Today was wide-ranging and circuitous. It began with a walk along the Liffey before crossing south and heading up to Dame Street. There, I had a marvellous early lunch at an oddly-named cafe called ‘Gruel.’ Their sandwiches are good, and their salads are of such a variety as to make vegetarians simper with pleasure. After a couple of days of dodgy eating, the vegetable infusion was thoroughly appreciated. I may well drop by there for another lunch or dinner before I return to Oxford next Wednesday.
From there, I headed westwards to the Guinness Storehouse. Rather than shell out ten Euros for the tour, I just took the elevator in the lobby to the top level: the much-hyped gravity bar. Nearly packed wall to wall with digicam-wielding tourists, it was not the ideal spot for a Guinness. Indeed, the much calmer spot two floors down offered a comparable view and enough space in which to read and think for a while. On your way down and out, you will inevitably get a bit of a peek at the exhibits that most other people have paid to see, as well as the infinite masses of Guinness merchandise for sale. One of the more interesting things about the storehouse is the collection of high-walled brick streets that surround it, conjuring images of Dickensian industrial revolution era factories.
From the Guinness Storehouse, I headed yet farther west to what would be the oddest place of the day. I must have hit the Irish Museum of Modern Art at an unusual time, because the place seemed practically deserted. It’s an unusual art museum that you can wander directly into the central courtyard of without seeing another person, a queue, or a ticket booth. Odder still when you can go straight from there into galleries where you are the only visitor, and bored staff members sit around chatting with one another.
In fairness, things did pick up a bit after I was the only person to take the 3:00pm guided tour. Much of the art on display was of the shockingly self-indulgent variety that modern art galleries are rightly derided for catering to in such sycophantic fashion. Just doing something big and weird doesn’t really entitle you to gallery space and public grants. Even so, there was some decidedly good material on display, especially in the upper west gallery.
Immediately to the north of the art gallery, which is inside a former retirement home and hospital for soldiers, are some intricate formal gardens: all hedges and marble statues. I don’t think the way I got out was conventional (climbing over the ten foot stone wall onto the adjoining street), but there seemed to be no other way by which to exit northward.
From there, I walked north to Phoenix Park: the only part of Dublin that is actually much larger than you expect it to be. In the middle, past a zoo that I didn’t enter, you can find the official residence of the Irish head of state, the Áras an Uachtaráin, sitting kiddie-corner from the American ambassador’s house, both decked out with razor wire and motion tracking systems.
The walk from Phoenix Park back to the centre of town is fairly tedious and unattractive, at least when done as I did it, by cutting east across north Dublin, then straight down into the area near O’Connell Street. From there, I crossed the Millennium Bridge and experienced my most dramatic few minutes here so far. A distressed looking red-haired woman was shouting and pointing at a man running westward while clutching a brown leather purse. Two much larger men, prompted by the woman’s plaintive demands that someone stop the man, pinned him to a brick wall beside the canal, stripped him of his ill-gotten handbag, and held him there until the Garda Síochána (national police) arrived. It’s not the kind of display of civic solidarity you expect to see in a big city.
Anyhow, I headed from there for a pass through the crowded and touristy Temple Bar, just to see the district, before trying a pint of the much recommended Plain Porter at the Porterhouse Brewing Company, to the west of there.
Tomorrow, I am thinking of taking the DART out to Howth, after visiting the Chester Beatty Library. As for the rest of tonight, I am hoping to track down somewhere with a bit of good live music, before turning in fairly early. One serious recommendation to anyone planning on staying at Isaac’s Hostel: even with good earplugs, expect to be woken up several dozen times a night by people making an ungodly racket all around you and trains rumbling by next door.