I’ve been a complete failure at posting about the travelling I’ve been fortunate enough to do this year, mostly due to laziness because I’m good that way. I only managed to post about the soccer-related portion of our trip to Boston, New York City, and Baltimore in July, but I also spent a long weekend in San Francisco in August after I got to go to San Diego for work, which I naturally also failed to post about.
But! Amelia and I went to England (and Scotland) for two-and-a-half weeks at the end of September / start of October, and I am now forcing myself to write about it before I forget everything. The general organizing theme of this trip was called “How Many Soccer Games Can We Go To In Two Weeks?”. [This shocks you, I'm sure.] Onwards, to Part 1!
Days 1-2: Liverpool
We arrived in Liverpool in the early afternoon, and after checking into our hotel we went to Western Approaches, the Liverpool War Museum. Western Approaches housed the government’s key offices working on the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II and essentially it aims to be the kitschier side of the Cabinet War Rooms in London.
Lots of bad mannequins abound, here. We were surprised to find at the end of the exhibit a room dedicated to Canada’s involvement in the Battle of the Atlantic, which you pretty much never hear about outside of Canadian history books.
Our main reason to start out our trip in Liverpool was to go to the match against Manchester United. We had chosen our vacation dates long before the fixture list had been announced and when we found out the first game during that period was Man United at home, I was a little dismayed because I knew it would be impossible to get tickets.
This game was the first home match after the new report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel came out, which not only confirmed everything that the victims’ families and the club had been saying for years about the truth of the disaster but also revealed a lot more disturbing information about how many more people could have survived if it had been dealt with properly. It’s really hard as a North American fan who was young when this happened to really find an appropriate way of observing and connecting to Hillsborough and the subsequent justice campaign without co-opting someone else’s grief as your own; it’s a huge, huge, huge deal for the club, though, and I think they’re really good at giving those who may not have been directly affected by it various inroads into at least understanding and supporting those who do.
Getting to attend this game was an incredibly emotional thing. Before the game we did our usual walk up and down Walton Breck Road and we went into the Hillsborough Justice Campaign shop for the first time. We bought the campaign pins and made donations to the cause; the women there seemed alternately surprised and touched that some random foreigners felt compelled to contribute, but how could we not? The Hillsborough Memorial itself was the most covered in scarves, flowers, and notes than I’d ever seen it previously. People had tied things to the Shankly Gates when they ran out of room in front of the memorials, and there were a lot of touching letters amongst the flowers; some were written to those who had died, and others were from fans from rival clubs expressing that tribalism can be put aside when it comes to things like this. It was pretty upsetting, not going to lie.
This was, and will probably always be, the most emotional match I’ve ever attended. The club put together their largest mosaic ever, with “96″ showing in the lower Anfield Road end, “JUSTICE” on the lower Centenary Stand, and “THE TRUTH” displayed in The Kop. Manchester United wore 96s on the backs of their training jackets in honour of the victims, and before kick off Stevie G and Ryan Giggs released 96 red balloons into the sky. Normally you’re required to sit down when the match starts but for a full minute everyone stood and sang “Justice for the 96″. The atmosphere was fantastic and definitely went well beyond the crowd wanting the team to win the game (spoiler: they lost). I feel really lucky that we got to be there.
I’ve rewatched this game since getting home and just the sound of the crowd on TV alone is something to behold, despite the fact that it barely approximates what the crowd sounded like in the stadium. Anfield is amazing.
Day 3: The Lake District
Amelia is doing her PhD in English and although the Romantics are not necessarily her favourite, we’d heard that the Lake District was beautiful and fancied a day trip. We booked a day long coach tour that took us through a sizeable portion of the district and although this was probably the second rainiest day we spent in England, it sort of just added to the spooky atmosphere.
Throughout our vacation we were often the youngest people on our tours, because apparently we have old people interests. Much of the tour was spent on the bus, which was fine, and at half the stops only we and a few other people would get out to actually look at stuff and take pictures. Fine by us!
Day 4: York
We were told once we got to York that Yorkshire had received two months’ worth of rain in the span of two days. The River Ouse was completely flooded and it continued to rain the one day we were there.
We spent the morning at York Minster, which is every bit as fantastic as they say. It’s not as cluttered with graves and memorials as Westminster Abbey and thus has far fewer famous inhabitants, but there is a lot of good history here, especially in relation to the War of the Roses, and they’ve done amazing restoration work with their stained glass. The chapter house was especially beautiful.
Bonus for me: we discovered that there was a Bishop of York named Geoff Plantagenet, so that was hilarious (Jeff/Geoff being my go-to douchebag name).
We spent some time walking the city’s medieval walls before ending up at the Richard III Museum, which I loved. My dad is a bit of a Richard III enthusiast, which was the primary motivator in going here, but once we got inside it immediately became clear it was right up my alley. It’s clearly been put together by other Richard III obsessives; what they obviously lack in interpretive planning skills they make up for in spades with enthusiasm. The museum is exactly what you think might happen if you put together a museum using only work taken from a Grade Five class. The faux-newspapers were my favourites, I think, but there were a lot of other bad mannequins, portraits, and things that added to the amazing kitschy value of the place. Amelia bought the amazing DVD they played on a loop that had obviously been put together by their undergraduate intern majoring in history, interviewing his fellow students about Richard III and featuring the actor who founded the museum who might actually think he’s Richard III reincarnated. This place is solid gold.
Day 5: Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Due to the flooding, we were late getting into Newcastle and thus missed our tour of St. James’ Park, Newcastle United’s home ground. We weren’t too fussed, given that we were worried about whether or not we’d even be able to get to Newcastle in the first place, so we rejigged our plans and went to the Castle Keep, a.k.a. the new castle. We also went to the Great North Museum, where the highlight was watching one of the employees put a snake in a rubbermaid container, only to have the snake try and sneak out.
We never intended to see much of Newcastle as we were primarily using it as a base for visiting Edinburgh and Hadrian’s Wall, but it wasn’t my favourite place that we’d been. Everyone keeps saying to me “Oh, it’s very industrial” which, yes, my favourite city in England is also industrial, so…? Our hotel staff were delightful, though, so go Newcastle.
Day 6: Edinburgh
Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959) is one of my family’s collective favourite movies so we were very excited to go to Edinburgh Castle, which features prominently in the opening scene of the film. We got there early in hopes of missing most of the crowds and generally managed to be effective in this regard.
There’s tons of stuff to see here, including the Stone of Scone and Scotland’s National War Museum. The War Museum was quite impressive, and we were surprised to find lists of the various Canadian Highland regiments from WWI and WWII amongst the other lists of the dead that they had. The stained glass in the building was also spectacular, including one window that featured biplanes and zeppelins.
We met up with Jessica for lunch; we’ve known each other online for nearly a decade, so it’s kind of funny that a Canadian and an American only ended up meeting in Scotland of all places for the very first time. Being the super awesome person that she is, Jessica had an excellent itinerary planned for us for the afternoon, starting with lunch at the The Elephant House, where JK Rowling wrote heaps of pages of Harry Potter.
The walls in the washroom are covered in quotes from the books, of course.
We popped in briefly to St. Giles Cathedral, where Amelia made good use of her £2 photography pass, before we went to The Real Mary King’s Close. Because I don’t know anything about Edinburgh, I didn’t realise that they basically raised the city and then built on top of the old foundations, leaving the old roads intact and navigable beneath the city. The tour was neat and of itself, but we think our guide was either completely stoned or had a sense of humour so dry that he seemed stoned. No matter, we had fun anyway, and Jessica had done the tour multiple times in the past and was able to fill in the bits of info that the guide should have been sharing with us. I have no photos of any of this, unfortunately, because it was so goddamned dark.
We then moved on to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh. Definitely the place for fans of Mary Queen of Scots, although my favourite room had to be the one featuring dozens of portraits of Scottish monarchs painted to have a family resemblance to the obviously narcissistic Charles II.
We then walked up to Regent Gardens for a view of the city from up high. We did a bit more walking through some beautiful parks and essentially decided that we’ll definitely have to come back to Edinburgh in the future as it seems like a really fantastic city.
Day 7: Hadrian’s Wall Country
Amelia’s favourite era in history is the Roman era so we dedicated a day to visiting the various Roman sites in the north of England. We started out at the Romany Army Museum, which is a pretty good museum given that it’s in the middle of nowhere, before moving on to Vindolanda.
Vindolanda was pretty impressive, both in the scale of the ruins as well as the collection of archaeological finds in the museum. The Vindolanda Writing Tablets are apparently Britain’s top treasure (i.e. of artifacts found within Britain, not stolen from somewhere in antiquity) and it was neat to see something that provided insight into random bits of daily Roman life, including an invitation to a birthday party. Also, the collection of Roman shoes both here and at the Roman Army Museum was weirdly extensive.
We ended our Roman day at Housesteads Roman Fort, which is the most complete Roman fort on Hadrian’s wall.
And that’s the nothern part of our trip! We moved south to London, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, and then back to Liverpool, but those are subjects for another day.