple of steps down, you can have a peek inside the so-called Kids' sphere, where groups of children can spend the night. This must be a magical experience!

Safely back on ground level, we were starting to feel peckish, so we picked up our picnic basket from our car, and looked for a spot in the nearby Osseghem Park to eat our picnic.

Walking back, we passed the magnificent open-air theatre, called the Green Theatre (Théâtre de Verdure), formed by a series of terraces, supported by stone walls and surrounded by green hedges.

Outfit details:
Hearts & Roses repro dress, bought at Think Twice for € 4
Handbag: charity shopped
Pearls: inherited from great-aunt Josephine
Shoes: my trusted red Clarks
Cardigan: retail (had for ages)

I hope you enjoyed the visit to this unique and unusual building.

In my next post, it will be business as usual, as I've got a few more finds to share with you!

zaterdag 20 augustus 2016

Back to the future

In a previous post, I blogged about Jos's home town and its brick-making past, mentioning that the uppermost five spheres of the Atomium in Brussels were visible from a vantage point near his former home.

Last Monday, which was a public holiday in Belgium, with the weather being particularly bright and sunny, we decided to join the tourists and pay the Atomium a visit.

It wasn't our first visit by any means: we have actually visited it four times in the 22 years we have been together.

For those of you who are not familiar with this extraordinary building, I will tell you about its fascinating history in this post.

Original 1958 postcard  from our collection

The Atomium was built especially for Expo 58, the world fair which took place in Brussels in 1958, and it was easily the most spectacular piece of architecture at the fair.

Expo 58 was the first major post-war world fair and, as well as exuding an air of optimism, it showcased new technologies as well as innovative architecture.

Original poster from our collection

 In fact, quite a few of the pavilions would still be considered modern by today's standards.

The American pavilion, parts of which still exist today, and
which has long been used as a television studio (*)
The British pavilion (*)

The fair was visited by more than 42 million people, one of them an impressionable schoolboy called Jos, whose three visits to the fair instilled a life long fascination for everything related to Expo 58.

Philips pavilion (*)

Pavilion of Civil Engineering (*)
(*) Original postcards from our collection

After all, the building-in-progress of the Atomium could be followed from his home town!

In spite of this, Jos did not actually visit the Atomium itself, as it cost a staggering 60 Belgian Francs, whereas an adult entrance ticket to the whole fair was only 30 Belgian Francs in comparison.

Original entrance tickets and leaflet from our collection
The Atomium represents a giant model of a unit cell of an iron crystal (each sphere representing an atom) and was quite a feat in gravity defying engineering.

If you are interested in the technical particulars: the Atomium stands 102 meters tall and consists of nine spheres with a diameter of 18 meters. The spheres are connected by tubes, some of which contain stairs or escalators.

The top sphere, which can be reached by the super fast lift in the central tube, not only offers 360° panoramic views, it also contains a restaurant, where we were treated to dinner by Jos's eldest daughter on his 60th birthday, giving us the chance to see the Atomium lit up by 2970 LED lights at night.

Like most of the pavilions built at the site, the Atomium was not intended to survive beyond the exhibition, but here it is, still there after almost 60 years. It has, in fact, become a Brussels landmark (much as the Eiffel Tower is for Paris), not to mention a popular tourist attraction.

In 2006, the original aluminium sheets which clad the spheres, having dulled with age, were replaced by shiny new stainless steel ones.

At the fair itself, there was a brisk trade in what we would now call "merchandise": ashtrays, souvenir plates, glasses, key-rings and pins, you name it, all bearing either the Atomium or the official Expo 58 logo. Models of the Atomium in all sizes were a popular choice of memorabilia as well.

These Expo 58 memorabilia are now very collectible and are being sold for many times their original price. In 2008, which marked the 50th anniversary of the fair, prices even soared to astronomical heights and many items were unearthed from attics where they'd languished for years under layers of dust.

We have a modest collection, which is primarily Jos's, displayed in a cabinet and dotted around the house.

This original poster advertising the world fair is a prized possession, taking pride of place in our living room.

My next post will be all about our visit, on which I invite you to join me again!

woensdag 17 augustus 2016

Please send me evenings and weekends

Last week was quite a hectic one at the office and the commute home a nightmare due to tram delays (oh, the joys of public transport!) so that I was well and truly exhausted by the time I got home every night. To say that the weekend was very welcome is a bit of an understatement. But as it was an extended one, the 15th of August being a public holiday in Belgium, who am I to complain, really?

We were going to take it easy on Saturday but the lure of the charity shops proved to be too strong.

We opted for our favourite one, in the neighbouring village of Duffel as, being on no less than three floors, it has a wide range of goods on offer. Another bonus is that it is near the small but perfectly formed park that we love.

With the sun filtering though the trees' canopy and its overall lushness, it felt like being in a fairy wonderland. The park has several ponds and a little stream, which is abundantly and imaginatively planted and is a perfect hideaway for toads and frogs, not to mention a duck or two.

Near one of the ponds, the annual duck convention was taking place, which was soon dispersed when it turned out the catering was not up to scratch. As we'd already eaten all of our picnic we had nothing to offer the poor creatures!

For the outing, I wore a short-sleeved summer two piece in a colour and pattern which went well with the greenery of the park.

Suit, handbag, belt, brooch and bangles: all charity shopped
Shoes and ring: retail
Beads: Blender Vintage Shop

The question on everyone's lips, of course, is: did we find anything worth mentioning at the charity shop?

Well, one of the first things that caught our eye was a big brass and luminous plastic Lourdes souvenir which, in spite of our vows to stop buying these things, simply had to come home with us.

We have quite a little collection of these Lourdes memorabilia, which in French are scornfully called "bondieuseries".

We didn't set out to collect these.
No: it happened purely by coincidence.

First, we were given a pewter clock-cum-music box by one of Jos's ex-colleagues. Then we found a small plastic bottle in the form of the Virgin Mary, with some holy water still inside, which we bought as it reminded Jos of his mother.

This is an old photo, we have even more now!

One thing led to another: we started picking up these kitschy items at flea markets for next to nothing and before we knew it we had a whole shelving unit full of them. With the majority of them being glow-in-the-dark, they certainly light up our lives, quite literally!

Other finds included a burgundy and turquoise waterproof bag which I'll use when travelling, a souvenir of Belgian seaside resort Blankenberge and a 1950s fake wood veneer tray.

My final purchase was this dress, perfect for lounging around the house and garden.

On Sunday, we were promised a summer's day, so we thought we'd make the most of it and visit a small flea market on the outskirts of Antwerp.

By the time we had parked our car and walked the few hundred metres to the square where the market was being held, it had started raining. First it was only the odd drop here and there but then umbrellas had to come out and several stall owners were obliged to cover their wares with plastic sheets.

Fortunately, it was only a shower and the sun soon reappeared, so that we were able to make a few small purchases. After doing the rounds, not once, but twice in case we'd missed something, we plonked down at the conveniently placed benches and tables to eat our picnic.

The small tartan zip-up suitcase was a last-minute buy. Our other finds were a bracelet (I'd been looking for a nice green one for ages), and ... more brooches!

I felt very mid-century in my outfit of choice:

Skirt and top:Think Twice
Belt and bag: charity shopped
Shoes and cardigan: retail
Beads: Vintage Styling
Umbrella: National Trust

Oh, and this is what happens when your husband is retired and has been befriending the local elderly ladies. Knowing that we like "old things", they bring him gifts, like this pretty wash set ...

Now, where are we going to put it?

zaterdag 13 augustus 2016

Great expectations

Last Sunday, it was finally time for another flea market. This one is being held every year in a neighbouring village on the first Sunday of August, and we are always looking forward to it.

The organizers must have struck a deal with the weather gods, as they usually manage to have good weather.

I remember several years when it was so hot we had to wear sunhats and we were glad of any stalls offering some shade under umbrellas or awnings.

One year, I had to buy a scarf to cover my neck in order to avoid sunburn while looking down at the goodies on offer.

This year we had a mixture of sunshine and clouds and although it was quite windy, making me regret the dress with the swingy skirt I wore, rain never threatened to make an appearance.

The flea market is very well organized with parking space offered in some nearby fields. Due to the abundance of rain, the fields were too waterlogged to be used this year and parking was further away on an industrial site, from where a shuttle bus whisked you free-of-charge to the flea market itself.

Although we love this market, with its variety of stalls set up along the streets, it can still be a bit hit-or-miss.

Two years ago, we hit the jackpot, as not only did we find a huge lot of the 1960s Boch pottery we are collecting, Jos also hit upon this 1960s wall-mounted Philips record player, which needed some TLC but is now taking pride of place in our living room, where it is occasionally spinning a vintage record.



Last year, in contrast, was less successful, but I still managed to pick up this vintage summer dress and a pretty basket which is now holding my button collection.

Needless to say, we had great expectations this year, but in spite of the many lovely things on offer, we only bought a few odds and ends.

It was still fun, though, as well as a great workout, as we walked (or rather, sauntered) without pause for almost four hours. Were we glad to finally get back on that bus!

Here is what we found:

A Bakelite razor, made in England. Although we aren't avid collectors of Bakelite, we still pick up the odd item here and there, when the price is right.

A stack of plastic bangles found at different stalls.

More brooches, obviously. Flea markets are the place to pick them up cheaply.

The little purse in the bottom right photo is a travel sewing kit.

These two cream plastic rose brooches are vintage, and made in France. They are not that rare but you can still expect to pay around € 5 for them. These were € 0,50 each, so I did not hesitate and took them both, even though I already had one in my collection. At another stall, a similar brooch was priced at € 7. One of the brooches has already found its way to a new owner, in the form of a present.

The blue rose is a huge plastic ring.

A small enamel flower-decorated teapot, which will join the plain olive green one we already have.

This white vintage handbag was waiting for me at one of the last stalls, and I snapped it up at € 3.
And no, I really didn't make him, Jos insisted on carrying it!

All in all, we had a great day!

August, in fact, is a great time for flea markets, with several coming up shortly.

Let's hope summer comes up trumps with some lovely weather for them.

Dress and bag (seen in first photo): Think Twice
Cardigan, beads and belt: retail
Shoes and (free) brooch: flea market