Monday, July 11, 2016

Liverpool: Home of the Beatles and the Three (Dis)Graces

I loved Liverpool. As soon as I arrived I felt like I could live there. It’s small enough that you can quickly get oriented, walk everywhere, and feel relaxed, yet there’s plenty to see, do, and eat.

Liverpool Pier Head/Albert Dock area
Photo by Andreia Amarandei
Liverpool was a thriving port city during the Victorian age, spanning most of the 19th Century. However, due to industrialization, the world wars, and changing economic conditions, the city suffered high rates of poverty and unemployment during the first half of the 20th Century. Things started to turn around a few decades ago, and, in 2008, Liverpool was awarded the EU City of Culture award. Thanks to this distinction, the city has been able to invest huge amounts on development. Nowadays, there’s an overall great vibe in this up-and-coming place, and the locals are very friendly and hospitable. After four days in Liverpool, here are a few of the highlights.

1. Waterfront. Liverpool is interesting because it’s a port city, but the port is pretty much right in the center of town. The buildings along the waterfront, where the River Mersey opens into the Irish Sea, create the iconic skyline of the city. Much of the old pier/port has been built up with walkways, public art (e.g., Superlambananas), shops, and museums, which now constitute the pier and Albert Dock area.

Waterfront walk on a sunny day in Liverpool
Photo by Andreia Amarandei

One of the superlambananas on the Liverpool waterfront

If the weather is nice, it’s a great place to wander and catch some street entertainment. If it starts to rain, you can visit one of the many, free museums in this area (Museum of Liverpool, International Slavery MuseumTate Liverpool, World Museum). The Beatles Story museum is also at Albert Dock, but not free.

Finally, I should mention “the three graces,” historic, beautiful buildings on the waterfront that make up the traditional skyline. The ultramodern buildings of the new museums are sometimes referred to by the locals as “the three disgraces”, as they stand in contrast to the graces as stark, cold, and even ugly pieces of architecture.

View of Liverpool's Three Graces: The Royal Liver, Cunard, and Port of Liverpool Buildings

2. The Cavern Club. On a tiny street embedded in the pedestrian shopping area is The Cavern, an underground club where the Beatles used to play before they became famous. Here they were discovered by manager Brian Epstein, who put them on an international scale. The original Cavern Club was destroyed in the 1970's due to the development of Liverpool's underground railway. However, the site was excavated and rebuilt in the early 80's, and today is a not-to-be-missed stop on any city walk.  

A brick wall outside the Cavern Club: Each brick is inscribed with the name of a band that played here

Actually, the presence of The Beatles is everywhere in Liverpool. On a separate, Beatles bus tour hosted by the conference, we saw the red gate of Strawberry Fields (it was a Salvation Army group foster home for children), John Lennon’s childhood home, Brian Epstein’s home, Paul McCartney and Lennon’s respective colleges in the Georgian Quarter, and the still gorgeous Liverpool Philharmonic Dining Room, where The Beatles used to hang out. Our tour guide said that a recent study suggests that the city of Liverpool earns over one million dollars a year in revenue just related to The Beatles.

3. Chinatown. I heard from a tour guide that, out of Liverpool’s nearly 500,000 people, about 10,000 are of Chinese origin. For Liverpool, this means a small, but lively Chinatown with a couple of blocks of shops and restaurants.

Chinatown Arch
Photo by Andreia Amarandei

4. The Anglican Cathedral. A turn-of the (20th) century monolith, Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral hosts the UK's largest organ and heaviest and highest bells in the world. To the shock of my Italian friends, there is also a full-service cafe and gift shop right inside. When we visited, several elementary schools were rehearsing for a large-scale, hip-hop-style, praise-the-Lord concert. 

5. Food. 
Spice Lounge at Albert Dock has awesome Indian food. 
- We also discovered Bakchich, on Bold Street, a Lebanese place with the best falafel I have ever had. Great for vegetarians! 
- For a traditional English breakfast (not the tea, but a full plate of food featuring fried eggs, sausages, beans, and hash browns- I wonder where the US breakfast came from?), visit Maggie May’s Cafe, also on Bold Street. This place also serves the traditional Liverpool dish, (lob)scouse, a rich lamb/beef stew (not great for vegetarians!).  

Delicious Lebanese food at Bakchich, on Bold Street in Liverpool
Photo by Andreia Amarandei

Overall, Liverpool rocks. With friendly locals, a vibrant history and culture, and an up-and-coming feel, it's definitely a place to check out. Careful though... the Liverpool dialect (also called Scouse) is extremely difficult to understand! Stay tuned for more on the world Englishes I experienced at the EARLI SIG Writing Conference in Liverpool! 

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