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Posts tagged ‘Day Trip’

One day in Ferrara

Medici, Farnese, Sforza, Borgia, Visconti, della Rovere... these are the names which dominated the Italian Renaissance… another is Este, one of whom, Alfonso I, was to marry the infamous Lucrezia Borgia. Together they moved to the Este stronghold in the city of Ferrara, nestled in the rolling pastures of Emilia Romagna in Northern Italy. And that’s exactly where we headed when, earlier last month, we returned to our beloved Bologna.

Situated just 45km of Bologna’s twin towered metropolis, Ferrara is a small city which packs a historical punch but which could easily be missed. Arriving by train to surroundings so penurious as to inspire fear rather than awe, you might wonder whether the place is worth visiting at all. Yet as with so many Italian towns, buried at the heart of this one is an old city gem which represents the perfect manifestation of its historical past and which is quite the match of its better known neighbours, Bologna, Verona, Milan…


At the heart of it all, the Castello Estense is an imposing castle from fairytale lore, with four imposing bastions and a water-filled moat encircling the complex with all the romance of ancient chivalry. As the name suggests, this was the home of the Famiglia d’Este, and as we wondered from room after frescoed room, we could imagine the imposing touch of the magnificent Lucrezia dominating her new martial home, picking perhaps at at fragrant blossom which filled a terrace abundant in orange trees. But with their floral bouquet the romance ended – the castle is an otherwise austere and imposing space, and rightfully so given its role to protect one of Italy’s most important families. Outside – another imposing figure lies in wait: a statue of Savonarola, the apocalyptic friar who set himself against the indulgences of the Borgia pope, and burned the excesses of Florentines in scenes which have implanted themselves on history.

Having ventured through the Castello and avoided the icy glare of Savonarola, we wandered down the road to another Este palace – the Palazzo dei Diamanti – named after the characteristic bugnato of its exterior walls, created from some 8500 pieces of marble carved to represent diamonds. The visual effect of the exterior is certainly striking, while inside, today’s National Gallery makes for an interior replete with artistic treasures: on the occasion of our visit, we were able to enjoy an exhibition of the stunning Boldini, painter of society women and magnificent 19th century fashions.


Ferrara is famous also for its Gothic cathedral, boasting as it does one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in all of Italy. Sadly, for us, it was covered by scaffolding, so this treasure at least had to be saved for another day. Instead, just meandering around the tightly packed, bustling little old streets and enjoying multi-layered views of campanile and cafeteria, and feasting upon the pumkin filled pasta parcels which are unique to the region, was sufficient to prove why Ferrara is a UNESCO protected city, and one not to be missed when you are in the area.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. 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.

Hampton Court Palace, Part 2: Bipolar Palace

For me, Hampton Court Palace is all about its gardens, or at least it certainly was when I visited, and outside the fragile glass which history has maintained within the ancient woodwork of the Palace’s hundred-fold windows, the sun shone with a rare early glimpse of British Summer in Spring. Yet there is something unapologetically festive about the hallowed halls of the Tudor-come-Baroque palace, which I’m sure on a colder day would be all the more enchanting. For Hampton Court Palace has the power to ensnare like no other.

Tudor exteriors


First it is characterised by the glamorous myth which surrounds the British Tudor Dynasty. Whether it be the 6 wives of Henry VIII who were either divorced, beheaded, died (naturally) or survived, the great religious schism triggered by Henry’s thirst for a male heir, the very bloody Queen Mary, or the flame-haired majesty of England’s favourite Queen, Elizabeth I, the Tudors are the stuff of legends, not just in English classrooms, but around the world. Seen as the very archetype of Britain in the Middle Ages, Hampton Court Palace was, and remains, the backdrop of that tumultuous time, and today its walls literally echo with wealth of that history, ghosts and all.

Tudor interiors


Secondly, the Palace is enticing because of its dual personality. A very Tudor entrance, a grand hall and a suite of wood panelled, stained glass rooms lead swiftly on to a complete architectural about-turn, as the gothic metamorphoses into the palatial Baroque, and a construct more akin to Versailles emerges from behind the forest of Tudor chimneys. This great change was the result of a complete renovation project began by King William and Queen Mary of Orange when they moved into the palace in the late 1600s and who felt the need to modernise, largely to compete with the Sun King in France. Sweeping aside whole swathes of Henry VIII’s palace, they replaced it with a grand symmetrical construct based around quadrangles of triple rowed grandiose windows, elaborately frescoed interiors, and a new landscape of neatly geometric flowerbeds and fountains. However they ran out of money before the restauration was complete, and it is for this reason that today’s Palace is the hybrid of Tudor and Baroque, something for which we must be grateful – how else could we explore a slice of the grandeur at the heart of the Tudor Dynasty which today remains so remarkably intact.

The Baroque alter ego  


The photos which are shared in the post give a flavour of the great contrast between the Tudor and the Baroque aspects of Hampton Court. What perhaps the Tudor side lacks in elaborately frescoed ceilings it makes up for in colourful stained glass and the stunning gothic ceiling of the Royal Chapel. And what the Baroque side lacks in stag heads and grand vaulted ceilings it instead replaces with wide sweeping staircases and rooms flooded with light from the masterfully manicured garden beyond. All in all, this is a tale of two Palaces, offered, very conveniently, to be enjoyed all at one time.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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. 

Hampton Court Palace, Part 1: Manicured Gardens

It’s always a wonderful thing to discover that an incredible attraction can be found on your doorstep. And somewhere which is literally 30 minutes by train from your nearest station is not so far from doorstep status, especially when you consider the extent to which those short 30 minutes have the power to transform you from inner city jungle to utter bucolic majesty. Such was my discovery last weekend upon visiting the former home of Henry VIII and his 6 variously fated wives, Hampton Court Palace, which can be found nestling alongside the banks of the Thames a few meandering loops down the river. Our trip to this vast palatial complex was so astounding, so plenteous in its beauty that I have decided to split my experience in three for the sake of The Daily Norm, so that a focus can be had on the various facets that make Hampton Court so incredible.

I must admit that it’s the gardens which really thrill me at Hampton Court. The inside has its merits, naturally. The Chapel Royal is pretty much one of the most stunning historic spaces in the United Kingdom. But the interiors also have the potential to disconcert, as one is led from the Tudor quarters, steeped in the gothic gloom of the age, to the more luminescent baroque rebuild instituted by William and Mary of Orange in the late 17th Century. The result is fragmentary and disorientating. It is like visiting two very distinct palaces, albeit that from the outside, there is a certain level of unity achieved by the uniform use of a rich pink stone. And it is outside where this little photographic tour begins.

The Privy Garden and the Banqueting House


In my naivety, I thought that a visit during April may be too early to enjoy the gardens. How wrong I was, for the timing enabled us to enjoy the most spectacular array of Spring flowers I have ever seen. In the Privy Garden, the elegant South-facing walled garden extending towards the River’s edge and containing rows of manicured conical hollies and yews lining a perfectly geometric system of paths, tulips in vibrant shades of red and yellow danced in the sunlight and contrasted brilliantly against sky blue hyacinths which filled the air with their fragrance. In the cosy walled Pond Gardens just beyond, the abundance of flowers increased as floral collections were displayed in rich strata of contrasting height and colour to create a ravishing spectacle of nature’s brilliance. I don’t think I ever saw such a variety of tulips, nor so well choreographed an exhibition of this glorious Spring flower.

The Pond Gardens, the Knot Garden and the Orangery 


This gardening brilliance continued into a small knot garden, laid out in 1924 to recreate the gardens as they would have been during the Tudor dynasty, and in the Lower Orangery Garden, which flowed from Queen Mary’s passion for collecting exotic plants. Of course the gardens of Hampton Court extend much further than those on this Southern expanse – The Great Fountain Garden is so grand as to be worthy of a post all of its own – and will surely get one in a few days time… But for now, I wanted to share photos of these more manicured gardens. Spaces so vividly enriched by their floral abundance, and so satisfyingly regimental in their layout and design that I could have remained there admiring them forever, especially during these happy days of Spring.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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.