Wales is a bilingual country of around 3 million people. In fact, Welsh was the only spoken language in Wales until the 12th century, when King Edward (also known as Edward the Long Shanks) began to induct Welshmen into his service. Of course, the Welsh had to learn English in order to be a part of the King’s service, and soon the English language spread across the land.
In modern times (1990s), fearing that the native language was dying out, the government enacted the Welsh Language Act (English and Welsh are to be treated equally) in order to protect the language. All public transportation signs are printed in both English and Welsh, and all public documents are printed in both languages. Children are required to study Welsh in schools until the age of 16. Overall, they have done a pretty good job of keeping the language alive. The most recent census showed that about 19% of the country speaks the Welsh language.
It was fascinating to be sitting on a train bound for Liverpool listening to the woman just to the left of us talking animatedly on her cell phone—all in Welsh—with the occasional English “Okay” thrown in. (I guess there’s no equivalent for that word in modern Welsh?) And it was actually a little sad when we left the last Welsh Station—Abergavenny (Welsh: Y Fenni) and crossed over the Welsh border into England where the first station simply read: Hereford.
We had to change trains once in Crewe, and from this point we took a city train that took us straight into the center of Liverpool’s Lime Street Station. But not before we’d had to bear nearly half an hour of badly behaved adolescent Liverpudlian boys, who were on their way to John Lennon airport dressed in what looked like long shorts and rubber galoshes. (We were soon to discover that this is apparently the newest style amongst English boys, as every youth was dressed thus once we arrived in Liverpool). I’m sure the galoshes companies are happy, but I daresay that the adult population will not fret the passing of this fad.
“We’re going to crash!” One of the boys kept screaming out on the train, soon followed by: “We’re all going to die!”
Of course, in good English fashion, no one said anything at all to them, and they were allowed to carry on as boisterously as possible. They also occupied the best seats on the train, so when they mercifully disembarked at the airport stop, whacking everyone around them with their luggage, we moved up into their seats. There, we found, they had left spoils of their journey behind them. No less than four unopened cans of Carling beer were left in their wake (boys can drink at the age of 16 in the UK), and when we exited the train, we helped ourselves to one of them. I can safely say it was the worst beer I have ever tried—virtually undrinkable, in fact.
Liverpool is a really interesting town, and I freely admit that I did not allow for enough time there (we really only had half a day). It feels very modern there—almost like New York City. There are a lot of dred-locked people walking around carrying guitar cases, and heavily pierced persons were the norm in the city center. It is also the dirtiest city I’ve ever seen in England (although I hear Manchester is much worse). Litter was everywhere! Later, whilst reading Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island, I saw that he actually termed Liverpool’s trash-laden streets “The Festival of Litter.” There was a fair amount of graffiti everywhere we walked, and a generic grime covered the sidewalks. Having said that, I really wish we’d had more time there because we both really liked the place!
Not far from our hotel, we found a wonderful Mexican restaurant called Lucha Libre. There, I ate the best (and I’m not kidding when I say this)—THE BEST fish tacos I’ve ever had in my life. They were on corn tortillas and accompanied by aioli sauce and shredded lettuce and honestly…my mouth is watering as I speak…Wow!
Liverpool is full of museums, many of them free, that we never got to see. It boasts the world’s second largest Anglican Cathedral, which is stunning to behold. Again, it’s free to enter, and we didn’t have time. There is an immense shopping portal in the town, full of modern and enticing stores, and a fully renovated and beautiful situated dock area, full of restaurants and shops and beautiful views of the water. Liverpool was once one of the most important cities in Europe due to its dock and import/export capabilities.
But we were there for one reason alone—to experience the birthplace of The Beatles, and to go on The Magical Mystery Tour. Now, let me say up front that I’m not really a Beatles fan. I know, I know…I hear the jeers –boo, hiss. In my own defense, they weren’t really part of my era of music—although I did like Paul McCartney’s music with Wings—so hopefully that redeems me in some way. Stephen is a massive Beatles fan, and again—I only feel guilty that I didn’t plan this part of the trip right. We really needed more time there, as we didn’t get to do The Beatles museum either. Our bus tour was booked for 4:00, and it was the last tour of the day, so we were on a strict schedule. We had a marvelous tour guide named Nick (at least I think that’s what he said—Liverpudlians talk so fast!), who had been doing the tours for thirteen years. He told us that he absolutely loved his job—he does three or four tours a day (they last around two hours a piece), and he’s gotten to know all of the locals in all of the neighborhoods over the years. This was obvious, as when we stopped off to invade the neighborhood where Paul McCartney was born, an elderly man walking down the street, stopped off to talk to Nick and tell him the status of his wife's health. Apparently, she had been diagnosed with cancer and given two days to live, but she had survived six weeks and was up and about and doing great.
Later on, we stopped off in the neighborhood where George Harrison was born. “We don’t go into the cul-de-sac, though,” Nick said, stopping one woman who was plowing ahead into the circle of row houses. “We only go if we’re invited.”
Just about that time, a tiny boy who looked to be around four, poked his head out of the door of the house across from George Harrison’s boyhood home. “Nanny says it’s all right.”
“Who says it’s all right?” Nick asked him.
“Nanny says it’s all right,” the little boy repeated. “You can come through.” And with that, we had been invited.
Someone actually lives in George Harrison’s old home now (and apparently he was born in the basement of the place), but Paul McCartney’s and John Lennon’s are museums and may be toured by appointment. As of that time however, the tours were booked up through September. At any rate, can you imagine living in a neighborhood where a thousand tourists a day traipse through to snap pictures of a house once touched by one of The Beatles? It must be very tiresome.
A great deal of the places we saw at the beginning of the tour were somewhat depressing. Multi-level apartment buildings were abandoned, boarded up, or left to be vandalized and project an eerie picture of smashed windows and darkened doorways. Many parts of the city look so dejected and dark and depressing, but then we moved off into the neighboring suburbs, and the outlook brightened considerably. By the time we had made our way into the area where the red gate for Strawberry Fields has been replicated, we were oohing and ahhing over the beautiful—and gigantic—homes.
There are many, many Beatle-themed sites that have been left to ruin, unfortunately. A bistro in the center of one of the residential areas is completely shut down, and although it is an adorable old building, it badly needs repair. The Empress—a pub that stands across the street from Ringo Starr’s old house, and where his mother worked for a time, is shut down—the letters falling from the sign. It was very sad to see, as the place has the historical plaque on the outside, so it cannot be torn down—but it has been left to decay. I guess there’s no money to keep these places up, but it sure seems like a massively missed business opportunity. I would think tourists would flock to these places.
The tour ended at The Cavern Club back in the city. Our entrance to the club was included in the tour costs, so we decided to go in even though Stephen had been told not to bother with it. This was the second time on the trip we had been told “not to bother” with something, only to be so happy that we did! This place was great!
The Cavern Club was opened in the 1950s, and The Beatles (then known as The Quarrymen) played there some 292 times over the course of their career. The club was closed down and demolished in 1973 because of some underground railway ventilation duct that supposedly had to be built. It turned out, that they misjudged the location where the ventilation duct had to be constructed. The demolition had been all for nothing. In 1984, the site was excavated, and 15,000 of the original bricks were used to reform the place.
It is literally a cavern. You go way, way down underground to get to this place, and it is quite small and intimate. It is, of course, a tourist trap, and there is a tourist shop down there, but there is also fabulous music being played every day—many of the groups do Beatles tunes—as was the case for us that afternoon. Two guys played guitar and sang all of the old tunes, including requests by some obnoxious Americans (they claimed to be Canadians, but I had heard their previous conversations, and they were definitely Americans) sitting next to us.
So we had a beer and sat to listened to old Beatles songs, and we imagined what it would have been like in the 1960s, filled with cigarette smoke and beatniks all sitting around listening to The Beatles play. It was a pretty cool experience!
After leaving the club, I was having a sugar low and a case of the grumpies. It was quite a long walk back to our hotel, and we really had no clue where to eat. I like to think that the only time I’m really mean is when I’m hungry—and this was one of them. I get silent and peevish (I might even get snappy if I’m spoken to while in this state). Anyway, this was one of those times. Because it was past seven thirty everything was shut down except for a few restaurants in the center of town, so we settled on an Italian restaurant. Once I started eating, normalcy returned, and I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner. I only wish I could remember the name of the restaurant, as I would love to recommend it, but I believe it was on Paradise Street in Liverpool.
After we ate, we hoofed it back to our very nice hotel. The Roscoe House is located in old terraced housing and sits on Rodney Street. It may not be as central as some other hotels, and there is no breakfast affiliated with the stay there, but it’s a classic old building with beautifully restored rooms and bathrooms. And it had the best shower in all of the UK! There was actually hot water and water pressure! It was amazing!
Anyway, I hate to say it, folks—in fact—I probably don’t even have to say it, do I? Guess what was on the tele that night? Yes, it was Big Brother’s final show of the season! Thankfully, we were back to the hotel in time …