Monday, November 2, 2015

Letters from a Golden English Autumn, Part 2: Liverpool Scenes

Colorful Liverpool

Jan, Julian and me at Bold Street Coffee

September 28, 2015

After pleasantly poking around Coniston and Hawkstead in the Lake District we took the Windermere Ferry across the lake and by 4 PM were Liverpool bound. It was about a 100 mile drive on the M6, and I was glad to be on the motorway, as there’s no “other side of the road,” it’s like any freeway. Yet it turned out to be almost the most fraught driving of all. When a vast lorry pulled up right behind my bumper, keeping only a few inches between us (and we were going 60 mph in the slow lane), I thought that driver must be a lunatic. I just held on and eventually he went around me. To my horror it turned out he wasn’t an individual nutter – by the time we reached the outskirts of Liverpool a dozen lorries had given us the same treatment!  Yet we weren’t driving in a “lorry lane,” plenty of other ordinary cars were driving in it, and we were going at the speed limit. Never saw anything like it, and I’ve driven thousands of miles in the UK…but not in the last ten years. I have no idea of what has changed. I’d be willing to admit maybe it’s me, growing older as a driver, but my moments of panic at confusing signs and roundabouts weren't on the motorway, where I was driving straight on. So I don’t know. Has driving civility declined in England?  Are there a hell of a lot more cars now?  On previous trips I quite enjoyed the driving; this time I simply felt unsafe, and was thrilled to get out alive. I don’t understand the reason, but will stick to trains and buses in future. Better that way.

Julian meets us at Liverpool Cathedral

The Anglican cathedral, on a golden evening

Julian's apples

Sunset at the cathedral

Nadler hotel, hip and comfortable

Morning at the hotel

By the time we reached Liverpool it was nearly 7, and we were very tired. Jan’s son Julian guided us in by phone (“Head for the cathedral, see the spire, and I’ll be waiting in the street!”), and we arrived in golden dusk at his place, most relieved and rejoiced to have arrived. From the park surrounding glorious gigantic reddish Liverpool Cathedral, you can look down and see the whole city, lit by a magnificent sunset. Julian and Becca walked us over to our hotel, the Nadler, an amusing contrast to the old cathedral area, being super hipster modern. It’s in a lively neighborhood with lots of restaurants, and we had dinner in a cool, cutting edge barn of a place, looking for all the world like it was straight out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They made very tasty dishes of things like lamb and rice and salad all in a box together. After that, time to collapse!

Pictures of the Albert Docks

A sunken ship

Passing by Beatles exhibit (we didn't go in!)

Tuesday, September 29

Liverpool is the greatest, a real revelation. I was so amazed by what a terrific place it is, I just walked around all day exclaiming at it!  First of all it was an absolutely beautiful sunny day. Awoke in my hip, cool room at the Nadler, and met Jan, Julian and Becca in the lobby for breakfast at the Bold Street Coffeehouse, where they did wonderful creamy scrambled eggs and the kind of fabulous cured bacon you get in Wyoming and Montana – funny that old world Liverpool should keep giving me those Western vibes. Then we went walking to the Albert Docks. Spacious, airy, a harbor with boats, buildings ancient and new, beautifully juxtaposed, the area scattered with fine museums - you'd want to go there all the time!  Unlike most cities you don’t have to travel to go to one museum or sight after another; here, everything is located in easy walking distance from the Docks, and you can see as much or as little as you like in a day. First we did the Maritime Museum, with its wide range of exhibits of seafaring subjects, from the Lusitania disaster to ships’ figureheads to World War II bombings, everything remarkably interesting and well presented. We broke for tea and little cakes in their big attractive refurbished warehouse restaurant. We walked more about the Docks, and marveled at the impressively beautiful ,grand old library with its gorgeous dome and treasures, and the Tate Modern and Walker art museums. Particularly loved the Walker, which reminded me of the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge.

Port of Liverpool Building

Liverpool Town Hall 

"England Expects Every Man to Do His Duty"

"They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships"

At the Maritime Museum
Maritime Museum, ground floor

Figureheads at the Maritime Museum


Tea at the Maritime Museum

 When we were tired out we went back to the hotel to rest a bit, and then regrouped for dinner at a coffeehouse vegetarian restaurant, very cozy and near the hotel. A little too green for me, so later I went out for a wander alone and brought myself back a box of nice spicy Chinese noodles from the lively Chinatown here.  An eye opening day, I’m leaving Liverpool with a great desire to go back and see it again. Not at all the slummy early Beatles grungy place I imagined; it’s been revivified with panache and imagination, so it’s extremely attractive and vital – yet the old Georgian and Victorian architecture (there are said to be more Georgian buildings in Liverpool than in Bath, and it’s called England’s finest Victorian city) looks burnished and beautiful. The history shows, but not shabbily; rather, it shines, and it’s easy to imagine how it looked a century or two ago. The city completely lacks the overpowering megalopolis feeling of London; no monster crowds of tourists, no heavy traffic, so it's almost like being in London back in the 1950s. I don’t know how they achieved this but I’m sold!  Falling into bed, and tomorrow, the drive to Cambridge.

At the beautiful Walker Art Gallery


"The Green Monkey," George Stubbs (1775) 

"Eventide: A Scene at the Westminster Union Workhouse" (Von Herkomer, 1878)

Jan and Julian in front of "The Death of Shelley"

Julian and Queen Victoria have nothing to say to each other

 "Dante's Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice," Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1871)

The venerable and beautiful Liverpool Library

Looking at the library's dome

 A gorgeous combination of new and old

"Imagine" (sign against back wall)

 Disraeli and the young Queen Victoria bid us farewell to Liverpool


Barbara said...

Diana, it isn't just you. Some of those lorry drivers are bullies. Others seem to make a game of overtaking each other on a two lane dual carriageway just to hold up the rest of the traffic as they are unable to pass quickly. I don't know what it's all coming to. I'm sorry you found driving here difficult this time but you managed it and survived to tell the tale, so well done!
I love my trips to Liverpool. You probably read about my visit to the newly refurbished library :

Abbeybufo said...

Speed limit on motorways is 70 mph not 60 - that will be why lorries overtake you. But they always seem to come unpleasantly close before doing so! It's partly the shape of the cabs, and the fact they are so much higher up, so they can see the gap there really is between them and you, but you can't as they seem to fill the rear windscreen!

Diana Birchall said...

Barbara, I had forgotten that you'd of course trod the library ground before I did, but I loved reading your post even more now that I've been there. Wonderful pictures and you picked up all kinds of information and details I didn't - I just sort of stood there and breathed in the beauty. It's such a wonderful library, and I do look forward to going back to Liverpool again.

Abbeybufo, that is the most excellent explanation of the phenomenon. Yes, I felt I wasn't going quite fast enough for them, but what you say about them being able to see the gap and me not, makes perfect sense. (By the way, I love "Supposed to be retired" - I know just what you mean!)

Anonymous said...

You've described exactly why I'm too scared to drive on motorways any more!

Glad you had such a great time in Liverpool.

Unknown said...

I've never been to Liverpool, Diana, and I enjoyed reading about your trip. I'd especially like to see the Maritime Museum. When you come to Halifax in 2017, you'll have to visit our Maritime Museum. I think it's included in the conference, and if not, we can make a special trip to the waterfront.

Diana Birchall said...

Callme, the experience is kind of permanently engraved on my cerebrum!

Sarah, I would imagine that the Maritime Museum in Halifax would be something very special indeed.