Saturday, 24 January 2009

Liverpool – Day Two - Part I

There was a group meal planned for the evening and I was certain Ken would be asking me what I’d seen that day. I wanted to be able to give a good account of myself; this meant not lolling the day away in bed.

I knew of some of the sights on offer, but didn’t really have much preference. Mostly to please Ken and to burn off some calories, I set myself the target of covering the four corners of the city centre map provided by the hotel and tourist information centres. We were staying at The Liner hotel, located next to Liverpool Lime Street train station. The location is probably the best one can say about it, all other things, bar one very negative exception, being entirely average.

Armed with camera and backpack, I headed for the Walker Art Gallery because it was close and Pies and Prejudice somehow led me to believe there was tourist information there. This wasn’t true, but a man there very kindly directed me to the Queens Square where I loaded up on brochures and booklets I never looked at again. On the other hand, the weight added to my calorie burning efforts, I suppose.

Next to the Walker, an amazing building,

was the International Library and Liverpool World Museum, which are also, I’m guessing, Victorian; and of which I only imagined I took pictures.

These are situated on one side of St George’s Hall, which wouldn't all fit into my camera frame, it's so large

and which is across from the Empire Theatre

which is next to the Station Hotel, which isn’t half bad either.

I was already beginning to see why Liverpool was named Capital of Culture and I hadn’t even got down to the thing they are probably most famous for: The Mersey (enter Gerry and the Pacemakers singing Ferry Cross the Mersey, and let it whine on and on and on). I sang along with this often as a child and had no clue what or where the Merzy was.

Liverpool, like many big industrial cities in the North, has the well-deserved reputation for being a dirty slum. The fact that people flocked to these cities to work long hours in noisy, dangerous factories and live in unimaginably dirty, crowded houses suggests to me that life in the countryside wasn’t that great back then either. Then when industries fell into hard times and the workers were laid off there was even less to make the misery worthwhile. Whilst this experience is common across most of the big cities of the North and they have all done quite a bit of slum clearance and regeneration, they still poke fun at each other, maybe in part because of the football rivalries. No one in Newcastle said anything that prepared me for what I saw in Liverpool; I suspect most of them have never been themselves. One doesn’t do the touristy things in one’s backyard, does one? Most people I know make a bee line to a warmer place like Greece or France whenever they get the chance.

I made my way down to the Mersey, looking for the famous Royal Liver Building. I say ‘down’ only because it was on the bottom of my map. Although Bill commented he’d never realized how hilly Liverpool is - serves him right for going for a run each morning - it is relatively flat around the river. This is a contrast to Newcastle where there is a steep hill down to the quayside; one has to be willing to climb back up that hill to visit what is probably Newcastle’s most attractive tourist area.

The Royal Liver Building and its Liver Birds are visible from quite a distance all around the city; Newcastle’s most prominent structure is the Newcastle United Football Club stadium, not nearly as classy. The Liver (which rhymes with diver not river, for what reason I don’t know other than a name that sounds like a body organ isn’t very appealing) was built in 1911 for Royal Liver Assurance, a life insurance company.

Speaking of the 18 foot Liver Birds, according to this website,

"Local legend has it that if they fly away, Liverpool will cease to exist. The Liver Birds are a cross between an eagle and a cormorant (the bird of good luck to sailors). A German sculptor called Carl Bernard Bartels, who was living in England, designed them. When the Great War broke out, Carl Bernard Bartels was arrested as a German citizen and imprisoned on the Isle of Man. The City of Liverpool removed all reference to his achievements and at the end of the war, despite having a wife in London, he was sent back to Germany."

On a less serious note, Maconie’s book quotes Rough Guide:

"They can never mate as they have their backs to each other; she looks out to sea for the returning sailor, he looks towards the city to see if the pubs are open."

I was well impressed by the Liver Building, but a bit disappointed at how dingy it looked. Across the road was the much whiter Tower Building

and I thought it showed the Liver up a bit. Next to the Liver is the Cunard building, a low-slung ornate block, and of course Cunard was another cruise ship line. (The link shows the fate of cruise ships: sold, sunk or scrapped). I think that building could use a good scrub as well.

My favourite of the "Three Graces" was the grand -- and relatively clean-looking Port of Liverpool Building, originally called The Dock Office.

These three buildings constitute The Pierhead, something I only understood after reading a caption of a picture in a museum; prior to that I kept looking for something that might be The Pierhead and even photographed a couple of mysterious structures! I gather they are quite a sight when viewed from an approaching ferry. Bill and I never did get to do that, which is one reason I wouldn't mind returning to Liverpool.

Incidently, this stripey structure is what used to be the offices of the White Star Line, but it's not right on the quayside. Maybe that's where they went wrong?

I wandered as far as I could go along Princes Dock, but there was a lot of construction going on. Ever since I saw my first big ocean going ship on the Mississippi River at New Orleans, I’ve measured other rivers against it according to the ships they can accommodate. The Mersey qualifies as a big river: there were several big ships around as well as the ferries to various locations, but none of them were very photogenic it seems. Couldn't be my skills, could it?

Turning around, I was a bit confused about the location of the (typically British) sun in the West-ish? when I was thinking it should be East, until I saw a map showing how the Mersey enters Britain from the North and curves around to the East.

There are a number of memorials to the merchant navy heroes of WWII. This is Capt F.J. Walker who was apparently good at nailing U-boats.

Each brass plaque on this memorial names a ship lost and lists the crew that died at sea.

Then I walked over to Albert Dock. This is basically a row of squares constituted by warehouses surrounding water. In the mid 1980’s these warehouses were renovated and now house museums, restaurants and shops.

I stopped here for a pot of tea and a scone (a large, heavy biscuit with raisins) for a very late lunch. I didn’t want to do much else here as Bill was taking Friday off and I wanted to save seeing Albert Dock to do with him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Isn't it amazing what there is to see in any city if we just take the time to look. That is what we are finding as we travel in the RV. Joanne