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Posts tagged ‘Prague’

2014: My year in photos

It has become something of a tradition on The Daily Norm to spend the last day of the year looking back at photos capturing the 364 days before it, reflecting on all of the splendid and captivating sights which have made up the year. And perhaps more than any other that has gone before, 2014 has been a year which the camera has loved. For when I look back at my photos of the last 12 months, I am met with an overwhelming body of diverse and beautiful shots which encapsulate a year overflowing with incredible sights and experiences.

I count myself very lucky to have seen and experienced all that has passed in a single year. From the quaint dark streets of Barcelona in February, my travels took me to the incredibly unique medieval citadel of Dubrovnik, the jaw-droppingly beautiful Amalfi Coast (including Positano, Ravello and Capri), the inspiringly-vertiginous mountain town of Ronda in Southern Spain, the vine-rich planes of coastal Tuscany, the floral festival of Pilar in Zaragoza, and the much applauded Czechoslovakian beauty that is Prague. And travels asides, it was the year when I held my first solo art exhibition in 6 years – a huge amount of work which dominated the first half of the year, but a wonderfully satisfying artistic and commercial success which will mark out this year as a creatively significant one.

The famous clock of Capri's main piazza

The ultimate ripples, Palma de Mallorca

Paradise on earth - Capri

Floral walkway, Positano

Colour profile, Marbella

Grape harvest in Castagneto Carducci

Beach umbrellas, Positano

However, appearances can be misleading, and when I look back on these photos, in particular those taken while travelling around Europe, I remember those holidays as escapes into unreality, moments of happiness snatched and nourished in between a stark reality which was becoming more and more difficult to endure. Once my exhibition was over, I found myself faced with a career which failed to inspire me, a city which made life a daily grind, and my partner feeling increasingly depressed for the same reasons. And it was this realisation, and a very unique opportunity that came from it, which triggered perhaps the most significant of all experiences that 2014 brought: our move to Mallorca. A life changer on so many levels; a bundle of new experiences which have only just begun.

And so it is sitting here in sunny Mallorca that I make this review, delightedly gathering up my memories of the year full of the positivity which has accompanied our move to a new life in Spain. Fast forward 365 days, and I look forward to telling you all about it.

Happy New Year to you all!

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.

Prague (Part 6): Photoblog Epilogue

My closing photographic miscellany of my series of Prague posts is all about variety. From crunchy caramelised pretzels, hung out on cafe table to further tempt diners, and a troop of soldiers, dressed up in baby blue, to spooky looking decapitated dolls and a stack of dusty old film reels on a staircase in the Golden Lane, this is a selection of photos that bear no common thread other than the fact that they are some of the smaller little details that can be found in the capital of the Czech Republic.

Amongst the shots on show are what have become something of a staple in my photographic oeuvre: street lamps aplenty and reflections in glass; fancy ironwork and keyholes, and shadows cast onto a sunny wall. But here too are some of the more typical views which a tourist may seek to capture on their handheld: the unbroken expanse of the grand Wenceslas Square and the astronomical clock set upon the face of the old town hall tower, its moving apostles and little model bell-tollers delighting tourists on the hour, every hour.

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And so with this post, I bid my farewell to Prague. My experience of the city was not always great – the feeling that I was more of a nuisance to locals than a welcome guest always pervaded my experience leaving me slightly on edge and unable to enjoy the city to the full. But there’s no denying the rich historical beauty which the city exudes from its every glamourous feature and facade, and for that alone, it’s worth the trip.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.

Prague (Part 5): City of a Thousand Spires

They call Prague the city of a thousand spires, and while I’m sure that a thousand may be a slight exaggeration, it’s probably not too far from the truth. For Prague’s skyline is like a venerable jewellery box of glinting treasures: tall spires, small spires, fat spires and ornate spires; cupolas embellished in gold, and turrets laced with ornate iron work. Some are grey and others the warm terracotta which populates most of Prague’s rooftops; but perhaps the most common are those copper spires, whose metal has turned a pleasing shade of aquamarine. Set amongst this sea of variously shaped ornaments are the baroque treasures which yesterday’s post explored; and so in any one square metre of the city, you may have a delicious overlap of a dome, several spires, gold details, copper coloured tiles, a blackened statue, and a slightly cleaner one – in other words a feast for the eyes.

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It is in an attempt to serve that banquet of architectural delicacies up into manageable bite-size pieces that I devote a whole post on today’s Daily Norm to the seductive skyline ofPrague. For while the city at ground level, with its tourist hoards and stag parties may do your head in, keep on looking up and you may well find that Prague fairytale that all the guidebooks have promised you.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.

Prague (Part 4): Baroque Brilliance and a Stained Glass Symphony

Having spent my first day in Prague thoroughly put out at the bad customer service, the horrendous gangs of British stag parties cluttering up the best squares and cafes, and the poor state into which the city has so often been left to decline, I started my second day afresh, determined to focus on the beauty for which the city is otherwise famed. For you don’t need to look far beyond the tourist hoards and the badly serviced cafés to find what everyone is making all the fuss about: a city filled with beautiful bubbling baroque sculptures, elegant architectural amplifications, pastel coloured building facades and a skyline littered with turrets and cupolas of every shape and size.

While last week’s photo post concentrated on the art nouveau which replaced vast swathes of the “new” town and Jewish Quarter at the turn of the 20th century, today’s turns more to the predominant feature of the city – the endlessly extravagant, unapologetically dramatic artistic showpiece that is the Baroque.

And it is everywhere. Perhaps the most famous sight of the city’s baroque virtuosity is the Charles Bridge. This pedestrianised bridge harks from the 14th century, and is a mecca for tourists and street musicians, artists and souvenir sellers; and there is little surprise why that may be. For on each of its 30 pillars stands a statue so superbly executed in the baroque fashion that it is more than rival for the Ponte Sant’Angelo in Rome, whose Bernini sculptures this collection was intended to emulate. With depictions ranging from the patron saint of the city, St Wenceslas, to a 17th century crucifixion adorned by hebrew words forcibly paid for by a Jew as punishment for blasphemy, the bridge is an art gallery to some of history’s best sculpture. It’s just a shame they are all too filthy to be properly appreciated. Yet two of the sculptures in particular are in need of less cleaning, so polished are they by the hands of tourists who touch them repeatedly in the hope of the luck they may bring.

The Charles Bridge

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We resisted touching the sculptures – the queues to do so would have taken up half the day after all, and instead crossed over the bridge to the area of Prague they call “the Little Quarter”. The Little Quarter (Mala Strana) is indeed quite little in terms of scale compared with the grander “new town” across the Charles Bridge with its multi-storey classical faces and gilded theatres and boulevards. Here, the streets are all together more charming, with shorter pastel coloured buildings, cobbles and even little canals which separate the mainland from the little Kampa Island. There in turn are little relaxed gardens from which views of the city can be caught from shady benches, and beyond those, small cobbled squares are gently decaying as their paint flakes away and the whole place feels laid back and somniferous.

But amongst those small streets is one building which certainly does not match the title “Little”. For with its imposing great dome and matching campanile, the Church of St Nicholas is no shrinking violet. Rather, it is the next stop on the tour of baroque jems, for as the baroque goes, it doesn’t get much more extravagant that this church. Built by father and son architects Christoph and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer, Prague’s greatest exponents of the High Baroque, the church is filled with an outlandishly extravagant array of excessive decoration, with gold capitals, marble pillars, great towering statues of popes and bishops, and cherubs everywhere you look filling the space. Although amusingly enough, scratch beneath the surface of all this opulence and you notice that much of it is mere theatre: the marble pillars are actually painted plaster; the gilded details simply painted gold. But then wasn’t the baroque all about the first stunning moment of theatre, when your breath is audibly taken away by the magnificence of the scene created?

The baroque spectacle of St Nicholas’ Church

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And talking of theatre, we couldn’t help noticing the latest Chinese craze of wedding couples getting married in China and then travelling to Europe to photograph themselves in full wedding regalia in front of some of Europe’s most famous monuments. We saw this couple all over prague – wherever we went, so did they, and their camera, their photographer and their make-up team…

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As the day went on, we felt ourselves becoming steadily baroque-saturated, and as the sun made its daily passage across the skies, it was to Prague Castle where we ascended, the great complex of royal palaces and the city’s main cathedral, St Vitus, and it was there where we laid witness to what must be one of the city’s greatest artistic treasures of all – its stained glass windows. When you walk into St Vitus (having queued like us for almost an hour to get tickets from the ridiculously inefficient ticket desk), you are almost overcome by the coloured light that fills the place. For in each of the cathedral’s large windows is stained glass in a panoply of colours, and depicting scenes of stunning detail which is just brought alive by the light shining through it, projecting the image like in a cinema across the imposing stone interior.

Stained glass symphony

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My favourite of all the windows has to be that designed by famous Czech art nouveau artist Mucha towards the end of his life, and many of the photos here feature that brilliant design. But here too are a selection of the other windows, both old and new, all exhibiting a kaleidoscope of colour which was incredible to behold. But just in case we had forgotten it, the trusty Baroque made sure that it had its day inside the cathedral as well, as these photos of the sensational royal mausoleum of Ferdinand I, and the opulent tomb of St John Nepomok aptly demonstrate.

Mucha’s window

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St Vitus’ baroque

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.

Prague (Part 3): Buddha-Bar Chic and delectable places to eat

When a city trip is turning into something of a damp squib and you’ve realised you should have brought a winter coat despite its being late summer, sometimes all you need is a little luxury to make things right again. When the squares and museums are packed to the rafters with no-budge tourists and the cafes are full of larger-lout British stag parties, it’s the escape to the finer side of things that will put a smile back on your face. And so it was, when my partner and I ventured recently to Prague in the Czech Republic, that ever optimistic of having a happy holiday experience, we were able to turn round the somewhat disappointing experience of an ever so cold, damp weekend in tourist-packed Prague into two nights of luxurious hedonism, thanks to the hotel where we were staying, and some of the great restaurants we were lucky enough to find during the trip.

Our hotel of choice was the 5 star Buddha Bar hotel situated a few minutes from the centre of Prague’s Old Town. Being what it suggests on the tin – a concept hotel with a strongly oriental-influenced twist – it was an unusual choice for us. We love chic little boutique hotels, but I would usually go for something that at least resembled the local culture. But Buddha Bar are a long established brand that stands for the quintessence of cool: of dark chic surroundings, of sumptuous self-indulgent luxuries, all pulled together by the classic asian-inspired lounge-bar melodies of the famous Buddha bar soundtrack. Consequently when I discovered that there was a hotel of the brand so well situated in Prague, and probably half the price what a 5 star would cost in capital cities elsewhere, I was seduced and decided to take the plunge into the orient. And I’m so glad we did.

Our room at the Buddha Bar Hotel

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In our luxuriously pampered room, every detail had been taken care of. On the wall, a Bang & Olufsen TV pumped out a selection of Buddha Bar groves through expertly mastered surround sound speakers extending to all parts of our room. In our extensive bathroom, a free standing bath benefitted from its own dedicated TV, floor to ceiling windows overlooking Prague, and remote controlled electric blinds should you prefer a little privacy from amongst your bubbles; while the his and hers sinks were accompanied by a panoply of l’Occitane branded bath products. In the bedroom, an indulgently soft bed was plied high with luxurious throws and cushions, while beside it, a seating area already came fully stocked with gifts of chocolate and a complementary cocktail each – the perfect antidote to the tourist scrum outside. Meanwhile, across the room, on the surfaces and alongside notes and information booklets, little fresh orchids had been delicately placed – the height in attention to detail, which followed through to the whole hotel experience.

For beyond our room, the hotel of course enjoyed its own Buddha Bar restaurant, a large cavernous place camped up with a huge oversized golden Buddha around which densely candlelit tables glittered in an otherwise dark and seductive atmosphere. We enjoyed an abundance of creative sushi whose innovative flavour combinations buzzed and zinged in a way that the bog standard California role could never hope to replicate. Meanwhile upstairs, a daily breakfast combining buffet treats and a choice of hot dishes always came accompanied with a glass of chilled prosecco. Now that’s my kind of breakfast.

The Buddha Bar restaurant – images courtesy of www.buddhabarhotelprague.com

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But of course we had to leave the hotel sometimes, and when sightseeing got too much, we managed to find two equally exquisite restaurants in which to enjoy the classier side of life. The first, a discovery quite by accident, was Zdenek’s Oyster Bar, an exceptionally chic little place, filled with brass fittings and lamps made from champagne bottles, that more closely resembled an upmarket Parisian bistro than a traditional Czech eatery. Being as Prague is very much inland, we were at first sceptical of a seafood restaurant in the heart of the city, but our doubts were put to rest by a main of succulent grilled prawns in a creamy sweet peppery rich sauce, with buttery toasted brioche served to be dipped into the tasty liquor. Never have I lavished so enthusiastically over a dish of prawns. I was completely won over on the one dish alone, let alone the other details which made the meal so special – an oyster shell filled with creamy salted butter; delicious crisp local white wine, and steaming muscles each ripe and juicy and a joy to eat.

Zdenek’s Oyster Bar

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The second of our restaurant successes was likewise a departure from the Czech theme – this time George Prime Steak, which was less traditional steak house than a high class boudoir decked out with highly polished chrome and black lacquer interiors all made to sparkle with modern chandeliers and low lighting. The only real nod to America was the extensive Californian wine list, one of which we enjoyed to the full, despite the waiters leaving the bottle on a far away table and then neglecting to refill our often empty glasses. But they can be forgiven – for the real star of the show was the steak. We opted for fillet which, they told us, was fried in temperatures so hot that it immediately caramelised the outside into a rich sweet crust – a delectable exterior encasing soft tender flesh. It was almost certainly one of the best steaks I have ever eaten.

My only drunken picture of George Prime Steak’s opulent interior…

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But we were in the Czech republic after all, and my final nod of this post has to go to what must be my favourite aspect of Prague gastronomy – the multi layered Czech honey cake “Medovnik”. Without looking at a recipe, I can only guess that this cake comprised thin layers of honeyed sponge interlaid with a honey and gently spiced gingery, cinnamon cream. Oh it was truly to die for, hence why I must have eaten around 5 slices before the trip was out. Now that really was worth fighting the tourist scrum for.

and that honey cake to die for

medovnik

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.

Prague (Part 2): Photo focus – An ode to Art Nouveau

Yesterday I had a good old moan about Prague – its lack of customer service; the hideous proliferation of British loutish stag parties (for which all of England should be ashamed); and the general state of decline which much of its treasures have been left to fall into. And yet, while I stand by everything I said in that post, the fact remains that Prague is an unusually beautiful city, unusual to the extent that its architectural treasures are consistently spread, and barely interrupted by even the slightest hint of modernity. Indeed, unlike so many European cities which have been rendered patchy or obliterated in their entirety by the ravages of 20th century warfare, Prague is a city of architectural constancy, with street after street boasting beautifully intact period architecture full of embellished details, pointed roofs, gold leaf and pastel coloured facades.

Of the many architectural styles on offer, one of the most prominent and surely most beautiful is Prague’s wealth of art nouveau. It’s everywhere: up the grand central boulevard comprising Wenceslas Square; adorning the outside of the Hotel Central and the central railway station; in the elegant tiled and painted frescoes on apartment block facades; and of course in the artwork of the much famed Czech-born artist Mucha, whose flamboyantly graceful posters of theatre stars and society icons were the very quintessence of the art nouveau style. According to my guidebook, the reason why there is such a proliferation of art nouveau in Prague is for the simple reason that whole swathes of the city were demolished and rebuilt at the very time when the style was in its ascendancy, and the result is streets crammed full of the elegant curved lines and aesthetically perfect adornments which characterise the period.

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As if it weren’t obvious already, Prague’s art nouveau and similar architectural embellishments are the subject of this first photo-focus post arising out of my recent Prague trip, and should give you an excellent idea of the variety and extent of art nouveau offerings in the Czech capital. And these are only the features I noticed. For in the course of concentrating on finding my way around the city, I would so often forget to look up to note the detailed embellishments which pepper the buildings, especially further up near the top of the elegantly crafted facades, and consequently I have surely missed many of the city’s great gems. But those I did see proved highly satisfying, along with a visit to the Mucha museum featuring some 100 or so posters, paintings and sketches by the great artist. His work is not to all tastes – it’s surely the height of chocolate box prettiness – but it remains, in my view, the very archetype of an era when beauty and elegance were at the forefront of everyone’s imaginations. If only the same could be said of today.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.

Prague (Part 1): Iron behind the Velvet Curtain

When you mention the Czech city of Prague to anyone, their eyes turn a little gooey as a child’s might before a sparkling Christmas tree. They will tell you about the beauty of the architecture, “like a fairytale” they say. They will extol the baroque virtues of the Charles Bridge, and recount memories of evenings drinking local beers in the great Old Town square. And perhaps I will remember Prague for a city of fantastical beauty – which it surely is – when I look back on the place in years to come. But now, freshly returned from this capital city of the Czech Republic, another more overriding sensation of disappointment dominates.

Disappointment because in Prague I did not feel welcome by the locals, whose complete lack of customer service caused me to feel on edge, and sometimes angry throughout my stay. Disappointment because the beauty of the city was constantly polluted by the sound (and sight) of drunk English stag parties collapsing all over the cobbled squares of the old town, dressed in t-shirts carrying loutish slogans and indecent images, their rowdy conversations following a similar vibe. Disappointment because, despite what is indeed a town with all of the ingredients of beauty, the Czechs have allowed it to fall woefully into decline. Case in point: the statues and lamps on the Charles Bridge, covered with cobwebs, looking as though they last received a clean close to the time when they were first installed, so darkened by dirty and pollution that you can barely make out their features; or what about the graffiti littering the streets of the old town – that was not something which featured in the fairytales I read when I was a child.

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It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what has gone wrong in Prague. On the one hand it’s surely a symptom of the city being ravaged by tourism. The squares and streets of the old town, the Charles Bridge and the Prague Castle area are so overrun by tourists that the local businesses and attractions and the people who work in them have become complacent, and worse: irritable. Perhaps it was the consequence of visiting the city near the end of the summer high season, but in almost every attraction we visited, we received attitude from the staff, who tutted when asked a simple question, and made it clear that being asked where the entrance was, or where the gift shop is was far too much of a hassle for them to answer.

In the cafes we received a similar reception. In one café on the main square, we asked the waitress, who demanded we pay upon ordering and took a 15% tip upfront out of our change, to bring us milk for our coffee. 5 minutes later, no milk. We asked again. Another 5 minutes past. No milk. On the third time of asking, she cleared a dirty table next to ours, took the half-used dirty milk jug from the table and deposited it on our table. Looking at her in disbelief, we asked for fresh milk. She went away and 5 minutes later brought us back two capsules of long-life milk. Was she having a joke at our expense? We were in no mood to laugh and left. Our still black coffee had gone cold by then in any event.

The famous Charles Bridge in need of a clean-up

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Of course it could be that the Czechs are thoroughly fed up with tourists, and not least the English, the nationality which tends to comprise the majority of the drunken babble of stag-do parties which have imposed their anti-social egocentric beer-soaked weekend brawls on the city. That inexcusable arrogance is shameful for England, and a complete impediment on decent tourists from enjoying the sights nearby. But I am not a drunken English “stag” – I am a polite enthusiastic visitor. Why treat me with such disdain?

The second possible reason for the attitude of the Czechs is revealed when you scratch just slightly beneath the surface and wander out of the old town. Beyond the velvet curtain – the showpiece that is Prague’s historical tourist centre – is a jarring throwback to reality. A reminder that only one generation back this city, like the whole country, was firmly ensconced behind the iron curtain of Communism – a period of hardship which still appears to rub off on generations of Czechs, and perhaps feeds their general attitudes and behaviours today. In the area of the National Gallery’s modern art museum for example, you can still find huge geometric monuments to the Communist era set alongside wide industrialised roads and ugly concrete bridges, now largely the haunt of the homeless. The art museum itself is set within a vast Communist building, the Veletrzni palac, with all of the characteristics of concrete pre-fab architecture which we have come to associate with the era.

Throwback to Communism

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But heading inside that slight intimidating Community palace, I found a collection of art so incredible that my previous disillusionment with the city was completely suspended. In amongst a collection of Czech contemporary art was a platform for innovative expression almost without comparison in the art of so many other countries during that time. Jan Zrzavy’s painting of Cleopatra, for all its simplicity and vibrancy of colour was a complete masterpiece, while the work of Mikulas Medek with a family ripping apart their dinner was at once unsettling and uncompromisingly aggressive as it was utterly captivating and brilliant. I adored Bohumil Kubista’s cubist rendition of Saint Sebastian and couldn’t get enough of the odd Klimt and Schiele on show. But beyond these excellent works, the museum also contains some absolute gems of late 19th and early 20th century art: a whole room full of Picassos, works by Gauguin and Rousseau and Toulouse Lautrec. A Ferdinand Leger and several Cézannes – a superb collection almost hidden away in these depressing still suppressed suburbs of the city.

Artworks from the collection of the National Gallery

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Which just goes to show that sometimes the best of a city can be found where the tourists do not go, where the scenery may be bleaker, but history is richer and the environment more authentic. Away from the tourist masses, the raw reality of Prague’s chequered history packs a bigger punch, but it is not allayed by the frustrations which are inherent with the tourist industry. Instead we find a Prague recently free of the iron shackles by which it was bound for several hard decades in the mid 20th century; reminders of hardship and the reasons why its citizens are perhaps not so friendly as we might otherwise expect. But there also you can find a truer Prague, a real city, and in its midst’s, an art collection worth travelling to Prague for.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.