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Entries about tourist sites

The Brooding Soldier in Flanders' Fields

Visiting the St. Julien Memorial outside of Ypres to those who fought and died in The Second Battle of Ypres

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View Lille and World War I Battlefields on GregW's travel map.

The first of three entries on my trip around the World War I battlefields of Flanders. This entry, The Brooding Soldier in Flanders' Fields looks at the start of the war and the Second Battle of Ypres. A Young Nation Mourns Her Dead published on April 8th, 92 years less a day from the battle, looks at the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the Canadian National monument that stands on the battlefield today. I died in hell - They called in Passchendaele looks at the Battle of Passchendaele and the end of the war.

In the late 1800s, European powers agreed to a number of pacts and alliances, all in an effect to maintain the balance of power, ensuring that no side had an upper hand. Whenever any one power would gain an upper hand, the result was a series of alliances and military build-ups to restore the balance of power. All this came to a head in 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austro-Hungary by a Serbian nationalist. This eventually caused the Austro-Hungarian empire to declare war on Serbia, triggering other powers to declare war, and like dominoes falling soon most of Europe was at war.

Germany started by invading neutral Belgium and Luxembourg and then marched into France. Germany made good progress until early September of 1914 and the Battle of Marne, with a combined French and British force stopped the advance. No side could push through the others lines, and so the armies dug in, building fortified trenches along a line that ran from the North Sea to the Swiss border.

“We think nothing of the shrapnel now, if we can get trenches – it is beastly in the open. Usually the men are lazy about digging at first, but after a little shelling they are all the other way, and it is most important that you prevent them digging the trench so deep that they can’t fire out of it.”
- Letter, Colwyn Phillips, Captain Royal Horse Guards, Klein-Zillebeke, November 1914.

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For the rest of the war, this line barely moved, and those towns that were along this battlefront suffered serious damage. The battlefront passed through Flanders near Lille, France and almost directly through the nearby town of Ypres, Belgium.

Ypres had been captured by the Germans in the initial advance. In November of 1914 the allied forces recaptured the town in what would become known as the First Battle of Ypres.

The Germans sought to retake the town of Ypres, and in on the 22nd of April in 1915 started their offensive. The Germans had been advancing their military technology, and after an unsuccessful attempt three months earlier at the Battle of Bolimov on the Eastern Front, they unleashed the latest in military technology near Ypres at Gravenstafel Ridge. A yellow-green cloud released from 5730 canisters blew on the prevailing winds towards a line of French troops. The first use of chlorine gas on the Western front saw 6,000 French troops die within minutes. The heavier than air gas filled the trenches, forcing the French soldiers to climb out into the open and face the heavy enemy fire.

The attack left a six kilometre long line in the allied defences, but luckily for the Allies the Germans had underestimated the effectiveness of the attack, and didn’t have troops to take advantage. Throughout the night of the 22nd and the morning of the 23rd, British and Canadian troops backfilled the French positions, and the Germans were only able to gain 3 kilometres. The Canadians mounted an offensive out of Kitchener’s Wood.

A few days later the Germans tried the gas again, this time near St. Julien, where they released the gas on a line of Canadian troops. Aware of what the gas cloud was, the men wet their handkerchiefs, sometimes with urine, and covered their mouths. The Canadians were affected, and pushed back, allowing the Germans to briefly take the village of St. Julien, but the Germans were pushed back out again over the next few days.

In the 2 days, the Canadians lost a total of 6,035 troops. Today, Near St. Julien, stands a memorial to those that fought in this battle, inscribed with the message, “THIS COLUMN MARKS THE BATTLEFIELD WHERE 18,000 CANADIANS ON THE BRITISH LEFT WITHSTOOD THE FIRST GERMAN GAS ATTACKS THE 22ND-24TH OF APRIL 1915. 2,000 FELL AND HERE LIE BURIED.”

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Rising almost 11 metres from a stone-flagged court, "The Brooding Soldier" surmounts a single shaft of granite - the bowed head and shoulders of a Canadian soldier with folded hands resting on arms reversed. The expression on the face beneath the steel helmet is resolute yet sympathetic, as though its owner meditates on the battle in which his comrades displayed such great valour. The statue is set in the middle of a garden surrounded by tall cedars, which are kept trimmed to perfect cones to match and complement the towering granite shaft.
- Veteran Affairs Canada Website

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The fighting continued, and eventually the Germans got the upper hand, but it took over a month, and by the end Ypres was almost completely destroyed. The city had been evacuated of all civilians early in May, and during The Battle of Bellewaarde on May 24 and 25, the British finally retreated and ceded the city to the Germans.

“Monday 3 May 1915. At 4 o’clock, the lieutenant of the gendarmerie warned me that orders to evacuate the town had arrived, and the sector where we were living had to be evacuated by the following Thursday at the latest. We are all overtaken by deep despondency. After struggling for six months against every adversity, after having gone without comfortable everyday life for so long, with the one aim of being able to hang onto our houses, we have to resign ourselves to leaving all our things behind. What will we find when we come back?”
- Diary, Aime Van Nieuwenhove, secretary of the Comite Provisoire, Ieper

It was during the second battle of Ypres that a Canadian surgeon, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae M.D. of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, wrote a poem which he titled “In Flanders Fields.”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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Posted by GregW 12:00 Archived in Belgium Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Lille, Coeur of French Flanders

Walking the streets of Lille... I might not have been the only street walker in Lille when I was there, though.

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View Lille and World War I Battlefields on GregW's travel map.

Lille is a city in northern France, and is the principle city of the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the France behind those of Paris, Lyon and Marseille. Conveniently for those of us who live 10 minutes from St. Pancras station in London, Lille is also only 1 hour and 27 minutes minutes away from London, making it closer than Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool or Sheffield. Actually, I could almost make it to Lille in less time than it would take me to get to Heathrow airport.

Lille is very close to the border with Belgium, and due to its closeness to many cities in Belgium, is part of the eurodistrict of Lille-Kortrijk, which also includes the French cities of Roubaix, Tourcoing and the Belgian cities of Kortrijk, Tournai, Mouscron and Ypres.

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I took the Eurostar from St. Pancras to Lille, and after arriving at my hotel in the mid-afternoon, headed out to see the town. I was staying in Vieux Lille (Old Lille), with lots of cobblestone streets and narrow, twisty streets.

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While the street grid is medieval, most of the buildings date back to the early 1900s, rebuilt after the area was destroyed during the First World War.

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As I was wondering around, I kept noticing all these women milling about in the street near my hotel in France. As it was just around 4 in the afternoon, I figured that perhaps they were waiting around for a drive from a boyfriend or a friend.

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After wandering around for about an hour, I came back towards my hotel and noticed that the same girls were still milling around the hotel.

"Hmmm, seems strange that their boyfriend hasn't picked them up yet." The narrow streets meant that often cars seemed to be jammed up, perhaps there boyfriends were just late to pick them up.

No worries, I decided to keep wandering around.

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Notre Dame de la Treille, the seat of the Catholic church in Lille was started in 1854. If you look at the picture and think to yourself it looks pretty modern for 1854, that's because the church wasn't finished until 1999, thus the modern looking front facade. The back of the church is much more traditional gothic looking.

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After a wander around, I decided to pop into a bar and have a drink. There was a few nice bars on Place Notre Dame de la Treille, so I decided to pop into the Aux Arts at the corner of the Place and Rue d'Angleterre.

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Being so close to Belgium, beer is king here in Lille instead of wine as in other places in France.

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Despite beer being readily available, it is very pricey though. My first beer was €3.90. €3.90 for a beer??? That's almost £3.70... and it's only 25 cl! We get full pints in Blighty, thank you very much!

My wallet much lighter, I headed back towards my hotel, taking a round-about route through the centre of town.

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I headed back to my hotel, and those same girls were still there waiting around for a ride. Wait a second, perhaps these women aren't waiting for a ride at all... or at least, not a ride from their friends. I think I might in staying in the red light district of Lille. Nah, not possible. I'm in the tourist laden old town, this isn't where the working girls would be!

I went up to my room, and after a quick shower and a quick surf of the internet, headed out for dinner. All the women that were milling around previously are all gone. I had a nice dinner of Sushi for dinner. It was weird having Sushi and Yakitori and listening to the Asian chef and waiter talk to each other in French. After dinner, I returned to my hotel, noticed that none of the girls were still around.

"See, they must have finally gotten picked up by their boyfriends," I said to no one, and carried on my way.

First night of vacation, I wanted to get out and have a good time on the town. But at €3.90 a beer, I gotta do something better than that. Luckily, Lille is a university town, of course there was a few places to drink for cheap. I head down Rue Massena , I find what is a universal truth - where students drink, cheap drinks are to be found. Pints (actual pints in the Irish pub, 50 cl is other places) for €4, with a discount to €3.50 at happy hour!

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After a few pints, I head back to my hotel. It has rained, and the cobblestones of the old town are glistening in the street lights. Perhaps it's the pints of beer, but it is beautiful.

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= = =

The next day, after a drive about that I will talk about in a few future blog entries, I returned to my hotel in the afternoon and was offered sex by a nice blonde woman who appeared to be waiting for a ride at the corner of the street.

"I know you must be bored, waiting for your ride, but I don't think that is a safe and appropriate way to pass the time," I said, though I am not sure she understood me, what with her speaking French and all. Either way, a car came along soon after and picked her up, so it looked like her boyfriend was just a few minutes late.

After a quick freshen up in the hotel, I headed to the north-west of the centre of the town to see the Citadel.

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The Citadel of Lille is a pentagon-shaped citadel that was part of the city wall of Lille. It was built in 1668, part of a massive fortification by the Marquis de Vauban, who fortified 28 cities in France for Louis XIV to keep out the Spanish. The citadel in Lille was dubbed "Queen of the citadels" (Reine des citadelles) by Vauban, and it is one of the most notable citadels designed by Vauban. The citadel was part of a double line of fortified towns of Gravelines, Dunkirk and Maubeuge-Rocroi, called the pré carré ("square field").

Obviously, the Spanish aren't so much of a threat anymore, so the outer wall of the citadel has been allowed to fall apart.

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The inner wall, however, is still well maintained. Today the citadel is home to the the Corps de réaction rapide France, which is a joint organization of the French Army and NATO.

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The citadel is surrounded by a large area of parklands and forests, and heading back through the Champs Mars I saw that the circus was in town.

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They call it la cirque in French

= = =

The next night I went out again for seafood. Despite all the brouhaha that the French make about being food experts, they don't even have their own words for escargot, souffle, or au jus! Seriously, and they call themselves cooks.

Coming home, I noticed a few more women hanging around on the street waiting for rides. "Geez girls, it is almost 11:30! Your boyfriends are running very late," I said, but I don't think they understood me, what with me speaking English and them speaking French and all. I mean, they had some pretty confused looks on their faces, so I decided to try a little trivia on them.

"Did you know that the French don't even have a word for à la carte or à la mode?" I said. "It's a good thing we English came along and invented these words for you, otherwise you would never be able to get apple pie with ice cream!"

I thought it was a good piece of trivia, but the girls didn't seem pleased with it. Probably upset at their boyfriends for not picking them up yet.

= = =

My final day in town, and more wandering around Lille.

Charles De Gaulle, who I think may have something to do with airplanes and airports due to the airport in Paris being named after him, was born here in Lille. Apparently, beyond just running airports, he was also President of France for a time back in the 60s. It is true, because I checked it out. I read a google about it while I was reading my imail and listening to my epod.

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Just after leaving CDG's birth place, I was propositioned by a woman. It was 10 in the morning.

"Off work already? Must be nice to have a boyfriend that he's able to take a few hours off work to pick you up."

"stupide imbécile Anglais!"

Must mean thank you...

= = =

Lille is an important stop on the TGV and Eurostar network, making a convenient transfer point between France, Belgium and English.

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The station is topped by a big L shaped building.

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The station sits on Place Mitterrand, named after the former president who opened the station after the chunnel was completed.

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Not far away is Euralille, which is a big shopping mall.

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It is INCREDIBLY pink, but it does have pirates!

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Heading out from Euralille is Gare du Lille Flandres and Place De La Gare, the train station handling regional trains and the square out front.

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You may wonder what the deal with the giant babies with the wings is. You would not be alone. I think it has something to do with Europe XXL, which I think is an art exhibit taking place across multiple countries and cities, including Lille. Either that, or giant mutant babies were rampaging through Lille, and were only stopped when exposed to the light from the Orb of Arkzon, which turned their alabaster skin into hard as granite ebony. Hard to say which is the truth, really.

Heading off from the train station along the streets of Lille felt very much to me like being in Paris. This typical scene of Hotels and Restaurants on Rue de Tournai reminded me of many of the wide boulevards in Paris that Haussmann created. I wondered if Lille copied Paris back in the mid-1800s and created the wide boulevards, or if they built them after the demolition of most of the city during World War I.

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St. Maurice Church is just a few blocks from the train station, and the square out front was busy with shoppers taking a quick break, or office workers grabbing a late lunch.

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It has some nice detail on the church, one of those places you could stare at for hours, and still find new things to see.

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Leading from St. Maurice is a pedestrian shopping area, anchored by Rue Des Tanneurs, named, I guess, after tanners. It was all shut up when I was there. Not sure if it was an early victim of the credit crunch, or they don't open on Mondays, or everyone had just wandered off to lunch. Probably the last one.

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In the Place de la République, I found a few statues, water features and the acclaimed Museum of Fine Arts.

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The Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille houses the second largest collection of fine art in France, with only that show-off the Louvre besting it. In fact, I read some piece of tourist propaganda that claimed that because of the the Louvre is art works on loan, that Lille's museum is actually the largest PERMANENT collection of art in France.

Either way, both the Louvre and the Palais des Beaux-Arts have something in common, in that I didn't go into either of them. Luckily, the Palais in Lille is one of those places that people say "Even the building is a work of art," so at least I can say I saw something.

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Just down from the Museum is the Old Paris Gate at Place Simon Vollant. This Arch was built on the city walls from 1685 to 1692, to celebrate Louis XIV's conquest of Lille in 1667, and opened on to the road to Paris (thus the name). At the top, Victory, sitting amongst trophies of arms and flags, places a crown of laurels on the head of Louis XIV, which is carved in a medallion. On the right, in a niche, Hercules, with his club, symbolises strength. To the left is Mars, the god of war.

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Today, it sits in the middle of a round-about. But it still is pretty. And you can see Lille's impressive town hall quite clearly from the centre of the roundabout. Built in the 1920s, the town hall is quite impressive. The clock tower was the first building in Paris to be over 100 metres in height, and today is a World Heritage Site.

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Saint-Sauveur Church was designed by architect François-Joseph Delemer , and built between 1896 and 1902. It is a mix of the "eclectic style and neo-byzantine," according to something I just googled. Never doubt the internets.

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Down the street is the Noble Tower. Erected during the 100 years war, it was one of 65 towers protecting the city of Lille. It didn't work, and when the city fell, it was turned into an ammunitions depot. In 1975 it was made the Memorial of the Resistance and the Deported, in honour of those who were part of the resistance during WWII.

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And with that, I return to Gare Lille Euorpe, and get ready to head back to Londres.

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The train station is modern glory inside, but once you get into the secure area for the Eurostar, it's all airport-waiting room chic in the lounge, and dank basement - early dungeon in the track area.

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Eventually, the train comes and rescues me from the dark, cold and unpleasantly moist rail platform, and we fly 'cross the French countryside getting ready to dip into a tunnel and under the English channel.

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1:27 minutes later, I was back in the land of pints and fish and chips. Amazing world we live in, no?

I am not quite done with Lille and the area yet. Much like Marley warning Scrooge about the 3 ghosts to come, I warn you for three blog entries to come. I rented a car while in France, and thus saw a little bit of northern France and Belgium's countrysides, and I also visited a few sites related to WWI. So over the next few days, be prepared for 1 stupid entry on my driving in France and Belgium, and 2 serious entries about the battlefields, monuments and cemeteries of World War I.

Posted by GregW 12:52 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

Ferry Cross the Mersey... And Take Me Along

Exploring the other bank of the Mersey

sunny 12 °C
View To Liverpool from Sheffield and Back Again 2009 on GregW's travel map.

In 1964, when that other Liverpool band The Beatles was growing into the phenomenon that would become Beatlemania, Gerry & the Pacemakers were releasing their seventh single, a slow song called "Ferry Cross the Mersey." A tribute to the Liverpool area, the song implores the ferry to cross the Mersey River, to return the singer to the land he loves.

So Ferry, cross the Mersey
'cause this land's the place I love
and here I'll stay

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On Sunday I ferried myself cross the Mersey to see Liverpool's opposite bank - Wallasey, New Brighton and Birkenhead.

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Ferries have been crossing the Mersey river for probably over 1000 years. There was a record of a ferry crossing the Mersey from Seacombe in the Domesday Book in 1086. By 1150, Benedictine Monks in Birkenhead were running a ferry service. In 1330 they were granted a charter by King Edward III to run the ferries forever. They ran ferries until 1536, when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and took over the license for the ferry.

In the 1800s, modern ferry service began, provided by two separate companies - The Wallasey and Birkenhead companies. The ferry service was taken over 1968 by the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive (also known as MerseyTravel) and the two services were merged into the single company. Wallasey tended to name their ferries after flowers, and thus to link with history one of the current ferries is named Snowdrop, though it is branded with Birkenhead colours.

During the week at rush hour, the ferry service is a commuter service, running between the Seacombe ferry terminal in Wallasey, the Birkenhead ferry terminal and the Pierhead in Liverpool. Off hours and during the weekend, though, the ferries run River Explorer Cruises. These cruises run for about an hour, with two stops. In the summer, the ferry runs downstream towards New Brighton before turning back and stopping at Seacombe and Birkenhead. In the winter, when I took the cruise, after leaving Liverpool, the ferry stops at Seacombe and Birkenhead before running upstream towards Eastham.

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You can hop off at each of the stops and pick up a later ferry, so after crossing the Mersey, my first stop of the day was Seacombe.

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I was actually happy that the ferry wasn't on it's summer route, as the trip downstream to New Brighton is something that you can do by walking along the 3 kilometre long Millennium Trail.

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The trail is paved and flat, keeping to the river side. There are certain places where you can get down onto the beach (assuming the tide is co-operating with you). The water was cold, so even the birds were staying out of the water, instead just strolling along the water's edge.

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Just after leaving the Seacombe Ferry Terminal, you will see the impressive Wallasey Town Hall. The town hall was opened in 1916, and interestingly faces away from the town and out across the river. I wonder what that says about the government's opinion of it's people at that time.

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Three kilometres later, and I arrived in New Brighton. New Brighton is a seaside resort town, with the requisite seaside walk with arcade and funfair.

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Out on a point on the border between the Liverpool Bay in the Irish Sea and the mouth of the River Mersey sits Fort Perch Rock. The fortress is a coastal defence battery built in 1829 to protect the Port of Liverpool. Today it is a museum.

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Out from Fort Perch Rock is the New Brighton Lighthouse. When I was there, the tide was high and the base of the lighthouse was underwater.

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It took me about 1 hour to walk from the Seacombe Ferry Terminal to New Brighton. Ferries run every hour, so upon arriving at New Brighton, I had a choice. I could turn right around and head back to catch the ferry with a 2 hour run trip, or I could hang around in New Brighton for an hour. I choice to spend the hour, and was bored after 10 minutes. That is the problem with the ferry schedule. Either you see nothing of New Brighton, which is less than you want to see, or you see 1 hour of New Brighton, which is 50 minutes more than you want to see.

I decided to head back by walking along the road instead of along the riverside promenade to see a different side of New Brighton and Wallasey. There was a few nice sites along the way.

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I also came across a couple street names I liked. First up, home sweet home!

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And then, this street. Depending on your age, you might be imaging a furry red muppet with a halo, but because I was a teenager in the 1980s, I remember the excellent Brat Pack movie, "St. Elmo's Fire," and the theme song by John Parr. For the rest of the day, I was humming the chorus to myself.

I can see a new horizon
Underneath the blazin' sky
I'll be where the eagle's
Flyin' higher and higher
Gonna be your man in motion
All I need is a pair of wheels
Take me where my future's lyin'
St. Elmo's Fire

I continued my motion, though via my feet and not a pair of wheels back to Seacombe Ferry in time to grab the boat to Birkenhead. Along the way we passed the car ferry terminal, where ferries leave for Belfast and Dublin.

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At the ferry terminal in Birkenhead, the more industrial port like nature of the Liverpool area is very visible. Downstream you can still see the Ireland ferries, and upstream there is an oil refinery and a few dry docks.

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After the 6 kilometre round trip walk in Wallasey, I wasn't in for too long a trip in Birkenhead. Instead, I just took a quick jog up to the city centre, just 10 minutes on foot.

Just outside the ferry terminal, I passed a double-decker wooden trolley.

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Birkenhead had the first street tramway in Europe. Opened in 1860 the first line ran from the Woodside ferry terminal to Birkenhead Park. This early system was horse-drawn. Today, two replica trams, imported from Hong Kong, have been brought into service as part of a heritage tramway.

10 minutes walk up hill, and I was in Hamilton Square.

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Hamilton Square built in the late Georgian and early Victorian area. 3 of the sides of the square are Georgian terrace houses, with the four side having the town hall (which is now a museum). It is second only to Trafalgar Square in London for having the most Grade I listed buildings in a single square.

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Birkenhead is connected to the underground train system called MerseyRail. I loved the motto on this train station tower. "Frequent Electric Trains." Oh, if they are electric, then I will take one! I guess the motto probably made more sense when the choice was underground steam engines, which history documents as being very sooty and chocking.

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After my quick tour of Hamilton Square, I still had 40 minutes to wait for the next ferry, so looked for a place for a quick pint. Sadly, it seemed that Hamilton Square wasn't the only thing with Victorian elements - the morals of the place must still be Victorian, as all the pubs were closed on Sunday.

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None for me, at least not that day.

Instead I went back and sat on the river side watching the river roll by.

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The ferry arrived, and I completed my round trip. We powered upstream against a fast current to see the oil refineries, dry docks and oil tankers.

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The boat finally turned back, and quickly moved downstream towards Liverpool's Pier Head dock. I took a seat on the deck and watched the sun shimmer off the River Mersey.

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Ferry, cross the Mersey.
cause this land's a place for a tourist to love
and here I may not stay, but it was nice to visit...

Posted by GregW 13:14 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

The Cavern Club - The Underground Sound

Listening to the musical legacy under the cobblestones of Matthew Street, Liverpool

sunny 8 °C
View To Liverpool from Sheffield and Back Again 2009 on GregW's travel map.

In the late 50s, John Lennon and a couple of school friends formed a band which they called the "Quarrymen," after their school Quarry Bank. They played a brand of music called Skiffle, which was a simple country-blues type music that featured banjo and wash-tub basin. In 1957, at a church social which the Quarrymen were playing at, Paul McCartney heard them play and talked to John. John invited Paul to join the band, and Paul brought along his much younger friend George Harrison, whom he had met riding the bus to school.

Over the intervening years, the band changed their names a few times until winding up with The Beatles, a play on the word beetle and a tribute to Buddy Holly and the Crickets. The name was originally suggest by Stuart Sutcliffe, the groups bass player, with McCartney on piano at the time.

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In 1960, The Beatles, along with Pete Best as drummer went to Hamburg, Germany for a stint of 48 shows at the Indra Club in Hamburg’s red light district. Over the next few years, they would return to Hamburg a number of times, along with a bunch of other bands from Liverpool, including Gerry and Pacemakers.

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While in Germany, The Beatles performed as the back-up band for singer Tony Sheridan on a recording of My Bonnie, a rocked up version of the traditional Scottish folk song “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.”

After honing their skills in Germany, the band returned to Liverpool and on February 21st, 1961 made the first of what would be 292 appearances at The Cavern Club on Matthew Street. The club had been opened by the owner, after being inspired by Paris’ Jazz District, in a basement that had been used as an air-raid shelter during the war.

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While The Beatles were appearing at the Cavern Club, the song My Bonnie was catching on outside of Germany. The manager of a record shop called NEMS was intrigued by all the people asking for the single, and doubly so when he found out the band was playing in Liverpool. On the 9th of November, 1961, Brian Epstein went and saw The Beatles play, and by January of 1962, he had them signed to a contract.

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Epstein cleaned up the group - putting them in suits and forbidding drinking, smoking and gum chewing on stage. The Beatles went along with it, as long as Epstein didn’t tinker with their music. Epstein eventually got George Martin, a producer at EMI to agree to produce the group. Martin didn’t like Pete Best, and The Beatles replaced him with Richard Starkey, better known as Ringo Starr.

The rest is history, as they say. From their first release, the single “Love Me Do” in 1962, The Beatles released 24 singles, 13 EPs and 12 studio albums before they broke up in 1970. It’s amazing to think that in August of 1965 they released Help!, and less than two years later were releasing the psychedelic St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

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The Cavern Club was demolished in 1972 to make way for an exhaust pipe for the underground. Incredibly, the exhaust pipe never got built, and the club was just filled in with dirt from the tunnelling.

The club was rebuilt in the 1980s, roughly in the same spot and to the same design as the original, though there are some differences - most importantly, The Cavern Club now serves booze.

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I went there on March 13, 2009. The day had a full line up of musicians. I saw Jon Keats, who is featured singing Strawberry Fields in this clip (and singing the bit of Working Class Hero by Lennon at the end). After Keats, I saw a bit of Mike Hunt as well. Later in the evening, Midnight Blues played, however I had long left for the comfort of my bed by that point.

Here, though, is a video that hopefully gives you a feel for what the club was like in 2009, and perhaps even what it must have been like back in the 1960s when the Beatles were on the stage, though the crowd may not have been as vocal, what with having no beer at all.

If you can't see the video, check it out on my Youtube channel.

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Were they recording today, do you think that The Beatles may have recorded a song called "Travel Blog Writer?"

Posted by GregW 01:50 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Lively Life in Liverpool with the Livers and the Scousers

Liverpool One: More than Just a Shopping Mall, It is Also the First Part of My Trilogy on The City That Is The Pool of Life.

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View To Liverpool from Sheffield and Back Again 2009 on GregW's travel map.

The British tax year runs from the sixth of April until the fifth of April. It strikes me as odd to have a “year” starting on the sixth. The strange starting date is due to the year previously starting on March 25 (start of Spring and all) and days being lost with the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, all of which is a little confusing but makes me think, “wow, the British have been collecting tax from people for a long time.”

As the tax year ends in early April, that means that most company benefits also run on the same year or for simplicities sake, an April 1 to March 31 year. Good news for me, as that means after only 2 months of working at my company, I get a full year’s worth of benefits. It does mean, though, that I had a somewhat small set of benefits prorated for my first two months. On starting, I was told I would get a prorated amount of holidays to take.

My first day, one of the women from HR told me, while consulting a table of prorated holidays based on starting date, “you are starting on the 26th of January, which means that you have 4.5 days to take before March 31st.”

Oh. Not enough to take a full week off, which I couldn’t do anyway because I was expected to be working right away on my first project to the end of May. So, after some discussion with my project manager, I decided to take a few long weekends in my first two months to make sure I didn’t lose my vacation. I already took one back in February when I moved to my new place, and I have a four-day weekend scheduled coming up at the end of the month. Picking a weekend that fell directly in between those two dates, I decided to take another vacation day on March 13… lucky Friday the Thirteenth.

I had, on my first few trips up to Sheffield noticed that a train runs from Sheffield up to Edinburgh. “Awesome,” I thought, “I will take the train up to Edinburgh for a 3 day weekend and check out Scotland!” Then I didn’t think about it again for almost a month. I didn’t figure I would have any trouble getting a hotel in Edinburgh for the weekend. After all, it’s the tail end of winter, who is going to want to go to Scotland in the middle of March?

Lots of Irish and Scots, it turns out, if that weekend happens to be the weekend when Ireland is playing the Scotland in Edinburgh in the Six Nations Rugby. Doing my usual level of research for a trip (i.e. none), this was something I didn’t figure out until I tried to book a hotel a few weeks ago in Edinburgh, and couldn’t find anything for under £300 a night.

So, I decided on plan B, which was to develop another plan, or really, a plan at all, seeing as Plan A wasn’t a plan so much as an idea. Let’s call this new plan C. Plan C involved going down to the Sheffield train station and looking up at the departure board and picking out somewhere else that trains go from Sheffield.

Birmingham… Nah, been there. Glasgow… Nah, too close to Edinburgh. Leeds… Umm, what is in Leeds? Manchester…. Nah. Oh, wait, there’s an idea. Liverpool.

So I ended up booking a hotel and train ticket, and on Thursday, March the 12th after work made my way from Sheffield across the Pennines and to the port city of Liverpool.

Liverpool is a city. That might not be immediately clear if you Google Liverpool, as the first few hits are about a football team, but more on them later. The city sits on the banks of the River Mersey, close to the where the river empties out into the Irish Sea. The city’s position on the west coast of England and on a major, wide river meant that Liverpool became one of the most important ports in England. Today, it still is an important port, both for cargo and passengers, especially those heading to the Isle of Man or Ireland (either North or Regular-flavour).

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Being a busy port, there was a significant amount of building, both of the functional variety with docks and warehouses, but also the showy variety with fancy public buildings and headquarters of important companies. In 2004, UNESCO declared major parts of the city a world heritage site, dubbing it the “Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City.”

One of the key areas, and one that gets a lot of photos taken are the Three Graces: the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. These are the main buildings in the area called Pier Head, and where I started my tour on the Friday.

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Atop the Royal Liver building are two Liver Birds, the symbols of the city of Liverpool. The Liver bird is a mythical creature, much like the Phoenix, the Roc or the Ethical Banker. A bird first appeared on the corporate seal of the city of Liverpool dating back to the 1350s, an eagle with broom to honour King John. Sometime later, the eagle was replaced with a cormorant, and the broom swept away in favour of a sprig of seaweed. Yummy.

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Note that the Liver in the birds name rhymes with diver, while the Liver in the city’s name of Liverpool rhymes with river, yet another mystery of the English language to ponder.

The street that runs along in front of the Three Graces is called Canada Boulevard, named in honour of the fact that Canada donated the mighty and majestic maples that line the street.

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Okay, they don’t look very mighty now, but they were only planted in 1995. Wait for another 50 years, then the trees will provide an overgrown, shadow-casting and maple key throwing darkness and mess along the street, when they will be the bane of street cleaners the city over!

Just up the street from the Three Graces is Our Lady and St Nicholas Anglican Church, also known as the “Sailor’s Church” and “St. Nick’s.” St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, and given the number that have set off from Liverpool, it is not surprising that a church would spring up in his honour here. The spire is topped with a golden boat the shines brightly in the sun.

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Another area preserved and restored as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Albert Dock. Opened in 1846, the Albert Dock was the first enclosed dock made out of something that wouldn’t burn, making it a huge improvement in maritime technology over the smouldering, smoking and burning docks of other cities. Today, the Albert Dock is one of many docks along the waterfront of Liverpool no longer in use, as most of the shipping has moved away from the city centre to the larger container ports downstream and upstream. Instead, the dock holds museums, bars and restaurants, including a branch of the Tate Museum (which while having a cafe, I meant as an example of a museum, and not a bar or restaurant).

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I skipped the Tate and went instead to the Merseyside Maritime Museum and International Slavery Museum, housed in the same building. The dual museums pay homage to all those that passed through Liverpool or her boats, both those who chose to go and those that were taken.

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They will remember that we were sold, but not that we were strong. They will remeber that we were bought, but not that we were brave. - William Prescott, former slave, 1937.

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I was quite moved by the statue of the immigrants looking out towards the sea, as both my Paternal Grandparents sailed from Liverpool in 1920, though on different boats and months apart. The museum had a number of models, including one of the Empress of France, the name of the ship that my Grandmother left England aboard, but the model in the museum was for the Empress of France II that wasn’t built until 1928 and replaced the Empress of France I.

Between Albert Dock and the Pierhead, and moving away from the River is a number of new, modern developments. It is a beautiful, mostly pedestrian space where new, shiny glass buildings often share space with older, restored ones.

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About ten minutes walk away from the river is Liverpool Lime Street Rail Station, where I had arrived the night before. The station is attached to a massive North Western Hotel, which now serves as a student residence, and has an impressively clean looking rail shed with a glass roof dating back to the 1880s.

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Across Lime Street from the rail station is St. George’s Hall, a neo-classical building at the heart of the city’s Cultural Quarter. Liverpool was the European Union’s Capital of Culture for 2008, a rotating position which allows a city to show the rest of the EU how cultural it is. It was often mentioned in the tourist literature that Liverpool has five main theatres, which I guess is a sure sign of a cultural with-it place. Anyway, I skipped the theatre for this trip, and instead concentrated on the impressive statues in the fore-court of St. George’s Hall.

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Along Lime Street and then up Mount Pleasant, I came across more workaday Liverpool. Here, row houses line the street as residents of Liverpool, known as Liverpudlians or Scousers (after a local food dish) went about their business.

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It is here that I got my first glimpses of the tough times that Liverpool must have went through in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s as the shipyards closed and the docks shut down.

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In the 1970s, Richard J. Webber, while working for the Centre of Environmental Studies, was looking at ways to tackle the issues of poverty in Liverpool. It was during this time that he developed something called “geodemographic segmentation,” which he wrote about in his paper Liverpool Social Area Study, 1971 data that was published in the engagingly named PRAG Technical Paper No 14, Centre for Environmental Studies, 1975.

Geodemographic segmentation is the clustering of people into groups based on their geography – i.e. where they live. People had segmented populations and customer groups before, but usually based on known demographic elements like age, income, ethnicity, etc. Mr. Webber put into statistical practice that oft quoted phrase, “birds of a feather flock together,” by determining that we tend to live in neighbourhoods that are populated by other people like us. We move to areas where we feel comfortable, and we are likely to feel most comfortable when surrounded by those who share our interests, morals and lifestyle.

Geodemographic segmentation is now used the world over in both setting public policy and service planning, as well as in the private sector for customer segmentation and marketing efforts. Geodemographic segmentation, along with a number of other segmentation methods, is something that I have over the past 10 years working in computer systems for customer relationship management and marketing become very familiar with, so being in Liverpool for me was a bit like an Elvis fan going to Graceland. All those fun coloured maps, segmentation profiles and behaviour modelling I get to play with every day, it all started here in Liverpool.

Now that is history!

You are probably less enamoured of the history of statistical modelling and segmentation methodologies, so instead I present something else developed in the same period, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King.

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Consecrated in 1967, the Metropolitan Cathedral is the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral and the seat of the Archbishop of Liverpool.

I realize that some of the photos are blurry looking in this section. I don’t know what caused that. It first started happening with the photos near St. George’s hall. I was a little suspicious that the photos looked grainy, but it is sometimes hard to tell on the LCD screen of the camera. I was sure something was off by the time I snapped the photos of the Metropolitan Cathedral, though, and then I looked at the settings on the camera. As far as I know, I didn’t change anything, but after exiting the settings menu, the pictures I took after that were all fine. I guess just by observing the settings, I fixed them. It’s a lot like Schrodinger's Cat. For those of you who don’t know, Schrodinger is the little boy from the Peanuts cartoon that plays the piano, and whenever he looked at his cat, he killed it. That’s physics, for you.

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Back to the Cathedral. It is modern and very round, and as such the Met stands in stark contrast to the other Cathedral in the city, just a mile down Hope Street.

The Liverpool Cathedral.

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The Liverpool Cathedral is Anglican and very gothic. Where the Metropolitan is inviting, the Liverpool is imposing. It sits atop St. James’ hill, giving the already towering and commanding exterior of the Cathedral an even more imposing mass. The cathedral is the largest cathedral in Britain, and close in size to both St. Peter’s in Rome and the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. It is very open inside, but also quite narrow, and as with most places that are big, it is hard to capture on film.

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While the building looks like it dates back to the 1200s and the time of dragons and knights, it in fact was only started in 1904, and wasn’t completed until 1978. Some of the areas are quite modern in design, including the front entrance, which has this modern stained glass window and weird statue.

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The church is surrounded by St. James’ Garden and Cemetery, which sits below both the Cathedral (atop St. James hill) and the nearby roads, which means that you have large rock walls rising up above you at all times. There hasn’t been a burial here since the 1930s, and most of the headstones have been moved over to the sides or repurposed as stones on the walking paths, but I felt it was one of the creepiest cemeteries I have ever been in. Perhaps it is the high rock walls and lack of escape routes, or maybe the fact that almost everything is covered in a thick, green moss, or maybe it is because the sky was grey and threatening and was about to rain when I was there, but the place gave me the shivers.

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It was a fun scare there, and no zombies ate me, so everything turned out okay. Leaving St. James’ Garden, though the rain starts to fall, and I find myself digging in my bag for my umbrella.

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Heading down Parliament Street the road meets up with the River Mersey again, and I walked along Chaloner Street. The rain brought a fog in with it, and the Cathedrals’ towers become shrouded in fog.

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A little further along, I cross over the Wapping Dock and walk by the Echo Arena, modern in a shape that reminded me of a sea-gull, which felt fitting for a city by the sea (or at least, the estuary that is close to the sea).

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I finished my walk along the water until I reached the Albert Dock, and then headed back into town for some well deserved rest and relaxation.

The next day, having seen the sights in the city core, I decide to head downriver for a gander at one of the other site identified within the UNESCO heritage destination, but an area that isn’t quite as repurposed and redeveloped as the Albert Dock.

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Stanley Dock opened in 1848, and today sits mostly abandoned just a 30 minute walk from the city centre core and the Three Graces. The area is home to a Sunday market and is part of a grand redevelopment plan, but you all know how well redevelopment plans are going over in this credit crunch climate, so it may be a few more years before the fading, industrial decay of the Stanley Dock becomes like the bright, shiny and fashionable Albert Dock.

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Personally, I am a fan of the grittier, rundown dock buildings. While the Albert Dock is very nice and a good place to go for a lovely dinner on the waterfront and then perhaps a walk around the Tate Museum, it retains very little of the blue-collar, working-class, industrial personality that you can still feel in a place like the Stanley Dock, even if it is just the ghost of long-ago laid off dock workers.

Just down from Stanley Dock on Waterloo Road is the Clarence Dock. It was at the Clarence dock that boats from Ireland landed in the 1800s, and thus it is through these gates that most of the 1.3 million Irish who fled the famine would have passed.

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Walking back towards the city centre along Waterloo Road, there isn’t much that is very active. The street is lined on the one side by the thick granite walls that separate me from the now abandoned docklands, and on the other side a mixture of what appear to be working warehouses and industrial spots, though they are closed on the Saturday that I am strolling there, and a number of abandoned buildings.

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Just before reaching the Three Graces, the redevelopment of the docklands appears. The Prince’s Dock has a number of new buildings and modern touches, like a whale-bone shaped footbridge across the basin at the mid-point.

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After the docklands, I wander for a few hours checking out the parts of the city centre I missed over yesterday.

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Saturday afternoon at 1:30 PM, and the streets of Liverpool were deserted except for a few confused looking tourists. The population of Liverpool plus one Canadian-cum-Londoner were crammed into pubs and around TVs watching the telly, because the home-town team, Liverpool FC was playing hated rivals Manchester United in a game with serious implications for the run for England’s Premiership championship.

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I watched the game in an Irish pub called the Slaughter House, and luckily for the fans of Liverpool, it was the home side that was doing the slaughtering. After an early goal by Manchester United which stunned the crowd into silence, Liverpool piled on goal after goal against an increasingly lame looking Man U club. By the end of the game the chanting, cheering and singing were in full blast, and the game ended with a score of 4-1 in favour of Liverpool to the strains of legions of fans singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

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You’ll Never Walk Alone is a tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel that was covered in 1963 by local artists Gerry and the Pacemakers (who’ll make another few appearances in the narrative before my time in Liverpool is done). Soon after, the fans of Liverpool FC adopted the song as an anthem and is now sung before every match, and apparently, after if the result is good.

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Saturday night I took it easy. After having a few of the above beverages during the game, I was tired and tried to recharge with a late afternoon nap, but I just ended up feeling worse. The centre of Liverpool becomes a mass of young people, many of them dressed up in costumes for hen parties, stag dos or birthday parties, and the crowds become crushing. Despite enjoying the group of brave young ladies who themed their party “South Pacific” and treated all the rest of us on a cold, March night to a show of taut flesh underneath skimpy bikinis, I couldn’t take the crowds. So I retreated to a quiet pub just behind St. George’s Hall called Doctor Duncan’s and had a pint of Cains India Pale Ale (the hand-pumped cask conditioned stuff, not the keg variety). Cains is a local brewer that has switched hands many times since its owner’s death, and is currently owned by two brothers of Indian origin. It seems fitting that an English brewer should end up in Indian hands, seeing as many of them were founded on exporting of ales to that country.

So, there you go. Have I covered it all? The Mersey – check. The docks, the decay and the regeneration – check. UNESCO and the city centre – check. The Cathedrals – check. The footie club – check. Liver birds – check. Geodemographic segmentation – check. Yup, that’s everything anyone could ever say about Liverpool.

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Oh right, those guys…

I’m not quite done with Liverpool just yet. I still have to write about Friday night, which I conveniently skipped over in this entry, and which does involve four mop-topped lads from Liverpool who, like Gerry and the Pacemakers, were part of the Merseybeat sound. And I have to write about taking a ferry cross the Mersey, which will also feature more of Gerry and the Pacemakers, so look for a few more entries to come.

Liverpool, a city you can’t just cover in one blog entry. Perhaps that should be there new tourist slogan.

Posted by GregW 03:23 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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