Friday, September 18, 2009

Liverpool, England: A Pilgrimage

Liverpool. Liverpool? I needed to get out of Germany (sometimes it happens) and having been to London several times before, Liverpool seemed perfect. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a huge Beatles fan. Christian had to go to Munich for a few days for work, so going by myself seemed ideal; I wouldn't have to drag anyone only vaguely interested around with me doing Beatles-related stuff. Plus, I had been to London so many times before, but I had never seen any other parts of England. Lastly, I just wanted some time by myself (again, sometimes it happens).

I spent a little less than 72 hours in the city on the River Mersey, but I did everything I could, whether or not it related to the Beatles. I really loved Albert Dock; it's so beautiful and just cool. It doesn't exude an air of poshness (for crying out loud, it was a dock used for industry), but somehow it's very elegant, tranquil, and charming. The restaurants there are surprisingly very affordable, the Tate Liverpool is free, as are the other museums. And I just absolutely adore the red brick stone with the black paneled windows. It would be really fantastic to live there, though I can only wonder how much apartments there cost. The Liverpool Cathedral is the fifth largest in the world (depending on the criteria, because it could actually be the largest and one of the longest) and when you enter it, it's really breathtaking how huge it is. I thought it was far more impressive than the Cologne Cathedral and it's much brighter, too.

Slightly north of Albert Dock are the Three Graces at the Pier Head (the Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building, and Port of Liverpool Building). They're also really very impressive and make for a gorgeous skyline, albeit completely different than the towering skylines of New York and Hong Kong. And that's the thing: Liverpool isn't a big city, but it's incredibly pleasant, laid back, and has a lot of personality. It's a mix of old (Three Graces, Albert Dock, Liverpool Cathedral, little English houses) with the super modern (Liverpool ONE, Chavasse Park, new developments) and the people are really super friendly, though if you come across someone with a really thick Scouse accent, it's a bit harder to understand. I certainly heard some people that reminded me of Brad Pitt's character in Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels. However, when I've been alone in London, people seemed to pity me or think it was weird. Not so in Liverpool. Nobody seemed to think twice of it, though they were first surprised. Maybe it's because they get so many crazy Beatles fans coming by themselves, ha.

On Wednesday, I took a Fab Four Taxi Tour thinking that because I was by myself, they'd probably stick me with a group of two or three other people. Nope. I got a private tour all by myself! My tour guide, Alan, picked me up at my hotel at exactly the time I had requested and we drove all over the city. He was extraordinarily knowledgeable and informative and not just about Beatles things. We talked about how the city was a European City of Culture last year, how it changed a lot of things (real estate prices, for example), what the city is really like. We went everywhere: John, Paul, George, and Ringo's childhood homes, Brian Epstein's apartment where he let John & Cynthia stay after they married, Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, the place where John & Paul met for the first time...It was really a pilgrimage of sorts for any Beatles fan and it really gives you a new perspective.

After the tour, I did the Beatles Story Museum, which long story short, is not worth it if you're a hardcore fan. Nothing new was presented. Afterward, I went to the Cavern Club. The original Cavern Club was torn down years ago, but a few doors down is another Cavern Club that recreates the original. Admittedly, it was a bit strange to go alone and have a beer by myself since it was the first time I've ever been to a bar without anyone, but I chatted to a guy old enough to be my dad who worked for the Conservation Society (or something along those lines...preserving buildings in Liverpool). He was also alone, but seemed to have had a bit much to drink. But the anonymity of talking to a complete stranger and leaving it at that is one of the thrills of traveling alone...these acquaintances you make for about an hour or two and leave it at that.

However, being in the Cavern Club, or a reproduction of the original, was really exciting. I could just imagine how sweaty, stuffy, smoky, and loud it must've been. Sitting in the corner, I could imagine the Beatles on stage as the Quarry Men with a gaggle of girls in front of them, screaming their support and encouragement. Today, there's no smoking allowed (as in all English bars) and the place is filled with mostly picture-taking tourists eager, like me, to experience what it must've been like. Instead of the Beatles (or Quarry Men) on stage, there was a John Lennon impersonator dressed with the "New York City" shirt and "granny glasses" singing Beatles and Lennon songs acoustically. He did a pretty good job and looked the part, except for the fact that he had a beer gut and was a little heavier than John ever was (at least based on pictures I've seen, even in comparison to his "fat Elvis phase" during the filming of Help!.) Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the atmosphere and being with oodles of other Beatles fans belting out tunes and drinking beer.

The only thing I hated about Liverpool was the fashion. I'm not sure if this is just in Liverpool or if it's taking over England, but dear God, the 80s are back in full force. I saw sequined dresses with big shoulders, neon colors like nowhere else, animal prints in non-animal print colors (for example, green zebra stripes, dark blue leopard print), blazers with a horrible cut, girls wearing their hair big and with bows in them (I kid you not), horrible colored make-up that is very heavy, big t-shirts being worn with only leggings with stirrups. I went shopping thinking I could find some interesting clothing, and interesting is a word you could use to describe the fashion, but I would describe it more as "vomit-inducing." I really hate 80s fashion. I really hate animal prints (especially leopard print). I really hate neon. And so, sorry, Liverpool, but I hate the fashion at the moment. Terrible.

However, I know I'll be back in Liverpool someday. It's such a lovely city and the people are so open. Plus, I still need to go to the Casbah Coffee Club and see where John, George, and Pete Best decorated it and played there as the Quarry Men (Paul included of course). However, for the non-Beatles fans, Liverpool is a much more affordable city than London and has a lot to offer in terms of shopping, eating, and site-seeing. Well, the shopping options are there, but the fashion is something else entirely. Hopefully that'll change. Otherwise, it was a well-needed break from Germany.

And here are a few other pictures that I though were relevant for the trip or that I liked, though you can see them all on my Flickr set:

The walkway on Albert Dock along the Mersey in black & white

A statue of Billy Fury, another famous Scouser, at sunset on Albert Dock

Me at Strawberry Field, or what remains of it

The place where John & Paul met for the first time.
A plaque on the wall commemorates the event that changed history.