Saturday, 1 August 2009

Stevie Gerrard and I have the same birthday

Though he is two years older.
And that, my friends, is the most important factoid to have emerged from my stay in Liverpool.

I jest, of course. But only just. :-)

No, really Liverpool was definitely the suprise destination of the year for me - I was going there for a conference, and it seemd like a good idea to stay an extra couple of days with Nick as a mini-break, but we weren't sure what we were going to find. Well, we found there is plenty to do, and in fact left a lot not-done, because there wasn't enough time!

Actually, the beginning of my stay there wasn't so great, because the conference accommodation (oh how I wish I didn't have to google the spelling of this word every time!) wasn't in a particularly pretty place, and the campus, while having nice Victorian buildings here and there, is also not in a particularly pretty place. But when you move more towards the centre, it all goes ex-industrial-waterfront-done-up just the way I like it, like Bristol or Southwark (though not quite as finished yet) and it's all very beautiful and a bit dramatic, especially when you look out towards the sound (assuming you are well braced against the wind!), and the old warehouses are all cleaned up, and it made me very happy.

To cut costs, and spare my stomach a bit, we had decided to rent a short stay apartment and slightly sold out and went with a big brand, the Staybridge Suites. It was another very pleasant surprise, so I want to give them a bit of a plug here. They were cheap. The room was biggish and comfortable, had a great kitchenette, free wifi, huge flatscreen tv, a view onto the water, and it came with breakfast, and wine/snacks happy hour on weekday afternoons. And it was only a few minutes' walk to where it was all happening. Including a Tesco where one could buy dinner ingredients. We felt very smug about our great plan and I would definitely pick them again, even if it would probably be more Guardian-reader-like to hunt down a private local landlord instead.

And with that out of the way...the two comments we probably uttered most often were 'Everything is so cheap in the north!' and 'Everyone is so nice in the north!' because, well, I think it is/they are! Prices seemed lower, and people friendlier, and more willing to engage in human contact even if they didn't know you - I liked that very much.

Also, there is just so much to do there, as I said! Much walking around the wharves (sp?) and gazing at the water, of course. And walking around the city centre watching Liverpudlians engage in what is clearly the municipal sport: competitive shopping, with added heels for the women (recession? what recession?)

And the museums! A nice little Tate outpost, with changing exhibitions (we saw one on colour, very jolly); the Beatles Story of course, which we went to despite ourselves, and enjoyed it; the Walker Art Gallery, which is like the National Gallery in quality but smaller, and so less overwhelming (and had live jazz playing!) and more pleasing; and the 'World Museum', which would probably be more fun for children, as it tries to cram in loads of things about history and natural history and world cultures and Lord knows what else - though one should never turn down a good dinosaur. And we had to pass on the Maritime Museum, and the Slavery Museum, and a few more besides probably.

Not satisfied, we also had a little outing to Chester, because of the Romanness of it (I, for one, had been hearing of it for years and years and years in relation to the fact that the Romans left a legacy of place names in Britain and the standard example is Chester, from castrum, etc etc etc).

At first, said Romanness is quite underwhelming: there is a barely noticeable amphitheatre, only partially dug out, with a very sad looking guide dressed like a centurion (or was he a gladiator? can't remember) giving tours to schoolkids. But then we went to the local museum (Grosvenor Museum), which was, well, small and perfectly formed. At least as regards the Roman section, which is the only bit we saw. It had a good amount of stuff, and really good explanations, and hands-on things (I now understand how abacuses work!!), and even a thick file giving loads of further information about Roman culture and history and how to read inscriptions and even bibliography for those interested - really nice.

Apart from that, it's a cute town generally, a typical English cathedral town, with city walls that go all around and that you can walk on quite easily. Sadly I didn't run into any wags, though. All in all, I'd definitely go back to either, or both, places.

As a coda, it was interesting for to attend this conference on the Liverpool Uni campus, as it was a chance to see how the other half, or more like the other 90%, lives when they go to uni - there is an enormous Student Union building which I guess is where every other university student apart from Tabs hang out - with a bar and a cafe/social area and tvs and a little shop with useful things and some other large socialising room and useful services like ticket sales and career services and the like, all under one roof...I wonder if I would have liked it more or less. Maybe in that kind of setup it's a lot easier to meet loads of people and eventually find a bunch that you like, but maybe also easier to disappear if you want, slip through the cracks, and not be coaxed into any kind of sociability? Which isn't necessarily a good thing. I will never know if I 'did' university the 'right' way or not...

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