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Liverpool - July 2010
Liverpool has a huge heart, beating strong as we found out on a four day visit in July 2010 The visit confirmed it as our favourite English City. Liverpool has managed to combine the best of the past into a very modern regenerated city that now looks classy.
Along with thousands of others, I laughed when Liverpool was named European City of Culture a few years ago. But after a long weekend there I can see just why. Liverpool is greatly aware of its past but seems determined to be a modern and much loved city that has moulded its heritage into something vibrant and learned from the obvious problems of the past.
View the Picture Gallery of our Liverpool Trip by clicking here. for gallery one
Friday 30th July
It was a rather strange experience being able to get a train direct from Norwich to Liverpool.
Strange because for much of the journey it was a long haul train, but from Lancashire it became a commuter train and I'm sure those getting on at Stockport or Manchester had no idea that the train had started its journey in Norfolk. To them it was just the local service that took them to work.
The train made 14 stops including Thetford, Ely, Peterborough, Newark, Nottingham, Chesterfield, Sheffield, Stockport, Warrington, Widnes, two stations in Manchester and two in Liverpool before reaching Lime Street at 3.30 p.m after a journey of well over five hours. Our hotel was in the modernised Albert Dock area and we found no difficulty in walking from the station, grabbing a Cornish Pasty on the way. Our room in the Holiday Inn was basic but did overlook part of the dock area.
Now to the main reason for the trip. It all came out of the virtual music club I am a member of. Twelve men good and true with one passion in life - music. We e-mail regularly but to date I had only met two of the 12 - Andy who has connections to Norwich and I have had lunch with and Mike whom we visited in New York. Every couple of years the group have what they call a mute or gathering and this year Liverpool was the chosen destination so that New Yorker Mike could indulge his passion in everything Beatle-ish.
Most of the group weren't arriving until later or the next day so we met up with Colin and Sally Gerrard from Canterbury and had a meal in the restaurant.
Saturday 31st July
Plenty of new acquaintances to make and all things Beatle-ish which was wonderful. Couldn't help but muse on the fact that Liverpool tourism is still primarily built around four young guys from the 1960s who changed the musical world for ever. You still hear Beatles music everywhere you go.
After breakfast we had a walk along the dock area and the symbolic River Mersey, passing the very modern Echo Arena. After that we met up with the music group which consisted of eight of the 12 members, three wives and two other relatives. We had coffee in the Albert Dock area and then queued up to visit the Beatles Experience museum which was conveniently next to our hotel.
The museum followed the Beatles from their earliest days through to their break up, featuring details of them as people along with details of their relationships and music. We spent so much time in the museum that there was scarcely time to have a quick drink before boarding the Magical Mystery Tour bus for more Beatles culture.
It was great to see people of all ages on the bus with a number of youngsters who were born well after the group disbanded. The magic of the tour was in visiting places that have almost become mythical in the culture of British pop - Strawberry Fields (let me take you down), Penny Lane (a barber shaves another customer) and various schools and youth clubs frequented by the Fab Four. The most magical part of the tour was visiting the four houses - very different and in very different areas. Ringo Starr's humble terrace house in Madryn Street was boarded up and apparently has been for some years. It would be a tremendous shame if this piece of historic bricks and mortar is ripped down in the name of progress as part of the regenerations of the Dingle area of the city.
The bus simply slowed down to give us a shot of Ringo's home. It was different at the boyhood home of George Harrison where we had to walk down a very narrow street to stand outside another typical Northern terrace house where children played opposite probably completely unaware of the reason why strange people stand on their street at least twice a day throughout the summer.
Mendips, the boyhood home of John Lennon, was in a surprisingly leafy, middle class area but we mustn't forget that it was the home of John's Aunt Mimi and not his mother who came from more humble surroundings. Mendips is now owned by the National Trust as is Paul McCartney's home at 20, Forthlin Road. So we were only able to view them either from the coach (as in the case of Mendips) or stand outside (Forthlin Road). On our next visit we must arrange to visit them properly. It was a very strange feeling, being outside the places that had such an historic resonance.
The coach drove the length of Penny Lane and we even got a visit from actress/presenter and all round Scouser Margi Clarke who got on at one end and off at the bottom. We couldn't work out whether this was a regular scheduled occurrence or whether she was genuinely in the vicinity of Penny Lane and didn't fancy walking down it. She was very quick to grab the microphone and give as a story about George Harrison.
Sadly the famed roundabout at the bottom of Penny Lane is almost derelict and abandoned, which seems a strange fate for something that is a primary tourist attraction. At one point in its history it was the home of a cafe - it must have been interesting trying to get across a busy street to eat.
Of course much of the charm of the area is symbolic and comes from one brilliant McCartney song. The bus tour also gave us a good overview of the city - almost a fantasy place. What other city in the world could be the centre of so much interest and pilgrimages because of music? Certainly I can't see tours of Manchester for Oasis or tours of Dublin for U2. Probably the closest is Elvis Presley and Gracelands, but that's a house rather than a place.
All too soon the bus journey was over, but it dropped us at Matthew Street. Now that name may not mean a lot but it is home of the world famous Cavern Club - immortalised by the Beatles and the Merseybeat era. Today's Cavern Club isn't exactly on the site of the original, but close enough to feel the vibes. Bricks from the original club which closed in 1973 were used for the reconstruction and the new club is reasonably close to the original which opened in 1957 as a jazz venue before becoming a skiffle venue and then probably the most famous club in the history of rock music.
It would be wrong to say it was a pleasant place. Deep steps take you into an open area that gives the club its name - the cavern. There's a small stage at one end and a bar at the other. It's hot and you can imagine what it was like with 300 tripping youngsters in the early 1960s. Claustrophobic and uncomfortable yes but still a great piece of rock history. And when we were there they had a solo guitarist singing Beatles songs as well.
Out in the street on a wall they have listed all the artists that appeared at the club although two have been erased through convictions for sex offences.
After all the history it was time for a rest in the hotel and then a very pleasant evening meal at the Italian restaurant Gustos in Albert Dock.
Sunday 1st August
Plan was to get up early to say goodbye to some members of the group who were leaving, but we overslept. After that we crammed in a pretty full day but still only managed a small percentage of what we would have liked to have achieved.
We started at the museum of slavery and maritime museum and then walked to the waterfront to visit the new John Lennon museum which was rather disappointing. Firstly there was a 3D film where our seats jerked forward, where there was at one point a smell of strawberries and where we even got squirted with water - a kind of 21st century Beatles Magical Mystery Tour journey that really didn't work. The remainder of the museum centred around Cynthia and Julian Lennon with interviews, letters and memorabilia, but in the main it steered away from John Lennon the complex man full of neurosis and anything controversial.
We then had a long walk by the banks of the Mersey, took photos of the renowned Liver Building and then found a fun fair and outside area which was full of character for a Sunday afternoon.. During the evening we went to a Thai restaurant where the food wasn't bad but the service was too quick.
Monday 2nd August
Had the best part of the morning in Liverpool before we had to catch our train home. Had a walk round various neighbourhoods and to the Anglican Cathedral. Our train back left at 11.52 a.m and we were back in Norfolk at just after 5 p.m.
Some of the things we didn't get round to doing on this trip - Visit the Catholic Cathedral, visit Anfield and Stanley Park, take a Ferry Across the Mersey, visit the new Liverpool Museum (opening in 2011), go inside the houses of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, go shopping. We will return.