Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Journal’

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.

IMG_6430DSC09095IMG_6428DSC09169DSC09627DSC09698IMG_6432DSC09171

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.

IMG_6473IMG_6431IMG_6457IMG_6440IMG_6433IMG_6501DSC09713IMG_6429DSC09734IMG_6427DSC09700IMG_6426IMG_6029IMG_6132

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.

Advertisements

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.

DSC09593DSC09660DSC09572DSC09647DSC09637DSC09599DSC09388DSC09562DSC09505DSC09491DSC09447

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.

DSC09640DSC09435DSC09500DSC09462DSC09592DSC09372DSC09612DSC09603DSC09536DSC09517DSC09590

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.

DSC09550DSC09409DSC09422DSC09544DSC09519DSC09485DSC09418DSC09553DSC09375DSC09379DSC09429DSC09554

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.

DSC09625
DSC09090DSC09170DSC09093DSC09349DSC09198DSC09102DSC09199DSC09215

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… 🙂

DSC09626
DSC09211DSC09098DSC09100DSC09330DSC09216DSC09110DSC09099

© 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.

DSC09748DSC09326DSC09142DSC09224DSC09181DSC09079DSC09138DSC09229DSC09112DSC09195DSC09122

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.

DSC09308DSC09180DSC09299DSC09130DSC09183DSC09237DSC09146DSC09220DSC09117DSC09121

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.

DSC07002DSC06979DSC07042DSC07041DSC06976DSC07201DSC06981DSC06972

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.

DSC07208DSC06993DSC06984DSC07400DSC06968DSC06988DSC06986DSC06974DSC07101

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.

Budapest FINAL

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.

DSC07448DSC07230DSC07432DSC07416DSC07408DSC07374DSC07334DSC07242DSC07219DSC07322

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.

DSC06954DSC07425DSC06949DSC07411DSC07213DSC07403DSC07366DSC07337DSC07222DSC06918

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.

DSC07311DSC07418DSC07225DSC07342DSC07329DSC07406DSC06961DSC06924DSC06902DSC07430

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.

DSC07154DSC07143DSC07142DSC07128DSC07103DSC07078DSC07077DSC07021DSC07010

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.

DSC07193DSC07121DSC07150DSC07162DSC07105DSC07094DSC07065DSC07059DSC07027DSC07140DSC07137

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.

Compendium // Jerez > Temples of Faith

Never far from Jerez’s Temples of Sherry are places of worship of a different kind. Despite being characterised by a very definite Islamic influence, Jerez’s skyline is  dominated by the many majestic Catholic buildings which have come to define the city. Chief amongst them is the monumental Cathedral, reached via a large sweeping staircase and combining both Baroque and Renaissance features. The interior is extravagantly decorated akin to many such cathedrals all over Spain, and its mighty Dome, centered over the main transept, is embellished with glorious bas-reliefs of the Evangelists and can be seen for miles around.

Jerez Cathedral

DSC06489DSC06504DSC06481DSC06499DSC06472DSC06522DSC06483DSC06512DSC06494DSC06516

But Jerez’s Cathedral is chief amongst many Catholic masterpieces peppered throughout the city, and had we not spent such a disproportionate time lolling joyfully in sherry bodegas and accompanying wine bars, we might have been able to visit extravagant church aplenty.

One highlight we did get to, and well worth the mention, were the serene Cloisters of Santo Domingo. With their perfectly balanced gothic arches framing a courtyard garden today used for events and performances, the cloisters offered a peaceful and cool retreat from the heat and bustle of Jerez and were, in many ways, more beautiful to behold than the Cathedral. While recent events meant that the central garden was full of piles of plastic chairs, for me and my camera, these chairs became a feature of artistic interest in themselves, adding interest to my snapshots of this most harmonious of catholic buildings.

The Cloisters of Santo Domingo

DSC06621DSC06622DSC06627DSC06609DSC06611DSC06623DSC06604DSC06608DSC06607

And with free entrance to boot, what better retreat for an aching head once the sherry tastings are over and out? 

© 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 // Jerez > Sherry Streets and Shady Squares

My second Folio presents Jerez, city of squares and fountains, cobbled streets and cosy quaint cafes. Few visitors to the city would deny that it is perfectly picturesque. Jerez conveys so much of what we tourists have come to think of as the archetype Spanish city that I wonder how it came to be that Jerez falls under the shadow of Seville, Cordoba and Granada. Such is the result of a region whose cities are each, in their own way, a spectacle. It’s like when you have an art gallery with walls crammed floor to ceiling with gems – there are so many masterpieces there, that you miss out on most in order to concentrate on just one or two.

DSC06796DSC06786DSC06662DSC06590DSC06674DSC06669DSC06544DSC06640DSC06638DSC06584

Determined that Jerez would be our focus on this occasion, we lost no time in exploring its consistently beautiful alleys and avenues. Cluttered with sherry-barrel bar tables, cafe umbrellas seeking in vain to keep out the heat, souvenir shops spilling onto sidewalks exhibiting polka dots aplenty, Jerez is nevertheless a city whose every facet appears to be perfectly ordered and camera ready. Building facades do not just crack – they age gracefully like a fading Hollywood star, while alongside them, sprawling palm tree leaves fan languidly and frame each image with their tropical elegance. In wide avenues, shops give way to wrought iron benches and potted flowers, while lamp posts twist and curve with avant garde excellence, and fountains compete with one another, sploshing and splashing their way across the city’s grandest squares.

DSC06586DSC06552DSC06631DSC06642DSC06587DSC06659DSC06658DSC06646DSC06649DSC06680

Jerez is a city built largely in beige. It is not terribly green, but instead its attraction translates from the sunny disposition of its golden facades and ancient marble finishings. Wandering from one square to the next, you will stumble across colonnades befitting the Florentine Renaissance, and extravagant Catholic iconography worthy of Rome. All this will run alongside the simplest of neighbourhood tapas bars, where flamenco guitarists play emotionally in the corner over lunch. Tired, lazy, but elegant in its languor, Jerez in the summer is a city which reflects its own sunshine; a place whose excesses of daytime heat are transmitted into the passion of its dance and music by night, and in the deep amber sparkle of its Sherry at all hours.

DSC06536DSC06794DSC06792DSC06553DSC06787DSC06666DSC06652DSC06585DSC06541DSC06532

© 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.