October 18, 2018

Liverpool: Home of the Fab Four

by Steve W

Anyone who knows us knows that we are huge fans of The Beatles, so it was with great anticipation that we arrived in their home city of Liverpool. England's largest seaport, it was a center of trade until the late 1800's, when the port was too shallow for the large ships that were being developed. The port was closed in 1972, but over the last few decades, the city has been rejuvenated as a tourist and shopping destination. Liverpool One is a huge pedestrian-only complex of restaurants and stores that extends for many city blocks. Lots of modern buildings mixed in with older ones and, like everywhere we go, lots of construction of new buildings.

Liverpool City Hall

Royal Liver Building

Note the Gothic church among the modern buildings.
The Cunard Building, home of the shipping company
As the shipping business deteriorated, the living conditions of the Liverpudlians grew worse and worse. It was into this environment that four young men were born and raised. While their individual circumstances differed somewhat, they all used music to escape their dreary surroundings and to become an international phenomenon. As such, many of the sights in Liverpool focus on The Beatles and the music that came from Liverpool.

Liverpool is located on the Mersey River, so this became known as the Mersey Sound, with bands like Gerry and the Pacemakers ("Ferry 'Cross The Mersey"), The Searchers ("When You Walk In The Room") The Swinging Blue Jeans ("The Hippy Hippy Shake"), and many others. The Beatles also opened the door to America for other bands such as The Dave Clark Five, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Them, The Zombies and other groups that were part of the British Invasion of the 1960s.

On the waterfront is a statue of Billy Fury, one of the first pop stars in the 1950s and sometimes called the British Elvis. At one point, The Silver Beatles auditioned to be his backup band.

You can also get a great view of the Mersey River and the far side of the bank, with boats still traveling back and forth between the shores.

Ferry 'Cross the Mersey
The waterfront is also the home of the Museum of Liverpool, which had an exhibit on John Lennon while we were there.
A message from John and Yoko
The Beatles Story is a museum devoted solely to the group, with narration by John's sister, Julia Baird, and audio clips from others close to the group, like Sir George Martin, Cynthia Lennon (John's first wife and mother of Julian), and Patti Boyd (who was married to George Harrison and later to Eric Clapton), as well as The Beatles themselves. It presents chronologically the story of how the four members got together, including stories about previous members Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe. There are pictures, audio clips and videos (although none of actual performances by the group) that document the historic rise of the group, including some recreations of important events.

A call sheet from the Cavern Club, showing "The Quarrymen" (the name the group used before The Beatles) and "Rory Storm and The Hurricanes", which featured a drummer named Ringo Starr.

A recreation of the stage from The Cavern Club

The poster that inspired John Lennon
The original gate from Strawberry Field (not "Fields")

A new member of the band!
We also visited the British Music Experience, located in the Cunard Building, which presented an overview of British music from the 1940s to the present, with an audio guide and displays of instruments, costumes, album covers and sheet music broken down into various eras. There is also a "studio" where visitors can take short audio-visual lessons and play instruments along with popular songs.

In many cities we visit, there is often a large cathedral, and this was no exception. The Liverpool Cathedral is the largest cathedral in Great Britain.

The main altar

Looking towards the back of the church.

Details of the ceiling
Built in the neo-Gothic style, the church has both traditional and modern artwork, some of it to the chagrin of the more conservative members.

The Good Samaritan

 It has a tower that can be climbed with an observation deck with views of the entire city.

The next day, it was back to The Beatles, with a bus tour of Beatles'-related sights, such as inspirations for their songs and some of their homes.

Roll up for the mystery tour!

"Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes."

The current gate at Strawberry Field. Note the graffiti, which is encouraged.

"Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to..."

Mendips, where Lennon lived as a teenager with his Aunt Mimi.

The McCartney family home

"When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me"
No Beatles tour is complete without a visit to The Cavern Club. Built on the site of the original, the walls are lined with photos of the artists who played there, a virtual Who's Who of rock and roll.

The original backdrop to the stage. How many artists do you recognize?
Across the alley from the Cavern is a statue of John Lennon.

As close as we'll get to hangin' with a Beatle!
Around the corner from the Cavern is the Hard Day's Night Hotel, with statues of all 4 members on the outside of the building.

Although our visit was short, it was packed with sights to see and enjoy. If you are a Beatles fan visiting the UK, Liverpool is a must-see destination.

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October 15, 2018

Celebrating Day 500!

With Rosemary and Steve

Straddling the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

We have been on the road for 500 days! After all this time, we'd like to share these frequently-asked questions. (That is, questions we frequently ask.)
  • Can you tell me where the restrooms are?
  • Do you speak English?
  • Is breakfast included with our room?
  • Where is the nearest metro station?
  • May we please have some more towels?
  • What is the WiFi password?
  • How much is bus fare?
  • How far is that from the hotel?
  • May I have some tap water, please?
  • Can we check in early?
  • What time does the dinner buffet start?
  • What day is it?
  • Can you tell me where the WC is?
  • How much is that in dollars?
  • Do you have anything I can substitute for fries? Any vegetables?
  • Is there a senior discount?
  • When does happy hour start?
  • Can I get more shampoo/conditioner/body wash?
  • Where is the nearest pharmacy?
  • When is check-out time?
  • How long will it take to get to the airport?
  • Where are we?
  • Are you bringing out any more food for the buffet?
  • Where is the toilet?
  • Do you have a lift?
  • May I get some ice with my drink?
  • Do you take credit cards, or cash only?
  • Where is the washroom?
These, and other questions, are part of what makes this trip so interesting. We hope that you have enjoyed following our adventures so far, because there is much more to come.

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October 13, 2018

All Shakespeare All the Time

by Rosemary

The first thing we did in Stratford-upon-Avon was to get dressed up and go to a production of Macbeth by the Royal Shakespeare Company. (A couple of days later, we saw their modernized version of Tartuffe.)

The theatre, like the town, is full of images of Shakespeare and the many characters he created. This portrait is made of Legos.

Stratford dates back to Roman times, but was first recognized as a market city in 1196. There were several devastating fires in the early 1600s, so most of the structures are from the 17th century or later. After the fires, the highly flammable thatched roofs were outlawed, but the Old Thatch Tavern, the only surviving thatched building, was allowed to stay.

A swan floating slowly down the River Avon.

Looking across the river toward Trinity Church.

The huge monument in the market square was donated to the city by an American in honor of Queen Victoria's 1887 Golden Jubilee.

This large statue of Shakespeare is surrounded by sculptures of characters from some of his plays.

One of the newer sculptures in town is this jester, unveiled in 1994. Its pedestal is inscribed with relevant quotations. "Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun. It shines everywhere." (Twelfth Night)

Shakespeare's birthplace was restored in the 1800s. Inside the walls, some of the original wattle-and-daub construction remains. Its furnishings and decorations are reproductions in the style of the 1570s. Costumed guides in the rooms provide information about the house and the life of the Shakespeare family.

Hall's Croft was the home of Shakespeare's daughter Susannah, who married a doctor named John Hall. The rooms contain period furniture and are set up as they might have looked when the Halls lived here. The house has been extended, remodeled, and restored over the past 400 years. We were told the stone floor was original, so we were walking where Shakespeare had walked.

The New Place was the big house that Shakespeare bought when he became successful. The house was torn down in the 1700s, but archaeology and other research provide information about its layout and appearance. The space where the house once stood is now a garden that includes sculptures and informative signs. There is a museum in the house next door, which belonged to Shakespeare's granddaughter and her husband.

During his career as a writer, actor, and entrepreneur, Shakespeare spent most of his time in London. When he retired, he moved back to Stratford, and it was there he died in 1616. He was buried in Trinity Church, the same church where he had been baptized 52 years earlier. It is the oldest building in Stratford (dating back to 1210). Its doors and door knocker are from the 15th century. There are other prominent citizens buried here, but most visitors come to see Shakespeare and his family members, whose graves are near the altar. The carved funerary monument was placed on the wall a few years after Shakespeare's death.

We managed to cover a lot of ground in just two days here. Then we hopped a train for Liverpool.

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