August 2015
More photos here

Monday 17th August
Blimey, I hear you cry - a trip to a city in his own country! Well, yes but it's prompted by an exhibition at the Lady Lever Gallery called Picturing Venice and I'm planning to visit the Walker which has some nice Italian stuff, including a Simone Martini, a Montagna, and one by Catena, an obscure Venetian fave. But I have to admit it's weird not to be faffing around finding the passport, the EU health card thingy, the travel insurance documents, the Euros and the foreign-fit chargers.

Euston is not the least claustrophobic and busy station, but we only waited minutes before the 11.10 to New Street was deemed ready. At this stage we discovered that the seats J had booked were not together, at all. Luckily J sat next to a accommodating lady, who didn't mind swapping. And then the sun came out! And the three children with their granny at the next table were all readers and crossword doers.

On first impressions Liverpool seems a lot like Essex, in many ways. The Premier Inn in the Albert Dock has a lot nicer and more spacious rooms than the pokey reception area would lead you to expect, but my room is weirdly positioned (on the fourth floor) so the constant Beatle tunes being pumped out of The Beatles Story opposite sound louder than they do outside. Also the windows are filthy, somewhat spoiling my otherwise fine view, and my toilet roll holder lacks its spindle. An acclimatising stroll along the bankside passing the Liver Building and back was followed by a short rest, to the constant accompaniment of Beatles songs. And with me utterly failing to get connected to the hotel's WiFi on my tablet, although it was working fine on my phone, which is also Android. Some grumpiness brought on by these technical difficulties and constant Beatle song torture was thankfully dispelled by an evening walk along the river front as the sun began to set, with attendant ozone, seagulls and fine expanses of mud. Bracing. And then to a very nearby Pizza Express for a near-perfect Veneziana, followed by the fave figs in cinnamon syrup with mascarpone. The latter were a little light on the syrup, but our friendly waiter explained that the syrup is sometimes used up quicker than others. Very philosophical that. Before bed I managed to get the WiFi working, by clearing the cache for Chrome, a browser I rarely use. What's logic got to do with it? The connection is slow anyway, it turns out (you pay extra for a full strength connection) - too slow for putting photos up on Facebook - and blocks most of my favourite download sites.

Tuesday 18th August
Got to breakfast at 8.00 to beat the rush, but it actually eased off at 8.30. The lack of pastry variety (just plain croissants) was a bit disappointing, but they were fresh, and the cereal selection, orange juice and coffee were all good. As I sit typing this in my room the bloody Long and Winding Road has begun the Beatles day. Time to sally forth methinks.

On the way to the Walker we passed the Hard Days Night Hotel (snigger) and the alley with the rebuilt Cavern Club in it, down which were several shrines to Cilla, whose funeral is this Thursday. The Walker Art Gallery opens at 10.00 and has a more than usually interesting first few rooms of medieval and Renaissance stuff, mostly due to a Victorian collector called Roscoe. There's a goodly number of Flemish works, mostly copies and studio ofs, but the Italian works include a Simone Martini, two by Catena, a Bellini portrait and a couple of fresco fragments from the Carmine church in Florence. Also an impressive large Supper at Emmaus by Titian on loan from a private collection. Lucky them! Also, I do like having gallery rooms to myself, don't you? They were even more so when J pushed off to meet some chums to go see the Pollocks at the Tate.

The 17th century generally fares less well here - Poussin and Murillo are sparse highlights in the next room, but at least there's only one Rubens. The little 17th century Dutch room has a van Ruysdael, a church interior not by Sanredam, two school of Rembrandt, and one real Rembrandt, an early self-portrait from from Charles I's collection. Also a possible Fabritius head of a bearded man. The next room has a characteristically shimmering Gainsborough, a characteristically pasty-faced Reynolds portrait (he'd used a pink pigment that has now gone west) an unusually varied collection of Wright of Derby, and a fine Panini. Then it's the Victorians and the Pre-Raphs. Lots of them, including Isaballa by Rossetti, a bit of a fave, due to it having a bit more vigour than usual. Thereafter the pickings get mixder, for a man of my preferences. I appreciated a couple by Atkinson Grimshaw and one by Ben Nicholson's dad of a room full of pots and a cat. But as it passes 12.30 the shoulders are definitely aching.

Lunch was a hummus and red pepper sarnie, taken amongst the marble, statuary and coloured plastic pigeons of the museum's entrance hall, with a bottle of Fentiman's Victorian lemonade, which seemed appropriate. The area around the Walker does the  Victorian civic pride
neoclassical thing in spades. East beyond the station things get a bit rundown, then a bit Georgian, and then there's the Anglican Cathedral, which looms, inside and out, and is pinky-brownly gothic. Also around here is Chinatown, where I picked up a coconut bun for my tea and siesta, back at my unmade-up room.

The evening stroll took us beyond the Mersey ferry terminal, and the road and feeder complexities of the Isle of Man car ferry, to some typical docklands-development areas of luxury flats overlooking patches of authentic ruin and neglect. We decided to try the hotel's restaurant this evening, being tempted myself by the prospect of a quorn veggie burger and bread and butter pudding. We waited a good while for everything - service, drinks and food, as J had for her poached eggs at breakfast. We waited so long for the drinks we had to remind the waitress, and then she brought two of each of our drinks as they had a two-for-one deal on. We said we didn't want two drinks, which we got the impression was an unexpected response. Maybe the idea that it's not good to encourage people to drink more hasn't reached Liverpool. And the bread and butter pudding was off.

Wednesday 19th August
The bathroom door in my room is all splintered around the lock, which I first took to be evidence of forced entry, repaired with metal plates. Looking at it closer it actually looks like someone has hacked at the lock area with whatever came to hand, to get out. But if you were sharing a room with someone you were close enough to to share a room with why would you even lock the door? Disturbing. My tablet doesn't want to connect to WiFi again this morning, despite my using the same tricks I learnt yesterday. I give up.

To Port Sunlight on an underground train, which comes out overground after Birkenhead. Port Sunlight is one of those model villages built by big factory bosses to keep the workers happier and more educated, in this case next to the big Sunlight soap factory. It's a lovely place, with all the buildings of a traditional type, but all different. And if, as the film in the museum tells us, the only major complaint was not being allowed to keep chickens in your garden, it can't have been a bad place to live, if you were coming from a slum, or maybe a hovel. The Lady Lever Art Gallery houses some of Lever's huge art collection, dominated by Victorian painters and the Pre-Raphs, you won't be surprised to hear, but with some works from the 18th and, oddly, three Spanish medieval panels. There were also three small rooms devoted to an exhibition, called Picturing Venice, of works on paper depicting Venice, which was pleasant and had some stuff new to me.

The train got us back to Liverpool in no time, where it was raining mightily and, despite being out by 9.00 and back at 3.00 again, our rooms hadn't been made up, again. We went for a last evening stroll along the prom after the rain had stopped, but it started again, and so we were a bit damp as we sat down in Pizza Express, to be served by the same chummy waiter.

Thursday 20th August
A last wander after breakfast, then back to the hotel to find that my room had finally been made up, for the next booking, who will not be finding it as pristine as they might like. We then made for the same station and train as yesterday, but staying on until Chester. The station before Chester is Bache btw, which rhymes with aitch. Another station on the line is Rock Ferry. The train from Chester to Euston was comfortably unfull, which is just as well as Virgin had had to ditch the seat reservations due to a computer error.

To sum up: Liverpool was a likeable city, with much of interest, architecturally and nautically. Loved the dockside area, where there was much in the way of old equipment - capstans, gates and winchy things - to keep one confused for a very long time. Liked the galleries, The Pizza Express and the friendly locals too. The Premier Inn staff were also friendly, and had the ability to apologise well and profusely, which was a very necessary job skill, unfortunately. A repeat stay is not likely.




Venice // Florence // London // Berlin // Trips