Monday, April 18, 2011

Hello, Goodbye Liverpool

It was a Beatles-themed weekend in Liverpool for me. After a nearly 7-hour train journey that brought us through the lovely countryside, we arrived in Liverpool Lime St. Station.

I'm not sure what I expected from Liverpool. When I told friends where I was going, they asked why: wasn't it just a boring industrial city?

Right away, I noticed the amount of culture of the city. There were many trendy people with very unique clothing styles. Many had brightly dyed hair and heavy makeup, and the monuments and street decorations reflected the culture. Additionally, in 2008, the city was voted European Capital of Culture.

There were some great buildings, with many angles and shapes. There were few rectangular buildings, and the ones that were there still managed a modern-art look. For example, one rectangular office buildings with glass windows and at a slight angle, so when I looked up, I couldn't see the floors or ceilings, so it looked like it could be one continuous room.

The streets were adorned with modern art that added bright colours to this semi-industrial city.

The YHA Hostel was very nice. All of the areas were named after the Beatles; for example, we stayed in room 110 on the Penny Lane corridor. The bed was so much more comfortable than the one in my residence room, making it very hard to get out of bed in the morning.

We picked up transit bus passes and had the tourist information centre employee mark out the Beatles-related sites. The passes reminded me of Toronto bus passes, though significantly cheaper!

Our first stop was Penny Lane. I found a barber on Penny Lane, though sadly, it lacked windows showing photographs.

We hopped back on the bus for our next stop at Strawberry Field, the gates being the only remaining part of the former site for a Salvation Army home.

It has become a shrine to the Beatles, with many messages written on the gates.

We left Strawberry Field and walked along Menlove Avenue until we reached Mendips, which is John Lennon's childhood home. It's now a National Trust site, meaning it cost way too much for us to actually go inside.

We continued walking around the neighbourhood until we found St. Peter's Church in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool. This is where Lennon and Paul McCartney met and first heard each other play, which led Lennon to invite McCartney into his then-band, the Quarrymen. It also has a grave for Eleanor Rigby, although the Beatles say they came up with the name before realising they must have been subconsciously remembering the grave.

After getting quite lost in Lennon's neighbourhood, we managed to find our way to 20 Forthlin Road, McCartney's childhood home. It didn't look as nice as Lennon's, but it was a beautiful street with some really pretty gardens.

Back in the city centre, we happened upon a peace monument to Lennon. I really liked the style of this one, with the monochromatic backdrop and the bright monument in front. It was unveiled last year on what would have been Lennon's 70th birthday.

Next, we made our way to Mathew Street, home to the Cavern Club and the Hard Day's Night Hotel.

We first found the statue to Eleanor Rigby, with a plaque dedicating it to all the lonely people.

From there we went into the Hard Day's Night Hotel, where I bought the most expensive drink I ever had. It was called Honey Can't Buy Me Love: "42 Below honey vodka, Amaretto and Chocolate Liqueur mixed together with Cream, and finished off with Fresh Grated Chocolate." Delicious.

The hotel had some great Beatles-related art, and live Beatles music. The performer was surprisingly good, singing with an effect on to do his own harmony, and it actually sounded great. 

We wandered back to the hostel for the night and got a good night's sleep to prepare us for the next day's adventure.

We began the day at the Beatles Story museum, where we saw all kinds of Beatles artifacts.

There were many old instruments, such as the one below. This was a room replicating the inside of the Cavern Club as it would be been when the Beatles first played there.

When we arrived at the museum, it was completely empty, so we were able to run around taking silly photos. We each took photos in front of our favourite Beatle: Saori with Ringo, Donald with John, and me with Paul. Poor George...

But of course, we also took photos with all the other members. There were some great set-ups.

There were little rooms dedicated to each member's legacy, so we took lots of photos there as well.

There was a beautiful replica of Lennon's White Room—though for some reason is more of a cream or yellow room in my photos—but that's OK!

They had full Beatles costumes to try on, but we were satisfied with the Mop Tops.

After the museum, we took a ferry 'cross the Mersey.

It was supposed to give us a little tour, sharing the history of Liverpool and the River Mersey. Unfortunately, it came out so muffled, sounding very much like the spoken announcements on the Toronto subway.

We spent our last few hours in the Mathew Street area, spending way too much money on souvenirs.

I bought a mug and a Help! t-shirt. My flatmates and I like to take photos in the Help! pose—although I've just learned that they are not spelling "Help" in flag semaphore. Apparently, it didn't look good enough for an album cover, so they actually spell out "NUJV."

Lastly, we made it to Ringo's childhood home. It was in a really dilapidated area, and apparently the homes there are going to be demolished soon. They all had construction signs around, with notes on the door telling would-be intruders that there are no valuables inside. 

Although we never made it to George's old home, it was ultimately a highly successful trip. We got to visit every single place on our must-see list, and then some.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Isle of Skye: The thrilling conclusion

We woke early to enjoy our last day on the Isle of Skye. This is the beautiful view outside the hostel window in the village of Kyleakin.

We crossed this bridge that divides Isle of Skye from mainland Scotland.

It no longer charges a toll, but when it first opened, it was considered one of the most expensive roads in Europe. Our guide told us that at the time, she had to pay around £40 to cross the bridge in the coach bus. The villagers protested the fees through refusing to pay the tolls, and were ultimately successful.

This is Eileen Donan Castle, one of the most photographed sights in Scotland. The original castle dates back to the 13th century, though it had been demolished and rebuilt in the past century. It was first used as a defence against the Vikings, and later during the Jacobite Risings. It has also been the filming for many movies, perhaps most notably, the Highlander.

This is Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in all of the British Isles. With all the clouds, we weren't able to see the summit, which is over 1,300m above sea level. For comparison, the highest Rocky Mountain is around 4,400m above sea level.

After a few stops, we made it to Glencoe, the site of the notorious Massacre of Glencoe. After the Jacobite Risings, which aimed to reinstate James VII of Scotland as the British monarch, the highlanders were asked to swear an oath of allegiance to the new king and queen. The MacDonald of Glencoe clan were not quick in announcing their loyalty.

The Campbell clan arrived in Glencoe and spent two weeks as guests of the highland clan, dining and socialising with them, before massacring the clan. Thirty-eight were killed directly during the massacre, while the majority of the rest of them died shortly after having had all of their food and belongings burned. Our guide's moral of the story: Never trust a Campbell. (Apparently, this is a saying that many Scots have been taught. Let's hope it isn't true; I live with one!)

I had to add this photograph because I couldn't believe the price of gas here! I complain when the it costs more than about $1 per L, but here, it cost £1.369 per L. That's over $2 per L! I don't know how people afford to drive out here. It was even more in London.

This is the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which made me excited because of its appearance in the Harry Potter movies. Apparently, during the summer, it's possible to take a the Jacobite steam train (aka: Hogwarts Express) along the route.

We stopped to visit Hamish the Highland Cow in Perthshire. Our tour guide said he's a very famous highland cow and people come from far away to visit him (and it appears that many tours do, indeed, stop to say hello). My Scottish flatmates, however, have never heard of him, so I'm guessing it's just part of the tourism. He was cute anyway!

And that's the end of the MacBackpackers trip! The bus stopped at the Wallace Monument, which is just on the edge of campus, so our guide kindly dropped my flatmate and I off at the residences, where we said goodbye and headed back to the real world, full of classes, and readings and essays—oh my!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Finally...Isle of Skye, part 2!

In the morning of the 19th of February, we woke up in the Isle of Skye and headed into the mountains.

Our first stop was Sligachan, where the river is said to be the tears of Scáthach. She was said to be a strong leader, who was challenged by the Irish warrior Cúchulainn. After days and days of fighting, they recognised that they couldn’t defeat each other. They ended up falling in love, but then Cúchulainn left to return to Ireland, causing Scáthach to cry. Her tears filled the river, and our guide gave us the moral of the story: Never trust an Irishman.

We were all advised to stick our faces in the water and we would have everlasting beauty and youth. I’m guessing the ice-cold water is just meant to freeze our faces into place forever and ever.

We continued into the cute town of Portree, where we stopped for pastries before moving on for our mountain hike.

I’m divided about my thoughts on this hike. On the one hand, I saw some of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, it was slightly terrifying. We were essentially scaling the mountain during some parts, with a path about a foot wide. Exhilarating, nonetheless.

Once we all finally reached the top, we stopped for photos and turned around to take the same path back. While going up was scary, walking down was much worse.

There were sections where we had to drop a little bit to get to the next part of the path. There were also portions that had two places that looked like the path, and we couldn’t remember which one was the right one. In the end, though, we all made it down. I was just thankful to have been wearing Wellington boots, and not high heels like some of the girls.

Next, we drove to the westernmost point on the island. From there, our guide said, if we were able to see far enough, the next bit of land would be Canada. A couple months before, my sister visited Newfoundland and stood on the easternmost point and waved at me in the UK, so I made sure to return the gesture from here.

We continued our drive, passing lots of cute wee houses sporadically situated around the island. This is what many think of as the idyllic Scotland, all surrounded by wilderness and away from the cities.

The weather was very erratic. One moment we would feel warmth and sunshine, and then randomly, it would be raining. Though irritating, it meant we saw tons of rainbows.

And of course, tons of sheep.

Our final stop of the day was Faerie Glen. Up until this point, we saw tons of big hills, mountains, and lochs. Here, however, we saw it all again, but in miniature form.

Some of the faerie beliefs involve them tripping hikers and making their possessions go missing. It is said the entry to the faerie world is here, so many people leave gifts to the faeries in hopes they will treat them kindly.

Some of the sacrifices were rather eerie, such as piles of animal bones.

Most of the gifts, however, were small coins, hair elastics and flowers.

It’s said that if anybody removes items from Faerie Glen, whether it is the gifts or the nature, bad things will happen to them. Our tour guide insisted that every once in a while, they have people mailing sticks or stones to the MacBackpackers office, asking for them to return it to Faerie Glen.

That's it for now. I will have the last part up sometime in the next couple of days—I swear I will!