Musings about a Beatles tour:

Though they were a bit before my time, I respect what the Beatles brought to the music arena and have always enjoyed their music to some extent but knew very little about their road to success. I well remember when John Lennon was killed, less than a week after my 16th birthday, but never considered myself to be a huge Beatles fan. When a friend asked me to accompany her on a Beatles Tour to England, I figured, “Why not? I’ll see a bit of England and it’ll probably be cool.” The tour itself had good reviews, so that counted for something in my book. A travel-savvy friend tried to talk me out of spending the money on the tour, telling me we could probably find these places on our own. I was inclined to agree, but friend #1 was more comfortable with the safety and ease of a tour, so we booked. 

[It is important to note that I had no desire to make friends on this tour. These were people we would tolerate for eight days and never see again. My friend neither agreed nor disagreed. This should have been my first clue about the cliques that happen within Beatles fans.]

When we arrived at the Liverpool Beatles-themed Hard Days Night Hotel, I immediately got in the Beatles spirit. It’s hard not to, with wide circular staircases tastefully lined with oversized Beatles photography, Beatles music playing subtly in the public areas, and interesting Beatles tidbits framed around the hotel. It is a lovely 4-star boutique hotel (included in tour package) located near “Liverpool One Shopping Centre” which, even for this non-shopper, is not to be missed. The dining room where we enjoyed a full British breakfast has a full wall of photographs of people from the Sgt. Pepper album cover. We chose to fly in a day early since the flight from the west coast takes all day just to get to the east coast. This extra day gave us time to explore before meeting the group, and begin adjusting to the 8-hour time difference from the West Coast. We visited the Walker Art Gallery, ate fish & chips, and pinched each other to make sure the trip was really finally happening!

The next afternoon we met up with the group. The same group I was not going to be friends with. At dinner, everybody slowly began to unwind and we saw glimpses of who made up our group: R&C #1 were celebrating their 30th anniversary with this long-awaited dream trip and ended the trip with time in Paris; R&C #2 were making R’s Beatles dreams come true in this pilgrimage tour; F&B, both avid Beatles fans, extended their time to include Amsterdam and Paris; B was a retired single woman and a long-time Beatles fan; P was the youngest in the core group and perhaps one of the most knowledgeable about Beatles trivia, as well as a guy with a terrific sense of humor; my friend, M, who was the only one to have seen the Beatles live in concert; and me…the lady along for the ride. 🙂 The next day our group grew by two, M&J, a mother and her teenage daughter. Our American Beatletour.com guide, Tony, was with us every step of the way, holding our hands and walking us through each day of the tour with clear instructions and explanations. We had been emailing Tony for months and he had patiently (bless him!) and promptly answered our countless questions, as he knows the areas well, having arranged this tour for 20 years. Tony made every effort to ensure that each participant’s time was special, having a keen sense for what each person was looking for on the trip. The attention given to detail allowed the rest of us to simply sit back and enjoy the experience. You are taken care of from the moment you arrive at your Liverpool hotel, and the tour even arranged and paid for private car service to the London airport for departure flights. When planning and logistics are handled by someone else, I learned that a vacation turns into a lot more fun!

Tour highlights included: the Cavern Club, Casbah Coffee Club, inside tours of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s childhood homes (seriously – I PLAYED THE PIANO inside Paul McCartney’s living room!!!), Albert Dock, Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, St. Peter’s Church (ON John Lennon’s birthday, while we had tea and birthday cake with original members of The Quarrymen!!!), The Beatle Experience, an ale trail of the Beatles’ old pubs, and meals at local pubs. [Here’s the catch: several of the meals were included in the tour price! Now that was a pleasant surprise!] On our last night in Liverpool, the show “Let it Be” was in town. It was a wonderful show and about half the group lingered in the hotel bar enjoying hot tea after the show.

I was still not going to be friends with these people, but I’ll stay out late with them, talking and drinking tea.

After three and a half tour days in Liverpool, we rode the high speed train to London (included in tour) and enjoyed comfortable coach tours to Friar Park in Henley-on-Thames, Chiswick Gardens, oct_chiswickan afternoon trip to Notting Hill’s Portobello Road Market, visited notorious Beatles sites and recreated the Hard Day’s Night music video, and, of course, crossed Abbey Road as many times as it took to get that perfect photo. We rode the tube in London, saw Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park, shopping trip at Harrod’s, saw the Magna Carta and other historic documents at the British Library, and had Tony Bramwell join us for several days to tell stories about his time as a manager and friend of the Beatles. His memory is remarkable and his stories will not be forgotten. He is gracious and patient with the questions that he must get over and over (and over). He also has some serious autograph skills.

The England-based guides (Jackie Spencer, among others) are locals who know their cities and their Beatles information, as well as information about other British influences. It is apparent that everyone working on these tours is there because they are passionate about what they do. The tour itself was remarkable. It was designed so that groups are small and intimate. We got to know each other and that was half the fun.

I know, I know. I was not going to become friends with “these people” but most of us went on to become social media friends, sharing photos, laughs, and memories of our time together in England. I will not forget this trip, or my new friends.

If you are interested in taking a Beatles Pilgrimage Tour, please contact me for more information or download the brochure. I cannot recommend it enough and would love to put you in touch with the right people. It was probably one of the most fun trips I have ever taken and I am already anxious to go back!

IMG_3695
Tony, Barbara, me, Pat, Carol, Ron, Barb, Frank

Time to go home.

I try to absorb a bit of the culture around me when I travel and discovered the words “Time to go home” are actually English for: “Time to go home.” I know. Impressive the way the languages tie together, is it not?

What a wonderful 8 days we had in England. They say that “Liverpool is England and London is London.” That proves to be true. London reminded me much of NYC. Exhilarating, busy, culture, fun. I would love to return and have time to visit museums, see shows, explore. One tour day toward the end, we drove about an hour out in the country to Henley on Thames, a lovely historic town dating back to 1179 when King Henry II bought land to develop.

Our last day, yesterday, was spent on a bus tour in the morning seeing some of the general British Rock and Roll sights around London. There may or may not have been a ‘Woot!!’ go out when a Rod Stewart mention was made. 🙂 Said “woot-er” may or may not have been me. In the afternoon, we took the tube to see Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and a long walk through Hyde Park to see Princess Diana’s memorial fountain (lovely!). The weather on the last day turned a bit chilly and windy, but we have had such perfect weather all week that nobody complained. Who else has visited England for 8 days and not opened an umbrella once?! I have two coats that our tour guide said I would definitely need and were never worn. A nice problem to have, for sure!

  
I know I have said it many times, but most of our group became close and saying good-bye the last night was difficult. Marilyn and the couple from Illinois (Richard and Claudia) decided to have dinner in the hotel while the rest of us (7 guests plus our host, Tony) went to a pub in the area. (There were 12 on the tour, but the mother/daughter duo rarely participated in tour activities, so we really only had 10 most of the time.) In spite of the pub being completely out of sticky pudding (😭), we had a wonderful farewell meal and a lot of laughs, hugs, and lingering good-byes with people we had become close to.  

Truly it was a wonderful experience and new friends that I believe both Marilyn and I will want to stay in touch with in the future. I came on the trip to accompany Marilyn, knowing I would have a nice time, but the trip exceeded every expectation in so many ways. I highly recommend the tour company, www.beatletour.com. If you are a Beatles fan at all and can go on one of Tony’s tours in the future, you will not be sorry. The guides who join the tour (Jackie Spencer, Liverpool; and we were treated to Tony Bramwell in London) are professional, full of inside information (some blush-worthy), and knowledgeable about the area. We were taken to old and wonderful pubs for meals, photo opportunities where the Beatles made movies or wrote songs, and many other places that are special to Beatles fans.

Our flight to LAX was uneventful and we got in a bit early, breezed through customs and re-checked our bags on to Fresno, and are killing much of our 6-hour layover in the United Club, thanks to my free passes that were to expire later this year. I’ve managed to pick up a cold in the last day but have great plans to shake it before I leave town again on Saturday. Time to play a little catch-up with the blog if I can and back track to the last couple of days. They got busy, late nights, and something had to go … it wasn’t going to be any late night cappuccino or sticky toffee that I was giving up, that’s for sure!

This is a shot of our flight plan for today. Did you see us? 🙂

IMG_3711

London/Day 7

I told Marilyn I would be extremely sad this week because we are going into our last couple of days of the trip because it has gone by so quickly. I think I could explore England for well over a month and still want more. Terry and I will definitely need to put a long trip here on our bucket list! We have been blessed with excellent weather and I am happy to report I have not once used my “brolly” (umbrella), raincoat, vest, or hoodie. A top and lightweight blazer and scarf have been perfect each day and I am grateful to God for the lovely weather.

It’s late and tomorrow is a full day, meeting very early, so I need to be brief. Apologies to both of my readers.

Today we had a coach tour of Beatles locations around London, including walking across Abbey Road. Marilyn was prepared and wore a shirt that stood out a bit so she should be easily spotted on the “Abbey Road cam” shots! We saw Paul McCartney’s home (no, we weren’t invited in) and Tony Bramwell had plenty of stories about the old days he hung out with the Beatles. He is an interesting man and very kind and patient to answer the many Beatles questions that come his way. There was a shout out about Rod Stewart as we drove by the recording studio where he recorded his first album.

An afternoon tube trip to Portobello Road/Market and Harrod’s was well worth the effort and I was able to find several goodies to take home.

In the evening, 9 of us went to dinner at an Italian restaurant several blocks away. Our table had appetizers of shrimp and calimari; I had a delicious lasagna while my tablemates had spaghetti with shrimp and mushroom risotto. Hearing stories over cappuccino and tiramisu was definitely a wonderful way to spend an evening. Marilyn was looking forward to a quiet evening “in” and an early bedtime, so she stayed behind and was asleep when I got in. Tomorrow will probably be our longest day, so I know she will be glad for the extra rest! Jet lag affects everybody differently and it is no fun, for sure! About the time you get adjusted to your surroundings, it’s time to return home. The up side of a tour is that you see and do a LOT in a short period of time. The down side is…predictably…that you see and do a LOT in a short period of time. It is exhausting and exhilarating all in one.

The group continues to be so much fun, with lots of promises of staying in touch. Everybody looks out for each other. The guys are quick to offer a helping hand if needed and are constantly looking out for “us girls” on the trip. It takes away some of the stress of “What if I get lost?!” when you know you have nearly a dozen others to look for.

Picture time! Marilyn’s crossing pic is on her phone but I think she got it posted to Facebook. We all crossed several times, trying for the perfect picture. Locals are not always amused, though most don’t seem overly annoyed unless someone stops in the crosswalk to really stop things up. I’m officially tired now so I think I’ll call it done.

London/Day 5

First, good news!!! I do believe pictures will now post at this hotel. 😀

Our group took the High Speed Train from Liverpool to London today. I was excited to see how it compared to the Italferr trains Terry and I rode in Italy last spring. Speeds ranged from 125-150mph, I believe, with some increases a bit higher. It takes right at two hours to get to London and the ride was smooth. Marilyn believes that the train bathroom was much nicer than the airplane bathroom and was impressed with the train overall. I did well for about an hour before queasiness set in a bit. Some of that may have been because I was offered a “Scotch Egg” which turned my stomach when I learned what it was. Why are the British so in love with EGGS?! They really glommed onto The Incredible Edible Egg! And the only thing worse than a runny egg is a hard boiled egg. 😛

After a bit of time checking into the hotel, we were able to do what we wanted. Most of the group headed for a late lunch. I went with a couple from Illinois for pizza while Marilyn unpacked. It was delicious and I enjoyed learning more about them. As I say often, “Everybody has a story” and they are no different. I did not come on this trip to make new friends, yet I feel like I am leaving with several.

The hotel, Premier Inn, is probably equivalent to a Holiday Inn back home. It’ll do the job but we have no top-hatted doorman to greet us like at the Hard Day’s Night Hotel. I’m certain we will survive. It does come with a full English breakfast that was a wonderful addition, plus it is clean, well equipped with plugs, and has great wifi. We are across the street from the British Library, home to the Magna Carta and many other stunning pieces of history. The true Beatles fans surrounded the Beatles drafts, while I found the Beethoven and Chopin manuscripts and was teary-eyed thinking of these masters using a quill and ink to create such beautiful pieces. The Library is truly a treasure and also contains early manuscripts of the Bible, also emotional to see, knowing somebody else held those works and perhaps grew in their faith as a result of the mere existence. A very special sight to see, for sure, and I wish we had more time there. Yet another reason to return.

Tonight’s itinerary included drinks (I do rock the bottled water!) with Tony Bramwell, a lifelong  friend of the Beatles, a stroll to a pub for dinner and more stories. (It should be noted that sticky pudding was on the dessert menu and I opted to not order, but only because of peer pressure since nobody else wanted any.) I had short ribs for dinner and they were wonderful. Several others had “bangers and mash” and, after tasting, that will be my next pub meal. Marilyn had fish and chips and said they were good, as well. Tony B is an interesting man to talk to. He appears to be a man of few words but quickly warms up and becomes more talkative. His memory is remarkable. My daughter, Kaylie, is always asking random open-ended questions and I took that from her and asked what his most unusual food ever eaten was. “Snake soup.” (Do not google this. The images will give you the willies.) And now you have a bit of trivia about Tony Bramwell. The whole gang was tired and opted for bed shortly after 10:00pm. I hoped to find at least one person who wanted to go have coffee and dessert but I had no takers. (Boooo!) Seems a waste of time to actually sleep when you’re in another country.

And now…photos. Finally!! The wifi in this hotel is terrific!

Part of the group (L-R): Carol, Frank, Tony (tour guide), Claudia, Marilyn, Richard, Pat, Tony B (waving), and one of the two Barbaras.
Ready to board the train: 

Train selfie with Marilyn: 
We are having fun and can’t believe this long-awaited trip has finally arrived!

Me and Tony B. He is very tall and leaned over, almost in a chokehold, to pose for pictures. Or it was all the beer he had. 😳 
Time for bed. Tomorrow: Abbey Road crossing!

Liverpool/Day 4

Tomorrow we head to London. Exciting but also a little sad because Liverpool is fabulous!

Today was a full day bus trip and a fabulous day! Strawberry Field, the birthplace of Paul McCartney, childhood homes of George and Paul, an extensive tour of the Casbah, lunch at The Dovey, cemetery visit to attend a ceremony for John’s uncle (who raised him, along with his aunt). Members of the Quarrymen were in attendance and humbly autographed books and took pictures when asked. They were so very gracious. After the ceremony, all in attendance were invited to have tea and cake to celebrate what would have been John Lennon’s 75th birthday. On no other tour will you do and see these things!

Our tour guide, Tony, treated us to see the production of “Let it Be.” It was amazing! The show went strong for over 2.5 hours. A true treat. About half the group lingered in the hotel bar after the show. Wild folks that we are, most sipped hot English tea. ☕️ The group continues to be a lot of fun. Lots of camerarerie and people are able to tease back and forth easily.

  
  
  
  

Tomorrow is a travel day and then we have the afternoon to explore London on our own. Our mode of travel is the high speed rail. I’m super excited about that. Sorry, Terry! 😎

Time to attempt to sleep if I can turn my brain off.
C.

Liverpool /Day 3

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure of the day, but it’s late Thursday night in Liverpool as I write this.

After a hearty breakfast of two cappuccinos, toast and fruit, we headed off on the National Ttust Tour to see Mendips (John Lennon’s boyhood home) and Paul McCartney’s boyhood home. What a treat! We got full tours of the houses and gardens and were invited to take a sprig of rosemary from Paul’s home. Marilyn and I are both carefully nursing our sprigs in water in the hopes of transplanting them when we get home and having honest-to-goodness McCartney rosemary in our gardens. I generally have a black thumb but hers is quite green, so we have a 50/50 shot! If mine dies, I’ll make a one-time batch of spaghetti sauce and call it done. Guests were invited to play piano at Paul’s home (note the first name basis…we are practically BFFs) and I played The Entertainer. [Shout out to my Armstrong Elementary piano teacher, Ms. Reynolds! 40 years later, I’ve still got two songs committed to memory.] While it’s not Paul’s actual piano, many famous musicians have come through there and sat to play it. Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Deborah Harry, and others I am now forgetting. No doubt they sounded much better than my rusty Entertainer!

   
   
After the home tours, we went to The Beatles Experience – an amazing museum of photos, memorabilia, recreated pub sets, etc. Through an audio tour, we experienced the rise and fall of the Beatles. It was information overload for sure! 

     
 A lengthy late dinner at Brown’s Bar and Brasserie. I had a delicious salad with smoked salmon and Marilyn had lobster. (Tom, send more money!) The food was excellent – probably the finest food we have eaten since arriving (and definitely the priciest). I shared a dessert of “Sticky Toffee Pudding” which was so delicious that after my first bite, I regretted even bothering with the meal but wished for only dessert. I’m not going to lie, I also regretted sharing! Not that I could post a picture, but the dessert was gone before I even realized it should have been photographed for posterity.  I don’t understand why weight is such an issue for me. 😜

 Half of the group went to a club after dinner but a few of us decided we were tired and would skip out. We are walking 3-4 miles most days. A shock to my poor body but good for it, too. My heel has not been terrible, so I consider that a win!

Our group is a lot of fun. There are 12 of us: three married couples, two singles, a mother and teenage daughter, Marilyn and myself, and our http://www.beatletour.com guide, Tony. The mother/daughter are from Canada; one couple is from Chicago, and all others from the NE – Philadelphia, DC, New Jersey, and…somewhere else up that way, I believe. We all have a good rapport and we remind Tony often how lucky he is to have such a good group! It’s all in jest because truly we are the lucky ones. The tour is well organized and includes a lot of interesting tidbits that have been carefully compiled to add to the experience. I’m not one to go ga-ga for celebrities because I generally believe they put their underpants on one leg at a time, get zits, and poop like the rest of you, I mean us, but it interesting to learn more about their lives, the struggles they had that turned them into the stars they became, and see the homes where they grew up. They are places from the 1940’s, the era I would have chosen to be a housewife if I had my druthers. (A 1940’s wife with an iPhone, I mean.) An antique chenille bedspread is lovely enough to make me want to weep. Throw in a clothesline and I’m a goner. But I digress.

Tomorrow: a full day bus tour and then headed to the theater to see “Let it Be.” It will be a long day but promises to be very good. Assuming I get some sleep soon. Maybe my brain will soon get the memo to stop thinking!

Not even bothering with the pictures anymore. The hotel is fabulous but the wifi refuses to allow me to do anything with pictures. Go figure. 

Liverpool/Day 2

Long day today. Mostly because I couldn’t sleep much and only got 3.5 hours of sleep, plus a 5-6 hour nap in the afternoon yesterday. For those who helped entertain me by playing Words With Friends, thank you.

Marilyn and I enjoyed a traditional English breakfast. Well, there were parts we didn’t have – stewed tomatoes, baked beans, but we gave it all a jolly good effort! Marilyn discovered she’s not a cappuccino person…and I remembered how much I enjoyed the European cappuccino.

Today we opted to skip the Tea we had mused about and walk 1/2 mile to the Walker Art Gallery. Most museums here are government run, so they are free. There were several school groups, from probably 1st grade up to high school, and it was exciting to see them enjoying the arts. There are many exhibits with things for kids to do and see, so I suspect it’s a popular field trip. Older boys were respectful and quick to hold a door open for these two old ladies.

After the museum, we headed for a late lunch. We hoped to go to a burger joint that has great reviews but wandered in a cool guitar shop and the owner directed us to another street with many more authentic options. Chez de Coq (I believe it was) had a rotisserie lunch special that was nothing to blog OR write home about but it was nourishment and got us to evening. We both wanted something sweet and found an ice cream shop that fit the bill. 🙂

We met up with the tour group tonight for dinner at Thomas Rigby’s Pub and a bit of a walking tour of the area. It’s a great group of nice folks, many who have had this Beatles Tour on their bucket list for years. There are 12 of us tourists and Tony, our fearless leader. I’m pitching a marketing idea to him this week because he needs my administrative services. He’s just not aware of it yet. 😉

Time to cross my fingers and try to upload a photo or two. (And … no success … if you really care, text me and ask!)

Tomorrow…tours of the childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

C.