Liverpool, again!

Yo Hole in ye Wall
Ye Hole in Ye Wall, Liverpool
So, on Sunday I travelled down to Liverpool with NUJ DM Delegate Melita on the train and got off at Moorfields. When researching the pubs near my hotel, I discovered about five good ones were situated between the station and the Z Hotel. We popped our heads in the first one but Melita didn't like the look of the big screen, so i asked the barmaid the way to Ye Hole in ye Wall, and she took us there!

Yo Hole in ye Wall
Ye Hole in Ye Wall gents
It's a quaint old pub with lots of snugs. There was a session going on in the first one, and a Sports screen, but the beer looked good so we settled on an empty snug next to the Men's (women weren't allowed in until 1975, their leaflet told me). Mine was a pint and a half Peerless Oatmeal stout, made in the Wirral. I was convinced the crooner and guitarist next door had been in Liverpool beat groups back in the day!

View from my hotel
View from Room 614
Melita headed off to Lime Street and I crossed the road to find my hotel. It was a converted office building, with the bar and reception on the ground floor. It was next to one of those enigmatic Art Deco buildings without windows that are ventilation shafts for the Mersey Tunnel (but not at all noisy). I was on the 6th floor, with a view of a magnificent building with a sun dial. At 5pm we were promised free wine and cheese - but only one (large) glass per customer, that did me for tea, so it was upstairs to watch my 40in tv and bed.

Walker gallery
Walker art gallery
 Monday morning I walked to the Walker art gallery to see the Pre-Raphaelites: Beauty and Rebellion. With my Art Fund card and concession it worked out to be £2.50 entrance, so after a cappuccino in the cafe it was upstairs for the art. The exhibition was more about the Liverpool collectors and contained many lesser local Pre-Raph followers, plus some old favourites, including Rossetti's only nude Venus Verticordia. George Rae had a copy painted with drapery because he found it 'too voluptuous for a respectable  old timer like me'! A great exhibition and more outside in the permanent collection. Of course, I bought the catalogue!

Paul Brown at FACT, Liverpool
Paul Brown at FACT
Then it was to The North Western, the Wetherspoons under Lime Street station, for a beer with Rob and Jackie, who were up for a sundial conference. Now FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) was supposed to be closed on Mondays, but I risked it anyway and found the cafe and lobby, where there was a Paul Brown and Son exhibition - Scouse roots: Art that makes itself - open. I had some soup in the cafe then enjoyed the computer art. Then on Melita's insistence I patronised the Roscoe Head, opposite, for another pint, of St George - another pub with many rooms. In my snug was a canoodling couple and I didn't know which way to look - no music either to mask their snogging! They eventually left to be replaced by a little old man who told me how much he'd saved by cancelling his landline.

FACT cafe
Soup at FACT
The Bluecoat shut at 6pm, so I headed down Bold Street to find it. The exhibition on was Double act: art and comedy, which was slightly interesting. I ended up watching a 40-minute video of stand up by 'Karen' of Common Culture, which despite being rude about short men and old people, had some good lines. Her imaginary audience was called Fred! I nearly got locked in…

So, it was back to the Z Hotel (which I discovered was a stone's throw from Mathew Street), for free wine and cheese, then tv and bed. Tuesday morning I got the tube from Moorfields to Lime Street and caught the train before the one I had scheduled for - I had an open ticket. Found an unreserved seat in Coach U and was delighted to spot 46100 Royal Scot in steam, at Crewe


Southport (and Liverpool), again...

View from Southport pier
View from the end of Southport Pier
The last time I was in Southport was for the NUJ DM back in 2011. I was a delegate then, but this time I was an observer. I was also very diligent then, attending every session and a couple of fringe meetings besides, and regretted not taking time off to go to the end of the second longest pier in Britain, when it had a tram service. I also missed out on the Atkinson art gallery, which was being refurbished at the time.
Southport Pier road train
The Promenade Express
So, Saturday lunchtime I headed for the pier and hung about by an A-board advertising the Road Train, every half hour. It was nippy and a family and me waited what seemed like ages before the 'train' arrived. Bought a £2.50 return and we headed off, me wishing I'd brought a scarf. At the end of the pier was a pavilion containing a cafe and some penny slot machines. No sign of the sea, just endless sand. The driver and conductor were having a fag and a cuppa but eventually drove us back.

Atkinson museum, Southport
Victorian sauce inside the Atkinson
Sunday was much sunnier and I was joined by delegates Amy and Melita to the end of the pier. This time it was a bit busier - still no sign of the sea - and I got the next train back cos I wanted to see the Atkinson. It's housed in the same building as the town hall, under a clock tower, on Lord Street, which has many splendid buildings. The art gallery is on the first floor and comprises a large room themed as Victorian Dreamers, with a group of saucy paintings in the corner, including Pygmalion and Galatea by Earnest Normand and Lilith by John Collier, plus a couple of William Ettys. There was also a travelling exhibition of more modern works entitled One day, something happens. Another floor up is the museum, which houses some mummies, a Dan Dare exhibit, Meccano and Dinky Toys and lots about the history of Lord Street. On the ground floor is a cafe called Bakery, where I had a cappuccino.

Dan Dare
Dan Dare was born nearby
We were staying in a hotel that had seen better days - the Prince of Wales - me in a tiny single room on the 3rd floor. The DM was in the Floral Hall again (it will be in two years' time too) an we managed to visit a couple of quirky bars, including the Baron's Bar (ale £2.10 a pint) in the Scarisbrick Hotel and the Inn Beer Shop with its 'Continental-style seating' at the far end of Lord Street.  The strangest thing that happened at DM was at the Saturday night Gala Dinner when someone went to the loo and reported that Michael Jackson was next door! Well, a lookalike was, with a huge queue of women and children getting selfies with him. Apparently it was a show! 

Preston Bank, Southport
One of the magnificent buildings on Lord Street
On Sunday I set off with Melita to Liverpool…

More photos on Flickr.


Chatham historic dockyard

Call the Midwife, Chatham dockyard
Call the Midwife!
This was my first coach trip since Bletchley Park last April, booked by Coach Trip chum Chrissie, with Worthing coaches, not too early (8.55am), but no pick-up at Preston Circus, so I cycled down to Pool Valley. We were the only two waiting and after a pick up at Patcham, the half empty coach set off to The Historic Dockyard Chatham, via a coffee stop at Clacket Lane services on the M25.

View from HMS Cavalier, Chatham dockyard
HM Submarine Ocelot, HMS Gannet and No 3 Slip from HMS Cavalier
Collecting our maps from driver Martin, we made our way to the entrance and not looking where I was going, tripped on a manhole cover and bruised my knee - and ego! We were advised to call in at No 1 Smithery first to book places at the Ropery demonstration and on the HM Submarine Ocelot tour. We declined the sub tour on the grounds of sore old knees and claustrophobia, plus there'd be lots of climbing up and down stairs etc in the course of the day!

HMS Gannet, Chatham dockyard
Sloop HMS Gannet (1878)
First stop was HMS Gannet, an 1878 Victorian sloop, with hammocks, cannons and rigging everywhere. No engines or boilers to see. We were followed through the day by a party of school kids in what looked like sportswear. Then it was to the Ropery, via a Call the midwife photo opportunity. After an introduction by a shouty Victorian lady we got to see a three-strand rope being made by a very noisy twirling machine in the longest brick building in the world at 1/4 of a mile. Best bit of the day!

HMS Cavalier, Chatham dockyard
Destroyer HMS Cavalier (1944)
Next to the Ropery was a general exhibition on the history of the dockyard, entitled Steam, steel and submarines with figureheads and lots of ship models, including those in the Battle of the River Plate. After eating our sandwiches by the steam cranes, we wandered back past the Nelson Brewery where they make beer with suggestive names, such as the Pursers Pussy Porter, a bottle of which which I bought for £2.70. It was time for a coffee in the Railway Workshop and I was attracted to a spicy butter bean pie on sale from Kent Pies, but resisted. There were only two steam locos in the shed: Ajax and an unnamed 0-4-0ST (Peckett  No. 1903 built in 1936, maybe). I knew they wouldn't be in steam on a Monday.

0-4-0ST Ajax, Chatham dockyard
0-4-0ST Ajax
Destroyer HMS Cavalier (1944) was next, with lots to see above and below decks, lots of ladders to climb up and (facing the ladder) back down again. Here the sailors had bunks, and proper toilets! Its a huge ship with great views from the top, although the man with the wheel had no view at all! HMS Cavalier and HM Submarine Ocelot can both be toured virtually on Google Maps.

Slip cover 1838, Chatham dockyard
No 3 Slip roof
No 3 Slip looks like a modern structure from the outside but it was built in 1838 so that ships could be built under cover. Inside houses all kinds of vehicles and machines, including a section of 'Boring Machines'! You can take the lift or stairs up to look at the amazing wooden roof. Next door is a big collection of RNLI lifeboats. The dockyard closed at 4pm, but is well work a visit - and with an entrance at around £20, the coach trip at £33 was very good value. Then it was straight back, no stopping until Patcham.
Worthing coach
Worthing coach
 There's a steam and blues festival on over Easter. More photos on Flickr.


Brussels: trains, trams and Magritte, part 4

 Day 5 Monday 8 February: On Mondays most museums are closed, so a long tram or metro trip was in order. And as it was windy and absolutely throwing it down outside, I stopped for a while at the Natural Coffee House on the corner. Bought a croissant from Teddy L and jumped on the 73 tram (temp stop outside the Michael Collins irish pub cos the road was up) to Louise then down to the M6 metro to Heysel and the Atomium. "Built for the 1958 World Exhibition, the Atomium is shaped on the model of an elementary iron crystal enlarged 165 billion times."

I was planning to buy a combo ticket, to include the ADAM art and design museum, but the price was considerably higher than the website said (it would have been €14) , and there were hoards of kids in the queue. Also, they warned of stairs, so I figured they'd not repaired the escalators since last I went up it with Jonny the Lodger.

ADAM, Brussels
So I headed back towards the station and into the modern building that is ADAM. It was €8 to get in and very disappointing - unless you love plastic chairs. It was basically the Plasticarium Collection (that I think used to be housed in the Atomium) plus a lot of big empty rooms. The cafe was tiny and the shop expensive. Bad choice, I should have gone up the Atomium. Ah well. I walked up towards the Art Deco building (Palais des Expositions from the 1935 Expo) and back to the metro station.

Palais des Expositions 1935

On the way back I took a detour on the metro to find Central Station, which I did and discovered I was literally yards away  the other day! I bought a crusty sandwich from Exki and skirted the Grand Place heading for Bourse. I'd been tipped off on Facebook (by Tamsin) about an Art Nouveau bar called Le Cirio.

Central station, Brussels
Central station, designed by Horta
It was late afternoon, so first I had a coffee at another Natural Coffee Cafe, then had a couple of Grimbergen dark beers in this wonderful bar. A strange woman on the next table to me, who was eating her way through the not so appetising menu, gave me a praline! Then it was the metro back to Gare du Midi and a try out on tram 81 back to Bailli (one of those older ones with three steps up.) I popped into the Cock's Fresh (yes!) supermarket to buy a couple of cans : Leffe Brune, and Palm, and watched tv in my room. The building work outside went on all night!

Grimbergen at Le Cirio

Day 6 Tuesday 9 February 2016: I struggled to get my case up the three-step 81 tram in the rain (it was easier getting off). A slightly goth young woman sat opposite me and pulled from a brown paper bag a brand new copy of Mein Kampf, with day-glo cover. I bought another crusty sandwich from the station Exki, had a cappuccino in the departure lounge, and soon I was back in Blighty.

More photos on Flickr.

Brussels, part 3 >


Brussels: trains, trams and Magritte, part 3

Magritte museum
Main Magritte museum at Place Royale
Day 4 Sunday 7 February: Today I'd planned to take a tram out of town to the Tram Museum and a vintage ride through the forest, but it doesn't open properly until April! So, it was to be the other bigger Magritte museum, the Musée Magritte Museum, in the city centre, near Royale tram stop. Now, although this has its own building, the entrance and ticket office is round the corner, through security. It's in a complex of four museums so I opted for a combo ticket at €9. After leaving my bag in a locker, we were taken by lift up to the top, and enjoyed three whole floors of Magritte art.

Brussels and Magritte
Still not a pipe!
I've seen many a Magritte exhibition - the last one in Liverpool in 2011 - and remember well that Brighton had its own collection courtesy Edward James (long gone), but there are so many more paintings of his to discover, albeit many of them variations on a theme.

Gavin Turk
Gavin Turk homage
After some cauliflower soup in the cafe (€4 plus €1 for bread), it was downstairs to the Fin de Siècle Museum. This is even bigger than the Magritte museum and doesn't really get interesting (to me) until the deepest rooms, of Art Nouveau paintings and sculptures, including a nice Burne-Jones. There are some very strange ones too, like the waterfall of naked children tryptic by Baron Léon Frederic! Thankfully there was a lift back to the surface and after a quick whizz round the Old Masters to see the Bruegels emerged into the sunlight.

The real Mannekin Pis
The wee Manneken Pis
Now for some sightseeing. I walked down through the gardens behind the museums, past the impressive Musical Instruments museum and across the Grand Place to check out the wee Manneken Pis and have a De Koninck beer in the Taverne Manneken Pis in front of a roaring fire.

Entrance to La Fleur en Papier Doré
Entrane to La Fleur en Papier Doré
Thus revived it was just a short walk to Magritte's favourite bar La Fleur en Papier Doré, polishing off my leftover sushi. Inside I had a glass of Le Forte and another Leffe Brune (yes, Belgian Special Brew, but I like it, OK?).
Beer at Magritte's favourite bar: La Fleur en Papier Doré
Le Fort and some nibbles, that's Magritte second from right
I didn't fancy the veggie stoemp option so it was a walk up to the Sabon and a 73 tram to the hotel and Call the Midwife, followed by War and Peace. There was building works outside, replacing the cobbles between the tram lines, which went on all night!

Tram repairs outside my hotel (all night!)
Road works on Avenue Louise
More photos on Flickr.

< Brussels part 4Brussels part 2 >


Brussels: trains, trams and Magritte, part 2

Day 3 Saturday 6 February: After breakfast at the Train Hostel (the egg could have done with a bit longer), I packed my things and took the 92 tram to Bailli and checked in at the Four Points by Sheraton, a very swanky hotel off the Avenue Louise. I'd been allocated the hotel by lastminute.com top secret deal, and it worked out even cheaper than the hostel! I was on the ground floor in 125.

Magritte's house in Jette
Magritte's flat
 Now, there are two Magritte museums in Brussels and today I was to seek out the one in the suburb of Jette, and luckily the 93 tram went all the way. First I thought I'd walk to the Horta museum nearby, but when I got there late morning I found it didn't open until 2pm! So, I bought a croissant and took the tram to Cimetière de Jette and followed the sign to the Musée René Magritte at 135 Rue Esseghemstraat, arriving as a Spanish couple were outside ringing the doorbell. This house, or rather flat, is where Magritte lived and worked from 1930 to 1954. Coincidentally be died in Schaerbeek!

Magritte's bedroom
Magritte's bedroom
After paying €7.50, we were guided round the ground floor of best front room (very Northern), bedroom and dining room, where he painted every morning then cleared away his things for teatime. There is also a smarter studio (Studio Dongo) in the garden where he did his commercial work. The guide pointed out all the features that appear time and time again in his paintings - the fireplace, the windows, the floorboards, the furniture. After donning overshoes, we were led upstairs to wander round two storeys of fascinating ephemera, minor works and recreated 'lost' paintings (his first London show was bombed!).

Magritte's living room, for best
Magritte's front room, note the 'loco' coming out of the fireplace

Then it was a tram, metro and tram back to the hotel. I fancied some moules frites for supper so wandered over to La Chou de Bruxelles, early to get a seat. It wasn't open yet, so had a beer in a rough pub nearby until 7pm then wandered back to find it was fully booked, and closed on Sunday and Monday! The only eating place I could find on Avenue Louise was Sushi Factory, so I made do with cold sushi and warm miso soup! The chips here are apparently cooked in beef or horse fat anyway! Back at the hotel I had a beer in the bar - Leffe Brune at €4.50 - and retired to watch Casualty.

More photos on Flickr.

< Brussels part 3 | Brussels part 1 >


Brussels: trains, trams and Magritte, part 1

So, I had my e-voucher from Eurostar for £34, they were doing a sale with fares at £29 single to Paris or Brussels (the deadline was sneakily extended!) and I'd just read an article in the Independent on Sunday (10 January 2016) about the new Train World museum and nearby Train Hostel. It was time to start planning what would be my longest solo foreign holiday so far!

Schaerbeek station with 92 tram to Fort-Jaco
Schaerbeek station and the 92 tram to Fort-Jaco
Day 1 Thursday 4 February: The plan was to get to Brussels Midi station, find the tourist info, get a map or two and some tram tickets*. But where was it? Never did find out. I'd forgotten my plug adapter so bought a replacement for €15 at the station. After struggling with a ticket machine, I bought a local train ticket (€2.10) from a human and got the train north to Schaerbeek (pronounced Scar-beek, I think). The Train Hostel was recognisable by the carriage hanging off the roof Italian Job style. I was given room 12 up some metal stairs in the drizzle, that had been converted from a six bunk room to a double, with ultramodern bathroom / wet room. The receptionist got me a beer (a €2 Stella) and after trying to find the pizza place (I managed to walk in a big circle) watched Buster Keaton's The General on YouTube on my iPad Mini. Thank goodness for wifi and my hip flask.

Schaerbeek station hall
Inside the old station hall
Day 2 Friday 5 February: I'd opted for the €7 breakfast, which was well worth it, what with boiled eggs available… I'd brought my own tea bags! Thence to Train World. After buying my senior ticket for €7.50, I had a bit of trouble getting past the scanner. A woman the other side of the door helped me via sign language - I'd to scan the bar code part of the ticket! The Train World experience starts quietly in the grand hall of the old station, dotted with models of locos and stations.

Hall 1
Hall 1

Then it's outside and into the first modern hall. It was much bigger than I'd imagined. I'd downloaded the app to my iPad so had plenty of time to take it in. And it's quite unlike York, in that it is a journey through time, with dramatic accompanying sound and vision. The app didn't let me miss anything, which I would have done, just wandering. Soon I was in the hall of the star attraction - the Type 12 Atlantic (4-4-0) streamliner 12004 and I took a seat to take it in.

Type 12 Atlantic 4-4-2 No. 12004
Type 12 streamliner
The museum had all kinds of delights, both wonderful and poignant, like the car smashed up on a level crossing by two trains (the driver survived) and a cattle wagon used by the nazis to transport Belgians to the camps. There was a coach from the Trans-Europe Express and Art Deco panels from the Orient Express. At the end, you are taken up high to walk back through the halls seeing the exhibits from above, and there's a fab train simulator to have a go on that takes you to the future.

Trans Europe Express interior
Trans-Europe Express
In the cafe (Rn Express) I had carrot soup (€8) plus a whole pile of rocket then caught a 92 tram into town for a recce. I got off at Louise and wandered aimlessly, missing almost any point of interest in the area (I was aiming for Central Station, designed by Horta) and had to jump on a bus to find somewhere more familiar.

Carrot soup at Rn Express
Carrot soup at the museum cafe
That evening I did find my way to Pizza Margherita and had a funghi pizza by the wood-fired oven while watching the chef fling the dough about. It was so filling I nearly didn't finish it! Note to self: next trip take a compass!

* I'd planned to buy a MOBIB (a sort of Oyster card) with ten journeys on it - you're allowed an hour to use as many metros, trams or buses to get to your destination. In the end I bought ten tickets at €2.10 each from the machine outside Schaerbeek station. A MOBIB costs €5, so there was probably nothing in it! The paper tickets served me well, I only had to buy one more to see me through the week.

More photos on Flickr.

Brussels part 2