zaterdag 23 september 2017

Under a stormy sky

In my previous travel post, I left you while sitting on the balcony of our cottage with my poppy umbrella, wondering if I wasn't tempting fate.

Sure enough, when we woke up on Tuesday morning, the sky was a solid grey.

We'd only made vague plans for our holiday, taking every day as it came, except for a visit to the seaside to do a particular walk.

With the forecast for the rest of the week being even vaguer than our plans, we decided to take the plunge and go ahead regardless of the weather.

With that in mind, I wore my red trousers again. Sick and tired of my dark denim ones, I'd bought two pairs of trousers, in red and green, at the outlet shop of Belgian brand Who's That Girl in Antwerp.

This time I paired the red trousers with a long-sleeved shirt, originally from the high street (from a label called Zoë Loveborn), but found at a flea market. On top, a charity shopped cardigan, in orange red with white dots. So, nothing vintage, apart from the brooch and necklace. As a nod to our seaside visit, I chose a blue sailing boat brooch!

Right, I'm dressed, let's go!

On the long straight road leading up to De Panne, the nearest seaside town where we wanted to make use of the free car park, the sky was getting darker and darker, and by the time we arrived it had started to rain quite heavily.

So, out came the boring Goretex, which I'd hoped I wouldn't need, and waited for the tram to take us to Nieuwpoort.

The tram along Belgium's coastline is the easiest way to get around and a bonus is that I can use my regular public transport pass.

By the time we hopped off at the quayside in Nieuwpoort-Stad (town), it was dry, so we walked to the town's main square, being treated to a brief shower along the way. Yes, it was going to be one of those days!

We's visited the town a couple of years ago but the many ongoing restoration works rather spoiled that visit. Now, we could admire the buildings surrounding the market place in their newly revealed glory.

Like Ypres, most of the historic town was in rubble by the end of the war, but here too a great job was done in painstakingly reconstructing the town's heritage.

There was a temporary art trail throughout the town, and works of art were dotted in every available space.

Nieuwpoort is located on the estuary of the River IJzer, and it actually has two centres, the old medieval centre, Nieuwpoort-Stad, which we'd just visited, and the coastal resort of Nieuwpoort-Bad.

They are connected by a delightful 2 kilometers long traffic free promenade along the harbour channel, which we'd walked on a sunny day back in 2015.

After lunch, a short tram ride took us to Nieuwpoort-Bad, where we made our way to the end of the promenade and the free ferry service which shuttles you to the east bank of the harbour channel.

There is a nature reserve, De IJzermonding, along the estuary of the River IJzer, which is the only river in Belgium flowing directly into the North Sea.

We first walked down to the deserted sandy beach, which is part of the nature reserve, and which looked particularly striking against the brooding sky.

The white railings of the eastern jetty, a 500 m long boardwalk into the North Sea, added to the eeriness of the seascape, the almost black sky contrasting starkly against the transluscent colour of the sea.

White sails seemed to be gliding like swans through the harbour entrance between the eastern and western jetties towards the wide expanse of the sea.

The crashing of the waves was competing with the strangely echoing sound of the amplified announcements coming over from the western side, where a cycling race was about to take place.

Exhilarated by the salty North Sea air, and accompanied by yet another shower, we retraced our steps and walked along the designated paths through the reserve, back towards Nieuwpoort-Stad, a menacingly barbed wired military domain on our left.

Every so often there was a gap with a tantalizing view of the red and white striped lighthouse to our left, while on the right, sandy paths led to viewpoints offering panoramas over the nature reserve, beyond which Nieuwpoort's ugly modern apartment buildings were cluttering up the skyline on the western bank.

A bird hide invites you to do a spot of bird spotting. It was populated by enthusiasts wielding heavy binoculars and glaring at us when we dared to make a quiet entrance.

The walk led us around one of Belgium's largest marinas, where all manner of pleasure crafts were anchored, jostling for space, the riot of masts producing a clanging soundtrack conducted by the wind.

In the midst of it all, a lonely fisherman provided a focal point for my photograph.

Nearing Nieuwpoort-Stad, we spotted the Albert I Memorial, commemorating the heroic acts of the city during the First World War. It was in fact here at Nieuwpoort that the German advance was halted in October 1914, when a sharp-thinking lock-master opened the sluice gates on the river, flooding the area up-river from the estuary, and so preventing the Germans from pushing on to the Channel ports.

Inside the monument is a museum telling the story of the flooding, and the rampart on top can be visited for a panoramic view over the landscape.

The monument is fittingly placed on the edge of the complex of locks, called the "Ganzepoot" (goose leg), which is regulating the water level of five different rivers and canals.

It is also the haunt of a flight of cormorants, drying their wings and realigning their feathers after a spot of fishing.

By then, we'd arrived back at Nieuwpoort-Stad where we waited for the tram to take us back to De Panne.

Linking up to Tina's Pink Friday!

dinsdag 19 september 2017

Last of the summer frocks

What with our week away and its preparations, I completely forgot to show you what I found at Think Twice the week before we left.

As their final sales week coincided with our holiday, I missed the best bargains, but still managed to pick up a couple of things on their € 5 day.

First up is this burgundy handbag, which has a detachable shoulder strap, and is surprisingly roomy.
I love the trellis pattern on the front panel and the decorative metal details at the base of the handles.

I was attracted by the print and colours of this crepe blouse, or light jacket if you like, and when I saw it came with a tiny pearly brooch, of course it had to be mine!

This sleeveless floral frock is vintage St. Michaels. The fabric is a thin, floaty cotton, and as you can see it is lined. As the weather has turned and it looks like we are well and truly on the slippery slope to Autumn, its first wear will probably have to wait until next year.

The second dress I picked up is this psychedelic pussy bow dress, in an unusual mustard and and lilac colour combination. With its long sleeves but fairly lightweight fabric, it's a welcome addition to my transitional wardrobe, to be worn as Autumn trundles towards Winter. Admittedly, the fabric feels a bit clingy, so I'll have to wear it with a slip underneath.

I've left the best for last! Laying eyes on this halterneck maxi, my thoughts immediately went to Vix.

The fabric is a sturdy cotton, it's got a vibrant print, and it's exactly the right length as long as I'm wearing it with heels. Oh, and it's from Finnish label Chix-Puku.

After we'd just had a couple of hot days, it had cooled down considerably, so posing in the garden after work was a goose-bumpy affair. The things a blogger has to do!

By the state of things, this frock too will have to be put away for next Summer ...

Fast forward one week until Saturday before last. Being back home after a welcome week away felt like an anti-climax, especially as the weather was behaving particularly erratically.

For our weekly charity shopping trip, I chose a hand-made, short-sleeved dress, its print featuring hues of brown and orange and creating a diamond pattern. The dress has a notched collar and closes with two self-fabric buttons at the yoke.

I piled on some sunshine in the form of ochre yellow beads, belt and cardigan. My choice of brooch was a mottled brown plastic butterfly, bought at a flea market last January.

It was chilly so I wore 15 den tights, and a long red Trevira coat. Some more sunshine was provided by a yellow chiffon scarf printed with tiny white dots.

I bought a couple of novels to add to my never ending reading pile and took pity on this vintage ceramic nutmeg canister, which must have been part of a set. Sadly, this was all that was left.

I particularly love its unusual green and yellow colour scheme. And look: it has already found its place in our kitchen with some other odds, ends and orphans!

A pair of polka dot shoes and another wicker handbag for my collection were my other finds. Please bear with me, as you get to see them in Sunday's outfit ...

Our most local charity shop yielded this Tweed jacket for Jos, who wanted his share of the limelight!

Hats and flat caps, a man bag, a Tweed jacket. Whatever's next?  Mr. Suave, indeed!

The turning of the leaves means the return of the indoor flea markets, and we were eagerly looking forward to our favourite one in Mechelen on Sunday.

We went with my friend Inez and her daughter Isabelle, who blogged about her experience here, but I completely forgot to take photographs.

I was wearing another one of my favourite frocks, which much to my surprise hadn't been worn yet this Summer.  The black of the dress is enhanced by the colours of the print, and in particular the vibrant orange flowers.

I picked a green cardie and orange and blue accessories and wore my hounds-tooth jacket with an orange belt.

You can also see the shoes and handbag I picked up on Saturday!

The dress is short-sleeved, has a Peter Pan collar and a row of sky blue loops and buttons at the front.

It is probably hard to believe that the buttons aren't the originals.  When I picked it up at Think Twice it only had three or four random white metal ball buttons left.  As I didn't have anything remotely appropriate in my vintage button stash, I had no choice but to go retail, spending a whole lunch break in the shop and in the end selecting these blue ones with a metal rim. They were far more expensive than the dress itself.

Although the flea market was not yet in its full capacity, we still managed to find things, like these sturdy and unworn leather slingbacks, a vintage corduroy hat and the largest of the celluloid Edelweiss brooches, so that I now have them in four different sizes.

Jos was seduced by this Bakelite phone,  manufactured by ATEA, which has a crank instead of a dial. The seller told us it came from a local nunnery, which had closed down.

My final purchase was this book on handbags (tassen or handtassen in Dutch). From the same series, I already have a book on shoes and one on hats.

Together with the books on the bottom, which I bought a couple of weeks ago, it will be added to my ever growing vintage fashion library! 

The book on the right, by the way, How to Read a Dress, by Lydia Edwards, is fairly new, and came recommended by the lovely Cate, so when I happened to see it in a local shop, I wasted no time and bought it.

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

In my next post, I'll continue my travelogue with a visit to the Belgian seaside, on which I hope you'll join me again.

vrijdag 15 september 2017

Yesterday is here

In spite of its historical significance, we only visited Ypres (Ieper in Flemish) for the first time in 2012, making a return visit one year later.

We hadn't planned to go there this year, but as the weather on Tuesday turned out to be quite dismal, we decided the town was our best option. In fact, although the day was wrapped in a blanket of grey clouds, it mercifully remained dry, the first drops of rain only appearing on our windscreen on our way back.

I'd packed clothes for all occasions and, after wearing red and blue for two days in a row, I decided to switch to green. I chose a floral vintage dress which I charity shopped a couple of years ago, accessorizing it with a green belt, pink plastic flower brooch and turquoise beads.

I also added a green cardigan, with a red flower corsage, which you will get to see later.

As the persistent clouds held a promise of rain I wore my blue raincoat on top, pinning a crocheted cherry brooch from Oxfam on its collar.

There is free and unlimited parking at the town's railway station, and from there it's a straightforward ten minute walk to the town centre.

Our route into town passed the Fish Market, which is a cobbled square off the Boterstraat (Butter Street), reached through the Fish Gate decorated with Neptune, the god of the seas. This was originally built in 1714 but was rebuilt after being destroyed in the First World War.

In the market itself are two covered stalls and at the end is the old toll house, called Minckhuisje, where the fishmongers had to pay their tolls.

Continuing along the Boterstraat, we arrived at the Grote Markt (Market Square), where we were met by the sight of the impressive Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) with its 70 metre high belfry, which dominates the square.

During the First World War the building was completely destroyed except for a section of the tower and some walls.

As the town was at the centre of the whirlwind of the Great War, being in a precarious position wedged between fronts, it was quite literally wiped off the map by four years of shelling and trench warfare, and by the end of the war, there was hardly a building left standing.

After the war, the town's historical buildings, and in particular the cloth hall with its belfry and St. Martin's Church, were rebuilt as close to the original designs as possible.

The base of the belfry, the “Donkerpoort”, managed to survive. It is the passage under the belfry and dates back to about 1200, representing one of the very rare remnants of medieval Ypres.

A large German artillery shell is located in the  passage. The shell is from a heavy gun called “Dicke Bertha” by the German Army and nicknamed in translation “Big Bertha” by the British.

Apart from the town hall and tourist office, the Lakenhalle also houses the haunting In Flanders Field museum, which we visited back in 2013 and which uses first-hand accounts and state-of-the-art techniques to tell the story and preserve the memory of the Great War.

Passing through the Donkerpoort, St. Martin's Church, which lies behind the Lakenhalle, is reached. This too was rebuilt after the war, but with a pointed spire instead of a square tower, adding considerably to its height.

The Lapidarium next to the cathedral contains the older ruins of St. Martin’s monastery and cloisters. One of the few remaining ruins in the town centre, the Lapidarium is a permanent reminder of the destruction caused by the First World War.

The Kloosterpoort (Cloister Gate), dating from about 1780, was one of the few structures which was not completely demolished by the end of the war. It was still standing while almost everything around it was reduced to piles of rubble.

Pranged between the Cloister Gate and St. Martin's church is the lavishly decorated theatre, dating from 1931.

We explored the area around the Market Square until it was time for lunch, which we had on a - admittedly covered and heated - terrace of one of the square's multitude of eateries.

Before we left the square, we went into the tourist office to pick up some leaflets. I also bought an enameled poppy brooch, which I'll be wearing in November. Then my eye was caught by this delightful poppy umbrella, which obviously I couldn't resist.

A visit to Ypres isn't complete if you haven't been to the Menin Gate, which was our next stop.

The largest memorial to the First World War, the Menin Gate is the spot where the Last Post has been sounded every evening at 8 o’clock since 1928.

This memorial in the form of a Roman triumphal arch, and designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, displays the names of 54,896 soldiers of the then British Empire who went missing in action. It lists the names from the beginning of the war until 15 August 1917.

Soldiers reported missing after 16 August 1917 until the end of the war are mentioned on panels at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Passchendaele.

One cannot be but moved by those interminable lists of names carved into the stone of the walls and the surrounding loggias. The many poppies and wooden crosses are testimony that the men behind those names are not forgotten.

In 1914 there was no building or formal gate as such, it was simply a crossing point over the moat and through the old town ramparts, through which the troops marched onto the roads leading into the battlefields of the Ypres Salient, many of them never to return.

I have yet to stand here without choking up, thinking of Siegfried Sassoon's bleak but fitting poem, On Passing the New Menin Gate:

Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
the unheroic dead who fed the guns?
Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate,
Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?

The Menin Gate is right next to the town's ramparts and moat, which provide a green belt around the town. There is a delightful 2,6 kilometer walk along them which starts here and takes you all the way back to the station, in our case making it into a true circular walk.

Initially, the ramparts were little more than an earth wall with a moat. Later, stone walls and towers were added, until it was developed into a complex structure with bastions, advance redoubts, moats and walls.

Along the walk, you come across the small Ramparts Cemetery, lying on the banks of the moat

Near the end of the walk, in the middle of the surrounding greenery, is Pacific Eiland (not a misspelling, it's the Flemish for island), a tearoom and restaurant on an actual island in the moat, which can be reached by a little bridge.

Here we sat down for a while at the moat's edge, looking back on a wonderful day, while enjoying yet another cup of cappuccino!

P.S. Back home, I tried out the umbrella, which surely must have been tempting fate!

maandag 11 september 2017

Go west!

The beauty of our yearly little sojourn in De Westhoek, Belgium's delightful west country, is that it is only about 150 kilometers away and we can be there in less than two hours.

This means no getting up at the crack of dawn and, as we have no train to catch or schedules to meet, we can just drive down there at our own pace.

We'd even packed everything, except for some last minute stuff, into the car on Friday so, after a leisurely breakfast on Saturday morning, we waved goodbye to Phoebe and set off.

Arriving at our destination just outside of Poperinge around noon, we were welcomed by our lovely host Johanna, then made ourselves at home in the comfortable little thatched cottage called Marjolein Guesthouse.

Our home for the week is a large all-in-one room above the owner's carport, with a dressing, sitting area, kitchen island with breakfast nook, sleeping area and neat little bathroom.

Off the breakfast nook, there is a large balcony overlooking the domain's large pond and its abundance of wildlife as well as some fields with the West-Flemish hills in the far distance.

Here, it is very peaceful in spite of the busy road out front, leading to the French border about 6 kilometers away.

The first drops of rain starting falling minutes after we'd lugged all our stuff upstairs and were having a bite to eat, developing into a steady shower and drenching the landscape in no time.

Our phone's weather app told us it would all be over at around 2.30, so we decided to wait it out.

Directly opposite the cottage is one of Poperinge's many hop fields. This year, many hop bines had already been harvested, leaving the wires connecting the rows of hop poles bare.

While I was stood looking out and wishing the rain away, a red hop picking tractor and cart arrived to continue with the harvest and, as I had my camera at the ready, I started snapping away.

Soon, the rain diminished and patches of blue appeared in the sky, so we wasted no time driving down to Poperinge. After all these years, we know our way around the town quite well, and walked in the direction of the Grote Markt (Market Place), returning via the park, in order to get our bearings.

In spite of its sleepy appearance, Poperinge is quite a lively little town. It even has a vintage shop, although its prices are exhorbitant.

It is only fitting that Poperinge, which is Belgium's hop capital, has a hop museum and as we'd never visited before, this is where we were headed.

Poperinge's Hop Museum is located in the old Stadsschaal (Municipal Scales). An informative audio tour guides you through four floors of history and culture, leading you all the way from the impressive loft to the ground floor.

Historic documents, photographs, scale models and audiovisuals illustrate both the story of this unique building and that of local hop growing.

Downstairs, there is an extensive collection of about 1900 Belgian beers.

Several local breweries are highlighted, some of them presenting their wares quite artfully.

The next day, Sunday, we were greeted by a hazy landscape basking in the early morning sunshine.

After breakfast, we made our way to Heuvelland, which is the collective name of eight villages lying in the hilly country south of Poperinge, a region of magnificent panoramic views, wooded slopes, nature reserves and farmlands. In fact, the name Heuvelland literally translates as "land of the hills"

Our first stop was the picturesque village of Westouter, lying at the foot of the Rodeberg, one of the area's many hills.

We took a little stroll around the village and visited the parish church, St Eligius, which was rebuilt in 1922-23 after its destruction in the First World War. Next to the churchyard is Westouter British Cemetery containing 98 Commonwealth and 3 German graves.

Lunch was eaten outside, on the terrace of De Zwaan (no prices for guessing its meaning!), which is located in the old village hall.

Then it was time to challenge my vertigo at our next stop.

Cordoba Zetellift or Telesiège - we are, after all, only a stone's throw from the French border - is a chair lift constructed in 1957 by Austrian specialists, and is the only one of its kind in Flanders.

The chair lift connects the hills Vidaigneberg and Baneberg, and the journey takes about fifteen minutes, providing a unique panaroma over Heuvelland and beyond.

Once the chair lift has climbed away from the trees (at one point, our feet brushed the tops of the trees) and crossed the busy road below, the views are breathtaking.

The vinyard we were floating over at one point is aptly called Entre-Deux-Monts (between two hills).

After a safe landing we had a well deserved cup of cappuccino - the Belgian version which is topped with lots of whipped cream - at the nostalgic café.

Just 2 kilometers up the road, on the slopes of the Rodeberg, are not one but two nature reserves, which are interlaced by a network of footpaths.

Via woodland paths and steps, a 80 meter deep ravine, called Hellegat (hell's hole) is reached.

Climbing up again was a different story and we were glad to reach the top where a welcome bench was waiting for us. Here, the view almost rivals the one from the chair lift!

Then it was time to return to our car and make our way back to our cottage to rest our weary feet.