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Posts from the ‘Photography’ Category

Compendium // Porto > The secret side of a garden city

It’s hard not to get comfortable in among the wash of blue and white tiles and the swill of a good sweet port served alongside them, but to rest on ones laurels in Porto is to miss out on one of the city’s best kept secrets: its gardens. Though not obvious from the heart of the Ribeira, even when the city is seen from the rooftops, it’s remarkable how frequently this densely packed city is punctuated by an exquisite green space. And in fact Porto’s gardens not only provide respite from the bustle of the centre: they also provide the perfect viewing platform from which to admire the city… in utmost tranquility.

The first garden on my list is the Jardim da Cordoaria. Nestled in between some of Porto’s principle sights – the blue tiled Igreja das Carmelitas and the tall, narrow Torre dos Clérigos, the Cordoaria gardens provide an oasis of calm in the city centre. There, an avenue of what look like birch trees but which seem to grow out of huge almost deformed trunks sets the scene for a garden which is dappled with filtered sunlight and which benefits from a very tranquil pond surrounded by perfectly placed benches. The park is not only peppered with pretty pink flowers and curving meandering paths: it is also a veritable outdoor art galley, filled with amusing sculptures depicting groups of men in conversation or at play. They make a perfect little selfie spot… for those so inclined.

Jardim da Cordoaria

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Next up in the garden which satisfies every element of the kind of magical secret garden you long to find in childhood dreams: the Jardim das Virtudes. Literally lining the sloping sides of a masterfully terraced valley, blink and you will miss the discrete entrance to this garden which only starts to come into view when you enter the verdant valley. Once down there, what opens up is a place of spiritual magnitude, with seemingly deserted moss-covered fountains managing only the most meagre trickle into green ponds, while all around, stone walls, topiary and wild flowers give the garden the impression of carefully constructed desertion. And best of all, look between overhanging boughs and around mighty tree trunks and you will be treated to beautiful views over the Duoro river.

Jardim das Virtudes

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Down the road from the Virtudes gardes is the biggest and perhaps the most impressive garden of them all – the Jardim do Palácio de Cristal. Because here, the visitor with time of their hands (which we sadly lacked) will be treated to not one but a whole handful of differing garden styles and topography, each sharing unbeatable views over Porto’s rooftops and the breathtaking Duoro as it widens on its way down to the sea. In these gardens, asides from a peculiar flying saucer-style construction at its centre, you will see nature at its manicured best, with knot gardens and tropical palms swaying in the breeze, a cafe next to a Monet style waterlily pond and bridge, and roaming free, peacocks and cockerels who defy any form of control on the extravagance of their coats of many colours.

Jardim do Palácio de Cristal

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My final tip would be to leave yourself time to explore these gardens and sink stupendously within their atmosphere of mesmerising stupor. It’s the only way to really experience a garden at its best, leaving thoughts of city life and travel far, far behind.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Folio // Porto from the Rooftops

When I look through my photos of Porto, one thing really stands out, even more than the blue and white ceramics which embellish the houses – the rooftops. Swathes of terracotta dominate my photographic collection, and as many will know, I do like a good rooftop, especially when offset by the colours which inherently characterise southern Europe. Porto is no exception for a city resplendent in colour, but what it has more than your average city is a most unusual topography – one which rises and falls over undulating hills so that, even if you’re not climbing up towers and high stories, you can benefit from the most glorious views of warm red roofs and green bushy treetops.

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This little collection of rooftop photos enjoys a variety of angles, from the Miradouro de Vitoria, an almost hidden street which suddenly opens up into a splendid view over the Ribeira and across to the cellars of the Vila Nova de Gaia, and the spectacular square outside the Sé Cathedral, to the stunning vistas afforded by the Ponte Dom Luís Bridge, and from the heady heights of the dominating Torre dos Clérigos. There, laid out before us, rooftops seemed to jostle for space, vying for light light trees in a forest. And in that forest, cranes seems to rise above the city like new shoots of spring – a sign perhaps that Porto is itself enjoying a new regrowth, as it repairs and reinvents itself in response to its renewed popularity.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Porto > Port tasting in the Vila Nova de Gaia

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you cannot go to Porto without tasting the port. It would be like going to York without a trip to Betty’s, or indeed to Champagne without a glass of the bubbly stuff. So having crossed the Duoro river over the mighty Dom Luís Bridge, you will find yourself ideally located to wet your taste buds with the sweet and delectable nectar which has maybe made Porto the favourite haunt of the Olympian gods. For in the Vila Nova de Gaia, the quaint riverside zone bang opposite Porto’s Ribeira, you will find the air filled with the subtle perfume of oak barrels soaked with wine, as you wander past the headquarters of practically every of the most important Port manufacturers in the world.

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Walking away from the bustling quayside, where boats carrying barrels of port from the vineyards up the Duoro valley can still be seen (probably more for show, but still…), you will find yourself in narrow little streets filled with port showrooms and cellars. Look up, and the large illuminated lettering of each port house exhibits the most famous names in port: Graham’s, Ramos Pinto, Fonseca, Porto Cruz… they’re all there for the tasting. But being mildly patriotic, we decided to head to one of the most famous British-founded brands, and one which today still wears the seal of approval of the British royals: Taylor’s.

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Walking into Taylor’s was bit like visiting a colonial embassy. It felt very British, very sophisticated, but with all the hallmarks of a much hotter climate: plush gardens, a vine dappled courtyard with a tricking fountain, all traversed by peacocks walking haughtily around their dominion. Inside we were given a very handy self-toured audio guide which led us through a vast vault filled on all sides with barrel upon barrel of the famous fortified wine, and the heady scent of fermenting grapes. Past the barrels, a state of the art exhibition taught us more about port than we can ever have wished to know: I can now tell you the difference between a tawny and a late bottled vintage; why tawny’s are honey coloured and standard port red, and the traditions which accompany the human-trod grape harvesting process.

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All more interesting than it sounds, although the real treat came at the tasting, enjoyed in the heavenly surroundings of a perfectly tamed box-hedged garden alive with the scent of roses and accompanied by the solemn call of those same majestic peacocks. Served with chocolate truffles picked to perfectly balance the rich syrupy nectar served to use by a manicured waiter, we could quite easily have closed our eyes and followed those gods back to Olympus. Naturally we could not leave without buying a bottle of our favourite: the 20 year old tawny. And whenever it is opened the heady scent will remind me of that moment in Porto’s winey paradise – a treat not to be missed. 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Porto > Traversing the Duoro

While it may have to beat off competition from ample bottles of port, a rolling city geography and ceramic tiled houses, the Ponte Dom Luís I, aka the Bridge of Luis I, is the undisputed icon of the city of Porto. Extending across the Duoro river with a mighty 172 metre span and a boasting a double decker construction allowing trains to rumble across the top and cars to take the lower road (pedestrians can enjoy both routes), Porto’s bridge is the ultimate way to cross the river which otherwise splits the city in two.

While many assume that the 1886 iron construction was the work of the legendary Gustave Eiffel, it was in fact the design of one of Eiffel’s chief disciples, Théophile Seyrig, Eiffel’s single-story idea having been previously rejected owing to the rapidly expanding city demographic. At the time, it was the widest bridge ever to have been constructed. Today, it may have lost that epithet, but it remains one of the most recognisable bridges in Europe.

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After exploring the wonderful region of the Ribeira, next on your list should be a visit to the Dom Luis bridge which will not only provide you with some stunning rooftop views of Porto, but also take you across to the Vila Nova de Gaia region of the city, where the all important Port houses are to be found. While pedestrians can choose between the upper or lower decks, the latter being reached pretty easily from the riverbank of the Ribeira, we opted for the somewhat more vertiginous upper deck, this being reached by walking in a straight line from the wonderful tile-covered central train station. I’m not a vertigo sufferer, but I have to admit that from up there, my arms turned a little shaky as I extended my camera over the side of the bridge to capture the beautiful views it affords of the city.

But as these photos will demonstrate, those both enamoured and feared of heights should opt for the Ponte Dom Luís I – ultimate icon of Porto and the undisputed platform from which to see the city. And so long as you head over the bridge from the Ribeira to the Gaia, you can rest assured that a glass of ruby coloured port will be waiting for you on the other side. 

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Folio // Porto, Ceramic City

Porto is a city which literally smiles through its tiles. Every facade is alive with the glinting sheen of ceramic glaze. Their colours are abundant, their pattern even more so, and there is barely a house without a tile attached. When one wanders around Porto, gazing in abject fascination at these dazzling facades, one tends to question why we don’t all affix tiles to the front of our houses and buildings? Isn’t this the simplest way to give our exteriors something of the personality within, while – practically speaking – saving the need to repaint every year?

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Be they a practical solution or a traditional embellishment, the ceramic tiles of Porto are completely characteristic of the city. From the simple geometric designs and slightly more elaborate three dimensional variations emblazoned on homes to the pure masterpieces of blue and white illustrative design which narrate the walls of churches and (best of all) the San Bento central station, there are tiles to be admired throughout Porto. Here is a folio of my photos of just a few of them.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Porto > The enchanting Ribeira

As mellow as the perfume of port-filled oak barrels, but as vivacious as the glint and sparkle of that same honeyed wine as it sloshes into an eagerly waiting glass, the Portuguese city of Porto has all of the tempting characteristics of the sweet nectar which put the city on the world’s map. But if Porto was to be described in a palette of colour, its rich amber terracotta tones are to be offset by the bedazzlement of blue and white in its omnipotent ceramic tile-covered buildings, and in the dazzling stretch of the Douro River carving the city in two on its broad sweep down to the Atlantic Ocean.

Porto is a city alive with the spirit of its geography, as though enlivened by Atlantic breezes and nourished by the hilly fertile Duoro valley beyond. Its hilly topography has created a city which is topsy-turvy to say the least. Take a step back and houses appear to balance atop one another as streets zigzag along steep hillsides which rise and fall like ocean waves. It’s a city which defies the typical sense of direction, but which is generous to whomsoever gets lost in its maze of streets. For in Porto there is something enchanting to behold at each narrow corner.

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Our new compendium tour starts where that maze is at its most convoluted: in the knotty twist of streets which work their way over and around the hilly slopes which plunge down dramatically into the Duoro river – the Ribeira. Famed throughout the world and appropriately UNESCO protected, the Ribeira area is undaunted by the tourists naturally attracted to its streets and squares, retaining the authenticity of its carefree locals who can be seen enjoying the views and the sun from their ceramic tiled balconies with as much enthusiasm as the zealous tourist.

It is an area which exhibits numerous personalities. At its apex, the fortress bulk of the grand Sé Cathedral and it’s domineering Episcopal palace soar above the twisting mass of narrow lanes below, offering unbeatable rooftop views and an appreciation for Porto’s undulating geography. Delve into the streets beyond, and an impenetrable shadiness is punctuated by light only near the rooftops. However, soon enough, those darker alleys give way onto the soaring light of the riverbank, which is where the true heart of the Ribeira pulsates to the rhythm of street musicians and crowded restaurants, all benefiting from an unrivaled view of the Ponte de Dom Luis I, iron icon of the city.

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An encounter with the Ribeira marks an ideal introduction to this multifaceted city, suggesting something of the charismatic nuances of Portugal’s second city, as well as the distinct geography which has shaped Porto into a true feast for the eyes at every turn. 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

London, Rediscovering My City: Eltham Palace

Of all London’s historical palaces, rich in Medieval armour, Tudor ceilings, Stuart art and lavish Georgian interiors, there is one which is a little more unique in its ability to showcase a chapter in England’s history. For Eltham Palace, located just a few miles away from Greenwich, was not just the childhood home of Henry VIII. It was also later the jazz-age cocktail-swilling party palace of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld who found the Tudor palace in a stage of complete ruins. Therein began an ambitious architectural project which not only undertook to restore the Great Hall of the Tudor age, but to create a brand new palace alongside it which would turn out to be the very celebration of the Art Deco age.

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Looking at its heavy stone exterior, created to intone with the Great Hall, only the addition of some curving but unmistakeably 1930s nudes in the stone work betray the modern masterpiece within. Step through the doors and you enter a modern, minimalistic space where decadence and luxury are founded in a perfect, uncluttered line, curved white spaces inlaid with gold and aluminium leaf, and a complete dedication to perfecting the design fashions of the era.

The result is a true wonder of Art Deco, and as historical houses go, this is one that truly comes alive as you imagine the endless society receptions which went on there. The character of the hosts is evident wherever you look, from the lavish gold-mosaic bathroom of Virginia (I want one of those) to the centrally heated suite created solely for use by the eccentric couple’s ring-tailed lemur.

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But as ever, half the joy of visiting a great house is to enjoy its great gardens, and we cannot have picked a better time of the year to go. For the grounds of Eltham Palace were alive with the most lavish display of multi-coloured tulips and fragrant blossom which wafted gently in the breeze, settling upon the sparkling pond which, like a castle moat, encircles the palace like a silk scarf from a 1930s couturier.

Eltham Palace is a true example of how the ancient and modern can partner one another with spectacular results. And while the Art Deco house is now itself something of a historical artefact, it feels as modern and liveable today as it would have done 90 years ago. So if English Heritage ever feel like giving it up, send me the keys… I’m moving in!

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Folio // Rome mid-Winter

Ready yourselves, the Spring is here at last. It’s felt like an eternal winter, in England at least, and as Spring arrives – and a new sense of optimism for the season of Summer dawns upon us – I’m whisking Daily Norm readers off to the land of verdant Spring-like plenty: Tuscany. But before we depart for there, let’s wish Rome arrivederci the proper way, with a good old fashioned photographic exhibition of some of the city’s most characterful details.

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Taken back in January, during a very sunny weekend which was more than sufficient to blow away the chill of winter, this folio of photos is full of a warmth which betrays little of time of year. Walking through streets emboldened with strong creamy sunlight and hard long shadows, it was hard to believe that we were not enjoying Rome mid-summer. Only the lack of leaves, and the odd presence of a Christmas decoration left-over conveyed the time of the year. But if all winters were like this, even I, summer fanatic, could probably cope with them.

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Terracotta walls, cobbled streets, the shiny silvery Tiber and silhouettes of church domes and pine trees – these photos which are less Rome landmark and more street details. For my favourite part of Rome sightseeing is not exploring the Forum, and less the Colosseum. Rather it is having the chance to wander streets steeped in history, to enjoy the glow which emanates from sun filled streets, and the vivacious, edgy attitude which characterises Romans and their city alike.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Rome > And not forgetting the Pantheon

In this series of Roman compendia, I have done my best to steer the earnest Rome visitor  away from the tourist masses which plague the city, to time their encounter with the city’s icons when most visitors are at slumber, or to go where others know not to tread. But the atmosphere created by tourist hoards is not all bad, just so long as you can bat off the constant salesmen haggle of selfie sticks and water at 3€ a pop.

For instance, you’d be hard pushed to see the Trevi Fountain without a permanent ring of coin-throwing visitors, but then that is part of its charm. And if you’re thinking of having the Colosseum to yourself, forget it. But there is one square which will inevitably be busy whenever you go, but is worth the trip at whatever time you wish, just because it is so characteristically Roman and so utterly exquisite at any time of the day: the Piazza della Rotonda.

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I have long held a deep fondness for this Piazza, ever since the blissful few weeks when my art history studies took me and many dearest friends to Rome. Every day I would open up the windows of our pensione onto the most spectacular view in all of Rome: to a square bustling with people enjoying the trickle of the baroque fountain, listening to street musicians, and gazing in awestruck wonder at the work of architectural majesty which sits at the very centre of the Piazza: the Pantheon.

Still considered to be a wonder of the ancient world, the Pantheon is pretty much the most intact monument still standing from Ancient Rome. Its condition is remarkable, not least its gravity defying concrete dome, the brilliance of which kept architects and engineers guessing for years. Standing in front of the Pantheon, knowing that you are stood in the very same spot as emperors and citizens of an ancient age, is a frankly remarkable experience. And in no other place do you get that sensation than here, in the Piazza which is as Roman as it gets: atmospheric cafes, baroque splendour, cobbled paving, coloured houses, horses, musicians, locals, tourists, and that all important omnipotence of the ancient which makes Rome the true Eternal City.

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So with this final tip on the Rome bucket list, and with my own recent photos from a morning stroll through the square, I close the current season of my Rome Compendium series – at least for now. Rest assured, the next time I go, I’ll add a whole load of more tips to ensure you’re living La Dolce Vita when you visit Italy’s pre-eminent city. In the meantime keep track of the Norms’ visit to Rome. They ‘ain’t going nowhere!

Arrivederci!

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Rome > Lunching in the Trastevere

Up until only a year or so ago, the Trastevere was a region of Rome which somewhat alluded me. Set away from the ancient heart of the city, separated, as the name suggests, across the river from the main city sights, it is easy to forget this bustling little cobbled gem. And yet Trastevere, with its streets still strewn with laundry, unplanned crooked little houses and uneven roads is one of the most characterful areas of Rome, and certainly one which, more than any other, hangs on to its authentic, working class past, despite the very obvious charm it now holds for tourists.

Imbued with the kind of gloriously soft glowing light which summer evenings were made for, the Trastevere makes for the perfect location for an early evening perambulation before dinner. However, the result is often coach loads of tourists pumping themselves across the ancient bridges of the Tiber and filling the dear little narrow streets of the Trastevere to near bursting point. Trying to find a free table in these conditions is not fun, and certainly deprives one of the relaxed, authentic charm of the area.

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In my view, the better alternative is to do the Trastevere at lunchtime, when the narrow streets are filled with the warm glow of a higher midday sun, and some of that sleepiness which characterises the neighbourhood is retained away from the tourist hoards. This is particularly so in the cooler months of the year, when eating al fresco is a real daytime possibility, and the truly uncomfortable heat is yet to hit.

This is exactly what we did one Sunday this January, when the Trastevere seemed to come alive under the midday sun, despite a relatively quiet time of year in the Roman tourist calendar. Even then, the restaurants peppered along cobbled streets and lanes hung with verdant leafy climbing plants were filling fast, and it was almost on the point of giving up and heading pack over the Ponte Sisto that we stumbled upon the restaurant of the same name – the Osteria Pontesisto on the Via di Ponte.

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As though in wait especially for us, we took the last sunny table set outside the restaurant’s burnt orange facade. There, soothed by exquisite rays of winter sunshine, a lunch of freshly chilled chardonnay commenced, and continued with an appetizer of Roman fried artichokes and deliciously fresh wild board sausage. Then came the mains, and with it some of the best pasta I have had the pleasure to enjoy – a taglioni of king prawns and courgette flowers which filled my mouth with sensual delight at every mouthful. The soft but certain bite of the al dente pasta; the sweet succulence of the prawns; the perfumed intensity of the fish stock. Dear god it was good. So much so, I was almost too drunk on deliciousness (and wine) to fully appreciate yet another superb dish which was to follow – a homemade puff pastry millefeuille stuffed with fluffy clouds of cream and drizzled with just melted rich dark chocolate. Just. Too. Good.

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The Trastevere is popular for a reason, and sometimes a bit of patience is required before the perfect table reveals itself. But trust me, if that perfect Trastevere lunch is meant to be, that cute little red and white chequered road-side table will be waiting for you. But to be sure, make a reservation at the Osteria Pontesisto. As my lunch told me, you can’t go wrong with that one.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.