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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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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.

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.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part III: The Piazzas which Seduced Us

A bustling café, an aperol spritz, a hand-full of renaissance palaces and preferably a fountain or two, all set within the confines of an elegant piazza – now that, for me, is Italy. And as piazzas go, they frankly don’t get much better than Verona’s. Every Italian city has a piazza or five – just look at Rome, where a glamorous fountain-filled piazza breaks the monotony of straight roads at every turn. But Verona’s squares are something truly special. Is it because they feel authentic – a haunt of locals as well as tourists? Is it the quality of the light, warm and golden as sun bounces off terracotta buildings and ancient marble statuary? Probably both, plus the very explicit beauty which oozes from every facet of Verona’s impressive piazzas.

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Chief among them is the Piazza delle Erbe. Paved with the same silky-smooth Marmo Rosso di Verona as lines many of the city’s streets, and surrounded by some of the most spectacular buildings in the city – amongst them the ravishingly frescoed Case Mazzanti, and the two towers, Torre dei Lamberti and Torre del Gardello – the former sales platform of herbs and flowers retains the bustling market feel of its heritage (although sadly the stalls of today are a little touristic in nature). But for the real Veronese experience, head to one of the cafes which circle the square and enjoy every vantage point of this spectacular place. Our favourite was the Caffe Filippini where, as if fate had ordained it, we managed to seize a front-line table, just by the Fontana di Madonna Verona, every time we visited, and from there of course I had the very best spot from which to sketch, and enjoy that glistening orange aperol spritz.

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But the great thing about Verona is you get two squares for the price of one. Not for the Veronese is one stunning piazza enough. For separated by a mere arch (the Arco della Costa to be exact) and a whale’s bone (hanging underneath said arch), you will stroll from the Piazza delle Erbe into the equally mesmerising site of the Piazza dei Signori. As the old political centre of the city, the intimate space exudes a tangible spirit of power-play reflected off fortress-like palazzos decorated with friezes made from stone and peppered with statues of great minds and the all powerful winged lion of Venice. At the centre of it all, a statue of Dante Alighieri looms in a masterful pose which dominates the square. No wonder the best cafe there (and arguably in town) is the Caffe Dante – our lunch there, of creamy al dente pasta, a deconstructed tiramisu and a chilled glass of white wine, was proof enough for that…Just one more reason why the piazza lifestyle is the best way to enjoy time in one of Italy’s most picturesque cities.

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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.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part II: The Gardens which Beguiled Us

It’s funny. When I think back to my first encounter with Verona, some 17 years ago in the prime of my youth, touring from one art historical Italian treasure to another, I can remember very little of the city. I remember the balcony purported to be that of Shakespeare’s fictional Juliet, and the street where I purchased my first Burberry scarf. I remember the relief which blue skies and a bustling living city afforded after 10 days or so ensconced in the fog-filled fantasy land of Venice. But I remember little of the stunning streets and grand piazzas which dominated this most recent reconnaissance with Verona. But of all the highlights I remember with absolute clarity, despite the passing of the years, it is the wonder of the Giardino Giusti, arguably the best Renaissance garden in all of Italy.

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Just beyond the bustling centre, housed between the Mannerist walls of the Giusti palace and the higher hilltops of the upper gardens, the Giardino Giusti is a place of almost mystical quality. With perfectly trimmed box-hedge mazes and prim parterres punctuated by moss-covered statues from the ancient realms, the Giusti gardens is at once a Lewis Carroll wonderland as it is a perfect example of the Renaissance style. A sense of perfectly manicured order provided by sweeping central paths and cypress tree-bordering is yet tempered by the pure poetry which comes of patios lined by potted cypress trees and half-hidden structures such as the rose-pink colonnaded belvedere, which affords the most unbeatable view over the labyrinth of hedges and collections of ancient statuary.

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In fact it was in that same belvedere where my fondest memory of Verona was born. There, in 2001 in the autumn sunshine, my friends and I picnicked on fresh pesto and salumi, with a little wine, and some recitals to accompany the scene. Is it possible to ever beat such epiphanaic perfection? I don’t think I ever have. But this visit to the Giardino Giusti was just as I remembered it – a memory in no way diluted by the joy of my return, to a paradise garden which remains, for me, the highlight of any visit to Verona.

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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.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part I: The Streets which Ensnared Us

Don’t accuse me of being repetitive. It’s not my fault that Italy is such a beautiful country. But if I’ve gone on about the beauty of Rome, of Bologna, of Sicilia, of Siena, who can blame me? Charm oozes from their every cobble and paint-flaking wall, from the tolling of cathedral bells and the trickling of their ancient fountains. And now I have another stunner to add to the set of Italian cities which are quite frankly spectacular: Verona.

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In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, two Gentlemen arrived in the golden light of a creamy sunset to an apartment overlooking the imposing walls of the ancient Roman arena, and knew that they had entered a new Elysium; a city perfectly compact but wide in impact, whose ancient charm extends far beyond the Renaissance but back to the splendid time of the Emperors, whose grand triumphal arches and magnificent arenas characterise the city to this day.

The city which ensnared William Shakespeare and inspired the greatest love story ever known has now caught these two Gentlemen inside it’s luxurious web. But if we are prey to its abundance of good food, splendid piazzas, quaint little cobbled streets and cases of the most velvety Valpolicella wine, then I say: catch me web, I’m hanging around for more.

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The Daily Norm’s new Veronese adventure starts in the sumptuous streets which inject the city with such a cosmopolitan buzz. They are the pulsing veins which carry a continuous and energetic stream of lifeblood around a city whose very existence burns with the vivacity of an aperol spritz, but which conversely exudes something of the tranquility of a lazy Sunday everyday.

The ancient marble pavements which run throughout Verona have been polished to a fine gloss by the millions of feet who have trod them throughout history. In places you can even see grooves marked by carts over millennia of history. Today, those same shiny roads glitter with the veritable glow of cake-filled patisseries and chic fashion outlets. Verona is, after all, a city in which to see and be seen; where sparks of romance resonate everywhere as tourists and locals alike take inspiration from the fabled Romeo and his Juliet. 

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A trip to Verona doesn’t require an itinerary. Just walk, explore, and waft amongst the little streets which wind like arteries across the packed historical core of this great city. From one end to another, your stroll will lead you to all the monuments and majestic sights any guidebook will require you to see. But in the meantime, the streets will give you the best Veronese experience of all: one of cafes and couture, of people perambulating and history unfurling.

This post is in made in homage to those wonderful streets of Verona. At points, of course, those streets widen into the most perfect of piazzas – the real gems around which they wind. But there’s time yet for the piazzas, which will be explored in their turn. 

© 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.

Breakfast at La Baita

Autumn is a love-hate time for me. On the one hand, I relish the new spectacle of fiery colours transforming the landscape from green lushness to a wealth of auburn warmth. On the other, I bemoan the passing of my favourite season of Summer, and the conclusion of my sun-drenched travels, which feel as though they have ended before they even begun. But in this latter respect, I have an antidote, right around the corner from my London home; a place where I can go and feel every inch as though I am back on holiday, surrounded by the vivacity of the Sicilian spirit, and food to match the very best Italian fare: La Baita on Clapham Common.

Located at the very centre of the Common, alongside the grand Victorian bandstand after which the cafe is named, from a distance you would assume La Baita is your bog-standard park cafe selling bacon butties and ice cream. However the Italian name signifies that this cafe is more than your British norm. Rather, run by Sicilians and southern Italians with a true passion for the food of their great nation, it is a fantastic little eatery with food so good that I have never found an Italian restaurant in London to beat it.

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Breakfast at La Baita (2018© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

Whether it be because of the fine food, the passionate staff, or the beauty of its parkland surroundings, La Baita has become our “local” in every sense of the word. Some weekends we even go twice a day! So it felt only natural that over our last few visits, I should capture the cafe’s terrace in my sketchbook, at the season’s leafy best. After all, it won’t be long before those leaves have fallen ground-wards, and the terrace of La Baita becomes paved with a transient crispy carpet of auburn gold.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized 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 artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

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.

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.