October 9, 2013

The Beatles and The Bard

“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”   John Lennon

Carol writes:  Over the past few weeks we have gradually come to the conclusion that our long-term travel plans need an adjustment.  Originally, we were going to stay in England until mid-November, then make our way across the English Channel to spend much of the winter in sunnier and warmer Spain and Portugal.  But how were we ever going to fit in the must-see sites in Italy with that plan?  We were up against inconvenient regulations concerning travel restrictions under Schengen Rules.  In a future blog I will detail just how those visa rules have affected our overall travel plan, but for now suffice it to say that out of every 180 days we are limited to only a 90-day stay in the Schengen countries, and those countries include almost all of Western Europe!  Fortunately, the United Kingdom and Ireland are not part of the Schengen Agreement--just one of a hundred reasons to love the Irish and the British--and that is why, in order to comply with Schengen rules, we have spent the last 3 months in the British Isles.

Once we are back on the Continent, our new plan is to make a speed-run to Italy by way of the very fast toll highway system through France.  Our next 90-day stint in Western Europe will include a month in Italy, leaving us 2 months to explore Spain and Portugal.  So…now we have to speed things up for our remaining month in England—sort of like a month-long Rick Steves kamikaze tour…We’re up to it!

CHESTER:  We spent four days in a well-maintained campground just outside the historic city of Chester.  We took in a couple of unremarkable National Trust sites at Gawthorpe and Tatton Park, but our most interesting unplanned visit was to the historic heritage city of Chester.   

We found Chester’s 1000-year-old cathedral to be beautifully maintained, 

with a rare wooden choir screen that was magnificent.

The abbey courtyard

led to the place where the monks used to eat, now used as a lovely tea room/cafe.

Chester is most famous for having the most complete city walls dating back to Roman times, plus a fully excavated Roman amphitheater,

among other Roman ruins.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day’s stroll through cozy, historic Chester.

LIVERPOOL:  Some of my readers have wondered how Al and I can get along in such close quarters for such an extended period of travel.  Answer:  Lots of outdoor time.  How do we agree on what to see and do?  Naturally, after over 35 years of marriage, we have similar interests, but occasionally we have to resort to deals and compromises, and so it was with Liverpool.  What could I possibly want to see in Liverpool that had little interest for Al?  That would be the homes of two of the Beatles!  There was only one way to view the inside of the Lennon and McCartney homes, and that was to book a National Trust van tour.  We lucked out and got the Saturday tour we wanted that departed from the National Trust site called Speke Hall. 

Al agreed to book the Beatles tour if I agreed that we would go to Portsmouth to see Admiral Lord Nelson’s great warship the ‘Victory’.  By the way, jumping a bit ahead—we both thoroughly enjoyed each other’s travel choices…

What can I say about the Beatles and their music that hasn’t been said a million different times?  I was a teenager in high school in the early 60s when the Beatles jumped onto the world musical stage.  They seemed so captivating with their catchy tunes, and daring and handsome with their long, shaggy haircuts.  I didn’t quite know what to think when one of my high school friends announced that she had tickets to see the Beatles perform at Cincinnati Gardens.  She had already made an impression on me when she had her ears pierced, and now she was going to see the Beatles!  Heady stuff…

The neighborhood around the McCartney home at 20 Forthlin Road looked much as it did when Paul lived there with his parents, Jim and Mary, and his brother, Michael. 

20 Forthlin Road

By all accounts Paul had a happy childhood filled with the excitement of discovering friends (John, George, and Ringo) who lived nearby and loved playing and composing music as much as he did.  There were many musical jam sessions on guitar and piano right in the small living room where I sat in an overstuffed chair while our tour guide recounted wonderful early McCartney history.  Many of the early Beatles hits were written in that very room.  But the happiness of childhood took a tragic turn for the McCartney brothers when their mother (Mary) died when Paul was 16.  The haunting words of ‘Let It Be’ were a wonderful nod to the mother he missed so much.

When I find myself in times of trouble Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

The boyhood home of John Lennon was at Mendips, so named because its former owners enjoyed hiking in the nearby Mendip Hills.  John was raised in a more affluent household under the care of his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George.

A property called Strawberry Field was nearby and John loved hopping the fence to visit.  His happy childhood memory of this was memoralized in Strawberry Fields Forever.’

Let me take you down
Cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

Under Mimi’s skeptical eye, Paul used to visit John at his home where they liked to sing out in the tiny porch area just inside the front door where the acoustics were more favorable.  It was clear in viewing old report cards from John’s school days that he had little interest in mathematics but excelled in the arts.  His Aunt Mimi once told John,  “That guitar is okay but you’ll never make a living with it.” 

I must admit our Beatles tour was even more fascinating than I imagined it would be.  It’s always interesting to visit the actual rooms where genius took root, and so it was on Forthlin Road and at Mendips.

WALES:  We wouldn’t consider our visit to the United Kingdom complete without a short visit to lovely Wales.  A friend of ours who lived in Chester for a few years told me that her favorite castle was Conwy Castle, so that is where we headed for our first stop in Wales.  Oh my, the city of Conwy surrounded by its medieval walls with Conwy Castle snuggled up against the water was so picturesque on a beautiful sunny day!


Our brief ride through Wales concluded with some spectacular Welsh scenery in Snowdonia National Park.  We were fairly certain we caught a rare view of Mt. Snowdon (Great Britain’s highest peak) during a brief parting of the clouds.

Finally, while I have never been a big fan of Shakespeare and I struggled mightily to understand his plays in high school English class, it would be hard for me to admit that I visited England and didn’t go to Stratford-upon-Avon to see William Shakespeare’s boyhood home.

We found the ancient house only mildly interesting from an historic point of view because Shakespeare lived there only till the age of 11.  We thought the Shakespearean actors practicing their lines outside were just a bit more entertaining,

and the gravesite in Holy Trinity Church very thought-provoking.

So…I feel better that we have our obligatory Stratford-upon-Avon pics and that we have paid our respects to the incomparable Bard.

“I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed!”   William Shakespeare




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