Monthly Archives: September 2019

UK, action packed 3 day side trip to Liverpool – Beatles, art galleries, Docks, Beach and those friendly scousers too.

Just 2 hours and 15 minutes out of Euston and you are in Liverpool – not very far but a world away from London. Everyone I know who has been told me I would love it here – and they were right. My first visit ever was lots of fun.

First afternoon I headed down to the well renovated docks – a short walk from the town centre – which is no a mixture of museums, cafes, restaurants, shops and areas to stroll by the water. It is also where you can pick up ferries – but I decided against that given limited time and there does not appear to be much on the other side?

So first stop , after a walk through Cavern Quarter in town, was to get a dose of Beatles at the Excellent Beatles Story at Albert Dock. Everything you ever wanted to know was well organised and explained with headphones included.

The Cavern Quarter including the entrance to the original Cavern and a wonderful statue of Cilla Black. Every bar down, including the Cavern a few doors down, here plays music sets all day long. And I succumbed to a Beatles hoodie.

The impressively revitalised docks of Liverpool

Statues of Billy Fury, the Beatles and the majestic “Three Graces” at Pier Head – the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard HQ and the Port of Liverpool Building.

Inside the Beatles Story Museum

Close by in the Dock area is the excellent International Museum of Slavery which shares its home with the maritime museum. While there is not a lot to photograph it is a great place to spend a couple of hours to understand the horror of slavery both in the past and sadly also in the present. Liverpool was a key port during the slave trade and it is impressive that they are willing to take ownership for those wrongs and educate people now so that it never happens again. I am not sure all those involved in the slave trade are quite as open on this topic.

A visit to the Tate Liverpool also by the Docks was next – like the Tate Modern it focuses on contemporary art and I was glad to be able to see the Keith Haring exhibit which I had just missed on my visit to Melbourne earlier this year. I also got the pink triangle t shirt!

Keith Haring artworks

A Matisse from the permanent collection plus some more Kusama dots of light – because I love her!

The British Music Experience – which moved to Liverpool from London was probably my biggest disappointment. Somehow it just didn’t work very well (and of course I have been spoiled by the superlative Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which is super fab. I amused myself of checking out “my era” and the album covers and clothes I remember well.

Some great memories at the BME

Back to the Beatles. On the advice of my friend Sylvie, I had pre-booked the National Trust’s tour to the homes where John Lennon and Paul McCartney grew up. Only this tour lets you inside both houses with two excellent guides who take you through what it was like growing up in these houses and their early years and you get to see the rooms where many well known early tunes were written. Lots of great photos inside taken my Paul’s brother Mike and all sorts of stories too. Both of them lost a parent when they were young. It was very cool and interesting – has to be pre-booked online. Lasted 2.5 hours.

The houses where John and Paul grew up. Only John gets the blue plaque – you have to be dead for more than 20 years for one of them.

Again on the advice of my friend Ann this time I took the Mersey Metro to Port Sunlight about 20 minutes away. This is where what is now known as Unilever started his empire but what makes him and this place so interesting is that he didn’t just build a soap factory but he also built an entire village, school, church, pub, leisure centre etc for his workers and as long as they retired with the company they could stay in their houses. He also introduced old age pensions and medical cover and allowed women to work (but only if they were single or widowed:) – it was the late 1800s! Beautiful place where people still live and work at the factory and locally. Everyone from the royal family at the time and beyond came to visit this experiment!

Lord Lever understood the power of advertising – both locally and globally. Love the fancy gear they ladies are wearing to do the washing!

The grounds and some of the houses in Port Sunlight

All the houses are different in design and so are the front door colours. Individuality was encouraged.

The Lever soap factory and people working in it today

Also good to stop by at the Lady Lever art gallery – also funded by him. Great art collection.

Lady Lever Gallery at Port Sunlight

Now that I had figured out the Mersey Metro system I decided to get good use out of my GBP 5.30 unlimited day pass and headed out to Crosby to see Another Place by Anthony Gormley on 1.5 miles of fabulous beach. I’d been advised to check to tides so that I could see all the 100 life size male nudes that are scattered at various points (some disappear as the tide comes in which would be very Reggie Perrin to see). It is well worth visiting – walking along the beach was lovely as it was a warm day and these pieces are very thought provoking. This was his first (and was meant to be temporary) large installation of nude men – there are a few different ones around the world now.

A visit to a local theatre is always a must whenever I can make it happen so was pleased to visit the Liverpool Empire theatre (holds 2500 people) to see the Motown Story – seen it before; liked it then, liked it now.

Final art gallery visit was to the Walker Gallery (Liverpool is pretty darned good for art and culture). Excellent and broad collection of masters and also a lot of pre-raphaelite which I am quite fond of – so here we go.

Rembrandt and Cranach to name a couple of the famous names!

Love all this whimsy and color

More pre Raphael it’s plus the tinted Venus (kind of browny colored to look more human?) and a Lucien Freud

Also the famous “When did you last see your Father painting is here”

So yes I crammed a lot into my 3.5 days here but still had plenty of time to enjoy what I visited. Highly recommended that you visit Liverpool for something different.

UK, London day trips – off the beaten track. Banksy, Henry More, William Blake, a Michelin meal and Ian Dury

An unexpected visit to Bristol meant that my friends Sylvie, Andrew and I signed up for a Banksy and other street art tour – Banksy comes from Bristol and it is a city of significant street art. From a period when the local council constantly painted over street art to one that encourages street art festivals – this city has an excellent selection of non commissioned and commissioned street art. This was a great 3 hour tour and a good way to see the city too.

Banksy’s Well Hung and the Mild Mild West (reference to Bristol) and the latest from JPS

Sadly Coat of Arms (gets it??) and the flowers are due to come down soon due to demolition plans

Robin Banks (get it?) uses his well known motif “The Vandal” – a badly behaved banker.

Stick Man manages to make very simple images show pathos

Sesk always paints a local person he meets. The tiger/dragon thing looks like he is scratching the passers by!

Also with Sylvie and Andrew we planned a visit to Perry Green (near Bishops Stortford) – the home and grounds of the sculptor Henry Moore. The house tour was excellent and really gives insight into the man and his art – no photos allowed. The grounds house many of his works and they look even better when you get weather like we did.

Reclining figures – large on the hill, smaller on the grounds and Sylvie and I trying to blend into the art

Double Oval, Family Group, Goslar Warrior and Two piece reclining figure

My friend Christine celebrated her big birthday earlier this year so we had a belated super meal at Michelin starred The Clove House in the old Shoreditch Town Hall. Every course – and the meal took us about 4.5 hours to eat – was delicious. We enjoyed the wine pairings too.

Food to drool over

I don’t care what anyone says – I love a bit of foam!

Christine enjoyed her wine pairing:)

A new exhibit of William Blake’s work has just opened at the Tate. I visited there with one of my cruise buddies – Chris. Blake was rather a pompous man who had high views of his own art compared to others – he was not therefore the most popular of people. He worked closely with his wife and she is featured heavily in this exhibition as she is thought to have coloured in some of this book illustrations.

Book illustrations including an original of the Tyger Tyger burning bright poem

A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the whole of the Canterbury Tales pilgrims

Everything from Isaac Newton to Pilgrim’s Progress to the Name of the Beast is 666!

The Ancient of Times – maybe his most famous piece

And finally a lovely day at Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park where we were celebrating Lorna’s birthday. We found the Ian Dury chair – Reasons to be Cheerful – just down from Harry’s Mound (a place where there is a gap in the trees and a telescope enabling you to clearly see the whole of St Paul’s cathedral – which is quite a distance away). The chair has a bar code so you can immediately listen to some Dury classics – which we did.

Hit me with your Rhythm Stick; it’s nice to be a lunatic – hit me, hit me, hit me – one for my Brit generation:)

UK, Harry Potter special – somewhere near Watford…and London

Skip this if you are not even slightly into Harry Potter but if you are here are some experiences I had at Warner Brothers – The Making of Harry Potter near Watford – an easy day trip for anyone in or visiting London (trains to Watford Junction and then 10 minutes on the HP bus for GBP3 to the Studio.)

I visited with my friend Christine who knows everything about the Harry Potter books, movies and memorabilia – she even has her morning alarm set to hear Stephen Fry reading from somewhere in the Harry Potter books (for the record I wake up to the Four Tops – baby I need your loving!).

Anyway this blog is especially for Christine and also Ella in Melbourne who I know is a huge fan and just has to visit this place.

On arrival you are greeted by newspaper cuttings and large signage so you know you are in the right place. Take three hours as your minimum for looking around – it is huge and fascinating. One guide told us she had been 28 times before becoming a guide and the first time she spend 7 hours here – and honestly that would be easy to do as there is so much to see and take in. This place is a homage to the movies and the creativity and love with which they were made over 10 years.

The external entrance area to the studios

The cupboard under the stairs and the original glasses worn by Daniel Radcliffe are on the shelf

Some of the HP movie posters

The Great Hall

Wands anyone? Christine has 32 – now 33 as she bought Draco Malfoy’s while we were there. Also set items from the Yule Ball

Potions Classroom, Dumbledore’s office, the cauldron and more

The Quidditch, Tom Riddle’s grave, the deathly hallows (I think?) and the fabulous Ford Anglia

Dobby, Hagrid, scary spiders, Prof Umbridge’s office

The train to Hogwarts and me making attempting to crash through Platform 93/4. The lovely purple Knight Bus.

Gringotts Bank in all its glory. I think JKR does not like banks – they are staffed by miserable goblins and then the bank is totally destroyed!

Some of the gruesome goblin latex faces

The treasure in the bank vaults and the total destruction of Gringotts

Diagon Alley – they looked for somewhere to use but decided they could only build something to match the imagination of this place as described in the books

The giant model of Hogwarts

An amazing day out and then followed the next day by a visit to MinaLima in Soho. An incredible four storey narrow building with everything Harry Potter but things like limited editions of book prints, spells, wallpaper etc. It is an amazing place to walk around whether you are a fan or not and it was doing a roaring trade too (Christine you helped with their takings on that day) – and there was not one child there – indeed hardly anyone under 40! Def worth a stop.

Christine outside MinaLima – a place I had to drag her out of as I wanted my lunch!

UK, London – off the standard tourist track

Given this is my home town I tend to blog less when I’m over here and only cover things I’ve not seen before – so here’s a pot pourri or some more off the beaten track places I’ve been to in the last ten days.

Firstly some black and white pics of the City of London and even on a gray day the architecture and splendour shine through.

St Paul’s from the Southbank

Golden Hinde, Southwark Cathedral and the Globe Theatre

The Wobbly (Millenium Bridge) and Remains of Winchester Palace

The Walkie Talkie building and the Monument

St Paul’s

Then off to Brixton for an excellent David Bowie Musical walking tour. You walk around spots where he was brought up and Nick plays Bowie songs in full along the way as you stop by iconic places such as the Ritzy Cinema and the Brixton Academy.

David Bowie musical walking tour in Brixton

As a big Ottolenghi fan I was excited to visit his newest restaurant Rovi with my friend Lorna to celebrate her birthday – as ever the man is a genius! Select a number of the small dishes to share – that way you get to taste more of his inventiveness. Lobster roll and ribs were my favourites.

Rovi in Fitzrovia

A trip to the Tate Modern is always worth it as the building is a design marvel. I visited the Olafur Elliasson exhibit – it was futuristic and cool. Finishing soon I think.

Tate Modern

And then I finally got to see Hamilton – it was worth waiting four years for – if you can get a ticket GO.

Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre

And a highlight was visiting Chihuly Nights at Kew Gardens with my friend Peter I am a massive fan of this glass artist and the installations all through the park are wonderful. Not sure my photos do it justice but did my best. Am going back to see it during the day too. A must see.

The magic of Chihuly glass sculptures at Kew

More awesome glass by Chihuly

Belgium, More Antwerp and final post from Belgium

In the days when I wasn’t getting a train to somewhere else I did more exploring in Antwerp and although two of the museums I really wanted to visit – the main art museum and the Fashion museum – were closed for renovations, I did manage to visit some other smaller places.

This is Rubenshuis – the actual home that the painter Rubens (who is the local great painter) lived. The house is also partly under renovation but a lot has been done and it is a lovely place slap bang in the Centre of the city.

Exterior and gardens of Rubenshuis

Ruben’s bed and his art and collections at Rubenshuis

More beautiful things in Rubenshuis – unlike most artists he made a lot of money while still alive

The area I was staying at for most of the time I was in Antwerp is called Het Eilandje and is where the old port used to be. One Sunday I downloaded a street art walking app and wandered around the docks and port – they have done an excellent job of restoring the area including building parks and a spectacular Port building.

MAS museum, cranes, marina and street art in Het Eilandje

More street art and one of the sluice gates

Antwerp port building (old and modern combined) , the new part and street art around every corner

Back to the old I visited some more churches on my last day in Antwerp. Firstly St Paul’s Church – which like many houses works of Rubens but for me it was especially cool because it’s garden has hundreds of stone carvings depicting the last days of Christ – it is all a bit spooky.

The exterior of St Paul’s church and the stone sculptures

The interior of St Paul’s Church plus a surprising simple modern sculpture of Mary and Jesus in front of all that gothic splendor! I like it.

Woodwork and stonework in St Paul’s church

Then to another house of the former mayor from the 16th century – the Rockoxhuis. He was a very wealthy mayor who made his money in brewing and also he liked his beautiful paintings and furniture too. He was also generous to the poor and bequeathed his house to the state after he died.

Interior courtyard and some of the art inside the Rockoxhuis

And final stop at St Jacob’s Church which is where Rubens is buried and where restoration is also happening and they are finding some fabulous murals as they are cleaning the walls – only visible on film at this stage but more to be displayed to the public in future.

Ruben’s tomb plus items from the Treasury of St Jacob’s church

For my last couple of days here I moved into a very funky hotel in the Centre of town – the DeWitte Lelie – my bedroom is the one with the Mohammed Ali screen prints in it.

Farewell to Belgium (and Rotterdam) – very much enjoyed staying in a place that is not overrun with tourists and that has a cool vibe to it.

Belgium, Food and drink

Someone asked me – “what about the food in Belgium” – so I have produced a compendium of some of the dishes I ate on this visit. Hopefully something for everyone!

Firstly – things I ate a lot of – moules, steak tartare and cakes!

Moules, steak tartare bistro style and creamy cakes

When I was only a bit peckish then it had to be beer (a meal in itself here) plus bitterballen – crispy very hot fried breadcrumbed balls filled with mashed potato and a meat ragu or bits of bacon. Irresistible – and cheap! The meal below also included some very large scampi in a rich creamy sauce – another popular dish over here.

Beer, bitterballen and creamy scampi.

In Bruges my friend Luisa and I found a place for lunch – Rock Fort – at the last minute which was excellent and very central but also off the beaten track. This time it was a shared burrata dish followed by more steak tartare – and very prettily presented and tasty on both counts. Definitely recommend

What we ate at Rock Fort, Bruges

One day in Antwerp I decided I wanted to try one of the Michelin starred restaurants here for lunch – always best to have lunch in expensive and popular places – easier to get in, more leisurely and often a Prix fixe menu. This one was called Kommilfoo and while a bit of a walk to get there (good excuse to enjoy your meal all the more) – it was well worth it. Decor, service and food were exemplary/

Kommilfoo decor, my downed G and T, an amuse bouche and another tartare!

Veal, berries, vino and petit fours – no room for dinner after that lot!

Back at the other end of the spectrum there is a lot of opportunity for chocolate and beer tasting. One of the famous small chocolate makers in Bruges is Dumon so we tried a few there and the Wall of Beer is a reminder how important this stuff is to everyone in this country!

Chocolate and beer – two words that always spring to mind when you think about Belgium

Extra special in both Bruges and Brussels was catching up with one of my cruise buddies Luisa – who happened to be visiting from the US at the same time as me. Really nice to get together and take the food tour in Brussels as well.

Enjoying food and beer with friends is always special