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Posts tagged ‘Photography’

Oxford-v-Cambridge: Gardens of Eden

My post about the discovery of the secret garden of Peterhouse College in Cambridge will have left none of you in any doubt about my love for the gardens of Oxbridge. Be they less secret, the formal quads and extensive grounds of all the sprawling colleges are no less of a treat to behold. While my previous post concentrated on the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, today I’m focusing in on the gardens which transform those places of learning into havens of tranquility. How life studying in these flower-filled Edens must differ from the smog-filled campus of my London university!

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As is evident from the photos I am sharing, we visited when the gardens of both Oxford and Cambridge were at their floral best. While my visit to Oxford was earlier in the year, and therefore decorated with the happy nodding heads of yellow daffodils and cautiously opening blossom, by the time of our April trip to Cambridge, tulips were abundant in a panoply of ravishingly colour, while blossom trees seemed to test the limits of their own staggering colour as they exploded in shades of arresting fuchsia pink.  Sloping green lawns, many alongside rivers and waterways, lushly demonstrate Britain’s great love of green and pleasant pastures, while extensive oaks and willow trees suggested through age that they had born witness to many a famous student passing through these grounds.

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The presence of students quietly working in most of these gardens is evidence of their importance in providing the perfect level of concentration and tranquility to aid study and well-being. I only hope that study gives way to an unbridled appreciation of these magnificent grounds once the books are closed.

© 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.

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Oxford-v-Cambridge: Colleges in abundance

Oxford and Cambridge are university cities, and perhaps more than any other university cities in the world, their character and urban geography are dominated by their colleges. When I was young, it was always something of conundrum to get my head around: do Oxford and Cambridge have one respective university or many, and if the former, why are they split into so many smaller units? Yet those units, or colleges, are evidentially what make these universities so special, and famous. As a student applying for either university, the applicant applies for the prestige of the whole, but the particular specialism, history or atmosphere of the relevant college. And it is precisely that individual character belonging to each of Oxford and Cambridge’s colleges which makes strolling around them such a joy.

Cambridge colleges

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While Oxford feels like more of a living city beyond its colleges, Cambridge is very much a city which has grown around the confines of each respective college. This makes walking around the city almost maze-like, as you attempt to ascertain which passages are public and which privately college owned. Even in the colleges themselves, there is a clear hierarchy at work, as sections are cordoned off for the sole respective enjoyment of students, fellows and finally, the public. Yet even in the public parts, one gets a real and immediate sense of the very tangible history imbued by these colleges in all their ochre stonework and architectural mastery.

In both Oxford and Cambridge, I loved strolling around the colleges which dominate both cities. Collectively, they hold examples of almost every architectural style since the medieval period. Their gardens (for which a separate post will be shared) are stunningly cared for and places of the utmost tranquility. Their great dining halls ooze tradition and Hogwarts-esque formality, and their chapels are a veritable museum of exquisite stained glass and biblical artworks.

Oxford colleges

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I have not gone to the rather laborious task of labelling each of my photos in respect of their locations. Instead, I present something of a hodgepodge from each city. Amongst the Oxford photos are the colleges of Balliol, Christchurch, Trinity, Magdalen, Brasenose and New College. In Cambridge, you will see glimpses of Downing, Peterhouse, Sidney Sussex, Pembroke, Emmanuel and Corpus Christi amongst others. All combine to present these cities at their most beautiful and historical best – certainly worth visiting, even though, in some, an entry fee is very much a sign of more modern times.

A bit more of Cambridge

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© 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.

Oxford-v-Cambridge: Masterful Museums

Not all the nation’s artistic treasures are in London it seems. For Oxford and Cambridge play host to two of the most spectacular museums in the country. Both the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge hold stunning collections of art and antiquities which befit the learned character of their sponsor universities.

They are, in effect, like all the museums of London rolled into one, conveniently collected under one respective roof. Here, a plethora of ancient relics including treasures from ancient Syria, Egypt and Rome, sit alongside collections of art with a broad sweep across the ages, from Italian renaissance altarpieces to works by Edouard Manet and Pablo Picasso. They host temporary exhibitions so significant that they bring culture lovers from across the world to these alternative cultural capitals. And their collections are hosted in buildings so grand that they out-do some of the world’s most prominent palaces and museums.

Oxford’s Ashmolean

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It is on those buildings, and not the collections themselves, that this smaller set of photographs concentrates. Both buildings share a common theme, with ostentatiously grand classical facades imposing themselves upon the visitor with an immediate magnificence. Designed by Charles Cockerell in the 19th century, the yellow stone and marble mix of Oxdord’s Ashmoleon harmonise with the yellow colleges scattered about the city, but stands out for its unapologetic Palladion grandeur in amongst buildings fashioned out of medieval Britian.

The Fitzwilliam building was designed along similar lines, coincidentally with the contribution of the same architect, Charles Cockerell. It is whiter, grander almost from the outside, but here the real treasure is within – in an entrance hall of startling beauty, laced with gold, mosaic, stained glass and marble statutory, designed by Edward Middleton Barry and screaming with Victorian splendour. How can one choose between these two magnificent spectacles?

Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam

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My photos focus on that Fitzwilliam interior, and on the yellow-stone exterior of the Ashmoleon (the latter view being conveniently enjoyed from the windows of my hotel room!). To see the magnificent collections contained within… you must visit, as soon as you can!

© 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.

Oxford-v-Cambridge: Punting Pleasures

While the archetypal image of Oxford and Cambridge may be a gown-donned student, mortar-board on head, rushing around on a bicycle with a book under the arm, another is the slightly more tranquil pursuit of punting. Whether it be on the calm, narrow bends of the River Cam in Cambridge, or on the tranquil and bucolic waters of the River Cherwell in Oxford, punting in either city is the ideal way to experience their charms from a unique and consistently stunning viewpoint.

Punting in Oxford

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Much like taking a trip in a gondola in Venice, floating around on a punt is truly unique. Because the punt is traditionally a flat-bottomed boat designed for use in small rivers and shallow waters (hence the ability of the punter to steer the punt forwards by propelling a pole against the river bed), passengers enjoy the experience of lying back almost at the same level as the waters which immediately surround the punt, giving one the impression of skimming the surface of the water much like the ducks and swans which will invariably swim alongside you.

As these photos show, punting in either city is both a popular and a beautiful experience. Though in so far as the cities compete, I must give Oxford the gold medal in this race. For in Oxford I was able to punt relatively cheaply and with the tranquil luxury of having very few people around. By contrast, in Cambridge the cost was so exorbitant – and based on being ferried around in a shared punt with at least half a dozen others – that I decided to give punting a miss. One should never be made to punt with strangers. And probably just as well we gave it a miss, given the frequent collisions we bore witness to as the punts came around the narrow bends near St. John’s.

Punting in Cambridge

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But whether it be in Oxford, in Cambridge or in both, if you have the opportunity to indulge in a little punting, I urge you to do so. It’s so rare these days to have the chance to truly unwind, and watch the world around you from the unique and somniferous perspective of water.

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© 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.

Oxford-v-Cambridge: Paradise at Peterhouse

I continue my Oxbridge season with a focus in on one of the cities in particular, and on one of its colleges to be exact: Peterhouse College in Cambrige. The colleges of Cambridge are many, mighty and almost universally magnificent, and on our recent visit we spent  two days utterly engrossed in just a few of these historical gems. It would be hard to pick a favourite, such is the mix of architecture they offer, the grandeur of their halls and chapels, and the cosiness of the gardens and quads they all inevitably exhibit. However, one college which really struck me like a charmed arrow of Cupid was Peterhouse. This impact was not so much because of the college buildings (which were, by the way, quite stunning); but because of its gardens.

We caught a glimpse of the Peterhouse garden from inside the grand Fitzwilliam museum. We had just been having a look at the museum’s impressive collection of art, including impressionist masterpieces by the likes of Sisley and Whistler. It was perhaps with those paintings imprinted on my mind’s eye that, when through the filter of a blind I saw a paradise garden of wild flowers and picnicking students through a series of windows forming a backdrop to the museum’s collection of antiquities, I naturally assumed that the view was some kind of manmade projection of a painting. It was only when I blinked again that I realised that the garden was real, and we set about trying to find it.

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Like all promises of paradise, this one was not an easy find. A walk around the museum’s perimeter met with several dead ends against frustratingly impenetrable high brick walls. Then when we entered the grounds of Peterhouse next door, we were met only with a couple of small carefully manicured courtyards. It was only when, at the dark end of a small corridor, we saw an old wooden door, that our curiosity was peaked, and we tried the old antique latch appended to the timbers. The door opened, and like the entrance onto a fairy-tale, a magical, golden light seeped through. Ducking to pass through the 5ft (or lower) door, like Alice walking into her Wonderland having grown big on “eat me” treats, we came across a winding path which led, as if by magic, to that very same floral paradise we had glimpsed from the museum. We had found our paradise garden.

These photos don’t do justice to the true ensnaring wonder of that place, although they go some way to express the extent of floral wonder which met us in that sun-filled Elysium. Long grasses, wild flowers, bees and butterflies created a scene straight from a nursery rhyme. And just in case we suspected that we had somehow become lost in the pages of that same otherworldly tale, small smatterings of students sat within the grass, revising and chatting quietly before us, as though to prove that the place was real. It was like a painted Arcadia, a land where only happiness could pervade.

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Sadly the passing of time meant that we had to leave this heavenly place soon after discovering it. But now we know where to find it, our return will be all the sweeter…if, of course, it turns out that this wonderland was real after all, and not just a figment of our wildest imagination.

© 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.

Oxford-v-Cambridge: Gargoyles and Gothic

The Daily Norm has been off air of late. The Norms have been busy blobbing their gelatinous way through the winter, and I have been doing likewise, although hopefully with less blob and more muscle (I live in hope). Finally the months of darkness seem to have come to an end, as I start to enjoy my home in hours of daylight, and gradually strip off multiple layers of scarfs and other winter accoutrements. While the onset of Summer means that an exciting array of travels are due, I have been exercising something of the fashionable “Staycation” of late, starting with two of England’s most attractive and famous cities… Oxford and Cambridge.

Renowned of course for hosting two of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities, the cities of Oxford and Cambridge (collectively labelled with the epithet “Oxbridge”) tend to engender a staunch form of loyalty for one city over the other. Whether it be because of a family connection, their own studies, a historical reason or a traditional choice in the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race, partiality for either of the cities can lead to strong emotions and the kind of alacrity held by football fans for their club. I must admit that I have tended to waver in my favouritism. While my Sister has connections with Oxford, I have found myself almost subconsciously  drawn to the light blues of Cambridge. So with the weather at its Spring time best as Winter faded away from these Isles, I took the opportunity to explore both cities afresh, to settle my preference once and for all.

Oxford Gargoyles

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Both stays have enabled me to conclude one thing for definite: that Oxford and Cambridge, so rich in historical significance and architectural splendour, are true beauties to behold. With their predominantly yellow stone and wealth of architectural styles dominating their respective cities with barely a modern intervention to spoil them, the university buildings of both cities are stunning. Seen against blue skies, they create a vision of very English magnificence, but also import a range of styles from Italian baroque to Palladian Neo-classicim.

Cambridge Gothic

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In the first of a series of posts in which I aim to share my photographs of Oxbridge, I am starting with a look at some of the Medieval and Gothic features which characterise both cities. These photos in turn concentrate on some of the lovable creatures which are most dominant in Oxford especially – the gargoyles, features which the recent tragic fire at Paris’ Notre Dame remind us are treasures of a bygone age, which should be admired and never missed, despite their characteristic timidity, hidden among the eaves, the roofs and the windows of buildings which easily overshadow them.

© 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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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… 🙂

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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.