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Posts from the ‘2018’ Category

2018: My Year in Photos

It’s incredible to think that a year has gone by since I last undertook the rather enviable task of looking back on a year of incredible travel, enriching experience and fulfilling creativity. Yet here I am again, with the bells of Big Ben only hours away, and the turn into yet another inevitable year fast approaching, marking the time when, as blogger (and, may I say, general life enthusiast), I take the opportunity to look back and celebrate what I have experienced during the last 365 days. For I am a firm believer in nourishing experience and consolidating lessons learned. I rarely revel in sadder times, but instead seek to affirm my memories of happier times. Thankfully, for me, 2018 was full of them.

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I would be lying if I said that my 2018 highlights were not travel. As is usually the case, in celebrating 2018, I am saluting a year which saw me leave the British Isles on no less than 11 occasions, enabling me to relish in old favourites such as Verona and Tuscany, while discovering new shores: Crete, Porto, Budapest and Bruges chief amongst them.

It all started back in January with a last minute weekend to Rome which saw us beat the seasons and enjoy endless wine-filled languid luncheons in the sun in the Campo de’ Fiori and the Trastevere. Then came the beast from the East, which brought with it an endless winter and a period of intense climatic instability. This made Spring weekends in Lucca, Porto and Marbella all the more welcome, and by the time we moved into our own private villa in Crete, we were truly ready to embrace the full joys of summertime – and what a setting to do it in!

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Come September, and we saw out the year with a string of superb weekend getaways, to Budapest, Verona and Bruges, a truly unbeatable triptych which reaffirmed how lucky we are to have such superb European destinations on our doorstep. But it is with such a reminder that this year ends on something of a cautionary note. For 2019 is expected to bring with it the great change of Brexit – a major turning point in British history which could lead to many a complexity, and a horizon tinged with melancholia. The current climate is one of uncertainty and fear, an atmosphere in which it is sometimes hard to remain positive. Yet hoping for the best from the depths of my withering optimistic soul, I can only anticipate that 2019, for all its upheaval and change, will also bring with it new encounters with happiness, and ties with Europe forged tighter…at least for those many of us who hold our European unity so dear.

© 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.

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Christmas in Bruges… Decoration immersion

For a city trip at Christmas time, Bruges in Belgium pretty much has it all. Christmas markets…tick! Mulled wine (laced with amaretto – serious yum)…tick! Cute medieval houses surrounded by quaint little canals… multiple tick! Soothing chocolate and hearty food to be consumed by a crackling fireplace by candlelight… tick again! But for that most important of all things at Christmas, the handmade, unique, home-changing, life-enhancing tree decoration…well Bruges gets the biggest tick of all! Yes, yes, yes, for those like me who love a good Christmas decoration, this is the city where it’s at. Only one thing… make sure you take a hearty wallet with you in turn.

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While we weren’t overly impressed with the quality of the decorations in the Christmas markets themselves, the array of superbly high quality decor available in some of Bruges’ cutest little boutiques has the power to take the breath away, and transport the shopper into a kind of quasi-imaginary childhood paradise all at the same time. These are not just shops, they are veritable grottoes, like the archetypal Santa’s workshop lined with more decorations than you could take in on multiple-visits, crammed full of variously themed trees, layer upon layer of glass, metal and wooden baubles, figurines, nutcrackers, incense burners and candelabras to name but a few.

Chief amongst these shopping gems is De Witte Pelikaan, a true Winter Wonderland on two floors, whose many trees are hung with such a unceasing delight of extravagantly shaped baubles of every shape and size that we left with large dents in our bank accounts, but with many delights to show for it. Then there are the legendary boutiques of Käthe Wohlfahrt (of which Bruges has two) – a dazzling European Christmas brand, and it’s not hard to see why. This is the true wood-based grotto-like delight that festive dreams are made of. We came away with little hand-carved wooden characters which have already added enviable quality and character to our London tree. As with all these decorations, we know that we will delight in that moment of unwrapping them each year, allowing the memories of their purchase to flow forth into the winter air and fill our home with happiness.

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It’s hard to fully capture the incredible atmosphere of Bruges’ Christmas shops on camera, not least because, at this time of the year, they are understandably heaving. However, here are a few photos to give some idea of the array of delights on show, as well as a few shots from Bruges’ equally festive churches, thrown in for good measure.

Merry Christmas everyone!!!

© 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.

Christmas in Bruges… Sunny landscapes

After a rather soggy start to our weekend sojourn in Bruges, the sun, when it came, cannot have been more welcome. As always happens when the depressing influence of cloud breaks and the atmosphere breathes a sigh of relief, Bruges opened itself up to receive the first glimmers of winter sunshine. And suddenly, before our very eyes, the city, which until now had appeared quaint, suddenly revealed the full extent of its beauty in full multi-coloured high dimensional clarity – like a bride whose blushing face is uncovered before the doting groom, the obfuscation of her lace veil being swept aside.

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While Bruges exudes charm throughout its network of canals and cobbles, across its staggered rooftops and old timber town houses, it is a city which comes alive when the sun magnifies the resplendence of its colours and details. I loved the fact that on so many of the gothic spires or roof windows, a sweep of grey tiles would be broken by woodwork painted in a vivid high-gloss red; or the fact that in Bruges’ many squares and principal streets, its tightly packed buildings are each given personality through a veritable rainbow of coloured facades and golden statues.

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As is the case with any city set on water, such colour and charm as resides above the waterline is swiftly replicated as the tranquil canals provide a mirrored surface hungry to reflect the panoply on tones glowing alongside it, so that in providing a double vision, the waters of Bruges complete a fully immersive picture of architectural brilliance across all visual planes. Yet in Bruges, unlike in Venice for example, its skyline is additionally punctuated by the addition of windmills and peaked rooftops, which, when seen alongside gothic spires, creates a uniquely spiked spectacle softened by a multitude of trees which must look splendid in warmer seasons.

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Bruges is a place of unique and consistent beauty which is not disturbed by the touch nor inevitable destruction of modernity nor vulgarity. Yet in the sunshine it reaches an apotheosis of visual brilliance. I am so glad I was able to see it at its sunny best.

© 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.

Christmas in Bruges… Chocolate immersion

When you think of Belgium, many things come to mind: The EU, Tintin’s quiff, multiple beers and meticulously handmade lace. But of all Belgium’s exports, perhaps its most famous and certainly most popular is its chocolate, which (though the Swiss may disagree) surpasses all of Europe’s chocolate offerings in the glorious craftsmanship, quality and variety of its creation, resulting in shop and after shop of exquisitely formed shiny chocolates in every shape, colour, size and texture.

As we stepped out on our first night in Bruges, we realised we were in the centre of a chocolate paradise. Shop window after shop window was filled with trays of the joyous little balls of creamy, rich delight, moulded into a variety of shapes from Saints to sex symbols, resembling characters from cartoons, and characterising Christmas in every magical sense. These windows were like scenes from Chocolat the movie, and had the power to make us salivate with an even greater intensity. Happily we did not have long to wait until our first sampling.

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Shunning the more traditional offering of our hotel breakfast, we made an early-morning beeline straight for one of the local chocolateries, where we were able to sit up at a counter, drinking not only a rich coffee with a chocolate dipped Belgian waffle, but benefiting from a front-row view onto the kitchen where we could watch with mesmeric appreciation the rhythmic and methodical preparation of new truffles for the shop floor.

It goes without saying that among the panoply of Belgian merchandise which has returned with us to London, chocolate comprised a respectable part. How long that particular souvenir will last cannot be stated with any degree of certainty… 🙂

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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.

Christmas in Bruges… Rainy landscapes

I always knew that I wanted to see Bruges (or Brugge) at Christmas time. Famed for its UNESCO protected idyllic old town, interlaced with canals which fill the city with all the charms of Venice mixed with a heavy dose of Medieval mysticism, there is no doubting that Belgium’s watery pearl makes for a stunning destination all year around. But with Christmas markets springing up all over town, and fairy lights strung across cobbled streets scattering their reflected golden light across the rippling canals, Bruges goes up one notch when the festive season arrives. It is a cosy Christmas card paradise, and the ultimate destination for the most magical time of the year.

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Hopping across the channel by Eurostar, we found ourselves in this quaint historical city within a mere few hours from London. However the short distance meant that there was no escaping the British rain. So it was that for our first 24 hours in the city, we encountered a Bruges blanketed in cloud, but also enhanced by the rain. For as darkness descended and the Christmas lights came to life, the combination of rain and canals made for a city which dazzled in this reflected light, as every surface of its historical beauty became magnified in the light of the season.

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So while sunshine was to come the very next day, this first day was characterised by the bedazzlement of Christmas… a time of year so magical and so beautiful that no matter how gloomy the weather, the stunning light of the season shines through. In this enhanced light, Bruges really shone, demonstrating to we first-time visitors why Brugge is famed throughout Europe as one of the most beautiful cities history has left us to enjoy.

© 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 // Budapest > The river that joins it altogether

Readers of my Budapest compendium cannot be at a loss to know that Budapest is a city formed of two halves (well three parts actually, if you count the old city of Óbuda into the bargain). Key to its former separation was its geography, and more specifically the sweeping route of the Danube river which washes its mighty way between the hills of Buda and the flatter, grander boulevards of Pest. However, soon enough, the genius of modern engineering brought the two halves of Budapest together in the form of its iconic Chain Bridge.

Constructed in 1849, it did more than cross the geographical divide between two cities. It made unification more than just a physical phenomenon, but a metaphysical reality too. Just 24 years later, the unification of Budapest in name and city came to pass, and the metropolis was set on a path towards becoming one of the fastest growing and most important of Europe’s cities.

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While the Danube is now easy to cross, it is not easy to ignore, and the riverfront of Budapest remains one of the most prominent landmarks of the city, whichever side it is viewed from. Whether it be the green and multi-coloured tiled domes which make up the riverfront of Buda, or the Pest side, lined by grand mansions and hotels built in the secessionist style, the Danube-facing frontline of the city is the ultimate showcase of a city thriving on its unification.

Full of architectural masterpieces, the Danube is not just the place to admire Budapest’s growing collection of elegant bridges traversing the broad sweep of the river. It is also the place to enjoy what is undeniably the very best view of the city’s world-famous Parliament building. Designed by Imre Steindl, and based on the neo-gothic design of London’s very own Houses of Parliament, it is Hungary’s largest building and symbol of both the city and the country. With a characteristic central dome in a rich winey terracotta, topped with copper spires and gothic stone masonry, it is a treasure trove of architectural embellishment, and the true highpoint of the Danube stretch of the city.

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For a building which represented Budapest’s new city strength, it could not have been better located, right on the banks of the river which separated the city’s halves, but also brought them together.

© 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.

Painting Budapest > Great Spa City

Funnily enough, I was inspired to paint Budapest by our hotel bathroom. Simple, understated but insuperably elegant, the bathroom of the Callas House boutique hotel featured beautiful gold fittings offset against a floor of black and white marble mosaic tiles, and a basin whose lines exuded sheer classicism. That simple bathroom exemplified for me European elegance, and a painting started to form in my mind. As the image developed, it became more and more appropriate as an image representing Budapest. For the Hungarian capital is one of the great spa cities of Europe. And as we were to find out from a visit to the famous Gellért Baths, the locals benefit from the health-giving qualities of mineral rich naturally heated waters around which an industry of bathing has developed over the centuries.

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Budapest: Great Spa City (2018 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

As these factors combined, the bath became the central symbol in my painting of Budapest, featured on this post. The mineralised waters of the city are enjoyed by two bathers, while the board which traditionally crosses over a vintage bath is replaced by the iconic Chain Bridge that crosses the Danube. There too, a sparkling afternoon is on standby for he who most indulges, behind which a leafy tree represents the elegant city boulevards, offset against the famous Parliament building subsisting in a dreamy golden landscape. Finally tram cables and the tram itself encapsulates the very European spirit which fills the city.

And of course, to frame it all, I had to paint those little black and white tiles, all the way from the bathroom floor in the little elegant hotel room which inspired this work.

© 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. For more information on the art of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com

Compendium // Budapest > The elegance of Pest

Our trip to Budapest was so fleeting that we never really had the opportunity to delve into the wealth of history which the city boats, and less still pour through the pages of a guidebook. Given that we were short of time, we preferred instead to wander around the city, taking in the sights without prior knowledge nor recommendation. In many ways, this made for the best type of sightseeing. Rather than miss so many details by focusing on a single destination, our aimless perambulations meant that we were able to take in the very many ravishing details which make the city of Budapest such a visual treat for the eyes.

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Known as the Paris of Central Europe, Budapest bears a number of similarities to the elegant French capital. There are also many ways in which it is better – Budapest is cleaner for sure, and the customer service way exceeds the somewhat snooty attitude of many Paris restauranteurs. But as seasoned Daily Norm readers will know, Paris is one of my all time favourite cities, and in Budapest, I could really feel that same uninterrupted elegance pervade its grand boulevards and monumental squares. This is no more evident than in Pest, the younger half of the unified city, but an area still rich in historical magnificence as best evidenced in the great palaces and richly decorated government buildings which surround the area around the most iconic building of them all – the neo-gothic materpiece of Budapest’s Parliament.

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Criss-crossed by tram cables, and with the yellow vehicles themselves routinely trundling across squares lined with pavement cafes, Pest feels like the archetypal European city, but unlike so many capitals, it has a relaxed feel which invites rather than repels. In Pest, long leafy avenues play host to glamourous fashion boutiques and grand cafes serving afternoon tea on marble tables and wicker chairs. This is Paris but with a further layer of grandiose sophistication, but lacking the pretension which so often accompanies the finer things in life.

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In case it isn’t obvious, I am a significant Budapest fan. It is a city unhampered by the brutal architectural interruptions of the modern age, playing host to some of Europe’s finest examples of secessionist architecture, and glorious neo-classical facades. From above, it exhibits a skyline punctuated by turquoise church spires and silver rooftops. At ground level, sprawling boulevards are illuminated by golden street lamps and shiny tram tracks. This is the epitome of Europe’s glorious past, polished and preserved for the current generation.

© 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 // Budapest > The heights of Buda

I didn’t know what to expect when I jetted off from London to Budapest. It was to be my first time in Hungary, let alone its capital city, but my ignorance made the discovery all the richer, as I found a city replete with European elegance, magnificent vistas, faultless customer service and a cosy historical charm without end.

Created from Buda, and Pest, both independent cities in their own right, Budapest has a perceptively distinguishable duality of personality, both kept asunder by the great River Danube, but fused by the presence of the iconic Chain Bridge. While Buda feels medieval, ancient and quaint, Pest is a city of grand boulevards and highly decorated governmental buildings. Both are a must of this tale of two cities.

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Not sure where to start on our two day odyssey, we opted for the alphabetical approach and headed to Buda first. It was pretty much the perfect place to begin, for with its hilly topography, Buda benefits from the ultimate views of the whole city, and at its centre, Imre Steindl’s rich neo-gothic masterpiece – the seminal Hungarian Parliament. But turn away from the views (if you can), and you will enjoy the prettiest of Budapest’s historical quarters: the Castle District.

Centered around its castle and the Mátyás Church, the Castle District is a veritable feast of ancient splendour, the crowning glory of its riverside hilltop location. With the spectacular National Gallery of Hungary and the grounds of the former Royal Palace on one side, and the multi-coloured tile-topped St Mátyás on the other, the Castle District is topped only by its veritable maze of little cobbled streets lined by cute little eateries and gift shops which had me incessantly tempted (it’s so difficult to take photos while carrying ceramic soldiers and furry monster things, the meaning of which I am yet to discover). But perhaps best of all up in Buda is the Fishermen’s Bastion, not so much the seaside attraction it sounds, but a King Arthur-esque castle structure which looks every inch the fairy tale.

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Strolling through these old streets, oozing with character, it’s amazing to think that this entire region was destroyed by the Second World War, reduced practically to rubble and ashes. Thank god then for those who returned this magnificent historical monument to its former glory…a glimpse of ancient Buda before it became forever bound to Pest.

© 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.

Norms go to Verona // Piazza delle Erbe

The Norms have come to the end of their Verona trip, and if they had heels, they would have dragged them deep indeed to stay a little longer in this magical city. Sentimental as ever, the Norms are marking their sad departure with a sojourn in the Piazza where it all began… the Piazza delle Erbe, at the city’s epicentre.

It’s a perfect place to recollect their adventures in Verona. For the Piazza delle Erbe presents as a kaleidoscope of city life, as small fragments from across its demographic burst in a series of slow motion captures across the square. There are the children playing in the fountain, there the dog drinking it’s water. There is the ice cream seller, a queue of Norms awaiting a treat, and here in the Piazza’s grandest cafe, Norms sip cocktails in keen admiration of the scene before them.

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Norms in the Piazza delle Erbe (©2018 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Ah Verona, how the Norms will miss you.

© 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.