Liverpool offers a fascinating mix of modern and old
Liverpool offers a fascinating mix of modern and old


Traveling up to Liverpool on the midday – pleasantly empty (and that’s very important when you have a noisy three (and a half) year old with a fine little voice with you) - train from London Euston a former colleague and an excellent poet came into my mind. He originated from Liverpool, or some other postcode of the Merseyside, and never wasted an occasion to scorn his birth place. But the three of us – my sister from Croatia, my three and a half year old daughter and I – were after a stress free and quick gateway. As long it was within easy reach from London and offered plenty of cultural and historical sites to keep us busy. The European capital of culture in 2008, the place the whole world associate with The Beatles and one of the British towns that had undergone enormous regeneration makeover over the last few decades sounded just perfect. Surely enough, the thriving and charming city we found at the end of the line exceeded all our expectations.

After taking a wrong detour from the Lime Street Station we end in the eye of the shopping storm. Manoeuvring the overloaded stroller – who needs a suitcase when you have a pram? - through scores of manic shoppers of what had to be the largest pedestrinised shopping district in the whole world soon became a mission impossible and we look for an escape route. At the first opportunity we escape the spending hysteria and walk in a large circle to our hotel.
The receptionist of the Travel Lodge in the Old Highmarket street is friendly and chatty – and I feel so bad that I can hardly understand her. She speaks too fast and I’m not used to the Liverpudlian accent. After my third “Could you please repeat that?” I just give up and only nod my head. After all, it’s not first time we are staying in a hotel and how hard can be to find our room and use the card-key? It’s a basic, clean and comfortable room. Within seconds my daughter – who for some strange reason gets extremely excited when staying in hotels – checks the bathroom, the wardrobe, comments on how small the television is and then tests the mattress in the role of a trampoline. I quickly glance around for potential dangers and feel relieved that both the radiator and the table are out of her jumping reach.

The Liver Building
The Liver Building

After unloading rucksacks and the stroller we head to the docks. It’s early October; the famous British weather is still bearable and the light stretches long enough to cover the breakfast and the tea. A darker shade of the daylight, sharp breeze and a few degrees lower temperature than the ones in London confirm Liverpool’s northern location.

The modern waterfront
The modern waterfront

We discover the museums but leave them for tomorrow and instead – typical girls - browse through boutique style shops of the Albert Docks. The scarves one is fantastic; thousands of colourful scarves for a pound or two. The evening seems to be approaching sooner than expected and as the daylight starts giving in to a grey dusk we go for a ride on the Mersey ferry. Mersey looks infuriated and of a weird colour somewhere in between grey and brown. The hazy and thick air of sunset is announcing a cold and wet night. The ride gives us an insight into the history of this town as well as a view to the numerous renovation projects that turned it into a very attractive and modern city.

The Mersey Ferry
The Mersey Ferry

Sitting on the ferry I text my poet friend. “Greetings from the Mersey Ferry.” He answers back instantly: “Ha, ha, ha… I’ve never been on it!” Oh well, you are missing a great experience!

My three (and a half) year old jumps and runs around and while scanning for potential dangers and possible gaps in the protective railing around the deck we hear “Ferry Cross the Mersey” by Gerry and the Peacemakers

“Life goes on day after day
Hearts torn in every way
So ferry 'cross the Mersey
'cause this land's the place I love
and here I'll stay”

and a voice announcing “Thank you for travelling with us. We wish you a pleasant evening.” We jump and leave the ferry.
“That was quick!” I shout unnerved by the speed with which I had to squeeze my three (and a half) year old into her jacket, gather all the things and leave the ferry.
“Well…it was only 40 minutes not 50 as they said!” Exclaimed my sister and that raised the alarm in our heads.

We leave the terminal building and don’t recognise the place.
Of course it was 10 minutes shorter… We left the ferry one stop short of the return terminal and we were on the other side of the Mersey! As I could not remember seen any bridge over the large river I felt relieved that at least we had enough common sense to take the penultimate ferry of the day and we would not be stranded at Woodside. We prepare ourselves for an hour wait on the wooden benches in the empty station. What a fun prospect with a hungry, irritable and exhausted child…

The view  on a fascinating modern town from the Mersey Ferry
The view on a fascinating modern town from the Mersey Ferry

But then again Liverpudlian friendliness and helpfulness comes in place.
“They play the music at every stop! Why don’t you take the train back to Liverpool Central? Is just one stop and it would costs you only around 2 pounds” Said the ferry station master (or whatever his job title is), not aware that we did not even consider the possibility that there is a train going under the Mersey, not that we were concerned about the two pounds. He smiles at our map (printed from Internet, A4 size) walks into his office and grabs a proper tourist map and hands it to us. With plenty of time until the next ferry, he walks out of the station with us, shows us the way to the train station and wishes us good journey and a lovely evening. Maybe I got used to the accent in record time – or maybe it was the desperation of the situation – but I understood every single word of that conversation.

In the train my impatient three (and a half) year old throws a tantrum. One of those unique tantrums that result as a combination of tiredness, hunger, thirst, need for the toilet, boredom and stressed mother. Fab. She doesn’t want to do anything and screams as if she never saw me. Two older gentlemen in suits get up, turn around, look at her seriously and say: “Listen you - be good to your mummy”, smile at me with an expression “don’t worry we understand what children are like” and get off the train. That made it much worse but thank you any way for trying…

A poshed up blond lady, obviously ready for a night on the town, explains to us the quickest route to the Chinatown and our dinner. By the time we reach the first reasonably looking restaurant, the tantrum of the day has calmed down…but the irritability is still there and the only thing she wants are a few chips and a large vanilla ice cream. And all the noodles end on the floor… Lovely.

Just before nine we are back at the hotel. The streets and the hotel reception are full of groups of hen and stag parties. The youngest between the three of us is fascinated by the skimpy pink outfits and hairbands with funny shaped objects attached to them. “I want one of those, mummy! Can you buy me one tomorrow, please?” I don’t think so… As soon as we reach our room, she has a mad surge in energy (vanilla ice-cream at the Chinese was obviously not a good idea) and spends the next hour jumping on the bed. We are just in time for Inspector Montalbano. But – unfortunately the TV doesn’t show BBC4 (big minus for the hotel). Instead there is a Spaghetti Western on 10 channels! The hotel was surprisingly quiet throughout the night (big plus). The stag and hen night parties obviously did not bother turning in for a sleep.

Liverpool - Matthew Street  and the birthplace of the Beatles
Liverpool - Matthew Street and the birthplace of the Beatles


Liverpool is known worldwide as the birth place of the Beatles and we start our Sunday with a visit to the place where the band that started a global music revolution first performed on 9 February 1961. The Cavern Club in the Mathew Street is already surrounded by scores of tourists of all ages and nationalities. It’s a grey and rainy morning, it’s much colder than yesterday and streets are narrowed down with numerous roadworks. Still nothing can beat the excitement of walking down flies of spiral staircase – after all this used to be an air raid shelter during World War Two – and looking at the narrow stage where the Beatles started the journey that change the history of modern music.

(Please note: it would be near impossible to take a pram down all those stairs so we take turns while the other one stays next to the pram on the rainy pavement.)

The Cavern Club
The Cavern Club

The weather is perfect for museums. They are all next to each other on the waterfront and we just need to agree on the order. It seems logical to start with the Museum of Liverpool. As the name itself says – it’s a place where the story of Liverpool comes alive; its past, present and the future. From the history of shipbuilding and the life connected with the water to a thoroughly promising and fascinating future.

I am particularly intrigued with the exhibition “April Ashley; Portrait of a lady” (opened till Sept 2014) dedicated to the life of one of the first people in the world who underwent gender reassignment surgery. This beautiful woman was born a man in Liverpool in 1935 and it took her almost 70 years to get her Birth certificate corrected to state that she was female. The exhibition not only follows her story but it also gives an insight into the social and legal challenges individuals like her a facing. Fascinating story – it would make a great movie.

The charming Albert Docks
The charming Albert Docks

Our next stop is Tate Liverpool in Albert Docks; four flours of modern art. Actually two – we just missed the exhibition of Marc Chagall and another floor is under reconstruction. The remaining two floors host the DLA Piper Series: Constellations and that’s just about how much we can take in with an increasingly bored child. It’s a collection of works that had revolutionary effect on modern and contemporary art. There are two installations that attract my daughter’s attentions and they indeed are intriguing and unique. One is “Tropicalia” (1966-67) an exotic location made of sandy flour, plants and a big cage with a live colourful parrot. Ok – not sure I like the cage where the parrot is kept but the exhibit does transports you to its fantasy word. The other is “Five-Man Pedersen (Prototype No.1)” from 2003 by Simon Starling. It’s kind of a tandem for 5 people. Actually, shouldn’t it be called PENTADEM? Also – how do you turn a corner on such a long vehicle? For a second I forgot it was a piece of art not an article for everyday use!

By the time we reach The Merseyside Maritime Museum my three (and a half) year old asks “so, where is something for me?” Surely enough we find a colourful children’s corner and she happily sits down and colours in two pictures. And doesn’t hide the fascinations with freshly sharpened colouring pens. It is impressive that someone in the museum actually has the tasks of checking the pencils and sharpening them!

The exhibition “Titanic & Liverpool: the untold story” that gives a unique insight into the events that surrounded the launch, voyage and sinking of the most infamous ever built ship and its effect on the people of Liverpool is well worth a visit. The highlights of the collections are the original 20 foot long builder’s model of the Titanic and a survivor’s lifejacket. The museum also tells stories of the other two tragic ships in the history – Lusitania and the Forgotten Empress of Ireland. All three ships sank within three years – from 1912 and 1915. Disasters definitely come in threes.

Exhausted from all the history, arts and running after an impatient child, we go for a lunch. The menu at the PanAm restaurant on the Albert Docks seemed to be catering for all of us. The bar area looks more relaxed and casual than the restaurant itself and the prices are slightly cheaper. They also have a children’s menu and my demanding child orders pasta. When the plate arrives she pushes is aside with disgust: “mummy that’s spaghetti, not pasta and there is not enough cheese!” The lunch is starting well… But then she realises French fries on my sister’s plate of burger & fries and fish on my fish & chips and looks happy enough.

The largest Anglican cathedral in the world
The largest Anglican cathedral in the world

The day is growing windier, colder and greyer and we head towards the last thing on our list – The Cathedral of Liverpool. First we walk further down the docks looking at the impressive results of the regeneration scheme; a conference centre, hotels and modern looking apartments with balconies before turning towards the Cathedral. But what looked easy on the map, it’s almost impossible on the road. It takes us around half an hour to reach the impressive building.

The Cathedral of Liverpool is the largest Anglican cathedral in the world. It was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and with its reddish colour and enormousness it dominates the place. It even has a lift for wheelchairs/pram users! Its enormous interior encompassed by colourful and large stained glasses, takes our breath away. We are just in time for the Lord Mayor’s annual service; and that explains the car park outside packed with chauffer driven Jaguars, BMWs & Merc’s. The people gathering in the central aisle look as if they just stepped outside from a costume drama; women in their poshest dresses, new hats or fascinators on their heads and expensive pearls around their necks, men in shiny suits and a judge in full court attire including long white wig. A charming man wearing a kilt and a large smile approached us and starts chatting to us. My little one is fascinating by his outfit. “A man in a skirt, mummy! I’ll tell daddy that he can wear a skirt too!” She shouts. He invites us to join the service. It would have been interesting…but we are not quite dressed for the occasion… Plus we have a noisy child.

The Neoclasicism of St George Hall
The Neoclasicism of St George Hall

By the time we reach the Lime Street Station for our 18:48 train to London the only one with excess energy is my little one. In no time she makes friends with another three year old girl called Gracey and the two of them compare outfits and rucksacks (all favourite trademarked children’s brands). They draw princesses in their notebooks and in Runcorn my daughter stays at the window waving at her short term friend. And my thought goes back to my friend poet RY. You can say whatever you want, Liverpool is a charming town; with a lot of culture, history and friendly and helpful people. It’s a modern city that embraced its history and is proudly looking towards is future. And yes everyone everywhere seemed to be reading The Guardian… I will definitely be back… After all we left The Walker’s Gallery for some other time…

PRACTICALITIES: London to Euston is only just over two hours long and if you buy tickets in advance return can cost around £50 pounds. When it comes to accommodation – there are many hotels on the waterfront (and that’s where we’ll stay next time). This time we needed a place close to the centre and The Lime Street Station and we chose a Travel Lodge (cheap and cheerful).


“Voici le soir charmant, ami du criminel.”

Borne on the dusk, our feet trip over the pair of frozen phoenixes on top of the Liver Building. There is something in the air: the grey outline of expectancy.

On the ground, we are assaulted by language. The bus stops are moved and the trains go where they will (change at a shimmering recollection of industrial revolutions). Nothing you conjure or describe will help you in the struggle towards existence; in Carl Jung's dream Liverpool is the pool of life.

I could resurrect the mornings of brutality – the uncapturable images – for you to play with them.

Far to the east, a magical storm cloud roils above the walls of Pavis and an occult murmur insinuates itself through the streets of Arkham.

The quote from Baudelaire I would translate as "Here comes the beguiling evening, the criminal's friend." I refer to three fictive cities: Pavis, Arkham and Liverpool. Pavis is a fantasy city created by Greg Stafford in the 1970s. Arkham is a fictional city created by H. P. Lovecraft in 1920. Liverpool is a shared hallucination. According to an urban legend, the birds on the Liver Building are not swans or cormorants, as was traditionally believed, but are a mythical species of bird peculiar to Liverpool. There are two birds, a female and a male; the female looks out at sea to see when the ships come in; the male looks inland to the city to find out what time the pubs open.