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Posts tagged ‘Travel’

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part V: Lakeside in Garda

It’s something of a contradiction in terms, that two Gentlemen in Verona were not in Verona at all, but should have ventured swiftly onwards to Italy’s great Lake Garda. However, the location of this mountain-locked beauty is comfortably close to Verona, and a mere 30 minute’s train ride transmitted us in a frictionless trajectory to the still waters of Garda, and to the idyllic town of Sirmione, the Lake’s most popular destination.

I’m no lover of tourist hot-spots, but it’s easy to see why Sirmione is visited by millions and the beloved of many. With it’s fairy-tale like Scaligero Castle marking the town’s entrance, and a quaint little historical centre all set upon a slender little peninsular jutting out into the lake, Sirmione is veritable honeypot of Italian charm, and the perfect location for gelato, lemon-flavoured treats and an aperol spritz aplenty.


I first wanted to see Garda when we saw the utterly mesmerising scenes of young love being played out on its shores in Call Me By Your Name (2017), which I have long proclaimed to be the best film ever made. The protagonists, Oliver and Elio, are not there for long. Accompanying Elio’s father to unearth the discovery of an ancient sculpture found on the bed of the lake, there is a beautiful scene when all three go for a swim amongst the grasses and reeds which give this wide expanse of water the nature of a lake rather than the sea which it otherwise resembles. As we arrived near Sirmione we saw those same lush reeds and grasses, and the presence of ducks and swans marked this out as a freshwater paradise, with a tranquility most unlike the sea.


A second signposting to Garda was the ravishing book, The Land Where Lemons Grow, in which author Helena Attlee expertly guides the reader through Italy’s most historically and currently significant citrus growing spots. The atmosphere she conjured with her descriptions of lemon growth on the shores of Lake Garda had me dreaming of the lake long before I went there. Once alongside Garda, I reveled in a panoply of lemon-infused products to mark our arrival in this wonderful place, a lemon-cream filled cannolo being chief among these guilty pleasures.


Our trip to Lake Garda lived up to both film, and book. We left knowing that this one visit was a mere lemon-filled taster, and that one day we will return. For now, as we ventured back to Verona, these Two Gentlemen felt fully at home, as the city of love and style and Italian chic welcomed us back for one evening more… to drink Valpolicella amongst the people of the Piazza della Erbe, and to stroll in the marble-paved streets of the Romans that went before us.

© 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.


Folio // Verona – The View from the Top

There’s nothing quite like the experience of viewing a city from above. In a single sweeping 360 degree motion, you can admire an entire landscape sweeping out before you, appreciating its scale and geography, but all seen from above. From the perspective reserved for those with wings, it’s possible to feel almost superhuman (and as those with vertigo will tell you, a little sick too) as you gaze down upon a city’s every day life unfolding while you, from on high, are like deity gazing down upon your subjects.


It was no surprise to us that Verona, a city so magnificent from up close, would be equally as beautiful from the top of the Torre dei Lamberti. And as the city’s tallest tower at some 272 feet high, you are guaranteed a truly commanding view if you make it to the top. From there, the city’s grey marble streets and yellow and auburn palazzos became dominated by a sea of terracotta roofs, all apart from the striking semi-circular form of the ancient arena, and the sweeping green like snake of the river, twisting its way around the peninsular of the city’s ancient heart. Best of all were the proximate views the tower afforded of the nearby Piazza delle Erbe and the stunning statuary atop the Palazzo Maffei. Who would have known, from the Piazza down below, what incredible detail lies hidden within the folds and undulations of those wonderful depictions of ancient deity.


Seen from above, Verona shared a new perspective of its indisputable beauty, reasserting why it remains the favourite city of literature lovers and true romantics everywhere, whatever the angle of their admirable glances.

© 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.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part IV: Four Churches which Enchanted Us

“There are four main churches in Verona”, our hostess told us, “and you must visit them all.” Not two Gentlemen to take advice lightly, we decided we had better do just that. And so in their turn we visited the four principal churches of the city – Sant’Anastasia, San Fermo, the Duomo and San Zeno (although when viewed from the hilly city surroundings, we could see that Verona, peppered with spires, is host to more than four).

A combined visitors ticket made access to the spiritual quartet an easy endeavour, and once we had been inside the first – Sant’Anastasia – we were hungry to see them all. With its soaring vaulting ceilings frescoed in delicate bouquets of floral motifs, and harbouring the famous fresco of Saint George by Pisanello (which you’ll have to strain your neck to see), Sant’Anastasia made for an impressive beginning. The church had a tangible luminosity which bounced off its high ceilings and the walls adorned with devotional masterpieces. However it was the small details which enchanted the most, chief among them the holy water fonts, or hunchbacks, whose faces contorted with pain are said to represent the fact that the people of Verona were brought almost to their knees by the massive undertaking of constructing this church. Looking at the scale of the place, I can quite imagine why.



A short stroll away saw us arriving at the second, and I suppose you should say the most important church of the lot – the Duomo. After Sant’Anastasia, the interior, while beautiful, did not impress us as much. That was the preserve of the exterior, whose delightful striped facade made for a truly beautiful sight when offset against the Veronese blue sky, while the huge mythological griffins which hold up enormous columns either side of the main entrance portico lent a true grandiosity to the building. A further highlight deserving of a mention is the Baptistery’s stunning octagonal font. Rendered from a single block of Veronese marble, it is aptly considered to be a masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture and with good reason. Its scenes of expressive high-relief figures were joyous to behold, bursting to life in their narrative of the birth and baptism of Jesus and the many hurdles along the way.

The Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta


After lunch and a stroll through the Giardino Giusti, we took in our third church on the way back to our apartment. San Fermo is all about the ceiling. Ancient though it may be, the extraordinary multi-arched wooden construction is punctuated by an even more impressive collection of some 416 portraits of saints. It was time again to strain the neck to appreciate them, although the scale of work meant this short-term discomfort was well worth it, just to pay homage to the unknown artist whose ingenuity created them. 

San Fermo


Our fourth and final visit came the following day, when Saturday meant that our visit coincided with a big fat fluffy wedding. While this meant for a rather glamorous spectacle as the church of San Zeno was given over to a vision of bridal beauty and the admiration of all, it did mean that we were unable to get close and personal with all of the ancient masterpieces contained within the church. We did however manage to sneak in a moment or two with San Zeno’s greatest spectacle: its doors.

Comprising 48 bronze panels, dating from 1030 and 1137 respectively depending on which of the two doors you are looking at, the panels depict in delightfully naive fashion the life and times of San Zeno. More than the images, I loved seeing the parts which had been rubbed smooth by centuries of visitors, the dark bronze polished to a sparkling lustre by the touch of the faithful. I can well imagine how churches such as these inspired visitors over the years to reach out and touch… just to be sure that these miracles of art and faith actually existed, and weren’t just a wonderful mirage. That same sense of awe-inspiring disbelief continues to this day, as Verona’s four main churches continue to inspire.

San Zeno


© 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.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part III: The Piazzas which Seduced Us

A bustling café, an aperol spritz, a hand-full of renaissance palaces and preferably a fountain or two, all set within the confines of an elegant piazza – now that, for me, is Italy. And as piazzas go, they frankly don’t get much better than Verona’s. Every Italian city has a piazza or five – just look at Rome, where a glamorous fountain-filled piazza breaks the monotony of straight roads at every turn. But Verona’s squares are something truly special. Is it because they feel authentic – a haunt of locals as well as tourists? Is it the quality of the light, warm and golden as sun bounces off terracotta buildings and ancient marble statuary? Probably both, plus the very explicit beauty which oozes from every facet of Verona’s impressive piazzas.


Chief among them is the Piazza delle Erbe. Paved with the same silky-smooth Marmo Rosso di Verona as lines many of the city’s streets, and surrounded by some of the most spectacular buildings in the city – amongst them the ravishingly frescoed Case Mazzanti, and the two towers, Torre dei Lamberti and Torre del Gardello – the former sales platform of herbs and flowers retains the bustling market feel of its heritage (although sadly the stalls of today are a little touristic in nature). But for the real Veronese experience, head to one of the cafes which circle the square and enjoy every vantage point of this spectacular place. Our favourite was the Caffe Filippini where, as if fate had ordained it, we managed to seize a front-line table, just by the Fontana di Madonna Verona, every time we visited, and from there of course I had the very best spot from which to sketch, and enjoy that glistening orange aperol spritz.


But the great thing about Verona is you get two squares for the price of one. Not for the Veronese is one stunning piazza enough. For separated by a mere arch (the Arco della Costa to be exact) and a whale’s bone (hanging underneath said arch), you will stroll from the Piazza delle Erbe into the equally mesmerising site of the Piazza dei Signori. As the old political centre of the city, the intimate space exudes a tangible spirit of power-play reflected off fortress-like palazzos decorated with friezes made from stone and peppered with statues of great minds and the all powerful winged lion of Venice. At the centre of it all, a statue of Dante Alighieri looms in a masterful pose which dominates the square. No wonder the best cafe there (and arguably in town) is the Caffe Dante – our lunch there, of creamy al dente pasta, a deconstructed tiramisu and a chilled glass of white wine, was proof enough for that…Just one more reason why the piazza lifestyle is the best way to enjoy time in one of Italy’s most picturesque cities.


© 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.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part II: The Gardens which Beguiled Us

It’s funny. When I think back to my first encounter with Verona, some 17 years ago in the prime of my youth, touring from one art historical Italian treasure to another, I can remember very little of the city. I remember the balcony purported to be that of Shakespeare’s fictional Juliet, and the street where I purchased my first Burberry scarf. I remember the relief which blue skies and a bustling living city afforded after 10 days or so ensconced in the fog-filled fantasy land of Venice. But I remember little of the stunning streets and grand piazzas which dominated this most recent reconnaissance with Verona. But of all the highlights I remember with absolute clarity, despite the passing of the years, it is the wonder of the Giardino Giusti, arguably the best Renaissance garden in all of Italy.


Just beyond the bustling centre, housed between the Mannerist walls of the Giusti palace and the higher hilltops of the upper gardens, the Giardino Giusti is a place of almost mystical quality. With perfectly trimmed box-hedge mazes and prim parterres punctuated by moss-covered statues from the ancient realms, the Giusti gardens is at once a Lewis Carroll wonderland as it is a perfect example of the Renaissance style. A sense of perfectly manicured order provided by sweeping central paths and cypress tree-bordering is yet tempered by the pure poetry which comes of patios lined by potted cypress trees and half-hidden structures such as the rose-pink colonnaded belvedere, which affords the most unbeatable view over the labyrinth of hedges and collections of ancient statuary.


In fact it was in that same belvedere where my fondest memory of Verona was born. There, in 2001 in the autumn sunshine, my friends and I picnicked on fresh pesto and salumi, with a little wine, and some recitals to accompany the scene. Is it possible to ever beat such epiphanaic perfection? I don’t think I ever have. But this visit to the Giardino Giusti was just as I remembered it – a memory in no way diluted by the joy of my return, to a paradise garden which remains, for me, the highlight of any visit to Verona.


© 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.

Two Gentlemen in Verona, Part I: The Streets which Ensnared Us

Don’t accuse me of being repetitive. It’s not my fault that Italy is such a beautiful country. But if I’ve gone on about the beauty of Rome, of Bologna, of Sicilia, of Siena, who can blame me? Charm oozes from their every cobble and paint-flaking wall, from the tolling of cathedral bells and the trickling of their ancient fountains. And now I have another stunner to add to the set of Italian cities which are quite frankly spectacular: Verona.


In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, two Gentlemen arrived in the golden light of a creamy sunset to an apartment overlooking the imposing walls of the ancient Roman arena, and knew that they had entered a new Elysium; a city perfectly compact but wide in impact, whose ancient charm extends far beyond the Renaissance but back to the splendid time of the Emperors, whose grand triumphal arches and magnificent arenas characterise the city to this day.

The city which ensnared William Shakespeare and inspired the greatest love story ever known has now caught these two Gentlemen inside it’s luxurious web. But if we are prey to its abundance of good food, splendid piazzas, quaint little cobbled streets and cases of the most velvety Valpolicella wine, then I say: catch me web, I’m hanging around for more.


The Daily Norm’s new Veronese adventure starts in the sumptuous streets which inject the city with such a cosmopolitan buzz. They are the pulsing veins which carry a continuous and energetic stream of lifeblood around a city whose very existence burns with the vivacity of an aperol spritz, but which conversely exudes something of the tranquility of a lazy Sunday everyday.

The ancient marble pavements which run throughout Verona have been polished to a fine gloss by the millions of feet who have trod them throughout history. In places you can even see grooves marked by carts over millennia of history. Today, those same shiny roads glitter with the veritable glow of cake-filled patisseries and chic fashion outlets. Verona is, after all, a city in which to see and be seen; where sparks of romance resonate everywhere as tourists and locals alike take inspiration from the fabled Romeo and his Juliet. 


A trip to Verona doesn’t require an itinerary. Just walk, explore, and waft amongst the little streets which wind like arteries across the packed historical core of this great city. From one end to another, your stroll will lead you to all the monuments and majestic sights any guidebook will require you to see. But in the meantime, the streets will give you the best Veronese experience of all: one of cafes and couture, of people perambulating and history unfurling.

This post is in made in homage to those wonderful streets of Verona. At points, of course, those streets widen into the most perfect of piazzas – the real gems around which they wind. But there’s time yet for the piazzas, which will be explored in their turn. 

© 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.

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.