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Posts tagged ‘Vacation’

Compendium // Budapest > The river that joins it altogether

Readers of my Budapest compendium cannot be at a loss to know that Budapest is a city formed of two halves (well three parts actually, if you count the old city of Óbuda into the bargain). Key to its former separation was its geography, and more specifically the sweeping route of the Danube river which washes its mighty way between the hills of Buda and the flatter, grander boulevards of Pest. However, soon enough, the genius of modern engineering brought the two halves of Budapest together in the form of its iconic Chain Bridge.

Constructed in 1849, it did more than cross the geographical divide between two cities. It made unification more than just a physical phenomenon, but a metaphysical reality too. Just 24 years later, the unification of Budapest in name and city came to pass, and the metropolis was set on a path towards becoming one of the fastest growing and most important of Europe’s cities.

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While the Danube is now easy to cross, it is not easy to ignore, and the riverfront of Budapest remains one of the most prominent landmarks of the city, whichever side it is viewed from. Whether it be the green and multi-coloured tiled domes which make up the riverfront of Buda, or the Pest side, lined by grand mansions and hotels built in the secessionist style, the Danube-facing frontline of the city is the ultimate showcase of a city thriving on its unification.

Full of architectural masterpieces, the Danube is not just the place to admire Budapest’s growing collection of elegant bridges traversing the broad sweep of the river. It is also the place to enjoy what is undeniably the very best view of the city’s world-famous Parliament building. Designed by Imre Steindl, and based on the neo-gothic design of London’s very own Houses of Parliament, it is Hungary’s largest building and symbol of both the city and the country. With a characteristic central dome in a rich winey terracotta, topped with copper spires and gothic stone masonry, it is a treasure trove of architectural embellishment, and the true highpoint of the Danube stretch of the city.

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For a building which represented Budapest’s new city strength, it could not have been better located, right on the banks of the river which separated the city’s halves, but also brought them together.

© 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.

Painting Budapest > Great Spa City

Funnily enough, I was inspired to paint Budapest by our hotel bathroom. Simple, understated but insuperably elegant, the bathroom of the Callas House boutique hotel featured beautiful gold fittings offset against a floor of black and white marble mosaic tiles, and a basin whose lines exuded sheer classicism. That simple bathroom exemplified for me European elegance, and a painting started to form in my mind. As the image developed, it became more and more appropriate as an image representing Budapest. For the Hungarian capital is one of the great spa cities of Europe. And as we were to find out from a visit to the famous Gellért Baths, the locals benefit from the health-giving qualities of mineral rich naturally heated waters around which an industry of bathing has developed over the centuries.

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Budapest: Great Spa City (2018 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

As these factors combined, the bath became the central symbol in my painting of Budapest, featured on this post. The mineralised waters of the city are enjoyed by two bathers, while the board which traditionally crosses over a vintage bath is replaced by the iconic Chain Bridge that crosses the Danube. There too, a sparkling afternoon is on standby for he who most indulges, behind which a leafy tree represents the elegant city boulevards, offset against the famous Parliament building subsisting in a dreamy golden landscape. Finally tram cables and the tram itself encapsulates the very European spirit which fills the city.

And of course, to frame it all, I had to paint those little black and white tiles, all the way from the bathroom floor in the little elegant hotel room which inspired this work.

© 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. For more information on the art of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com

Compendium // Budapest > The elegance of Pest

Our trip to Budapest was so fleeting that we never really had the opportunity to delve into the wealth of history which the city boats, and less still pour through the pages of a guidebook. Given that we were short of time, we preferred instead to wander around the city, taking in the sights without prior knowledge nor recommendation. In many ways, this made for the best type of sightseeing. Rather than miss so many details by focusing on a single destination, our aimless perambulations meant that we were able to take in the very many ravishing details which make the city of Budapest such a visual treat for the eyes.

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Known as the Paris of Central Europe, Budapest bears a number of similarities to the elegant French capital. There are also many ways in which it is better – Budapest is cleaner for sure, and the customer service way exceeds the somewhat snooty attitude of many Paris restauranteurs. But as seasoned Daily Norm readers will know, Paris is one of my all time favourite cities, and in Budapest, I could really feel that same uninterrupted elegance pervade its grand boulevards and monumental squares. This is no more evident than in Pest, the younger half of the unified city, but an area still rich in historical magnificence as best evidenced in the great palaces and richly decorated government buildings which surround the area around the most iconic building of them all – the neo-gothic materpiece of Budapest’s Parliament.

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Criss-crossed by tram cables, and with the yellow vehicles themselves routinely trundling across squares lined with pavement cafes, Pest feels like the archetypal European city, but unlike so many capitals, it has a relaxed feel which invites rather than repels. In Pest, long leafy avenues play host to glamourous fashion boutiques and grand cafes serving afternoon tea on marble tables and wicker chairs. This is Paris but with a further layer of grandiose sophistication, but lacking the pretension which so often accompanies the finer things in life.

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In case it isn’t obvious, I am a significant Budapest fan. It is a city unhampered by the brutal architectural interruptions of the modern age, playing host to some of Europe’s finest examples of secessionist architecture, and glorious neo-classical facades. From above, it exhibits a skyline punctuated by turquoise church spires and silver rooftops. At ground level, sprawling boulevards are illuminated by golden street lamps and shiny tram tracks. This is the epitome of Europe’s glorious past, polished and preserved for the current generation.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Budapest > The heights of Buda

I didn’t know what to expect when I jetted off from London to Budapest. It was to be my first time in Hungary, let alone its capital city, but my ignorance made the discovery all the richer, as I found a city replete with European elegance, magnificent vistas, faultless customer service and a cosy historical charm without end.

Created from Buda, and Pest, both independent cities in their own right, Budapest has a perceptively distinguishable duality of personality, both kept asunder by the great River Danube, but fused by the presence of the iconic Chain Bridge. While Buda feels medieval, ancient and quaint, Pest is a city of grand boulevards and highly decorated governmental buildings. Both are a must of this tale of two cities.

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Not sure where to start on our two day odyssey, we opted for the alphabetical approach and headed to Buda first. It was pretty much the perfect place to begin, for with its hilly topography, Buda benefits from the ultimate views of the whole city, and at its centre, Imre Steindl’s rich neo-gothic masterpiece – the seminal Hungarian Parliament. But turn away from the views (if you can), and you will enjoy the prettiest of Budapest’s historical quarters: the Castle District.

Centered around its castle and the Mátyás Church, the Castle District is a veritable feast of ancient splendour, the crowning glory of its riverside hilltop location. With the spectacular National Gallery of Hungary and the grounds of the former Royal Palace on one side, and the multi-coloured tile-topped St Mátyás on the other, the Castle District is topped only by its veritable maze of little cobbled streets lined by cute little eateries and gift shops which had me incessantly tempted (it’s so difficult to take photos while carrying ceramic soldiers and furry monster things, the meaning of which I am yet to discover). But perhaps best of all up in Buda is the Fishermen’s Bastion, not so much the seaside attraction it sounds, but a King Arthur-esque castle structure which looks every inch the fairy tale.

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Strolling through these old streets, oozing with character, it’s amazing to think that this entire region was destroyed by the Second World War, reduced practically to rubble and ashes. Thank god then for those who returned this magnificent historical monument to its former glory…a glimpse of ancient Buda before it became forever bound to Pest.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Jerez > Temples of Faith

Never far from Jerez’s Temples of Sherry are places of worship of a different kind. Despite being characterised by a very definite Islamic influence, Jerez’s skyline is  dominated by the many majestic Catholic buildings which have come to define the city. Chief amongst them is the monumental Cathedral, reached via a large sweeping staircase and combining both Baroque and Renaissance features. The interior is extravagantly decorated akin to many such cathedrals all over Spain, and its mighty Dome, centered over the main transept, is embellished with glorious bas-reliefs of the Evangelists and can be seen for miles around.

Jerez Cathedral

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But Jerez’s Cathedral is chief amongst many Catholic masterpieces peppered throughout the city, and had we not spent such a disproportionate time lolling joyfully in sherry bodegas and accompanying wine bars, we might have been able to visit extravagant church aplenty.

One highlight we did get to, and well worth the mention, were the serene Cloisters of Santo Domingo. With their perfectly balanced gothic arches framing a courtyard garden today used for events and performances, the cloisters offered a peaceful and cool retreat from the heat and bustle of Jerez and were, in many ways, more beautiful to behold than the Cathedral. While recent events meant that the central garden was full of piles of plastic chairs, for me and my camera, these chairs became a feature of artistic interest in themselves, adding interest to my snapshots of this most harmonious of catholic buildings.

The Cloisters of Santo Domingo

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And with free entrance to boot, what better retreat for an aching head once the sherry tastings are over and out? 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Folio // Jerez > Sherry Streets and Shady Squares

My second Folio presents Jerez, city of squares and fountains, cobbled streets and cosy quaint cafes. Few visitors to the city would deny that it is perfectly picturesque. Jerez conveys so much of what we tourists have come to think of as the archetype Spanish city that I wonder how it came to be that Jerez falls under the shadow of Seville, Cordoba and Granada. Such is the result of a region whose cities are each, in their own way, a spectacle. It’s like when you have an art gallery with walls crammed floor to ceiling with gems – there are so many masterpieces there, that you miss out on most in order to concentrate on just one or two.

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Determined that Jerez would be our focus on this occasion, we lost no time in exploring its consistently beautiful alleys and avenues. Cluttered with sherry-barrel bar tables, cafe umbrellas seeking in vain to keep out the heat, souvenir shops spilling onto sidewalks exhibiting polka dots aplenty, Jerez is nevertheless a city whose every facet appears to be perfectly ordered and camera ready. Building facades do not just crack – they age gracefully like a fading Hollywood star, while alongside them, sprawling palm tree leaves fan languidly and frame each image with their tropical elegance. In wide avenues, shops give way to wrought iron benches and potted flowers, while lamp posts twist and curve with avant garde excellence, and fountains compete with one another, sploshing and splashing their way across the city’s grandest squares.

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Jerez is a city built largely in beige. It is not terribly green, but instead its attraction translates from the sunny disposition of its golden facades and ancient marble finishings. Wandering from one square to the next, you will stumble across colonnades befitting the Florentine Renaissance, and extravagant Catholic iconography worthy of Rome. All this will run alongside the simplest of neighbourhood tapas bars, where flamenco guitarists play emotionally in the corner over lunch. Tired, lazy, but elegant in its languor, Jerez in the summer is a city which reflects its own sunshine; a place whose excesses of daytime heat are transmitted into the passion of its dance and music by night, and in the deep amber sparkle of its Sherry at all hours.

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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.

Folio // Jerez > El Alcázar y su entorno

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

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

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

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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.

Compendium // Jerez > Temples of Sherry

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

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

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

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

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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.

Compendium // Cádiz > Ascending Santa Cruz Cathedral

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

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

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

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Folio // Cádiz > Idiosyncratic sea-ringed city

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

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

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

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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.