Heading to Liverpool with a bit of class
Updated: 2013-02-28 10:16
By Lee Hannon (China Daily)
The Liver Birds perch on top of the clock towers to look over the River Mersey in Liverpool. Provided to China Daily
"Never turn right when boarding a plane, darling," a royal socialite once whispered to me as she sneaked me into the Concorde lounge of London's Heathrow Airport.
As one who rarely goes left to the spacious aerodynamic paradise that is first class, I always found the statement pretentious, but after clocking up some air miles I was treated to the luxury of British Airways Club World class.
But I didn't just turn left, I climbed the stairs to the upper deck of a 747 jumbo - a childhood dream since early Bond movies and the subject of many letters to Jimmy Savile long before discovering he was a pedophile.
As I fiddled with the Z-bed buttons in my newfound Club comfort, a cabin crew member offered me a glass of champagne, but my foray turning left was more Bean than Bond.
Most Chinese traveling to the United Kingdom always head to the capital - for Big Ben and Buckingham Palace with a day trip to Shakespeare's home of Stratford or the like.
But more should head north to Liverpool, the home of The Beatles, and some 35,000 Chinese who live in Europe's oldest Chinese community with a history dating back to 1834.
When the first vessel from China arrived at the then-bustling docks with silk and cotton from the East, it was a voyage that cast a strong knot between the two cities that thrives today. The docks may have died, but China's ties and culture will be anchored in Liverpool forever.
Getting there is easy. British Airways offers connecting flights to Manchester, where the last leg of the TransPennine Express railway, which spans from east to the west coast of Northern England, goes direct to Liverpool's Lime Street Station.
A beautiful journey switching from scenic countryside to glimmers of Lowry's "matchstick men" paintings of the former industrial towns.
Arriving at Lime Street, which also offers direct train connections to London Euston, offers an instant impression of this bustling city littered with stunning architecture, yet with an ever-present gloom reminiscent of a Victorian novel. The grandeur of St George's Hall with the equestrian bronze statues of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria under the Radio City Tower and the two cathedrals that dominate the city's skyline.
Less than one minute from the station and situated in the heart of the city is Sterling Hotel's The Liner, which transports guests back to the golden age of the city's port days, decked like an ocean liner.
Liverpool is world renowned for music and, most importantly, the meteoric rise of the city's most famous sons - John, Paul, George and Ringo - who made up The Beatles.
The Cavern Club, where The Beatles made a lunchtime appearance in February 1961, was rebuilt in the late 1980s occupying almost 50 percent of the original site, but soon closed due to financial problems. It reopened in 1991 and remains a world-famous tourist spot attracting new musical talent and well established bands.
Mathew Street is Liverpool's thriving and varied nightlife that gets packed at weekends.
Even on a cold Monday night in bars like Coopers you can engage in some fine social anthropology and see some of Liverpool's most slurred and out-of-tune karaoke singers as the packed crowd sways in drunken unison, still harnessing the port party culture of times gone by.
In the early 19th century, some 40 percent of the world's trade passed through Liverpool's docks. The best-known is Albert Dock, which was constructed in 1846 and today houses the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the International Slavery Museum, Tate Liverpool and The Beatles Story.
Today it is a trendy place to live and drink, but hundreds of years ago, Chinese workers played a massive role in establishing Liverpool as a bustling port.
At one point, some 20,000 Chinese mariners worked to establish the Blue Funnel Shipping Line between Shanghai and Liverpool. Many others followed supplying food for the workers or joining family members.
The city's Chinatown still thrives today on the southern edge of the city and is home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe and the largest, multiple-span arch of its kind outside of China.
Other great sites include the Royal Liver Building with the mythical Liver Birds on top of the clock towers. Ferry Cross the Mersey is also not just a song and can still be done with services operating from Pier Head.
No visit to city would be complete without taking in some sports. The city is home to Liverpool (reds) and Everton (blues), and the rivalry is intense. Matches between the two clubs are known as the Merseyside Derby, and, if you get the chance, be sure to go.