Why Dublin? Well, whilst it's not
unfair to accuse me of visiting major European art capitals merely to feed
my obsession with Italian art - that being my main reason for visiting
Vienna, Liverpool, Birmingham and even Paris in recent years - in this
case the main encouragement is a big Vermeer exhibition - Vermeer and the
Masters of Genre Painting. This is my first visit, to Ireland and Dublin,
so ogling of Georgian architecture and literary pilgrimage spots will be
indulged in too. And then there's The Book of Kells.
A smooth journey and then the quickest bag-drop ever, with no queue at
all. My tray of belongings got shifted into the troublesome track in
security - I hadn't put my tablet in it with nothing underneath. The
shiny, perfume-smelly, boozy retail gauntlet is still oppressive and at
the end were busy lounges, lots of kids, and two hours to kill. Our Aer
Lingus flight left late, not helped by slow boarding caused by
aisle-blocking case-stowers, delaying us all so they don't have to wait at
the baggage carousel. But the flight took only an hour, and so we were
soon landed, and waiting for people to wrestle their cases out of the
overhead lockers. The Dublin Bus Airlink Express 747 came after about five
minutes, our longest wait or queue so far today. But our luck ran out when
the bus got caught up in a solid mass of buses caused by road works on the
O'Connell Street Bridge. Getting off the bus just before Christ Church
Cathedral, we soon found the Radisson Blu Golden Lane. Checking in the
nice man told us we'd been given a room upgrade, so I'm typing
this into my tablet, on my sofa, drinking redbush tea and nibbling on a Fry's Chocolate cream -
a bar I've not nibbled on in many a moon. This being after
our return from a local Italian recommended by said nice man on the front
desk. It was called Toscana, was busy with a huge party of well-behaved
blokes and did fine rice croquettes with mozzarella and good pizza with
mozzarella pearls, fresh tomatoes and rocket.
Tuesday 8th August
After a night disturbed only, and oddly, by seagulls, breakfast was
well neigh faultless in all my usual respects - muesli selection,
croissant and coffee freshness. Maybe there was a certain lack of
pastry variety, but I nitpick.
Our walk to the National Gallery took no time, so we were a bit early for
our 10.40 prebooking and went upstairs to look at the early Italian stuff,
which also included some icons - a couple of Byzantine, but mostly
Russian. We only managed two rooms, but will return.
The exhibition Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting had been
at the Louvre first and so the fact that it features the Louvre's and
Dublin's Vermeers is not surprising. But additional works loaned from
Washington, Berlin and Frankfurt and elsewhere made for a good number,
bearing in mind that a couple of recent exhibitions that have bandied his
name have included many fewer, and minor, works by the man himself.
Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer last year
at the Queen's Gallery had less than two, and that one was the Queen's
own, whilst Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence at the Fitzwilliam
in Cambridge in 2011 had a couple, including the Lacemaker, but
it's thr non-Vermeers that were exceptional and memorable.
This exhibition, though, beat them all. In addition to its good number of
works by Vermeer and their quality, its theme, well thought out and
argued, was the influence of other artists, especially Gerard ter Borch,
on Vermeer's choice of subjects and composition, and his influence on
others. This was achieved with the neat method of grouping each wall of
paintings by subject, and even having the audioguide discuss them as a
group. The captioning was minimal and eccentrically high on the wall, but
a little booklet of explanatory paragraphs, dates and loaning galleries
was provided. So truly a fresh and stimulating perspective, as is not
always the case when exhibition curators get creative. The ter Borch/Vermeer
ratio is heavily in the former's favour until the four by Vermeer in the
last room right the balance, one of those in the last room being the
wonderful Woman with a Balance.
The quality of the exhibition was reflected in the yumminess of the
lunchtime falafel and rocket burger, eaten at the Gourmet Burger Company,
along with a very vanilla milkshake, and even partaken of outdoors with
coats off. (It's generally been pretty nippy all over the British Isles of
late.) Getting an iced apple and cinnamon doughnut - called a Molly Malone
for some reason - on our way back to the hotel was, you guessed it, the
icing on the cake.
We'd got rained on on the way back to the hotel for our rest, and the rain
then pitter-patted gently in the rocky pool outside my window. But by the
time we ventured out for some cathedral action at 3.30 it had brightened
up. Both the Cathedrals can be quickly walked to, or even seen, from our
hotel, but they close at 5.00. St Patrick's is nearest but had a queue
that only got longer as we drew closer. So we trotted up to Christ Church
Cathedral which, after some difficulty finding the entrance, was a nice,
compact and cosy sort of cathedral, with wonderful tiled floors
throughout. A sprawling crypt too, which also had a shop where we finally
found a guidebooklet to the cathedral and one about the tiled floors too.
We then had a somewhat busy walk over and along the river a bit and
circled back to our hotel, but explored the castle grounds a bit before,
and were able to recharge the mood batteries sitting in the peaceful
central bit. In the evening we went and had good Indian at a quite nearby
place called Diwalli.
Wednesday 9th August
made our way to St Partick's straight after breakfast, so only two coaches
were parked outside. We also
discovered that there are two entrances and the one that had put us off
yesterday was the group entrance on the north side. Entering on the south
side, after paying, one is faced with a shop in the first few bays of the
left aisle, selling stuff safely classifiable as tat. But making swiftly
for the north transept you enter a space giving good war memorial and
having a fine stone-columned spiral staircase to the organ. Ambling around
to the lady chapel gives good vistas through another handsome, if mostly
recently rebuilt, pile. A good amount of floor tiling too, but not as
varied and impressive as Christ Church's By the time we got to the south
transept the crowds were oppressive, though, so we left.
The Chester Beatty Library museum had been warmly recommended and was
indeed a manuscript-lover's joy. There's a large room divided up and
devoted to the Art of the Book with a similar room devoted to religious
works on the floor above. Both had cases full of fascination, with
explanatory texts telling you what you knew already, as well as what you
didn't, with both categories benefiting from being clearly and objectively
expressed. The proportion of both floors devoted to Islam was a bit
PC/trendy, but also very fascinating, and with some excellent calligraphy
and (non figurative) decoration. The falafel in the museum Silk Road cafe
looked tempting, but we were craving sandwiches, so made for the M&S in
Grafton Street, and the doughnut shop patronised yesterday, and then did
the hotel room lunch thing, which is even nicer if your room has a sofa.
Our evening stroll took us into H&M (a pink jumper for Jane and a surprise
black denim jacket for me), around St Stephen's Green and up into and
around the Trinity College grounds. We went to find an Italian we'd
spotted on a walk yesterday, and it turned out to be a real find - Bar
Italia, on Ormand Quay Lower. I had a truly superior margherita con bufala
pizza, with an Italian craft weissbier.
Thursday 10th August
I am thinking that this is the first
hotel room I've stayed in with a bath and a shower cubicle, and both big.
But there isn't a rail to hang a hand towel and your face flannel on.
Similarly the large, well-appointed and sunny bedroom has no drawers in
the wardrobe for underthings and socks, and no drawer in the desk for
one's charging cables. I realise I've just raised the concept of First
World Problems to new heights, but still.
For our final full day I had to decide whether to chance likely queue
tedium to get a brief glimpse of The Book of Kells, or make straight for
the National Gallery. (J being off looking at modern art.) On an even less
spiritual note I had to find time to go back to H&M to get the damn
security tag taken off my jacket.
I made straight for the National Gallery. I began with the 14th century
stuff again, but even the later centuries had postcard-worthy stuff by the
likes of Velazquez, Rembrandt, Panini, Caillebotte and Claesz, as well as
lovable works by new (Irish) names (on me) William Orpen and John Lavery.
The queue for the Book of Kells was as long as expected, so I settled for
the shop, but that was heaving too, so I quit it, got myself a cheddar and
sandwich from M&S and returned to the hotel for some lunching. After
taking my jacket back and getting the tag apologetically removed, finding
one of Dublin's very few ATMs, and investing in another doughnut.
The evening stroll past St Patrick's took in some terraces of workers'
cottages, off which a noxious alleyway with one house advertising itself
as a meditation centre lead to a street of antique shops, where there was
a church with a grotto and a shrine signposted, and down to the river,
where a lot of church-connected buildings seemed to attract groups of
people looking very very much the worse for alcohol. Lots of Dublin seems
to have swanky new developments mixed in with decrepitude - Starbucks next
to squalid dumps. Tonight we went back to last night's Italian again, the
food was so good.
Friday 11th August
We got to the airport in plenty of
time, on the bus, which was just as well as when we got there I realised
I'd left my passport locked in the safe back in my hotel room. I illicitly
caught a cab which was setting down at Departures, had a stressful return
trip to the hotel, with the cab driver helpfully suggesting he ring ahead
to have my belongings ready at the desk. All went smoothly, with not too
many red lights, which my man admitted he has nightmares about, such a
curse on his life are they. On the return journey he got me to choose
between the shorter route with the more traffic lights or the longer via
the motorway - an extra couple of euros to save my driver
red-light-related trauma seemed a small price. I
was back with Jane in just about an hour, resulting in speedy, but not
panicked, bag dropping, etc. But the tone of the day had been set, as our
flight was delayed an hour, train troubles (due to 'trespassers on the
line') between Gatwick and Croydon saw
our journey delayed, and then our train to Balham cancelled, with another
not due until 45 minutes later, probably. We resorted to the tram to
Wimbledon (which was a new experience for me and so almost fun, especially
spotting a rabbit on Mitcham Common) and a bus.
So we arrived home late and unlunched, and resorted to the chip shop with
even more than usual speed and enthusiasm.