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Posts tagged ‘Journal’

Folio // Jerez > El Alcázar y su entorno

In putting together something of a Folio of images which capture the spirit of Jerez de la Frontera – the city of our current focus of The Daily Norm – I struggled to limit these to a single post. For lovers of Spain (like me), and in particular the visceral, emotionally impactful region of Andalucia (especially me), Jerez is a true exemplar. With its sherry bars, flamenco tablas, white washed houses and cobbled streets filled with barrel bar tables, grand fountains and grander women fanning themselves in the balmy shadows, a single shot from Jerez could be a postcard image for the whole region. So with the need to split my Folio in two, this first selection focuses in on the Alcázar and its surroundings. 


Any Andalucian city worth its salt will have an Alcázar or similar memorial to the region’s spectacular Moorish past. Rising in the 11th century, the Alcázar of Jerez bears all of the hallmarks of the time of Al Andaluz, with its horseshoe arches, trickling floor-level fountains, and a garden shaded with citrus trees and perfumed by jasmine. As per the intention of its Moorish creators, the gardens of these Arabic palaces are always the highlight of any visit, inviting the visitor into a slice of paradise on earth. Yet even this garden could not entice us in the 40+ degrees heat which coincided with our visit. No comfort could be found in the shade of those poor burning orange trees. We sought solace instead in the cavernous ancient baths with their blissfully darkened interiors and cool stone walls. 


Heat aside, there is no doubting the beauty of Jerez’s Alcázar. Being relatively simple in design and largely rebuilt, it is no match for the glories of Granada’s Alhambra, but it resonates with a similar atmosphere of tranquility and meticulous balance. Beyond its fortress walls, the ancient city unfolds, and intoned in the same butterscotch colours, Jerez’s great gothic Cathedral rises spectacularly into ever-blue skies, while just beyond, against a landscape of patchwork fields and windmills, the great weather vane of the nearby Gonzalez Byass bodegas tells of another fortress for the modern age, built of row upon row of French and American oak barrels, containing that priceless nectar: sherry. 


© 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 Sherry

From Cádiz, we move (not so swiftly) on to Jerez de la Frontera, a city a mere 30 minute drive from Cádiz, yet falling under no shadow but its own in the notoriety stakes. For Jerez is a city with its own story to tell, not least in respect of the alcoholic beverage which very much put the city on the map and which is named after an Anglicisation of Jerez itself – Sherry. While inherently synonymous with its deeply authentic Andalucian feel, by its flamenco tablas and its famous dancing horses, few can deny the starring role which the city’s globally-recognised fortified wine has to play. Indeed, upon alighting at Jerez’s decorative blue and white tiled station, the first thing we saw beyond the train platforms was a large pile of sherry barrels, while in the air, every so often, we were greeted by the unmistakable waft of wine-soaked oak.


Our visit to Jerez coincided with searing, desperately intense heat. It was like an inferno, and no shade nor fountain could provide relief from the roasting thrust of temperatures in the mid-40s. Yet relief was to be had, in the dark shady vaults and cellars of the sherry houses and ancient bodegas peppered all over town, providing additional temptation to spend several hours indulging in the city’s favourite nectar. While our first taste of the amber wine was the homemade brand – Bodega Casa del Marques – whose bodega adjoined our hotel (the Casa Palacio Jerezana) and where we had a very special one-to-one tasting with the proprietor on the night of our arrival, the second encounter was with easily the most recognisable sherry brands of them all – Tio Pepe.


With its charismatic logo, a bottle decked in red sombrero, matching jacket and guitar, Tio Pepe is just as common on a supermarket shelf in London as it is in Jerez. But in the Bodegas of Gonzales Byass (proprietors of the brand), we were able to appreciate like never before the scale of this global operation. Stretching across acres of land in the very centre of the city, the bodega tour (which owing to distance covered included a ride on a Tio Pepe-red trenino) was an education for even the most familiar of sherry connoisseurs. From mammoth vaults storing countless hundreds of wine-stained barrels, to shady courtyards covered with vines, the Bodega exhibited something of the unreal in its atmosphere of calm but industrious production imbued with a winey perfume and a debonnair flair. There was also plenty of proof that we were not alone in visiting this flagship bodega – barrels signed by countless celebrity visitors were in evidence across the site, including the signature of Margaret Thatcher, Prince Philip and Jean Cocteau.


A sherry connoisseur I cannot claim to be, so the tasting at the tour’s climax, with its introduction to the different grades of dry Finos and Manzanilla, complex Amontillado and Oloroso, rounded and nutty Palo Cortado and sweet Cream and Pedro Ximénez, was a true highlight. Dangerous though. Intoxicated by the heady mix of sherry varieties, the passage through the gift shop to the exit proved to be a taxing experience, something which had no doubt been planned by the tour organisers. But now that I am back in London, that swiftly purchased bottle of Palo Cortado has the immediate and tangible power to transform us back to those delightfully cool, intoxicating bodegas. The must-do destination of any visitor to Jerez. 


© 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 // Cádiz > Ascending Santa Cruz Cathedral

We continue our little tour of Cádiz, Spain’s maritime bastion, with something of a bird’s eye view, or as close as you can come to one in a city which, unusually for Spain, is pretty flat. This leavened geography is of course the result of the city’s seaside location, which is never more obvious than when seen from above – the deep blues of the ocean marking an omnipresent collaboration with Cádiz’s own sea of white washed houses and earthy beige rooftops. Affording us this view was one of two towers either side of the mighty facade of Cádiz’s iconic cathedral – the Catedral de Santa Cruz de Cádiz, whose ascent was happily assisted by the presence of a gently spiraling slope, rather than the usual steep staircase of hell characteristic of most bell towers.  This meant a relatively easy rise to the heady heights of the Cathedral rooftops, even in temperatures of 35c+.


Built in the city’s golden age of the 18th century with money resulting from the thriving new trade between Spain and the Americas, the Cathedral is an impressive focal point of the city. Presenting a mix of neoclassical and baroque elements, the Cathedral is nonetheless characterised by the simpler tiled domes which complete the edifice, and which seem more attuned to a Greek Orthodox church than a magnificent Catholic Cathedral. From the top of the bell tower, those domes were more visible than ever, and the child within me was thrilled as ever to be enjoying this unique perspective of the Cathedral, cracks, moss and all, and to be up where the birds nest, and where the small details of rooftop decoration became larger than life before our very eyes.


Visiting the Cathedral is a must of Cádiz, but those expecting a spectacular interior may be disappointed to find much of the inside given over to a museum, and the huge vaulting ceilings slowly deteriorating, falling plaster being caught by a web of unsightly nets. My tip is therefore to stay on the outside and ascend the bell towers for the city’s most unbeatable views. It’s the best way to appreciate the scale and magnificence of this iconic building, but likewise to take in Cadiz as a unified landscape, sprawling out beneath you, a city collective bustling with people… for whom the bell tolls.

© 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 // Cádiz > Idiosyncratic sea-ringed city

Every Spanish city has something unique in its character. In Seville, the essence of Andalucian vivacity pervades the air along with the sweet perfume of bitter oranges. In Barcelona, the hard lines of a modern city are massaged by the curves of art nouveau and the mosaics of Gaudi. Madrid is the regal, historical heart of a truly Spanish peninsula, while Bilbao feels altogether colder, more industrial but uniquely avant-garde. Cádiz is another of those highly individual urban spaces. It is at once truly Andaluz, with bursts of flamenco music sporadically enchanting the airwaves, and dry heat wafting up from pavements of hard stone and marble, but at the same time it feels different, hardened by an important maritime history, isolated by its solitary geography at the end of a narrow sand isthmus, eroded by winds, battered by foreign invasions.


There is a definite laziness about the city, especially in the summer. Squares sheltered by trees and attracting cafes alongside fountains are vital resting places for a population baked by soaring temperatures and battered by winds meeting from the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. But there is a defiance too – long narrow streets, with houses almost touching across the road, crowd in upon one another as though protecting the population from yet another invasion. Sometimes walking there it seemed like the streets would go on, unceasingly, for hundreds of metres, before they finally broke out into a pleasant leafy square or opened up onto the impressive facade of a church or historical mansion. 


Cádiz for me did not feel truly Spanish. Of course it exhibited elements of Andalucia, sharing characteristics of nearby Malaga, and other coastal towns. But Cadiz also exhibited a certain aloofness, an unwillingness to embrace, but to greet with a colder yet still welcome smile, as visitors are invited to unpeel the multiple layers of history in one of Europe’s longest occupied cities in order to find the true spirit of Cádiz beneath them all. 


© 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 // Cádiz > Bounteous Botany: Alice’s new Wonderland

What was I expecting of Cádiz, Andalucia’s strange, almost island city, set within ancient fortress walls on the Westernmost end of Spain’s Southern coast? Not this. I imagined a tough, worn-out yellow city, battered by the waves of the sea and of history; hardened edges, hardened people. I never even considered the softness that may lie within.

Yet  after a 3 hour bus journey, which took us through a landscape peppered with new power-generating windmills exhibiting something strangely melancholy, yet unique in the surrounding landscape, we arrived into a city which was very different from the Cádiz of my imaginings.  Yes, the city is substantially fortified, a facet of strength exhibited by its mighty domed Cathedral and tight narrow streets, large merchant palacios each built topped with solid stone towers. But what I wasn’t expecting was the greenery: the softening of those fortress edges with a bounteous outpouring of tropical botany and verdant greenery.


Almost all along the old fortress walls that encase the city you can stroll within the shelter and under the sun-dappled canopy of a multitude of trees set within gardens paved in a checkerboard effect of black and white. In the Jardines de Alameda Apodaca, there is a real sense of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland as you stride between the squares of black and white, pondering whether you are in fact part of an enigmatic chess game, the various sculptures and busts peppering the space providing the pieces… or are they the players? For the victor, what worthier prize than gardens abundant with flamingo pink bougainvillea, or those tree-framed views over the volatile ocean – a heady mix of blue punctuating the jungle of greens.


Make it safely through the garden’s game of chess, and the next space steps up the surreality of the experience one notch further. For in the Parque Genovés, you will truly start to wonder whether you have entered another Cádiz park, or into the warped imaginings of a garden genius. Possibly both. For here, a botanical garden is spruced up as though for a masquerade ball, with long pathways bordered by topiary plucked, trimmed and trained to form impressive twists, twirls and curving figures which take the ephemeral magic of this garden space to new levels. Alice had surely reached her Wonderland with this one.


A morning or an afternoon spent strolling through Cádiz’s gardens is an utterly fulfilling experience. Cádiz does not feel like a particularly fast-paced city, but in its gardens, things grind to a somniferous halt as the surreal shapes and near-claustrophobic intensity of the planting opens up another world of the imaginings. For something a little more bustling, head for the Plaza de Mina – a delightful shady park/square lined with little cafes and containing little antique kiosks which have been transformed variously into sweet shops and bookstores. Then there’s the Plaza Candelaria – another leafy plaza, where some of the city’s best restaurants can be found. But more about that another time.

© 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.

A Cretan Odyssey | Part 5 – Spinalonga, The Island of No Return

As my last few posts have hopefully demonstrated, the bay of Mirabello in Eastern Crete is every bit as beautiful as the name suggests. And yet its coastline, fractured by little spin-offs of mini mountain islands tracing the coast yet a water’s breadth apart, holds a darker, more ugly secret: Spinalonga. The name sounds like the setting for a fairy tale – a spindle perhaps, upon whose thorny point a princess pricks her finger. But this is no fairy island. It is a place which, up until as recently as 1957, was an island cut off from the mainland not just by sea but by law and stigma: it was the home of Crete’s leper colony, an exile for those afflicted with history’s most devastating illness.


Those of you who have read Victoria Hislop’s bestselling novel, The Island, will already know about Spinalonga. Once a fortified stronghold created by the Venetian occupiers of Crete and later taken over by the Ottomans, it was put to use as an island on which to keep leper suffers forcibly separated from the rest of society. Once diagnosed as having the condition, suffers would be flagrantly torn from their families and shipped off to the island. Few would ever leave it.

As Hislop describes, as the decades went on, Spinalonga went from an utterly savage backwater completely devoid of civilisation to a thriving little town in its own right fit with electricity, shops, a theatre, even a hairdresser. And when the discovery of a cure for leprosy meant that the island was finally abandoned in 1957, all of that civilisation was forsaken to the elements. It was in that state of utmost dilapidation that we found Spinalonga when we took a boat from nearby Eloundia to visit this most dejected of locations.


Barren, sun-roasted and rocky, the island on one side was little more than a fortified wall with stark cactus-filled cliffs. However turn landwards and amongst the rubble you could start to see the ghosts of former houses, their shutters half hanging on rusty hinges and their contents long since pillaged. Stone staircases were collapsed under the weight of fallen rubble and punctuated by weeds; the bare bones of wooden beams indicated where once a roof had stood. There is no doubting the feeling of melancholia and claustrophobia which pervades this small tumbledown space, yet few could deny the beauty which was also visible in the stark contrast between rubble and ramshackle, and the stunning turquoise seas which surround the island, and cut it off from the rest of the world.


We left Spinalonga utterly captivated by the historical significance and emotional impact of the leper island. You cannot escape the sadness which permeates the very fabric of this island of imprisonment and social rebuff. Yet across the Cretan winds, uplifted by the deep ultramarine blue of the island’s surroundings, there is the smallest hint of hope – for Spinalonga’s desertion indicated mankind’s dominance over a disease which had ravaged millions since the beginning of time. And that is surely a cause for celebration.

© 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.

A Cretan Odyssey | Part 4 – Nymph Beach and other wonders

When we had had our fill of our perfectly proportioned, utterly private pool (when that was possible – it actually amounted to being dragged away by the fear that we might otherwise be addressed as the kind of philistine pool-huggers who see nothing of the countries they visit on holiday) we only had to stroll 5 minutes down a little lemon and pomegranate tree lined lane to get to the beach. And what a beach it was. Utterly secluded, populated only by the small number of guests from a nearby hotel, a walk some 10 metres along the shingle shore meant complete privacy in waters as clear as Evian. We became accustomed to visiting the beach both first thing in the morning and in the dying light of day. On both occasions there was a tangible magic to the place as the sun, either in its rise or its descent, sent golden sparkles bouncing across the mirror-like waters. It felt mystical, as though Apollo, god of music and harmony, were present.


Characterised by its rocky promontory, the beach was cosy, enclosed, a safe harbour from winds and an utterly magical place to be. But the mere presence of that promontory had our explorer’s curiosity peeked, and it wasn’t long before we started expiring the cliff tops, an entire plateau covered with olive trees and harsh stones, an ancient biblical landscape tinged with the gold of the Cretan sunshine. We trekked through the landscape, unsure what we would find as the cliffs undulated down to the sea. What we never expected to discover was another beach. This one caught between the dramatic overlap of rocky outcrops and descending hills.


The beach was perfect. It was completely private. Not a sole around, no one in sight, apart from the mystery of a lone towel abandoned on the shore. That mystery was solved a few minutes later as a lady, perfectly toned, wonderfully naked, appeared on the horizon and glided steadily towards the shore. As she approached the edge of the beach she rose from the water, the sparkling sea sliding off her perfectly tanned and silky skin, and she reclined upon that same towel, almost oblivious to our presence. This was no human. Surely this was a nymph, so perfectly was her body adjusted to the molten waters of the bay.


We strongly felt that we had entered some kind of mystical place when we swam out away from the shore and came face to face with towering craggy cliffs backlit by the descending sun. Once again Apollo’s touch was here, and when we turned back to shore, no sign remained of the nymph, as though the apparition of her fleeting presence had dissipated into the heady evening air. But we never doubted her existence. Nor the magical moment of our visit to what we now know as Nymph Beach. I won’t tell you where it is. Only that it exists, ripe for discovery by those curious enough to find it.

© 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.

A Cretan Odyssey | Part 3 – The Paradise Pool on Mirabello Bay

The weather in Crete was peculiar for the summertime. We basked in sunshine most of the time, but always looming close by, like the sword of Damocles threatening to unload itself on our holiday, were dark clouds foretelling of dramatic thunder. Perhaps we should not have been surprised – Crete is the birthplace of Zeus after all, so why shouldn’t he be able to throw a thunderbolt or two down on his homeland, just for reasons of pure nostalgia? Hugging Poseidon’s coast seemed to protect us from Zeus’s sport, but as we drove deeper into the mountains, our encounter with storms was guaranteed. It was under one such dramatic downpour, and having traversed the island from Chania in the West to Agios Nikolaos in the East, that we arrived into the lush, humid valley of our new location near Istron. What we found there may have been wet (but perfumed by the utterly, verdantly fresh fragrance characteristic of post summer rain), but as we arrived at our villa and home for the remainder of our holiday, we knew that we had arrived in paradise.


A little self-contained house on two floors with lounges upstairs and down looked onto the most incredible views over Mirabello Bay. There was an indication of other villas nearby, but the lush vegetation meant we felt utterly secluded in this mountainous Elysium… and as we were to learn, the nearby villas were sparsely occupied. But best of all was our pool. 4 by 6 metres of joyous, turquoise happiness all to ourselves. We could swim by day, we could swim by night. It was like a painting by Hockney come alive for our sole and exclusive enjoyment.

Before we could even unpack our beachwear, we inflated our must-have flamingo inflatable, as well as his baby (niftily designed to hold a drink). Ian Flemingo, as he became known, was a welcome point of additional colour in a landscape which we gazed over in awestruck wonder every morning, lunch, night, dusk and dawn during the four days that followed. And when we had had enough of our pool (not that we ever truly could), it was a mere 5 minute stroll down the lane to the private beach of the swanky hotel in whose grounds our villa was located. The beach, like the valley, was like a mythical paradise to behold…but more about that another day. 


In the words of Coldplay, this was para…para…paradise, and the dazzling, sparkling cerulean rectangle of happiness that was our pool played centre-stage. 

© 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.

A Cretan Odyssey | Part 2 – Chania’s Labyrinth

Crete is an ancient land. Its very rocks breathe a thousand tales of nymphs and satyrs, of the birth of Zeus and the anger of Pasiphaë. But the most famous tale of all is spun from the endless twists and turns of the renowned labyrinth, built by master craftsman Daedalus to house the bloodthirsty Minotaur, bastard son of King Minos’ queen. There, somewhere in the labyrinthine grounds of the great Palace of Knossos, Ariadne spun her thread to lead Theseus out of the complex maze, but only after his bravery put the Minotaur to death. Today, there remain many theories about exactly what shape the labyrinth might have taken; some even suggest it was the Palace of Knossos itself. However, one things is certain in modern day Crete: head to the utterly quaint, twisting and convoluted streets of Chania’s old town, and you will feel like you have found the ancient relics of Daedalus’ mastery.


We adored Chania. How could it be otherwise? With cosy little streets, strung with canopies of the pinkest bougainvillea, offset against yellow, blue and dusky pink houses and white-edged cobbled streets, it is a town of picture-perfect quality. Everything about the archetype of postcard Greece is embodied here: the bright blue rickety wooden chairs set outside cafes and tavernas serving Greek salad on blue and white checked table clothes, wine in terracotta pitchers, and lazy cats strewn languidly across the streets in the afternoon sun. Unlike many places which have fallen foul of the ravages of tourism, Chania has upped its game. Its shops and restaurants are positively up-market; there is a real feeling of Capri town or the Amalfi Coast about this town. And our unbroken record of finding perfect eateries, night after night, only confirmed the consistent quality of the place.


So while Chania’s true highlight may be its dazzling Venetian harbour, just behind the front line of seaside houses, this maze of quaint alleyways will ensnare with equal charm. This is one labyrinth to enthusiastically get lost in. 

© 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.

A Cretan Odyssey | Part 1 – Chania’s Venetian Harbour

You’ll excuse the long absence of The Daily Norm from your inboxes and browsers: We’ve been on an adventure; an Odyssey if you like, to the birthplace of Zeus and the land of the entrapped Minotaur, haunt of Olympian gods and roaming mystical beasts. For as the year rolls on and the summer reaches a glorious pinnacle, our 2018 travels continue – we’re off to the delectable Greek island of Crete.

Laced with mythological connotations, imbued with the smell of wild oregano, and jangling to the sound of wild goats and the sea which swishes upon its mammoth mountainous coastline, Crete is one of the longest continuously inhabited and historically relevant of all European destinations, as well as one of the Southernmost located. Yet for our summer holiday, it provided all of the luxuries, the aesthetics and the charm that could possibly be required of a modern holiday. Daily Norm readers: I welcome you, to Crete.


We start our adventure in Crete’s second city: Chania. Sprawling along the coast on the North-Western side of the island, Chania doesn’t feel like a city at all when you’re nestled inside the ancient walls of its richly-encircled old town. The sensation is one of a quaint little village, with picturesque roaming streets winding steadily down to a waterfront which is the beating heart of the city.

This harbour, so called Venetian because of time of its construction under the dictate of La Serenissima, is understandably the focal point for the city. It is alive at all hours with the bustle of its bars and restaurants whose collective unity beguiles the visitor with a harmonious panoply of sun-drenched little buildings hugging the shore. It is a waterfront which sparkles and ripples as water bounces off the crystal clear sea and makes fun of the straight lines adjacent, and a place imbued with a historical ambience translated through the presence of ancient stone houses and cobbled pavements. But pulling focus on the harbour is undoubtedly the Küçük Hasan Pasha Mosque, a leftover from Ottoman rule, and which today looks like a perfectly balanced candy-pink blancmange which turns ever so butterscotch in the golden evening sun. 


We were lucky: our hotel room enjoyed the most stunning balcony views over this harbour, affording us the opportunity to revel in the changing faces of Chania’s ancient heart as it metamorphosed from slow and sleepy morning village to a bustling evening spectacle whose lights sparkled across the deep inky waters. We saw its colours dance vividly in the morning sun, and bathed in the golden light of early evening. And we breathed the deliriously fresh seawater perfume which pervaded the entire harbour, morning till night.

Chania’s Venetian harbour was the perfect way to commence our Cretan Odyssey, promising great things were in store from this island of plenty.


© 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.