by Maddalena Beltrami.
I mentioned to my friend, Sandi, that I wanted to go to Liverpool. Yes, please, she replied. Could two bossy broads travel abroad together? As it turns out, she dislikes making travel arrangements and leaves that to her husband. I, on the other hand, won’t even allow someone to buy me a bus ticket. And so began the plan: Liverpool and the Beatles for both of us, Bath and Stonehenge for Sandi and Guernsey and St. Andrews Chapel for me. I suggested March. She pointed out the bad weather. Don’t worry, my TWA (Travel Weather Angel) will take care of that, plus I loathe going anywhere in tourist season.
We got to Liverpool just in time for a midnight twirl on the huge Ferris wheel on the River Mersey waterfront. Sandi watched me not watching the view, as I kept my eyes closed the whole time. Our two bedroom/two bath flat was lovely, other than the fact I kept burning my bum on the towel warmer every time I dropped something. This wasn’t as bad as using it as a handicap rail and burning my fingers, though. That bathroom was not built for plus size Americans. Speaking of tiny, what a good sport Sandi was tolerating the miniscule toy box bedroom.
Our Beatles pilgrimage in search of our youth and theirs, did not disappoint. The Beatles One museum was chock full of the memorabilia of our girlish memories. The British Trust tour of John and Paul’s boyhood homes, where they first began writing those tunes, is a must. We began with Paul’s home. We had to leave our purses/cell phones at the door as no photos were allowed. While in Paul’s bedroom on the second floor, nature called. I eyed the functioning bathroom as the rest of the tour started down the stairs. I ducked in and as I washed my hands, I realized that my cell phone was still in my pocket. That was not on purpose. Taking full advantage of my not paying attention, I tiptoed back over to Paul’s bedroom and took a photo of the room where it happened. Wouldn’t you? By now the guide is bellowing for me to get downstairs with the reminder that potty breaks are only allowed at John’s house. Did Yoko draw the short straw on this decision?
Next up was the British Music Experience in the Cunard building, a fantastic immersion into that British invasion music we loved so much. Speaking of Gerry and the Pacemakers, no trip to Liverpool would be complete without a ferry ride across the Mersey. We had the added treat of Sandi singing a rendition of the song. We toured the Titanic Museum and the International Slavery Museum, which was so humbling. We visited the very old Liverpool Cathedral, the very new Metropolitan Cathedral and the intriguing bombed out St. Luke’s Church along with a few smaller ones. Some churches had children’s areas set up with crayons and coloring books. Sandi availed herself every chance she got. We even met a cool lady who told us about hanging out with the Beatles and smoking pot with them way back in their day. One night, I surprised Sandi with a ghost tour. The two Victorian clad gents were hilarious. They led Sandi up and down alleyways and cobbledstoned streets telling ghost stories, while my bad knee and I remained at the Philharmonic Pub imbibing with two German teachers and a raucously drunk Brit girl. She was scary enough.
The next night was a concert at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall to see David Gray, another Sandi surprise. I had to traipse up a long flight of stairs to the restroom from our mezzanine seats; by now you’ve guessed my bladder strength. As I descended, an usher asked if I needed help. I spied two chairs on the landing behind the orchestra section. I asked if I could just sit there, as he obviously can attest to my handicap, having watched me navigate the steps. He said the concert was sold out, but to wait here. He came back and lead us down a long hallway to the very first, apparently empty Royal box, on the side of the stage. I guess the Queen had better things to do that night. So, Queen Sandi and her lady in waiting kindly filled in for her. We were so close to the stage that we could read the set list on the soundman’s equipment!! We dined at the Philharmonic Dining Rooms before the show. I wanted a pretty Scotch egg. The waitress said the dairyman had not shown up that week. How about the shrimp salad? Nope, we are out of shrimp too. Going down the menu, as if in rehearsal for a Monty Python skit, we settled on some nondescript salad and chips. We laughed ourselves silly over the menu choices and then upped that ante when we went to the restroom. The doors to the stalls in this 124 years old building are solid wood from floor to ceiling. Both stall doors were locked. Somehow, through no common sense of my own, I decided that they must have been locked by accident. Sandi was quick to agree. After we jiggled the door knob a few more times, I asked her to go see about getting a key. A horrified woman then opened the stall door. As we apologized through fits of poorly suppressed laughter, she gave us that withering, “you must be Americans” look.
The Casbah Coffee Club was on the outskirts of the city. It’s the legendary place where Pete Best’s mom, Mona, turned her basement into a music venue so the brand, new Beatles had a place to play. Pete was the Beatles very first drummer. It’s now owned by Roag, Pete’s brother. A relative gave us a tour with a Scouse accent so heavy, we only caught every tenth word. It is was magical to be the only ones there that day. We stood on the still intact stage and imagined ourselves as teens, plucking down a penny to hear those boys play. The obligatory Cavern Club stop was also great with a good band in attendance that night, but it’s the Casbah that captured this fan’s heart. The people here are so friendly and warm. I took to commenting that I’m sure in the 17th century, the nice British people stayed home and only the cranky ones left for America. Liverpool has an immense artistic energy all its own. We fell in love with this city.
Our next stop was by train to Bath. You always learn something new when you travel with a friend. Like the fact that sweet, kind Sandi turns into Cruella Deville when she’s hungry. It happened on a Sunday afternoon in a train station with no restaurants open. I managed to find a bag of Salt and Vinegar potato chips to soothe this savage beast. We both love European train travel, especially when it comes with that unique British sense of humor. I asked the conductor if I needed to change twice. No, you are fine just the way you are, he replied. Bath is a beautiful, elegant city. Our accommodations at the EIGHT Hotel had a big bed in the main room and a small bed in an alcove right in the center of the city. Yes, Sandi was again relegated to the kid’s room. We toured the baths in Bath which were just mesmerizing. We hired a car and the most delightful driver to take us to Stonehenge. The cliché of the energy there is no cliché, what an astounding place.
Our guide also took us to see a memorial stone for singer Eddie Cochran at St. Martin’s Hospital where he died in a car accident in 1960 much too young. We also saw Solsberry Hill made famous by the Peter Gabriel song. He kept us much longer than we or he had bargained for and took us all over that beautiful city! The pies de resistance for these literary ladies was the tour of Jane Austen’s house, complete with a greeting by a doorman in Regency garb. What a terrific experience to see her come to life in that house. The next day we boarded a train to Gatwick Airport and a plane to the isle of Guernsey in the English Channel.
I had seen St. Andrews, a miniature jewel encrusted chapel, in a newspaper travel section years before. Sandi agreed to go because of the cows and that book/movie about the potato club. Turns out the locals were not as enamored as she was with the movie, as not a single scene was shot there. The Le Fregate Hotel offered to upgrade one of our rooms. We had splurged on separate rooms this time, as I was sure Sandi was tired of my penchant for talking to myself and of her having to do her Robert De Niro Taxi Driver impression. She did point out that most people speak to themselves in a word or two, but I do it in full paragraphs. The upgraded room was luxurious with a huge bed, a patio, and a view of the sea. I took the compact one this time, as she had been such a good sport in taking the hobbit huts thus far.
Creatively gorgeous in tiles and glass of every color, texture and size, St. Andrews Chapel was everything I had hoped for and more. We had a taxi take us all around the island. We saw remnants of World War II graveyards. We wandered the charming Priaulx Library, where I found old pictures of the ocean liner, Christopher Columbus, which carried me from Italy to America when I was three years old. The Town Church in St. Peter’s Port had the requisite crayon station, so when I lost Sandi in our amblings, I knew where to find her. Another purpose of our literary pursuit was to see Victor Hugo’s house. Les Miserables is at the top of our favorite plays list. Unfortunately, the house was closed for construction, but that didn’t stop Sandi from hopping out of the cab, climbing through the scaffolding, charming the workers and getting a picture of the interior. Three days later we flew to London and the Grange Whitehall Hotel which gave new meaning to “it looks better on paper” or in this case, Hotels.com. There was major jackhammering going on in front of the place at all hours. The elevator had seen better centuries. Our last day was spent touring the Charles Dickens Museum, another fun literary lark. Our last night was spent at theater mecca; the West End. Choosing a play that we either hadn’t already seen or would not soon see at home, was a daunting task. The darling play, Home, I’m Darling, at the Duke of York theatre was the perfect choice. We were most in awe, though, that they allowed us to drink champagne from real glasses like adults here, instead of the plastic sippy cups we get on Broadway. An early morning flight from Heathrow ended our ten-day England adventure. Some bet that we wouldn’t even be speaking to each other by trip’s end. I knew better. We had the most rollicking good time and laughed ourselves silly with one adventure after another. A trip that included the Beatles, Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens and the West End was pure joy for these two theater/music mavens. We can never look at a locked bathroom door again without bursting into gales of laughter, though. O and speaking of gales, the weather was just perfect for us; 50 degrees most days with only one day of rain. And the best part? No tourists! Sandi is now a TWA believer. Someday we’ll take our Travel Weather Angel to Scotland and Wales too.
BIO: Maddalena has had her work published Grand Dame, Inside Wink, Harness and more. She was born in Italy and lives in Los Angeles.
Photo: By Tim Dutton from Wirral, England – Mersey Ferry “Royal Iris Of The Mersey”, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18601176
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