1960 was a fabulous year – and not just because it was the year I was born. It was the year the Beatles were formed in Liverpool. And since we arrived on the scene in the same year, it makes sense that I would know all the words to every Beatles tune. Recently I took a nostalgic trip through Liverpool to experience a bit of Beatles culture. I also discovered another side of this intriguing city.
Growing Up with the Beatles
Liverpool, England, is most widely known as the home of fab four – the legendary Beatles. But there is much more to the city than Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane. It is a city of growth and grit – a rare combination that somehow works. But first let’s talk about John, Paul, George and Ringo because you are already humming a Beatles tune in your head, aren’t you?
The boys were born during the bombing blitz of World War II. They came into the world at one of the least desirable periods of history, when food rations were normal and constant fear prevailed among the adults. They crossed paths as young teens and ultimately formed what became one of the most famous bands in pop culture history.
Today their story is told through a Magical Mystery Tour aboard a psychedelic bus. I can be a bit cynical about tourist bus tours, but I happily climbed aboard humming a Beatles tune in my head. I must admit it was fun having my picture taken by the Penny Lane sign, seeing the shelter in the middle of the roundabout, the barber shop, and the fire station. We even saw the grave where Eleanor Rigby was buried along with her name – although the Beatles claim that was not the inspiration for the lyrics (seems unlikely to me). And, of course, Strawberry Fields was one of the most popular stops. In between photo opps, the tour guide shared anecdotes of the life of John, Paul, Ringo, and George from the days when they roamed the streets of Liverpool.
The Next Best Thing to a Beatles Concert
At the height of the Beatles popularity in the mid-60s, I was a just a child and never saw the band in concert. But in Liverpool, I saw the next best thing – a Beatles tribute band performing at the legendary Cavern Club. People ranging in age from 20 to 75 all sang along as the fab four impersonators served up a mega dose of nostalgia. The songs continued for me all through the night – probably because I slept at the Hard Days Night hotel.
A Tale of Two Cities
The Beatles aren’t the only story in Liverpool. Secret Tours of Liverpool leads walking tours to discover the city’s street art, hidden attractions and alternative sights. We met up with our energetic and incredibly knowledgeable guide, Niko, and ventured out. The route started with a walk through Liverpool One – the city’s shiny new cosmopolitan shopping center. This set the stage for the contrasting side of the city we were about to discover.
Niko showed us the “Sailors Gate” originally constructed in the late 19th century in an effort to trick drunken sailors into entering the sailor’s home in time for their 10:00 p.m. curfew. (Some things never change!) From there we left the shiny new Liverpool behind to step into history at Bluecoat Chambers.
Built in the 1700s, the Bluecoat was originally a charity school and is the oldest building in Liverpool’s city center. Today it houses a creative community of artists showcasing visual art, music, dance, live art and literature. The secret garden behind the building is home to independent businesses ideal for finding the perfect non-touristy souvenir. Niko also pointed out the Liver Bird – the city’s symbol. This mythical bird carved above the doors and iron gates of Bluecoat carries seaweed in its beak and has origins dating back to medieval times.
Exploring Liverpool Nightlife and Street Art in the Ropewalks
The real story of Liverpool came alive for us as we entered the Ropewalks. Named from the craft of rope-making for the ships that dominated the city until the 19th century, Ropewalks is characterized by long parallel streets built to allow rope manufacturers to lay the ropes out lengthways. Remnants of bombed buildings from World War II still stand as a poignant reminder of the city’s difficult past. Numerous warehouses now converted to bars and clubs have become the center of nightlife for Liverpool. In fact, the recent Rough Guides “50 Things to Do Before You Die” ranked a night out in Liverpool’s Ropewalks quarter as #3 – just above the Great Wall of China.
What was most impressive about this quarter of Liverpool was the street art. Thought provoking graffiti masterpieces by Brazil artist, Cranio, color the walls of businesses. Another amazing piece depicting the message “Breathing is Not Living” covers the side of Liverpool’s first dry bar, The Brink. Opened by a recovered alcoholic to provide an alternative night spot for those who prefer not to imbibe in the spirits, The Brink is a recovery social enterprise with all profits going back into the community to fund support for those who have suffered through alcoholism and addiction.
And You Have to Try the Scouse
And, finally, no visit to Liverpool is complete without a stop at Maggie May’s on Bold Street for homemade Scouse – a beef or lamb based stew with carrots, onions and potatoes served with crusty bread. Scouse is also the nickname for the people of Liverpool who really do have their own version of the English language.
Niko assured us that Liverpoolians do eat scouse. In fact, he has a bowl every Sunday afternoon when he stops by his Grandma’s house who, of course, lives on Penny Lane.