Merseyside

I ended up visiting Liverpool (Merseyside county) twice during my time in the United Kingdom. I decided well before I arrived in the UK that I would make a trip to Liverpool at some stage. My friend Martina described it as a “pilgrimage” (due to my football allegiance), but after the first few days of hospital accommodation austerity in crowded and polluted Whitechapel, the idea of escaping to Merseyside for a few days before starting my elective sounded rather agreeable. The second trip was the result of serendipity (see below). I came away loving the great culture of the city… even the Scouse dialect! Photo highlights available on my Flickr photostream.

Travelling Virgin

Despite the relative expense, compared to discount coach services, I decided to catch a fast train service to Liverpool on both occasions (the price of an Off-Peak Return ticket using my 16–25 Railcard was quite reasonable anyway). Virgin Trains, the franchisee for the West Coast Main Line on Britain’s privatised National Rail system, runs an hourly direct service from London Euston station to Liverpool Lime Street station (via Stafford and Runcorn). Virgin operates a modern fleet of Pendolino electric tilt trains on the route at speeds of up to 200 km/h for a typical travel time of 2 hours 8 minutes to cover the approximately 330 kilometres. This was the fastest land vehicle I’d ever travelled on and I was very impressed – there’s something very satisfying about whizzing through the beautiful English countryside at 200 km/h in relaxed comfort. Strangely though, Virgin Cola wasn’t available onboard (despite it being the only cola drink available on Virgin Atlantic services to/from Sydney).

Virgin Trains Pendolino at Liverpool Lime Street station
Virgin Trains Pendolino “Virgin Warrior” at Liverpool Lime Street station

Capital of culture

Liverpool is a city full of culture, from the listed historical buildings dating from the city’s heyday during the peak of the British Empire to the ever-present reminders of its four most famous musicians (e.g. Liverpool John Lennon Airport) to its two famous football teams (Liverpool FC and Everton FC) &c. – it was no surprise to discover that the city was named 2008 European Capital of Culture.

The Three Graces, Liverpool
“The Three Graces” – Royal Liver, Cunard, and Port of Liverpool buildings

Of course, the heart of Liverpool is its people and the Scousers (as they’re popularly known in Britain) I encountered were a great bunch. I even came to grips with the distinctive Scouse dialect (it’s not just an accent), however there were a number of occasions when I needed to (somewhat embarrassingly) ask people to repeat themselves. This apparently worked both ways – some of the locals had some trouble with my adopted Received Pronunciation accent. My favourite quote on this matter came from the owner of Kavanagh’s II coffee shop after I mentioned that I was Australian, “You don’t sound like an Aussie… Your accent sounds more ‘proper English’ than us!”.

Another Place

Another Place is a public art installation by British sculptor Antony Gormley. The work consists of 100 life-size cast iron figures (modelled after Gormley himself) facing out to sea, spread across 3 kilometres of coastline. After first being displayed in Germany, Norway and Belgium; its final permanent location is Crosby Beach, near Liverpool (actually in the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton, which is adjacent to the City of Liverpool). Although not in central Liverpool, it’s quite easy to reach Another Place – simply a matter of taking a Merseyrail train to Blundellsands & Crosby station and walking 500 metres along Blundellsands Road West to Crosby Beach. It’s a very interesting work – whilst each figure individually has quite limited artistic value, seeing dozens of them staring silently out to sea is a strangely mesmerising experience. Gormley’s official line is that the work represents “a response to the individual and universal sentiments associated with emigration, sadness at leaving but the hope of a new future in another place”.

Another Place by Antony Gormley
Another Place by Antony Gormley, Crosby Beach, Merseyside

You’ll never walk alone

The more famous and successful of Liverpool’s football teams is Liverpool Football Club, based at Anfield football stadium. As a Liverpool supporter, a stadium tour was practically a requisite during my time in England. Considering the notorious difficulty of getting tickets to matches at Anfield, I also thought the tour would be my only chance to see the inside of the legendary stadium.

Anfield stadium, Liverpool
Anfield stadium, Liverpool

Little did I know that a few weeks later I would manage to score tickets to an FA Cup 3rd round replay match between Liverpool and Reading (and the reason I returned to Liverpool). The atmosphere at Anfield on match night was amazing. Unfortunately the Reds played rather poorly that night (and both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres sustained injuries) and ultimately lost the match 2–1.

Liverpool v Reading, 13 Jan 2010
Liverpool v Reading, Anfield, 13 January 2010

The Baltic Fleet

I couldn’t leave Liverpool without trying some scouse, the local dish. Indeed scouse is so synonymous with Liverpool that the term came to refer to the people of Liverpool (Scousers) and their dialect (Scouse). Scouse is a meat stew containing lamb/mutton, potatoes, onions, carrots and potatoes; traditionally served with picked red cabbage and bread.

Scouse

I first tried scouse at The Baltic Fleet a pub on Wapping, near Albert Dock. The Baltic Fleet is also a microbrewery, so I tried their eponymous Wapping Bitter ale. Both were excellent. There’s nothing like a good bowl of scouse washed down with ale to lift the spirits on a (literally) freezing night.

The Baltic Fleet
33 Wapping
Liverpool
L1 8DQ
United Kingdom
wappingbeers.co.uk

This is London calling

I’m currently in the United Kingdom doing a medical elective attachment in General & Emergency Medicine at The Royal London Hospital, organised through Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry; part of Queen Mary, University of London. The medical elective is a component of final-year in most medical programs worldwide and gives students the flexibility to complete an attachment of their choice in a location of their choice (usually overseas where practicable).

"Dancing Queen" Virgin Atlantic A340-600
“Dancing Queen” Virgin Atlantic A340-600

The journey here was a challenge in itself. During the flight I became rather acquainted with Virgin Atlantic’s quirkiness – the plane was named “Dancing Queen”, the safety video contained visual jokes, Virgin Cola was served (not bad, actually), and as we approached Heathrow Airport the pilot remarked that it was a “perky 2°C” and “moist” in London. So after some 23 hours aboard an aeroplane, I found myself in Heathrow Terminal 3 severely jetlagged and feeling deserving of an award for endurance. As for getting into London proper, I knew better than to catch the Tube, but nothing quite prepared me for the swarming sea of commuters when I got off the Heathrow Connect train at Paddington station (mental note: never catch London public transport with luggage during peak hour). Needless to say I gave up on public transport at this stage and caught a taxi the rest of the way to the hospital.

London Heathrow Airport, Terminal 5
Ooh, shiny… Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 (Terminal 3 was underwhelming)

First impressions? As an Antipodean who’s never previously travelled to Europe, what’s struck me most about being here is how short the winter days are: the sun rises at around 0800 and sets around 1550! I realise that it’s associated with the relatively high latitude (London 51.5°N vs Sydney 33.8°S), but nevertheless I’m already starting to feel SAD (seasonal affective disorder)!

More posts to come later…