I will always remember our recent UK visit as the one where I finally got to venture out of southern Wales and England and explore what's known as the Lake District, in the northwest part of the country.
As you can see on the map below, it's quite a distance from Cardiff (A) to Wigton (D), the little village where my brother-in-law had arranged a week's rental of a cottage for us all.
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This long drive (about six hours) allowed us to swing past a couple of cities I'd always wanted to visit: Liverpool (B) and Blackpool (C). We decided to take a couple of short detours to nose around a little and before connecting back with Dave, Tracey and the boys at the cottage.
There are all kinds of tours and attractions in Liverpool for Beatles fans. Too bad I'm the only one in the family who is one of those.
My husband, daughter and mother-in-law would have been bored on a tour of Beatles landmarks, or a visit to the Beatles Story attraction. Besides, we didn't really have a lot of time to spend, and I didn't want to waste money on something that no one would enjoy but me.
I instructed my husband to set our GPS unit to take us to the center of Penny Lane.
It looked pretty much as it was described in the song: About a block away from the fish and chips shop and news agent depicted above, there was a roundabout and a barber shop. It was all very ordinary and suburban -- except for the other tourists that had stopped by for the same reasons as us.
In fact, what struck me the most about Liverpool was what a nice city it is (not at all the way it is depicted in all those Beatles biographies I used to read). It looks and feels a lot like Cardiff, and the two cities have a lot in common: Both were busy ports that had to restructure their economies in the post-war era. But while Cardiff is a city that was built on coal exports, Liverpool's ports dealt with people: those who were migrating to and from the UK... and until 1865, a port of exit for the slave trade.
If we'd had a couple of days to stay and explore Liverpool, I would have wanted to learn more about this dark side of the city's history at the International Slavery Museum, one of several attractions at the city's re-purposed Albert Dock development.
Again, I was reminded of the city we had just left, as Albert Dock is similar to what's been developed at Cardiff Bay: hotels, restaurants, offices, museums, convention space... and a ferris wheel.
We decided to grab some lunch at a Liverpool outlet of Pizza Express... which was overrun with families and little girls in cheerleading uniforms. Apparently, there was a regional competition at the adjacent convention center. This is when I learned that this quintessentially American sport has crossed over the pond to Europe.
Fab 4 Store
Did you ever want a pair of granny sunglasses, like the ones John Lennon wore on the Sgt. Pepper album cover? They have 'em. How about a wallet with the poster art from A Hard Days Night? They've got that too, and more.
We shopped to an unrelenting soundtrack of Beatles hits. As we paid for our purchases, my husband asked the painfully young cashier if she ever got tired of listening to Beatles music. (That's because HE would get very tired of it very quickly.)
"No, I rather like it," she replied.
"Of course, you have to say that to all the tourists here, don't you?" my husband noted.
She just smiled.