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Posts tagged ‘Holidays’

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.

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.

Terracotta Collective: Poolside on Mirabello Bay

I can well imagine how Hockney must have felt, when he first left the subdued isles of the UK and arrived in Los Angeles to an explosion of colour characterised by vibrant tropical plants, uninterrupted blue skies, flashy modern architecture and of course those dazzling turquoise pools, rippling and reacting to the burning ball of sunshine overhead. No wonder those pools in their respective post-modern garden spaces inspired Hockney to commit them to canvas. What a startling sight those rectangles of electric blue are for any artist… and yet it’s funny to think that before Hockney, few had ever tried to capture the pool in a painting. Perhaps they were scared of the insuperable challenge of capturing sun on water. Not me. The moment I laid eyes on our rectangle of cerulean happiness, I knew I would paint it, ripples, reflection and all.

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Poolside on Mirabello Bay (©2018, Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Continuing the theme of my previous Cretan artwork, working up from a painting base splashed with a terracotta undercoat, I committed myself to capturing every aspect of our marvellous villa, and the view which made it such a stunning place to stay. So having tackled the pool, which thrusts its vivacious way into the canvas like an electric eel fully charged by ultraviolet, I moved onto the mountainous landscape which so masterfully framed our view. For me, the vision of overlapping mountainous strata, in every shade of mauve and pale ultramarine, is the very archetype of Greece. And here we had the perfect specimen, to enjoy every day, and now to capture on canvas.

So with a few touches of stone surround and aspects of the lush greenery which kept our garden fresh, I finished this ode to our paradise pool. Much inspired, and as wide eyed with poolside wonder as Hockney must have been when he first arrived in LA, I decided that this pool painting would be only the first. And true to my instinct, I have already started the followup… a true homage to the pool and the beauty of Crete which surrounded it.

© 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.

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.