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Queensland, Australia
I'm an Australian author of Contemporary Romance, Romantic Action/Adventure, and Historical fiction. I live in Queensland, Australia. www.noelleclark.net

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Magical Mystery Tour

Magical Mystery Tour

A day trip from London to Liverpool in search of the Beatles
I set my alarm for 5.15am and ventured into a very cold, dark London to catch the tube from Pimlico to Euston Station. I felt very brave setting out into the gloom, but as I had decided to do a Beatles tour of Liverpool, I was keen to get going on my adventure.

On arrival at Euston Station, I had arranged to meet up with the travel bureau representative (I was told to look for the man in the turban) to get my maps, tickets and instructions. I found him in the busy hall of the station and he handed me a brown envelope, and told me I was on my own. This was to be a self-guided tour, but the tour company had organized all my train bookings and I had a pre-paid bus tour in the afternoon to look forward to.

I waited on the right platform to catch the fast train to Liverpool which is about 250 miles from London. The journey from London to Liverpool takes three hours and the train was very comfortable. I took some breakfast bars and a small drink to have on the train and settled back to enjoy the glorious view from my window as I looked out over the gorgeous English countryside bathed in very early sunlight. I enjoyed the train trip very much.

There is a great system of canals in Britain and the train line followed it for miles through towns like Milton Keynes, Crewe, Stafford, Nuneaton. I could see scores of barges and riverboats, locks that village people would open to let boats through, little villages with the canal right in town, houses whose front yards were the canal, I could see old men sitting on the canal bank in the middle of nowhere fishing, farms, cows lined up to be milked, funny little black-faced sheep. I also saw the strange banded cows that I saw in Ireland which are apparently called Belted (or Banded) Galways. They are black with a broad white band right around their tummies. But most were just normal black and white cows (are they Friesians?). The English countryside is very beautiful and interesting. Bathed in the greens and golds of autumn, with quaint, steep-roofed houses, mostly white or stone, lots of hedges and rock walls for fences, and colourful flowers everywhere, I felt truly blessed to be enjoying such pretty English countryside.

When I arrived in the large transit centre in Liverpool, it was as chilly as London with a stiff cold wind blowing. With trusty map in hand I wandered down to Mathew Street which is only 10 or 15 minutes from Liverpool Lime Street Station and entered what they call the "Cavern Quarter" - in other words, the "Beatles" quarter.

As those of you who are old enough would know, the Cavern Club is where the Beatles first played as teenagers, firstly as the Quarrymen, then as the Beatles. The area is shamelessly cashing in on the "Four Lads" as they call them, with Lennon's Bar, The Revolution Club, Coffee @ Lennon’s, Hard Days Night Hotel, Quarry Quarter, Cavern Pub (not to be confused with Cavern Club), and, to thaw out from the biting stiff, cold wind, I had a nice hot coffee in the Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds Cafe!!

There was also a Beatles Shop here, so I ventured in and it was full of the usual types of souvenirs, but they also had some very old memorabilia. I bought a couple of little things thinking it was the only shop in town for me to get some Beatles merchandise. However, further down the lane in a newish shopping complex, I found a much nicer shop with a friendly man and his stuff was very good. Do you remember those awful old brown Beatles Wigs that were all the rage in the early 60s? Well, believe it or not they are a collector's item now (wonder why) and fetch at least 50 pounds.

The lanes of the Cavern Quarter are filled with statues of the Beatles - some good, one dead set ugly - and the main things are the wall of fame showing all the talent that Liverpool has produced who have had number one hits. One I did not realise was a Liverpudlian was the great Freddy Mercury. I later saw the building where they (the band Queen) got their name and logo from. On top of one of the buildings is the word Queen and the logo that they used on their records of the unicorn and crown. Cilla Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers, those Gallagher fellers,Rick Astley, Elvis Costello, Billy Fury and lots of others. Liverpool certainly has produced some great singers.

After a good look around this area (the Cavern and Pub were not open yet and they are filled with memorabilia too so I made a mental note to visit them later), I wandered down to Albert Dock. Walking through Liverpool was interesting. As in all places I visited, there are major construction works. They are on a bit of a high economically speaking and there are lots of roadworks and building going on. A real pain for tourists but good for the area. Liverpool itself is a little hilly, not steep, but enough to give it a bit of character. The architecture is quite attractive with a good mix of old and new. It was founded in 1207 so when I was there (2007) it was celebrating its 800th birthday. It has some nice little grassy squares with statues, some really lovely old buildings and the new ones don't jar the eye like they do in some places. I rather liked Liverpool.

I finally got down to the Merseyside Docklands and the Albert Dock area is just lovely. I kept humming "Ferry cross the Mersey" to myself. The whole area is a series of Docks but this one is a square of water surrounded on all sides by massive old Dock buildings which now house several important museums such as the Maritime Museum. It has restaurants, cafes, nice shops and a big Holiday Inn hotel in the complex. But I was headed for the Beatles Museum (called the Beatles Story Exhibition). I must say it was very good. I spent a couple of hours in there with an audio guide but they also had vision and sound on each exhibit. It traced the story of the Beatles from their birth until the end but did it very tastefully and with genuine items and real things such as their clothes, John's glasses, gold records etc that have been donated by the Beatles themselves and their families. They also had their guitars, rare photos and the exhibition culminated in a reproduction of the Cavern Club complete with a set of Ringo's drums. I liked it.

I emerged into the brisk windy freezing day and had a sandwich in a cafe, after which I went to the bus stop to catch the yellow bus which would take me on the "Magical Mystery Tour". How exciting. The bus was full and they played Beatles music on it and the guide was very knowledgeable and apparently is himself a bit of a celeb in Liverpool as he appears in a movie about them and knows Paul McCartney and his brother Mike. (I later found out that the guide played the character, Phil, in the movie ‘Across the Universe’ which, at the time, had not been released in Australia.)
Our Magical Mystery Tour yellow bus took us to absolutely everywhere, with a very good commentary from our guide. We visited Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, the birthplaces and houses of George, Paul, John and Ringo, saw their schools, their churches. Our guide explained how the words of ‘Penny Lane’ were really just Paul and John describing the scene they knew so well of this area, a little shopping village in one of the suburbs of Liverpool near their home. ‘Strawberry Fields’ is a large common and the line ‘nothing to get hung about’ in the song referred to John once getting into big trouble for once wagging school and spending the day in the bushy and overgrown park. “Nothing to get hung about, Strawberry Fields forever”.
The bus tour was really great and I loved it. After two and a half hours or more, the bus dropped us back at the Cavern Club in Mathew Street. By now it was open and so I went in and they have the actual stage from the early Beatles days which they rescued from the original (now demolished Cavern Club) and rebuilt it. I sat there on a bar stool, drinking a Bulmer’s Cider, listened to Beatles music playing loudly, and let my mind conjure up the sights and sounds that were so familiar to me from the early sixties.

I was tired now and slowly walked back up the hill from the Beatles Quarter towards Liverpool Lime Street station. My feet hurt from the hours of walking I had done. My train back to Euston departed Lime Street at 6.15 and arrived at about 9pm. I then tubed it back to Pimlico Station and crossed the road up to Matt’s flat. It was a very interesting and fun Magical Mystery Tour day! A great day trip from London that is a little different from the usual Cotswolds or Stonehenge tour. Highly recommended.
Photos coming shortly for all you Beatles tragics like myself.

"Words are flying out like
endless rain into a paper cup
They slither while they pass
They slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow waves of joy
are drifting through my open mind
Possessing and caressing me

Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world

Images of broken light which
dance before me like a million eyes
That call me on and on across the universe
Thoughts meander like a
restless wind inside a letter box
they tumble blindly as
they make their way across the universe

Sounds of laughter shades of life
are ringing through my open ears
exciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which
shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe

Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world"
c. Beatles

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Week in Paris - Day 7

I awake to my last day in Paris. How sad. As I lay in bed enjoying a lazy morning, a rare treat, I allow myself to think back over the last week. I have just loved it and being here for a week has allowed me to get to see not only all the famous monuments and typical tourist things, but I have also become very adept at using the Metro (much easier, cleaner and cooler than the London tube), at meeting and talking to locals, using the supermarkets they use. I feel like I have Parisian blood flowing through my veins.

Paris is a simply magical place. The French people are just great; the food, wine and coffee superb; my French has been most adequate; our Hotel just great, its location could not be better, rooms small but clean and staff most helpful - above and beyond really. I have been getting around on the Metro as if I am a local and hoofing it everywhere. I am sad to be leaving, but as I lay here, I at last get the chance to reflect on just how good my week in Paris really was.

I was able to fulfill another wish, which was to be out there walking early enough to observe Paris coming awake. The very early pre-dawn walk with Matt last Saturday was a special memory. Parisians are not early risers so it was a good chance to see the city yawning and stretching and awakening without the rush and bustle of the crowds. We saw the garbage men emptying bins and people hosing down footpaths. We were spoiled with the wonderful aromas emanating from the bakers and patisserie shops, early workers making nice things - bagels, buttery croissants, tarts, sweet cakes and the first round of long French bagels for early sale to the locals for their breakfast. We saw cats, we saw homeless people asleep on benches. We pounded the footpaths, delighting in the quirky white hands that someone had painted coming out of the sewer manholes. We really experienced Paris from a level that is not superficial, but allowed us to absorb the hum of the city, the day to day awakenings, lunch times, and the bight and lively evenings. Paris in all her moods.

Eventually I wander downstairs for breakfast in the little cavern in the basement of the Cabourg. As I enjoy my meal of croissants and bagels, butter and jam, OJ and yummy coffee, I muse that this continental brekky may not sound terribly healthy to overweight Aussies like me, but I saw few fat French people.

Before heading back up to pack, I stop at the desk for a brief chat with the friendly staff, jump on their internet briefly, and then say goodbye to Nina, the lovely old cat who befriends anyone who uses the internet. Very old but very friendly, he (or perhaps she), during the course of my stay here, got into the habit of sitting on the keyboard as I typed my emails to everyone at home. I used to speak to him in my basic French, but am convinced he understood Aussie too! Au revoir Nina.

I pack my bags, leave the Hotel du Cabourg, and head up the road to the Place de Clichy Metro station, catch the train to Pere Lachaise where I have to change lines to reach Galleni which is where the Bus Station is. Hmmmm, nowhere to stash my suitcase so am destined to idle away three hours here before my bus leaves at 2pm. As all travellers know, it is important to be patient and to get used to waiting. I have books, my iPod, I can buy a sandwich and a coffee. But when it comes time to go to the bathroom, it is VERY awkward with the suitcase. For a start, you need coins to use the toilet. I don’t have any. I eventually ask a leaving user to let me in the cubicle before the door locks again. Then I have the awful realisation that my suitcase just won’t fit in the toilet. I do what all travellers are urged not to do. I leave my suitcase outside the cubicle for a minute or two. What else can I do?

Eventually the National Bus is loaded with luggage and passengers, all set for the journey back to London via the train under the channel. It is another glorious warm, sunny summer day in France and so I get to really see and enjoy the French countryside as we leave the suburbs behind and wend our way onto the highways. On the trip in last week, it was raining heavily and I could not see nor enjoy it. The farms remind me strongly of the Darling Downs after good rain (when was that?), but every few minutes, it seems, we pass gorgeous little villages with steeply roofed houses made of dark brick. There is a cemetery for each little village and each one is dominated by a tall, elegant spire of the village church. Beautiful. Crops seem to be mostly beans, potatoes and big rolls of hay. My mind wanders here as I try to imagine what it was like during the war, for we are in the Amiens area and there are several monuments to the war along the roadsides, mostly as thanks to the Americans and Canadians (alas I don’t see one to Australians but I’m sure there is one somewhere).

The road from Paris to Calais passes through Amiens, Chantilly, Arques, and heads up towards Lille and Dunkerque – right in the top left hand corner of France, near Belgium. As I enjoy watching in the peaceful farmland that glides by, I cannot help but think back to the wars and the horror that overtook these peaceful fields. Trying to imagine the trenches of the First World War in these verdant, picturesque landscape is difficult, and I imagine that this is what it was like prior to the war too. Even in Paris – where the Germans occupied the city and moved into its main buildings – one can see signs which point to a certain resilience in the French psyche that enables them to retain their own sense of identity even after the indignity of being invaded and having endured war in their own back yard. The French people seem fiercely Republican and everywhere (even in our hotel lobby) they unashamedly display their flag en masse.

The coach carries us along the smooth French motorway and a little more than three hours later we arrive at the Tunnel Port at Calais. Coming over from England last week, it was simply a matter of holding up our passports for the Police to glance at. Not here. Firstly several passengers are frog marched off the bus and the rest of us have to sit for a considerable time, wondering when we will be allowed to continue our journey. After about an hour we are told that we all have to disembark, take ALL our luggage (my suitcase, backpack and handbag), line up and suffer the embarrassment of having our suitcases opened, rummaged through and inspected in full view of everyone else from the bus in our line up. I had packed some little piccolo champagnes that Matt and I had bought but not yet drunk. The three people in front of me all undergo major inspections, with everything opened and searched thoroughly. The lady in front of me has all her personal stuff ripped out in front of everyone. I feel so sorry for her as it is embarrassing. The French Customs seem very aggressive to her, making her show her paperwork over and over. They find one small champagne bottle in her suitcase, but also search through her makeup purse, toiletries…everything. I begin to feel a rising anxiety as my first thoughts are that it is champagne bottle which has the Customs interested. My turn, and my suitcase is scanned in the x-ray machine and clearly shows my bottles. In French, the Customs officer asks me about them. I tell him I have three small piccolos, then he surprises me by saying “right you may leave Madame”….YIPPEE. I am relieved, I can tell you. I mean, I knew travellers are allowed to take small amounts of alcohol so I knew I was doing no wrong, but… well, I am glad that is over.

We all eventually file back on the bus. But that’s where we stay for another two and a half hours!! We are told that several passports do not check out. It is hot. There is no toilet (I have become good at holding off for 8 hours or more), and the poor bus driver was becoming agitated as our bus is by now way behind schedule. We miss firstly one train, then another….

Eventually we are allowed to leave – we move literally 100 yards to the BRITISH Immigration – and then are told to alight once more. This time it is just passport checks but, honestly, the manner of the British Customs is really quite abrupt and makes us all quite anxious. I am asked questions such as: Travelling alone are you? Ohhhhh. Where have you been? Just a holiday Madam? How long were you there? Where will you be staying in the UK?

Being an Australian I am allowed through the border gate but not before being thoroughly scrutinised. I once again climb back on the bus, but the same three passengers are detained again. Another hour passes and we wait. It is useless to complain or even to ask questions. I am beginning to worry as at this rate, I will be arriving in London quite late and must make my way down to Pimlico with all my luggage, in the dark. Eventually, our bus is ushered onto the Euro Train a whopping three and a half hours later than it should have.

I finally arrive at Victoria bus station in London at 10.30pm. I sms Matt to tell him I have arrived and then I walk up to Victoria Tube station (2 blocks), to catch the tube to Pimlico and back to Matt’s place where he has a lovely dinner waiting that he had cooked for me.

And so, even though my week in Paris ended in a not so magical way, the memories of this week in the City of Light will live with me forever, or until dementia sets in, whichever comes first.

Au revoir from Paris.