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Posts tagged ‘Trip’

Siena: Doing the Duomo

In choosing Siena’s most iconic building, there are two clear contenders. Sat at the pithy core of the citrus-sliced semi circle of the Piazza del Campo, the Palazzo Pubblico is a clear contender. With its soaring bell tower of red brick characterised by medieval power status and the objective to outdo rival Florence, the Palazzo is in every way iconic as a symbol of Sienese politics and ambition. But while for me the Palazzo and surrounding Piazza may be the brains of Siena, its beating heart and most charismatic structure of all is its Duomo. With a lavishly intricate facade made of blackish green, coral pink and creamy white marble, together with a multitude of gold enhanced mosaics and relief sculptures, the Duomo looks good enough to eat – a minty humbug and a prize wedding cake al rolled into one.

The Duomo and its facade

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But to focus on Siena’s exterior would be to miss the treasures on the inside, which range from Michaelangelo’s treasured sculpture of Saint Paul, Nicola Pisano’s impressively intricate Carrara marble pulpit, Donatello’s bronze relief, The Feast of Herod, Bernini’s sunburst lantern atop the dome, and an incredible marble floor depicting a series of biblical tales with pristinely cut delicately interlaced pieces of multicoloured stone which was the life work of some 40 artists across 200 years. What’s more, in the Piccolomini Library off to one side of the main nave, there is the staggering feat of Bernadino di Betti’s ceiling and wall frescos whose multiple areas of gold embellish the room with a lavishness equal only to a jewellery shop.

The Piccolomini Library

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Interestingly however, the Cathedral might well have been far greater and even more exorbitantly lavish had a planned (and commenced) extension in the 14th century, intended to more than double its size, been completed. Sadly owing to the onset of the Black Death in 1348, the work was ceased, and the evidence of errors in the construction meant that it was never continued. All that remains of the plans today is a the large outer shell which helps to illustrate the scale to which the Duomo extenders aspired and the power and ambition of the city.

The interior and the incredible pictorial floors

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So with those unbeatable views I’m brining this Siena and Tuscany series of posts to a close. They’re photos which capture a region of outstanding natural beauty, and hold the memories of adventures which I will long cherish… until the next time I’m lucky enough to visit the home of my in laws.

Up in the gods… and the views of Siena from the top

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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.

Tuscan Towns #5 – Siena

Of all the towns we visited during our last trip Tuscany, with Siena I have saved the best till last. More of a city really, this glorious product of the golden age of Renaissance is disproportionately heavy on art historical treasures, elegant shopping streets and stunning piazzas culminating in the most magnificent of them all – the Piazza del Campo. Siena’s geographical position, up on a steep hill and surrounded by verdant rolling countryside, is no doubt both the reason for its untouched beauty and for its prowess as a self-defended city. Today the city is almost intact in its historical architecture, with barely a modern blemish staining its golden walled, silver cobbled streets. The only embrace of modernity has been the emergence of super chic boutique shops and cocktail bars serving plate upon plate of tempting aperitifs, best enjoyed with an Aperol Spritz amidst the bustling atmosphere of locals filling out these packed social hang-outs.  Siena is a place of vespas and La Bella Vita, of large sunglasses and shopping bags, of that irrefutable union between seductive Italian passion and the innate elegance which can be found in every street. It is Italy at its urban best, surrounded by the most beautiful rural landscapes imaginable.

The seductive streets of Siena

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We entered Siena up a set of steep staircases, arising, blinded by the light, as though from a cellar onto the reflected glory of the Duomo, its black and white stripy façade literally glimmering as the sunshine hit the golden details of its external mosaics. What an entrance to a city! It was the ultimate precursor to a place whose treasures fill the senses like tree blossom swept liberally into the wind. A stunning mosaic here, a mighty altarpiece there. Cafes that dazzled, sculptures to inspire, street corners whose tangible charm roused the soul and inspired the mind. We went, of course, into the heart of the Duomo, but that adventure I will leave for the second part of this article. Rather today I want to concentrate on the soul of this ravishing city which, quite justifiably, has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site and is one of the most visited in all Italy.

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Getting lost in Siena’s uniquely sloping cobbled side streets is one of the greatest joys that Tuscany can offer, but after a time, the idea of being lost here becomes something of a fiction. For just as all roads in Italy may lead to Rome, as though in defiance of the expression, all roads in Siena lead to the magnificent Piazza del Campo, whose enormous semi-circular construct more or less dictates the layout of the remainder of the city.

The Piazza del Campo

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It was in that delightful main square that our visit concluded. As we approached, the atmosphere of a thousand visitors lying out on the sloping pavements to enjoy the sun, or sipping upon spritz and bubbles in one of the many cafes which line the square was highly tangible. It was like human electricity, building up in the semi-circular square before finding occasional release as it leaked into the side streets through the Piazza’s odd openings. Once in, the space literally dazzled as before us the enormous scale of the campanile of the Palazzo Pubblico unveiled itself and the Piazza, which is famous for the annual Il Palio horserace which plays out around the square, glowed as sun rays met red and ochre brick. There we sat, at one such café, as the sun swept a shadow across the curve of the Piazza much like the effect of a sun-dial. Soaking in the last of the rays, as golden sunlight reflected against the prosecco and gelato on our table, we people watched and soaked in the atmosphere, and observed a city which seemed to exude contentment. We were certainly contented in turn. It was a visit which would provide the highlight of our year so far. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were return again, before the year is even out.

The highpoint: Prosecco on the Piazza

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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.

Hampton Court Palace, Part 3: The Wild and the Wonderful

My blog is reading like something of a paid marketing campaign for Hampton Court Palace at the moment, which I promise is not the case. Such was the visual pleasure of my visit to Hampton Court that my photo stream ran on for miles. In seeking to share the best from that day, while losing nothing of the splendour of the aesthetic pleasures which a visit to the Palace entails, I have sought to split up my Daily Norm narrative into more bitesize pieces. First I told you about the Palace’s incredibly manicured gardens, followed shortly afterwards by a tour of the hybrid interior. Today I’m back out into the gardens, but this time to the Great Fountain Garden, and the Wilderness, a stunning grassy landscape which is ostensibly less controlled by gardeners and designers, although I suspect that in reality, this appearance of under-management is as meticulously choreographed as the rest.

The Great Fountain Garden and Home Park beyond

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There can be no doubt that Christopher Wren’s Baroque facade of Hampton Court Palace is best viewed from its mighty gardens, whose tree tree-lined avenues radiate outwards in a crow’s foot pattern towards a water-bounded semi-circular parterre. Those avenues, whose trees are perfectly clipped to create cloud like green forms, provide a theatrical foreground beyond which the Palace can play a leading role as it glows, mighty and red, in perfect contrast with its green surroundings. If William and Mary of Orange had intended to compete with Versailles, it is clear that they gave good game, not least with the extensive Long Water canal which extends into Home Park beyond, magnifying both the scale of the grounds, but also reflecting the Palace in its mirrored surface. For us, a walk in these gardens proved to be unforgettable. We were enamoured not only by the dramatic landscape, where we felt like strolling into a Sunday evening period drama, but also by the peace and tranquillity which could be found there, away from the shrieks of children lost in the famous maze and closer to the stags and deer who could be seen grazing so majestically nearby.

But what the Great Fountain Garden gave in drama, the Wilderness oozed in bucolic tranquillity. Appearing almost wild, this semi-woodland full to the brim with long grasses and beds entirely given over to daffodils was one of my absolute highlights of the visit. As the sun started to dip behind the yellow petals in the late afternoon, a heavenly light seemed to fall over the place, fragmented as it was in an easy peppering of dappled sunlight, as low lying trees burst forth new pale green leaves. The effect was so transformative that I expected a lady in a long flowing dress and a gentleman in a top hat to wander into the scene at any moment. This was surely an impressionist moment worthy of Monet’s brush?

The untamed beauty of the Wilderness

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This day’s final acquaintance with the grounds of Hampton Court served as yet further illustration of the diversity of the gardens which make this Palace much more than its interiors. With their riverside location and semi-rural sensation, it was hard to imagine that we were a mere 30 minutes from the hectic heart of London. Thus we were transformed, not just by history, but by the green and verdant landscape which immersed us in an earthly paradise one very happy Sunday afternoon.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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. 

A weekend in Barcelona

Barcelona: the creative beacon of Catalunya, a thriving city with all the charm of a seaside town, a capital for culture and a statement in gastronomic, stylistic and artistic innovation. It is a mere hop across the sea from Mallorca; on occasional days of peculiar weather, some have even declared that one place can be seen over the horizon of the other. And yet Barcelona may as well be a world apart. It is not just a pretty city fringed by palm trees and an attractive port – it has been the inspiration for some of history’s most famous creatives, and today continues to be an icon for stylists, fashionistas, foodies, designers, architects and artists across the world.

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Famous for its modernista architecture by the likes of genius Antoni Gaudí, as well as for its connections with the likes of Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, and more recently for the 1992 Olympics which put it firmly on the global map, Barcelona is a veritable feast of visual inspiration for any artist or photographer. Yet as I took the opportunity to fly the short 30 minute journey across the sea to Barcelona last weekend, I found myself so utterly wrapped up in the striking city vibe that I quite forgot to photograph anything. Almost complacently I walked the ravishing streets, soaking in the atmosphere but forgetting to capture the sights all around me in a two dimensional form. That is why, as a new week begins, I am left with a head full of wonderful memories and few photos to support them.

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And yet those few photos which I did capture are fully representative of the kind of weekend which we really enjoyed. For rather than prioritising previously experienced touristic sites or much-explored museums, this trip was about reconnecting with the urban vibe, and enjoying all of the accompanying pleasures which inevitably partner a large city. For us that meant a combination of (largely window) shopping, particularly in chic concept stores such as Jamie Beriestain, where Christmas has come early in the form of full-sized pine trees glittering with gold, or fully indulgent fine dining in new eatery hot spots such as the El Nacional food market or the impressive restaurant, Petit Comite.

This little album is therefore representative of a weekend in Barcelona which involved much dining, and much refined wine-ing, strolls in the autumn sunshine and the odd Gaudi interaction. In short everything which a weekend in one of my favourite cities is guaranteed to offer.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. 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.