Sunday, September 13, 2015

Trainers go to… Liverpool

It’s that time of year, when a few of us Trainers get together for a weekend of culture, food, drink and whatever else comes our way!

In previous years we’d been to Stratford-upon-Avon (2012), Bath (2013) and Birmingham (2014). This year it’s Liverpool and a ‘Staycity Serviced Apartment’. Coming along for the experience this time around is Antoinette, Angela C, June P and of course, me (Philip P and Carey C couldn’t make it this year).

 
The weather forecast, unusually for us on these events, is actually, DRY with a little rain overnight on Friday. Anyway, its only a forecast!

FRIDAY



Ann dropped me at Rugby station, in good time to catch the 10.10. It was on time (and mostly empty!), so I had a trouble-free journey on my first leg that got me into Stafford in good time to grab the connecting train that took me to Lime Street. The Stafford train was a little late (and also mostly empty!) but it didn’t matter, and I was soon heading to the home of the Fab-Four.




The train pulled into Lime Street at 11.10 and I waited for Antoinette to arrive around an hour later on the Euston train. This gave me time to take a quick look around the station as it was one I hadn’t been to before. It wasn’t quite as large as I imagined, but there were plenty of people heading in and out meaning that there were queues almost everywhere or takeaway coffee – I joined a queue!

Antoinette’s train arrived on time and we soon both studying Google Maps to work out the walking route to the apartment. In theory, it was less than a ten-minute walk, and as the weather had now warmed up quite a bit, it was an ideal time to test our shoe leather! Note to self: get map reading lessons! Fifteen minutes later and with us both in ‘full walking mode’- the estimated walk time was now twenty minutes! (I think I must had had my phone upside down!!). My map-reading skills have always been crap, and it wasn’t about to change any time soon!

Anyway, after a slightly longer-than-expected stroll, we arrived at the Apartment. We were earlier than check-in allowed, so we dumped our bags, and headed for the Bistro next door. Initially, we opted to sit inside, because I thought it might be cooler, but it wasn’t! The sight of an air-conditioning unit had lulled me into a false sense of security – but it was obviously turned off. We headed outside, and actually, with the cool breeze, it was very pleasant.

June and Angela arrived not long after and we began to plan for our short stay in scouser-land. We wanted to try and make the most of the good weather right now and decided to take the short(ish) walk to Albert  Dock. But not before checking in and booking some tickets for the The Cavern to see the resident Beatle-band tonight. 







Well, it’s not how I imagined it would look at all. I knew that there had been some massive investment here, but I wasn’t expecting quite so much transformation. It was clean, very pedestrian-friendly with the new architecture nestling nicely alongside the old. The architecture may not have been to all our tastes, but you have to admire the sheer boldness of the transformation. The sun was still shining, so we bought some tickets for the Mersey Ferry - next sailing at 4pm. Whilst June and Antoinette took a mooch round the Museum to kill some time before the sailing, Angela and I sat out on the Dock, looking out towards the water and began to ‘put the world right’.

The Ferry arrived, and the hoards boarded (obviously, a popular attraction!). We planted ourselves under-cover with a good view and waited for the commentary to start. This is where I got my first hearing of a snatch from ‘Ferry ‘cross the Mersey’, that iconic tune by Gerry and the Pacemakers – it was coming frmo the Ferry, and as we were soon to learn, the city seems to use every opportunity to play it! (Well, it seemed like that to me anyway!)


It turned out to be a really good commentary, with plenty of facts, using alternating male and female voice-overs. ‘Biggest/largest in the world outside London’ was a frequently used phrase and IMO became a bit over-used - although I didn’t know that Liverpool had the largest brick-built bonding warehouse IN THE WORLD!



All cultured-out, we headed for the nearest Bar. Some naff cocktails meant that were soon on the move again looking for more drink and a nibble before our night of Beatles memories.


More by luck than judgment, we fell into a Spanish Tapas Bar called La Viña, after initially trying out the Slug and Lettuce opposite and beating a hasty retreat because it was so noisy (yes, it’s confirmed – we ARE getting old!)


As it turned out, it was a good decision. The food and service were both excellent.


As we headed for the Lounge, we could see the place was getting busier - and seating was pretty scarce. It was hot, the rarer-than-hen’s-teeth seats were uncomfortable, but it didn’t matter, as it all felt very a ‘real’ recreation of days-gone-by. Even though we couldn’t see the stage, we could certainly HEAR ‘The Beatles’ – and they were SUPERB – professional musicians that sounded so much like the originals, it was spooky. Whilst Antoinette and June got closer to the action, Angela and I ‘sat it out’ and luckily for us, we even managed to spot a wall mounted monitor, that obviously had a live camera feed pointing to the Stage – perfect for Mr Lazy here! They played and played. Then they played some more. And some more. Although some familiar Beatles staples were missing (‘Help’ for instance), they did do quite a few b-sides and even a couple of pieces I’d never heard before. They came on stage at 9.15 and finished after an encore at just after 11.30. Super value for money at just a tenner a ticket!

When we stumbled out with the rest of mankind, the promised rain had arrived with some vigour – it was pissing it down, so, we took a taxi back to the Apartment. I think the driver went via Cardiff, but it was only £4.75, so well worth it.

I was well past my sell-by date when we finally turned the key in the Apartment and I fell into bed almost immediately. It was a great first day and I feel we got a good measure of the place and the people. But, I hope the weather improves for tomorrow though!

SATURDAY
I think it had rained all night! And some!!! Couple that with a crap night’s sleep, it all combined to make me feel a little grouchy this morning! It also allowed me to reflect on the shortcomings of the Apartment. Clearly designed by someone who has NEVER stayed in an apartment, it featured wardrobeless rooms and new definition of ‘double-glazing’ designed in such a way to actually, somehow, amplify the noise from outside. Nice to hear the drunken soul at 2.47am and the plethora of commercial traffic passing by throughout the night! Still, we’re not here all the time, so I shouldn’t moan I suppose!!!

First stop was breakfast. so we dropped into a local Bistro – Hanover Street Social for our respective preferences. For me, it was the full English! The food and service was great here too, and we noticed that generally speaking, the waiting staff are very well trained and take their role very seriously.


An hour later, we were suitably stuffed and headed for the Hop-on-hop-off Liverpool sightseeing bus tour. And perfectly on cue, it started to rain (although it did brighten up considerably later).




It was a worthwhile tour and we certainly saw a lot of Liverpool. The stand-out experience for me was the two Cathedrals… Firstly, the ‘modern’ one (Catholic)…





…complete with a ‘today only’ access to the Crypt and some impressive embroidery on display.




It was then that we realised it was Heritage Open Day Weekend here from the 10th until the 13th where certain buildings in the city were made accessible to the general public.

Then it was onto the other Cathedral – the older one. (Anglican). The largest Cathedral in the UK. And, boy, did it feel like it inside – it was truly massive!!!








Wow! Sensory overload!!! Then, continuing our search for open buildings, it was off to the Town Hall, that we learned was also open today as part of the Heritage Open Day weekend. Wow! what an interior! Luxurious, doesn’t even begin to describe it.






We were now all cultured-out, and time therefore for another mooch round Albert Dock. The place was really busy, and that’s when we spotted Pirates! Dozens of them, all shapes, all sizes. Some were more Jack Sparrow than Blackbeard but we still weren’t sure WHY there were so many? – then it became clear , it was the annual Liverpool Dock Pirate Festival – obviously!!!!



After neatly avoiding some menacing (and mincing) Pirates, we took a t pit stop at Vinea, a very nice wine-bar about two-thirds of the way round the Dock at Britannia Pavilion. Another example of really good service and really good wine, soon got us in the mood for tonight’s big meal. A couple of glasses of wine, complemented with some chilli puffs and wasabi thingies kept the hunger away until our big evening meal.



We decided to go Thai tonight, and identified a likely candidate in the shape of Chaophraya. However, we hadn’t factored in that they might be super-busy, and it was either a table 6.00pm (too early), or one at 9.00pm (too late). After some more thorough research looking at the next one on the list in the Google search results for ‘Thai restaurants in Liverpool’ we picked Chilli Banana mainly because of the quirky name!





It turned out to be brilliant! Superb service (that’s rapidly becoming the norm here) with a really good menu. When we arrived at 7.45, the place was already quite busy – an hour later, it was packed! We munched our way through the various courses and finally finished eating around 10.15. The restaurant happily called us a cab and were soon heading back to base. Angela retired early whilst we popped nest door to the apartment and chilled-out some more. It turned into another late one for me, and I finally called it a night just before midnight.

SUNDAY
It’s checking-out day for us today, and as we have to be out by 11 and out train is just before midday, there wasn’t much time to do anything significant. A moment then to pause on the ‘Liverpool experience’. Overall, we had a really great time. The people here that served us in the restaurants have almost all been first class. The mix of architecture here ticked all the boxes for me, and the restoration of the dock area has given it a whole new character. The weather has been changeable – we’ve had a bit of everything, and dodging the showers wasn’t, in the end, too much of a problem. The taxis were surprisingly cheap and there’s been a great variety of places to eat. The major disappointment for all of us was the Apartment – in short, although the staff were very helpful and friendly, that didn’t compensate for the poor design of the apartment itself. A mirror in the bathroom that can only be used if you kneel on the loo, and the woeful lack of hanging space for any clothes in the end just made us giggle, but these are basics that should have been spotted (and sorted) before the place even opened.

None of these shortcomings dampened our love for the city though – and all it had to offer. I’m sure we’ll be back either individually or as a group in years to come.

We didn’t take much time to talk about where the annual get-together next year will be, but we’ve tentatively thought about the Aldeburgh area in Suffolk.

Bye-bye Trainers – see you in 2016 (but probably before!)