I’m sure you’re all scratching your heads wondering why in the world would I be writing about the Beatles. What could they possibly have to do with a blog called TEA, TOAST and TRAVEL? Well, they certainly do qualify … definitely from England, and they were all “tea” drinkers.
We just returned from a two-week visit to England and, never having visited before, this year we decided to go to Liverpool. How surprised were we when we discovered this once down-on-its-heels city of the working classes is now a thriving metropolis with a world-class seaport district, high-end restaurants and shops, museums and a tourist mecca. How did all this happen? The obvious and logical answer, of course, is the investment over recent years by developers into revitalizing the city. I say it’s because of four young men from the ‘neighborhood’ …. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison.
In making plans for our visit to Liverpool, I thought it would be great fun to take a “Beatles tour” … maybe finding a cabbie to take us around, or we might find a ‘hop-on-hop-off’ bus. So, I started trolling websites looking for what we might be able to do. Not only did I find a slew of companies offering organized Beatles tours, ranging anywhere from three hours to a full day, and anywhere from a private tour with an ‘expert’ Beatles guide, to full bus tours, it was impossible to choose.
Looking at the range of possibilities (and the costs), I choose one of the bus tours. Now I had to choose the day and time to make our reservation. Huh? Although they offered tours every three to four hours, they strongly suggested advance reservations because they usually sell out before the day of. Once again, huh? This was just one of the many Beatles tours. So, I selected one time slot which would work for our schedule …. sold out. Okay, I choose another …. sold out. Picked one for the next day …. sold out! What the? I had to switch to another tour group. Finally, landed on the “Magical Mystery Tour”. Made the advance online reservation. Paid in full. And exhaled!
Never having been to Liverpool, we wanted to get there early, poke around the city center a bit and get a feel for this coastal metropolis. Thank goodness for “sat nav” because without it, we’d still be driving in circles, trying to navigate the many bridges and tunnels. And when we finally emerged, it was beautiful! Elegant ornate old stone buildings intermingled with the sleek, modern architecture of today. With the help of the many tourist information stands, we found our way to the “Magical Mystery Tour” kiosk (located right next to the Beatles museum), picked up our “Tickets to Ride” and were soon in the midst of other like-minded tourees … all ages … all countries … all interested in The Beatles!
There we all were clustered in front of ‘our’ bus (of which there were many), taking selfies, waiting patiently for the doors to open. As soon as they did, we piled in, jostling each other for the best seats. The tour leader boarded, introduced himself and we were off. We began at the stadium where tickets to Paul’s 2008 concert sold out in seconds to twice its capacity, when he played far into the night without ever taking a break. We then drove to the ‘neighborhood’ where the four young men grew up, visiting each individual location, the schools, the hangouts, the barber shop, the church where Paul was a choir boy … learning about all the inspiration for their songs. Along the way, the entire bus group would break out into song, everyone knowing the words, to the Beatles background music.
The tour leader was not only entertaining, he provided us with so many rich details on each band member, making it quite an intimate experience. Starting from 1957 when 15 year old John Lennon started a skiffle band, to Paul McCartney asking his banjo-playing mother to teach him how to play the guitar, to Richard Starkey wearing a bunch of gold rings and earning the name “Ringo”, to Lennon wanting George Harrison in the band because “that kid can sing and he’ll get us all the girls”. And learning that the reason the Beatles broke up was not because of Yoko Ono, but because of the death of Brian Epstein, the cement which kept these talented four together.
Yes, we stopped at Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, Paul McCartney’s home, George Harrison’s home and more. At each destination, everyone piled out of the bus, taking turns for our photo op in front of whatever icon we visited, while watching similar buses, taxis or limos pulling away with another group of like-minded Beatles fans. I felt badly for people living on the streets where all this activity goes on day after day. They still had to go to work, school, shopping, the dentist, whatever, and here we all were clogging up these narrow, little neighborhood streets. Our tour driver insisted not only don’t they mind, they actually love all the attention. I hope so.
Two hours later, our tour ended back in the city center where it really all started for the Beatles, at the Cavern Club. This little below-ground club is where in 1961 the Beatles (before Ringo) played to the lunchtime crowd almost daily. Today this alleyway of a street is the hub for Beatles mania! The Cavern Club sits mid-way, but first there are Beatles gift shops selling absolutely every item you can imagine with Beatles images on them. Outside the Cavern Club is a brick wall with the name of every known country, rock or blues musician. And be sure to have your photo taken with John Lennon or Cilla Black.
Each year Liverpool hosts an International Beatles Week attracting thousands of fans, with concerts all throughout the city performed by hundreds of Beatles tribute bands from around the world. And, if you are such an ardent Beatles fan that you want an all-consuming experience, then you must stay at the Hard Day’s Night Hotel. This high-end establishment is adorned with specially-commissioned artwork and memorabilia. And, yes, it serves Afternoon Tea.
As I said Liverpool is a vibrant and thriving city now. If you ever get the chance to visit, you won’t be disappointed. And if you want to argue that Liverpool’s amazing turnaround over the past 30 years is because of the investment of dedicated developers which has led to the revitalization and rebirth of the city, you may be right. But I say it’s all because of four lads, who called themselves the Beatles.