After spending so much of our time searching for places that were abandoned by society and for the most part humans (aside from adventurers as such whom I aspire to be), e.i. dead places, it was nice to spend a weekend involved in lively things. Well, I say weekend, but really it was my two days off in the middle of the week.
Yesterday, it was nice, and my copilot and myself decided that we just needed to get out and do something. So we made sure we were on our way by ten, and headed toward Liverpool, with no intention of actually getting there, but rather seeing what distracted us along the way. Other than a pit stop for toilet, smoke break, and coffee at a service station Starbucks, nothing did distract us (although we did nearly stop at an abandoned airport on our way into the city, but decided to give the decayed urban exploring a little bit of a break).
I’ve been to Liverpool a couple of times, though not for about twelve years. The last time I went was when my best friend was visiting me from Washington State here in Wales, and we took the train for her birthday. I remember it being full of life, colorful, friendly, and just my sort of place. And this experience was just the same, despite my co-pilot’s warnings.
We parked near China Town, finding a fairly decent price on parking (£6 all day!), and began our wander. I wanted to check out this part of town specifically for ingredients to make my very much missed pho. There was no such luck. As it turned out, the town was mostly closed and non-existent. You could see it in the faded color of the poles plastered with posters for escort services, the emptiness in the streets, and the sad, shredded Chinese lanterns hanging from resilient wires. I did, oddly enough, find the Bagelry (?!?!?!), which looked to hold true to the promises of an American bagelry: fresh bagels, pancakes, waffles and I think I even saw fried chicken and waffles with gravy on the menu as well (though I might be mixing it up with one of the other two American diners down the road in China town.
Eventually we left the part that was under the giant arch (which apparently is the largest outside of China, and was imported, piece by piece from its sister city, Shanghi), and carried onward. I have no idea what street it was that we found (being the observant blogger that I am), but I found my street. It was filled with alternative book shops, eco-friendly/fair trade stores, vegan grocers and so much more. As I walked into a particularly fantastic bookshop, News from Nowhere, I thought I was going to cry. For the first time since leaving home I felt like I was with my people. I bought three books, found some obscure authors that I generally have a hard time finding outside of Amazon, and even bought a locally published collection of creative writing that was for creative writers, by creative writing students. It was just delightful.
After my poor co-pilot allowed me to drag him into every colorful shop we came across (so, you know, all of them), I found the crowning jewel: a pho restaurant. With whimsical delight, forgetting I am living on a budget, I forced lunch upon us both, and had my first bowl of pho in eight month (considering I was having it at least twice a week up until I moved to the UK, that’s a jolly long time).
We continued to wander, finding ourselves in the thick of the city center, and unimpressed. I personally am not one for the very center of towns where all the stores are the same as everywhere else—Debenhams, Next, Topshop, New Look, all of those. Never mind the posher places that were judging us just for glancing in the windows as we passed by. They aren’t what makes a city. However, all the allies with their pubs and histories and stories, and the people wandering between them, they are who make the stories.
We stopped, seeing a group in torn, mostly black clothing, spiked and shaved hair styles, pierced faces and tattooed necks. They were serving soup, encouraging us to grab a bowl. They were trying to engage us in their movement Drop Food Not Bombs, which said that they could be out giving food to everyone, doing their little part. Why not the rest of us?
Another person, while I left my co-pilot outside to smoke while going into yet another bookshop (are you catching on that I’m a bibliophile yet?), an Eastern European lady, was dancing to the classical guitar and older man across the road played. She was dressed in an 80’s sort of punk fashion, all large denimed clothing and her hair thrown up on top of her head. She decided that she was my co-pilot’s daughter and that he should be proud of her for dancing. When I returned, he told me he was worried she was trying to rob him because she kept coming to hug him, and ask him why he wasn’t proud of her.
In cities like this, I see color and life, and I see a swath of people from all different backgrounds mixing together in a stew pot of stories—and can be somewhat naive about only seeing the vibrancy of a place. My co-pilot, with far more city-living experience than I, reminded me of the things which I simply wasn’t seeing: the fact that gun and knife crime and high, the neglect still etching along, a strong indicator of other factors of living in the city. He reminded me of the homeless camped in the doorways of empty shops, or those who were slumped forward in a potentially drug-induced haze. While these are his concerns when he sees my eyes light up with excitement at the prospect of living in such a place, he understands that after as golden of a day as this had thus far been, it is easy to get carried away. He has the ability to see the underbelly, the reality of the city, the part that tourists (such as myself) might neglect to notice or take into account. While he acknowledges, knows, and enjoys the aspects I do, the reality that I could be pickpocketed, flat out mugged or worse act as a stronger argument to keep the drifting, wandering feet of mine planted in reality.
The crowdedness of the area was getting to both of us, and so we found our way to the Mersey, as the sun was turning particularly orange, where no one else seemed to think to hang about. The water was calm, the breeze was quelled, and we enjoyed the breathing room the water provided us. We made our way to the Tate, looking for a pub which might overlook the water. There were bars, there were restaurants, all heaving with the evening, but nothing quiet, like we were looking for. However, we did see where you could sign up for the Magical Mystery boat tour, a boat house you could rent for the night for £30/night/person (Bargain!), and of course, the ferris wheel that towered over the pier. We didn’t indulge due to the price (£10/person, not bad, but we had already over-spent for the day), but promised that one day we would.
As the air turned cooler, we dragged ourselves from the water and kept on our search for a pub. We ended up finding a chicken-obsessed bar that smelled like a toilet, but we were tired of walking at this point, and just needed to decompress before the long drive home. Thankfully, it was just at the bottom of the road we parked on.
While my co-pilot might err on the side of caution when considering places to live, with experience to back it up, I don’t want to take my rose-tinted glasses off. Liverpool is wonderful. This won’t be my last entry on it, as I have every intention of going back. It, to me, is the San Francisco of Britain, and will always have my heart.