August 2017
More photos here


Monday 7th August
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
We 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 celery 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.


Trip reading

Was this my chance and excuse to make a start on James Joyce? Bugger that! I did discover that John Banville wrote crime novels set in 1950s Dublin, though, using the pen-name Benjamin Black and featuring a pathologist called Quirke, and that they'd even been TV-filmed starring Gabriel Byrne and Michael Gambon.

But sidetracking occurred in the shape of Banville's Time Pieces - a Dublin Memoir. I wasn't gripped so much by the pages I read before I visited, but after coming back it made a stronger impression, knowing some of the places mentioned, and I read it with pleasurable gusto.

Catalogue corner

National Gallery of Ireland Essential Guide
The choice was between a thinnish book called Highlights (available in five languages) and this chunkier one for twice the price. It has a page devoted to each painting, with text that's more than a mere caption, but only just, providing sound and straightforward scholarship, but with a tendency to claim that the paintings are 'the most accomplished' or 'finest' examples of this and that. Some paintings in the catalogue I don't remember seeing on the walls, and vice versa. The quality of the printing is high, but the images are quite small. There's a chapter devoted to each century, with the one for the 17th by far the longest, pointing to the gallery's dominant number of pictures, mostly Dutch, from this period. In later centuries the subjects and artists get much more Irish, with a fair sprinkling of impressionists.

The Chester Beatty Library
A4-sized and floppy this time, this guide gives a comprehensive introduction through captions to the manuscripts and pages in the collection, concentrating on the Western and Islamic holdings. All the highlights and more are illustrated nicely - mostly quarter-page size, sometimes half and full.
Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting
The catalogue of the exhibition. I've not read it yet but will report back when I have.

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