Glad you're here!

Welcome to my personal blog. Squirrel(!) is such an appropriate title for this spot on the Internet. This began as a way to share the journal from my walk across England with hubby Jan. That trip is archived here for you to enjoy (June of 2012), but now when you visit you'll read my crazy musings on everything from horses, to cars, to grammar, to books, baseball, or weasels. Don't get whiplash trying to figure out a theme; just watch out for the squirrels!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Journey's End: SuperLambBananas to War Horses

Liverpool - Day 3

A note: Forgive me for this slightly longer-than-usual post (“surely not,” you say, “how is it possible they could get longer?”) but this marks the last official travelogue entry. Read on to find out what a Superlambbanana is and see a clip on the making of the play “War Horse.”

Since yesterday was all things Fab Four, we needed to take a day to explore Liverpool’s non-Beatles treasures, of which there are many. And to shop. 

The Walker Art Gallery
We started at Liverpool’s beautiful and beloved Walker Art Gallery. The building opened in 1877, but some pieces in the vast collection date back much further. According to the guide book, John Lennon called it “the Walky Through Gallery,” and Liverpool’s private art collectors have been enthusiastic and generous with bequests of art.  We spent several hours in the Walker and certainly didn’t even scratch the surface of the wonders held there.

We got a special treat when our friend Joy texted (as she’d been doing for a day and a half to make sure “The Pool” was treating us well!) and asked if she could come meet us for tea one last time. We met in the tea-shop atrium of the art gallery and had a lovely hour-long (hour-short, really) reunion with her!
Here I am with Joy -- tea and cookies at the Walker!

Here are just a few of the treasures we explored in the gallery after we finished tea:
The most famous portrait of Henry VIII hangs in the Walker.

Lower right is a portrait of Elizabeth I

Self portrait by Rembrandt.

There are modern galleries too. More on Jan and modern art below.
Maggie May's cafe - the Scouse is advertised bottom of the board
After we finished in the Walker (we could have spent two days there and not studied everything), we hit the streets to find some good souvenir shopping and take a few (haha, okay a TON) of pictures.  We found a cute café on Bold Street called Maggie May’s  that served homemade Scouse. Liverpudlians take their nickname, Scousers, and the name of their distinctive dialect Scouse, from an old, old traditional stew. The version I had was hearty but very mild, similar to the beef stew we make at home—totally yummy!
The Liver Bird adorns all public structures
Hahaha! Liz & Phil masks!!
After lunch we hiked back to the River Mersey, ate ice cream at Albert Docks, found some t-shirts we liked and  a few more Beatles souvenirs (we couldn’t really have a completely Beatle-free day). 

Random Beatles themes pop up all over.

The Sign
 Here I need to mention one of my very favorite silly things about Liverpool:  the SuperLambBanana. It’s 17 feet tall and weighs several tons and was developed for a 1998 exhibition, the  ArtTransPennine Exhibition. The artist intended it as both a comment on the dangers of genetic engineering and to honor the history of Liverpool since both sheep and bananas were once common cargos in the city's docks.
The 17-foot  SuperLambBanana
 In 2008, as part of Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture, 125 miniature replicas were created. They were painted and sponsored by businesses in the area and the mini Superlambananas were located throughout the Liverpool region. We didn’t make it to the original, which is moved periodically around the city, but we did find quite a few smaller ones. And, I bought my own to bring home!

A parade of mini SuperLambBananas
Ceramic replicas in the store window -- I have the yellow one!
 We wound up at our second museum, the Tate Liverpool, a modern art gallery that’s one of four Tate museums in England. We went to a special exhibition of three impressionists from three centuries: Joseph M. W.Turner (18th Century), Claude Monet (19th Century) and Cy Twombly (20th Century).  It was fascinating, and while Jan only solidified his opinion of modern artists—claiming our dog Magic could paint as well as Mr. Twombly (apologies to any of his fans) we both reaffirmed our love of Monet. I really could live in a house filled with his paintings.
Monet's Poplars

Turner's Sunset

Twombly's . . . Autumn? - Jan's (not) favorite.
We capped off the night with a bus ride to south Liverpool and visited Calderstones Park, a beautiful old park near Menlove Avenue and Forthlin Road—the streets where John Lennon and Paul McCartney grew up.  But, in truth, we didn’t go for that reason.  Calderstones featured prominently in a not-yet-published book I wrote several years ago. I have plans to resurrect it very soon—so this was research, pure and simple!  I’ll give you a preview of the beautiful park, but stay tuned for another post on Places from “Isabella’s Song.”  All my Alaskan writing buddies will remember the story!
One entrance to Calderstones Park - For my  CPs in Alaska - where that first kiss took place :-)  More in another post!
 Finally, we had to make our way back to the hostel for our last night in Liverpool. It was sad. Jan was surprised at how much he enjoyed the city. I am simply in love with this place I’ve been thinking about for so many years—to see the sights I’ve been researching was amazing! Oh, wait, I’ve already said that.
In the morning we had plans to take a National Trust tour to Mendips (John’s home) and 20 Forthlin Road (Paul’s home) before hopping on a train back to London. Here are some of the Liverpool sights buzzing through my brain as I tried to sleep!

The reception desk at our hostel.

Yellow Submarine doors to the bedrooms. When you open them . . .

. . . you see George in the submarine window!

Michelangelo in front of the Walker

The traffic circle in front of the museum -- The Wellington Column is on the right.

An English schoolgirl.

Liverpool shopping

The Pier Head on River Mersey

Day 3 ½  - From Liverpool to London

The weather held for us as we made our way for the last time to the Liverpool waterfront. We had to meet our tour group at Kings Dock—right next to our favorite Albert Dock. We had time to explore just a little and watched the Liverpool Echo Wheel and found the John Lennon Peace Memorial that had been dedicated by his son Julian and his ex-wife Cynthia just a few years ago. It’s really one of the prettiest modern sculptures!
The Echo Wheel
John Lennon Peace Memorial
The National Trust tour van - only 15 people per tour!

We also met a pair of 15-year-old Norwegian girls, best friends who are super-Beatles-fans. They’d planned and saved for a trip to Liverpool for several years and talked their mothers into making the journey. They were as excited (or more) as I was to visit John’s and Paul’s houses. It was pretty amazing to see how the Beatles have transcended generations.
In front of Paul's home -- our Norwegian girls are left of me!
We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside either house, but we could shoot away outside. The most interesting fact about John’s home is that it was bought and given to the National Trust by Yoko Ono. Turns out, Liverpudlians think quite highly of her. She’s become a great champion of preserving the Beatles’ heritage and of making sure John’s memory is kept respectfully.
In front of Mendips - John's home.
The houses have been restored to the condition they were in and have much of the same décor as when John and Paul lived in them. It was interesting to see how well-off John lived with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George compared to Paul, who’s house was in a government-owned development.  Yet, each home held ghosts of both happiness and sorrow. It was really moving.
But, the tour had to end and we had to high-tail it back to our hostel, pick up our suitcases and schlepp back to Lime Street Station. From the time we got off the tour to the time we caught the train was only an hour. It was a quick good-bye to a really, really cool place! 

Last adjustments in front of our hostel.

The train to London.
But we had no time to feel nostalgic once we reached Euston Station in London. It was now nearly 5:00 p.m. and we had tickets to see the play War Horse at 7:30.  Our first cabbie had the job of getting us to St. David’s Hotel – one of several small hotels built in a set of terraced (row) houses on a leafy horseshoe of a street. 
Our hotel for the last night.
We ditched our suitcases, walked half a block to an Italian restaurant, ate and hurried back to change clothes. By 7:00 we were hailing a black cab and got the greatest driver ever. First of all he thanked us for telling him where we wanted to go. Then he thanked us for giving him half an hour to get 2 ½ miles. Then he took a route I couldn’t have followed along with on a GPS! He told us all about how long it takes to become a London cabbie and once we reached the New London Theatre with eight minutes to spare, he told us he was surprised to get us there on time – something he hadn’t disclosed when we’d started. I have to say, London traffic is not a place for wimps.
A quick Italian dinner spot!

Our last night in England couldn’t have been more amazing. If you EVER get the chance to see War Horse on stage, grab it! The story is touching but the technology of the horse puppets is incredible. If you’d like  a snippet, check out this link:
One word: Stunning.

We left the theater once the play was over and couldn’t quite bear to go right back to the hotel, so we rode the tube to Picadilly Circus. Celebrations were underway for the Italian football (soccer) team who’d just won the semi-finals of the Euro-Cup. Between the flying Italian flags and the shining lights and the crowds to well-rival anything at Times Square in New York, we had a bright and shiny end to our trip to England. A truly stunning trip it was, from beginning to end.
Italians celebrating Euro-Cup victory

It's actually Ripley's Believe it or Not museum--but it's gorgeous at night

Picadilly was bustling even nearing midnight.

I made Jan take this pic of us reflected in the Underground train window. It was a most excellent night.
 We were definitely a comical sight the next morning, dragging our 48-pound suitcases and stuffed back packs around the London Underground. Plus, I had a bright blue Beatle’s bag. We were walking neon signs blinking out “Beware of Tourists.”  But other than a few stares and a few naughty words under my breath when I had to haul the suitcase up the fourth flight of subway stairs, we made it to Heathrow in good time and absolutely nothing went wrong with the schedule or the flight.
That's me advertising tourism in the UK!
 Just like that we were back in Minnesota with parents, kids and hot, hot weather.  It was good to be home. But it will be quite a long time before we no longer miss the cool English breezes, the blue suburban skies, and the rain-soaked moops we shared with so many new, wonderful friends.  Would I recommend this trip to anyone else? In a 192-mile heartbeat!!

Thanks, England, for a living dream!