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Posts from the ‘2018’ Category

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.

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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.

Norms go to Verona // Piazza Bra

Despite their curving frame and voluptuous figures, Norms are far from kinky, and they don’t really go for crass language, vulgar innuendo, or sexy lingerie either. So for these rather morose little figures, the Piazza Bra in Verona had nothing of the connotations which would get some tourists giggling. Rather, this impressive open space surrounding the most iconic of all Verona’s monuments – the ancient Roman arena – was seen by the Norms as nothing more or less than the momentously impressive piazza it is.

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

With the Arena behind them, and a plate of croissants, brioches and other delicacies on a table in front of them, the Norms considered that there was simply no better place than this sweeping circular square to take a coffee, enjoy a sunny breakfast and watch the world go by. It’s why they returned to the Piazza Bra for their breakfast everyday as a perfect launch pad from which to enjoy this city of wonders. And they weren’t the only ones…as the pop star fans, the Romeo and Juliet, the morning dog walkers, the loved up couples, the stern bodyguards and the tourists aplenty in this sketch will tell you. See if you can spot them all 🙂

© 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.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part V: Lakeside in Garda

It’s something of a contradiction in terms, that two Gentlemen in Verona were not in Verona at all, but should have ventured swiftly onwards to Italy’s great Lake Garda. However, the location of this mountain-locked beauty is comfortably close to Verona, and a mere 30 minute’s train ride transmitted us in a frictionless trajectory to the still waters of Garda, and to the idyllic town of Sirmione, the Lake’s most popular destination.

I’m no lover of tourist hot-spots, but it’s easy to see why Sirmione is visited by millions and the beloved of many. With it’s fairy-tale like Scaligero Castle marking the town’s entrance, and a quaint little historical centre all set upon a slender little peninsular jutting out into the lake, Sirmione is veritable honeypot of Italian charm, and the perfect location for gelato, lemon-flavoured treats and an aperol spritz aplenty.

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I first wanted to see Garda when we saw the utterly mesmerising scenes of young love being played out on its shores in Call Me By Your Name (2017), which I have long proclaimed to be the best film ever made. The protagonists, Oliver and Elio, are not there for long. Accompanying Elio’s father to unearth the discovery of an ancient sculpture found on the bed of the lake, there is a beautiful scene when all three go for a swim amongst the grasses and reeds which give this wide expanse of water the nature of a lake rather than the sea which it otherwise resembles. As we arrived near Sirmione we saw those same lush reeds and grasses, and the presence of ducks and swans marked this out as a freshwater paradise, with a tranquility most unlike the sea.

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A second signposting to Garda was the ravishing book, The Land Where Lemons Grow, in which author Helena Attlee expertly guides the reader through Italy’s most historically and currently significant citrus growing spots. The atmosphere she conjured with her descriptions of lemon growth on the shores of Lake Garda had me dreaming of the lake long before I went there. Once alongside Garda, I reveled in a panoply of lemon-infused products to mark our arrival in this wonderful place, a lemon-cream filled cannolo being chief among these guilty pleasures.

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Our trip to Lake Garda lived up to both film, and book. We left knowing that this one visit was a mere lemon-filled taster, and that one day we will return. For now, as we ventured back to Verona, these Two Gentlemen felt fully at home, as the city of love and style and Italian chic welcomed us back for one evening more… to drink Valpolicella amongst the people of the Piazza della Erbe, and to stroll in the marble-paved streets of the Romans that went before us.

© 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.

Norms go to Verona // The Castel Vecchio Bridge

The Norms are enjoying Verona like no city before or since, and are in fact so guilty of over-indulgence at the Giardino Giusti that they fell asleep among the lush box tree hedges, and work up quite pink and overheated. Nothing then like a refreshing riverside walk to take down the Norms’ temperature a bit. So on their way back to their central digs, the Norms have taken a moment to enjoy the Adige River.

Here we see the Norms as they admire one of Verona’s most iconic sights: the Castel Vecchio Bridge which is unique for many reasons. First its red-brick segmental span which was the widest in Europe when it was first constructed back in the 14th Century. Then there’s its unique integration within the fabric of the eponymous Castel Vecchio, providing its original resident – Cangrande II della Scalla Norm – with the perfect escape-route in case of attack. Finally there are those lovely fortress like spiked points which characterise the bridge, but make the soft and jelly-like Norms feel a little nervous if they’re perfectly honest.

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Norms at the Castel Vecchio, Verona (2018 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

No wonder that these Norms are keeping their distance then, be it viewing the bridge from the distance of a leafy river bank, or via the white-knuckle experience of water-rafting. Wooohooo! That should get their appetite up for a perfect night’s dinner in Verona.

© 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 // Verona – The View from the Top

There’s nothing quite like the experience of viewing a city from above. In a single sweeping 360 degree motion, you can admire an entire landscape sweeping out before you, appreciating its scale and geography, but all seen from above. From the perspective reserved for those with wings, it’s possible to feel almost superhuman (and as those with vertigo will tell you, a little sick too) as you gaze down upon a city’s every day life unfolding while you, from on high, are like deity gazing down upon your subjects.

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It was no surprise to us that Verona, a city so magnificent from up close, would be equally as beautiful from the top of the Torre dei Lamberti. And as the city’s tallest tower at some 272 feet high, you are guaranteed a truly commanding view if you make it to the top. From there, the city’s grey marble streets and yellow and auburn palazzos became dominated by a sea of terracotta roofs, all apart from the striking semi-circular form of the ancient arena, and the sweeping green like snake of the river, twisting its way around the peninsular of the city’s ancient heart. Best of all were the proximate views the tower afforded of the nearby Piazza delle Erbe and the stunning statuary atop the Palazzo Maffei. Who would have known, from the Piazza down below, what incredible detail lies hidden within the folds and undulations of those wonderful depictions of ancient deity.

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Seen from above, Verona shared a new perspective of its indisputable beauty, reasserting why it remains the favourite city of literature lovers and true romantics everywhere, whatever the angle of their admirable glances.

© 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.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part IV: Four Churches which Enchanted Us

“There are four main churches in Verona”, our hostess told us, “and you must visit them all.” Not two Gentlemen to take advice lightly, we decided we had better do just that. And so in their turn we visited the four principal churches of the city – Sant’Anastasia, San Fermo, the Duomo and San Zeno (although when viewed from the hilly city surroundings, we could see that Verona, peppered with spires, is host to more than four).

A combined visitors ticket made access to the spiritual quartet an easy endeavour, and once we had been inside the first – Sant’Anastasia – we were hungry to see them all. With its soaring vaulting ceilings frescoed in delicate bouquets of floral motifs, and harbouring the famous fresco of Saint George by Pisanello (which you’ll have to strain your neck to see), Sant’Anastasia made for an impressive beginning. The church had a tangible luminosity which bounced off its high ceilings and the walls adorned with devotional masterpieces. However it was the small details which enchanted the most, chief among them the holy water fonts, or hunchbacks, whose faces contorted with pain are said to represent the fact that the people of Verona were brought almost to their knees by the massive undertaking of constructing this church. Looking at the scale of the place, I can quite imagine why.

Sant’Anastasia

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A short stroll away saw us arriving at the second, and I suppose you should say the most important church of the lot – the Duomo. After Sant’Anastasia, the interior, while beautiful, did not impress us as much. That was the preserve of the exterior, whose delightful striped facade made for a truly beautiful sight when offset against the Veronese blue sky, while the huge mythological griffins which hold up enormous columns either side of the main entrance portico lent a true grandiosity to the building. A further highlight deserving of a mention is the Baptistery’s stunning octagonal font. Rendered from a single block of Veronese marble, it is aptly considered to be a masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture and with good reason. Its scenes of expressive high-relief figures were joyous to behold, bursting to life in their narrative of the birth and baptism of Jesus and the many hurdles along the way.

The Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta

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After lunch and a stroll through the Giardino Giusti, we took in our third church on the way back to our apartment. San Fermo is all about the ceiling. Ancient though it may be, the extraordinary multi-arched wooden construction is punctuated by an even more impressive collection of some 416 portraits of saints. It was time again to strain the neck to appreciate them, although the scale of work meant this short-term discomfort was well worth it, just to pay homage to the unknown artist whose ingenuity created them. 

San Fermo

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Our fourth and final visit came the following day, when Saturday meant that our visit coincided with a big fat fluffy wedding. While this meant for a rather glamorous spectacle as the church of San Zeno was given over to a vision of bridal beauty and the admiration of all, it did mean that we were unable to get close and personal with all of the ancient masterpieces contained within the church. We did however manage to sneak in a moment or two with San Zeno’s greatest spectacle: its doors.

Comprising 48 bronze panels, dating from 1030 and 1137 respectively depending on which of the two doors you are looking at, the panels depict in delightfully naive fashion the life and times of San Zeno. More than the images, I loved seeing the parts which had been rubbed smooth by centuries of visitors, the dark bronze polished to a sparkling lustre by the touch of the faithful. I can well imagine how churches such as these inspired visitors over the years to reach out and touch… just to be sure that these miracles of art and faith actually existed, and weren’t just a wonderful mirage. That same sense of awe-inspiring disbelief continues to this day, as Verona’s four main churches continue to inspire.

San Zeno

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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.