Eskerrik Asko for the Memories

The humble holiday souvenir – a curious thing when you stop to think about it!

Some holiday souvenirs are charming, some are charmless, some are downright hideous. From key-ring to snow-globe, t-shirt to shot-glass, holiday destinations are chock-full of shops selling random trinkets. While I might not appreciate the affront to the eyes that some deliver, I do get the point. Holidays are all about memories, aren’t they? They’re a rare opportunity in the year when we actually make time and take time to wander and ponder. We stare at buildings in a way we don’t dream of at home. We eat with greater thought and attention. We walk for miles, care-free. We experience a different kind of life for a short time. Why wouldn’t we want a tangible reminder of those lazy, hazy days?

Donostia-San Sebastián

So it was on our recent trip to the Basque Country, to Donostia-San Sebastián and Bilbao. The sun shone, the water glistened, the P20 was lathered liberally onto this exceedingly pale ginger. And of course I wanted to bring home a souvenir. I always do. Last year Cartmel gifted me a vintage shop. The year before, Ullapool did the same. I had carried out a little vintage research into our two destinations in advance, but nothing prepared me for the joy that awaited!

On our wanders

We were walking through the Old Town of Donostia-San Sebastián, high on believing after pintxos success. Pintxos procurement can be stressful! It left us confused and confounded on our first trip 15 or 16 years ago when we were absolutely clueless. But the combined benefits of a seriously informative local food tour and an Irish smile can’t be overestimated! As we walked, a window caught my eye. And more specifically, the most spectacular vintage jewellery stopped me in my tracks. Who’d have guessed…

PYC Vintage, Calle Mayor

The shop was PYC and I make no exaggeration when I say it was vintage jewellery heaven. The piece in the window that caught my eye was a bracelet of marbles. It drew me through the doors in 2019 and transported me inside to the early 1900s.

Mr GLV and I were welcomed by Ana, the store owner. I think she may have sensed a kindred spirit. And so began the most incredible conversation about the shop and its place in local history. We were shown pictures of its first location, heard about the grandparents who opened it in 1908 and could clearly feel how important it was for the family to continue the legacy today. Boxes and boxes and more boxes of original stock from 1910 onwards were put on the display desks. Earrings, brooches, bracelets, necklaces…20s, 30s, 40s, 50s…The stuff of dreams. I could move in and never leave!

So when my bracelet came in from the window, there was another surprise. Every item in the shop has an original record, dated with notes and drawings.

My bracelet was in the files, number 596, made by Ana’s grandparents in 1947. For a vintage obsessive, it doesn’t get better than this.

The final treat of the day, after the bracelet had a few links added to suit my non-1940s wrist, was the packaging. An original box from the shop. Perfection.

When we finally left the warm embrace of PYC, hubby said to me that I’d had a special moment. That’s exactly what it was. It was a fascinating room, full of history, full of memories, full of joy. I say this all of the time – vintage brings me so much happiness. This 72 year old bracelet now connects Belfast and the Basque Country. It will hopefully decorate my wrist for a few years to come and now this blog is another part of its wonderful record, though not as pretty as the handwritten version. It is a humble holiday souvenir which will forever trigger special memories of a special place and special people.

I was never coming home with a key-ring, was I?!

Rosie xx

A Belfast Story

Ceramic seahorse brooch, £2.75, NI Hospice

I love Belfast. I love walking its streets and looking for the things that aren’t often noticed. The streets named after horse races, the inscriptions on our bridges, the decorative details on our red-brick buildings, the hidden symbols…It’s a city that is made of so much more than the history most people know. Belfast may wear the scars of its past, but the brilliance of its past shines through too.

Titanic Museum, Belfast

My love of vintage has often helped me to learn more about the city. From the old photos I’ve found in books to the labels inside bags and coats, I’ve happily stumbled into long lost stories. It’s one of the great things about collecting bits and bobs of the past, there’s always something more to learn.

I found this seahorse brooch in my local hospice shop. The volunteer said that someone had looked at it just before me and dismissed it as it wasn’t made of jade and therefore worthless…She reckoned it was just waiting for me. I agree!

I’ve always wanted a piece of seahorse jewellery – the humble seahorse and Belfast have a very special relationship. Look around our city, in particular at our street furniture, and more often than not, you’ll see a shiny gold seahorse. There are two on our city’s coat of arms representing our maritime heritage.

The Celts associated seahorses with the power and strength of the gods of the sea. It’s also a symbol of ‘protection, recovery and health’. If you arrive or leave Belfast by our docks, a glorious 8 metre steel seahorse, commissioned to mark the 400th anniversary of Belfast Harbour bids you well.

How lovely to own a piece of jewellery that quietly connects with all of this local heritage. What makes this brooch even better is the little bit of damage on its ‘cheek’. It’s been used, it’s been worn and to me that’s more interesting than anything that’s been sadly kept-for-good.

It’ll be on my jacket tomorrow!

Rosie xx

‘Beside the lake, beneath the trees….’

Wordsworth Country

It was our first time in the Lake District. How ridiculous to read this on the page! We love big landscapes. We love to walk. We love fresh air. We love four seasons in a day. And for all of these reasons we now love the Lakes.

Ambleside was our base for a few days enabling us to scoot around as we pleased. It’s a pretty little town with plenty to entertain after a day’s meanderings. Breakfast at the Apple Pie served us well every morning, particularly in advance of our walk to Helvellyn summit. A full tummy helped to keep us grounded in the 60mph winds 🙂 We saw nothing but cloud but while big, dramatic views would have been great, a great big hike in the fresh air was the point.

We explored Wordsworth’s home at Dove Cottage too a few miles down the road on a rainy morning – sounds like the Museum is getting a (necessary) facelift soon from some overheard conversations, but the Cottage was worth the ticket alone. The guided tour was a sweet, gentle exploration of not just the building, but the times and the poet. There’s an eternal magic about walking in the footsteps of people long gone. If you do find yourself there, look out for the portrait of Pepper the pup and I dare you not to get the giggles!

I stumbled across a really unexpected treat in the town too – the joy that is Bath House, a fragrance and skincare brand founded by artists and designers who live in the Lake District.

Bath House, Ambleside

After a real ale (or two) one evening, we passed the door of this lovely store where some body lotion samples were waiting to be tested. Roll forward a day or two and I was back, craving the scent of Velvet Orchid. I’m really hard to please with skincare products. Sadly I’m an over-sensitive ginger in so many ways but the body lotion is possibly the loveliest I’ve ever tried. Soft, beautifully scented and quite literally like velvet on my skin. I picked up a couple of treats, both the body lotion and purse spray for £36 in total – really well priced.

Velvet Orchid by Bath House, Ambleside

I did check out the delivery FAQs pretty quickly, expecting that age-old NI delivery issue. I needn’t have worried – the Bath House folk know that Royal Mail exists in Northern Ireland too 🙂 Which is good news as I don’t think my purse spray will last too long at the rate I’m going through it.

And so our travels continued to Cartmel for one specific purpose – food! 10 years married to Mr GLV and 20 years together, such milestones need celebrated in style and so we did. While in the village, my vintage antennae picked up a lovely little shop.

Cartmel Village Vintage

I left Mr GLV to sample the wares at Unsworth’s Yard Brewery and found myself in vintage heaven. Bags and brooches and books and trinkets by the bucket load. I could have stayed the whole day and I couldn’t leave empty-handed could I? So I picked up these lovely Deco butter knives for £5. I have some navy and cream handled versions but you can never have too many butter knives, especially in such Technicolor green.

Talking of green, there was a beautiful, emerald-coloured enamel Danish leaf brooch by Meka. I resisted. It took a lot of effort but I’d really love some of the yellow enamel leaf jewellery by David Andersen in the future so I held fire. The lady in the store offered me a great deal on the ticket price though so if you’re visiting, have a chat about the prices.

But I did mention bags… So many lovely vintage bags, including some stunning Mappin & Webb snakeskin. There was such a giddying selection that I could have filled the ferry home. I gave in to this beauty for £20 and it’s worth every penny. An Ackery. An Ackery clutch that’s also a handbag complete with hidden handle. I love a multi-purpose bag 🙂

And the truth be told, I don’t own a red bag so it was a necessary purchase…or so I tell myself…

I do have another beautiful Ackery bag (cheers baby sis) so it is a nice addition to the collection. But moreover, it’s a lovely reminder of more great holidays. Not a souvenir you’d usually associate with a week in Lake District but a treat that will always evoke memories of good times ‘beside the lake, beneath the trees’, in the words of Wordsworth himself.

Rosie xx

Belgium Revisited

Some things you just can’t leave behind…

20 years ago I lived in Leuven as a final year English degree student. I may have spent the year in a chocolate-fuelled stupor, powered solely by Manon Café chocolates from Leonidas, but it was a time of friendship and fun that has left me with an unconditional love for Belgium.

10 years ago Mr GLV had his stag do in Brussels. He was fuelled by a different Belgian product. Less praline, more Trappiste in nature. His love of Belgium is just as strong though – there’s just something very special about the place and the people.

And so, although more subconscious than deliberate, we marked those special anniversaries with a trip to Brussels.

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It was another special trip. 4 great days of wistful wandering and people-watching, pâté and praliné, grazing and geuze.

België is known for its beer. Mr GLV and I have a penchant for drinking it.  Newly opened Gist was fab, but the beer highlight was a trip to Lot, just 12mins by train to Drie Fonteinen, where the ‘lambic dream’ is more than just a vision. It’s a passion, evoked beautifully on a fascinating, thought-provoking tour by retired owner, Armand.

The chocolate highlights involved a return trip to Leonidas (nostalgic purposes only, of course) and a visit to the praline shrine of Mary where it would have been a shame not to pick up a truly pretty box aptly named Rosine.

And so to vintage. It was Mr GLV who found out about the Brussels Vintage Market at  Les Halles Saint-Géry. First Sunday of the month (and the last day of our break). What a treat! A beautiful red brick building with 3 floors of vintage loveliness, and even more on rails around the outside.

Bags, shoes, more bags, more shoes! A DJ playing top tunes and table service outside. The sun splitting the rocks and visitors rifling through boxes of bijoux and heaving hangers. It was fantastic.  Just one downside – hand luggage only. But vintage brooches are small and relatively weightless aren’t they?

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Two very pretty pieces came back to Belfast (€20 in total), along with a new panda badge I felt needed a Northern Irish home. Some things you just can’t leave behind.

And on that note, I really can’t leave Belgium behind. It shaped me. Out of chocolate, or at least that’s how it felt after a year 🙂

It welcomed me. Allowed me to breathe.

Made me feel at home.

Rosie xx

Making Good Use of the Things That We Find

It’s January, that lovely month when all of December’s excesses come back to haunt us! It’s for that reason that so many of us go into detox mode. For some, that means a diet overhaul or a new found zeal for exercise, and for others it’s the decluttering and reorganising of our lives. Right now I’m engaged in a mixture of all of the above but it’s the decluttering that has captured my attention once again. I’ll admit to liking ‘stuff’ – that’s not really much of a confession if you’ve read my blog before. But the stuff I like and acquire tends to be the stuff others want to throwaway. Ultimately, I’ve come to realise that I’m a modern day Womble, patrolling the streets of Belfast rather than Wimbledon Common!

The Wombles’ ethos of ‘making good use of the things that we find’ is a value system close to my heart. It’s why I love charity shopping and all things vintage, and why, when I find like-minded people, it makes me happy. Which brings me to Bertie. You haven’t met him yet. Say hello 🙂 img_5662-3

He’s the latest addition to my menagerie, albeit of the jewellery variety. At the end of last year, a good Twitter pal Pretty Fragmented had posted a link to incredible work by an English sculptor. Using a range of materials, Made by a Prince creates the most stunning pieces of recycled oddities, as he calls them. At the end of last year, I retweeted some of his work and unbeknownst to me, Mr GLV was on full Christmas present alert.

img_5670-1Just a few weeks later, I was unwrapping Bertie the owl and what a surprise he was. Such a beautiful brooch, so considerately and finely made.  Alan, the sculptor was kind enough to send me some pictures of Bertie in process – made from recycled cutlery, he’s a character and one of my all-time favourite pieces of jewellery. Credit to Mr GLV for such a thoughtful present!

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How amazing to see redundant bits and bobs turned into something so unique. To quote The Wombles one last time, to ‘pick up the pieces and make them into something new’ in such a way is quite a skill.

Alan’s work is online at madebyaprince.co.uk or you can give him a follow on Twitter at @madebyaprince. I highly recommend you do!

Rosie xx

Sit at peace

Peacock marcasite brooch, £6 from Oxfam, Ormeau Road, Belfast

Mr GLV and I are just back from holidays, a glorious week in the Scottish Highlands where the mountains wrapped around us like a big tight hug. It was a perfect break. People were scarce, the landscape was wild and 4G coverage was a distant memory. It had been an incredibly busy few months with work and a big project before we drove off the ferry and made our way along the high roads and low roads in our own version of carpool karaoke!

It’s an interesting choice, to take yourself off to a quiet space with little to do but enjoy the silence. Our holidays are usually frenetic, in a good way – interesting cities with museums and restaurants and shows and tours and trips and days filled with activity. This trip was different.

Ardvreck Castle along the North Coast 500

It’s not until you find yourself in the quiet that you realise how much noise has gone before, and just how much you missed being still. My Dad used to tell us when we were young and being hyper to ‘sit a’ peace’. Drove me mad back then! I’m not sure I’ve ever really understood the real meaning of his words until recently. There is something to be said for sitting at peace, whatever that means to you. There was a lot of it on our holiday – sometimes in the car mesmerised by the view; sometimes on the beach, watching the water; sometimes in the grip of the mountains, in awe of their scale. ‘Peace comes dropping slow’, in the words another equally wise Irish man.

And oddly, that brings me to my latest charity shop find. I hadn’t been out and about in the charity shops much recently. I was beginning to feel that I’d lost my love of the treasure hunt. I always know there’s something wrong when I can count my last vintage brooch purchase in months, not days 🙂 But I think I’ve realised the root cause of my malady. Through the summer, I’d been so busy, so focussed on details and deadlines that I just didn’t have any room left – no room at all for the warm fuzzy stuff that gives me joy. I’d forgotten that it’s the simple pleasures in life that keep us sane.

So, thank you Scottish Highlands for giving me back that fuzzy feeling.

On my first charity shop jaunt after the holidays, the stunning peacock brooch pictured above was waiting for me in the Oxfam store on the Ormeau Road. Just luck some might say. I have another theory – when your mind is open to good things, then good things will happen, be that as simple as finding a beautiful brooch or as important as spotting the job of your dreams.

Sometimes we all need to just sit at peace.

Rosie xx

Time to reflect 

Vintage cocktail watch, eBay £4

‘Why don’t people want to keep such lovely things?’ I asked hubby. ‘Because they don’t work!’ he (rightly) replied. 

This was the conversation upon arrival of my latest eBay purchase, the prettiest vintage cocktail watch with pearlised face and original leather strap…which doesn’t work 🙂

It’s a fair point. What need is there to hang onto bits of the past that don’t fulfil their function any more? I suppose that’s why our house is full of bits and bobs that are being used for things that weren’t their original purpose – the teacup soap holder, the mechanical pencil necklace, the plant-pot bread holder…the list goes on 🙂  I just can’t leave beautiful things behind or I end up with vintage abandonment guilt and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one out there!

That’s also why there’s such a market at present for vintage – for those who want to get rid and those who want to rescue!  For every person who is decluttering there’s another just like me who wants to rehome.

This watch is a project though. Rather than repurposing, I’m hoping to find a Belfast jeweller who can either get it back to its original working order or who can replace the movement with a modern quartz one. It’s far too pretty not to be on my arm! Watch this space…

Rosie xx