I’m getting to the point in my semester abroad where things are starting to get serious. Well, by “things,” I really mean school. While I’ve been doing my best to keep up with lectures and assignments all semester long, the structure of the Irish university system puts a lot of emphasis on final exams and papers. So, with only a couple more weeks of classes left ahead of me, pressure is starting to mount. Luckily I have a solid plan for tackling all that lies ahead, so if I stay focused I should be able to avoid any truly soul-crushing stress levels. But before that all descends upon me, let me tell you about my most recent trip. UCD’s four-day Easter break was one of the last travel opportunities of my time here, so I decided to pop over to the English city of Liverpool to see what I could see.
Now, you may scratch your head at why I chose Liverpool as opposed to, say, London, or any other flashy European cities for my last long weekend of the semester. Let me assure you: Liverpool is fantastic place to be. Small and distinctive, it is full of culture, history, and great people. Personally, my draw to Liverpool was three-fold. First was the proximity. Being just across the Irish Sea form Dublin, the flight was a clean 30 minutes, which is actually less time than it takes for me to get from my apartment here at UCD to the Dublin Airport by bus. The two cities are also similar in more ways than I’d ever really imagined. Second was football (no, not gridiron). For many years now, my favorite sport to play and watch has been soccer, and the city of Liverpool is home to my favorite club, Liverpool FC. Third and finally was the music. Liverpool was (and still is) the epicenter of the mid-20th century music craze known as Merseybeat. While there were many bands that plied their trade in the genre, the most notable of them also happens to be one of the greatest bands of all times, The Beatles. From live shows to interactive museums, the music of Liverpool is still very much alive and well.
One of the first things that struck me about Liverpool was the local language. Known as the Scouse accent, the speech of Liverpool is remarkably distinct from any English accents I’ve ever some across. In fact, to my ears it seems more influenced by the Irish accent than by those of its native country. However, the Scouse accent is a massive form of pride for the denizens of Merseyside. In fact, to many it is a form of self-identification. The phrase “we’re not English, we’re Scouse” was actually relayed to me by a local who I befriended during my time there. Another man I met was so enamored with the Merseyside way that he admitted to me he’d never actually set foot in London (about two hours away by train or car) despite having traveled much of the world, including to the United States. While I found this a bit odd, I will admit that I was charmed by the Scousers I came across and don’t disagree that life in Liverpool is one worth living and, perhaps, sticking to.
During my trip, I also spent some quality time in the world of Liverpool Football Club. Liverpool FC is one of the most historically successful clubs in both England and all of Europe, having enjoyed an incredible heyday in the latter half of the 1900’s. Unfortunately, though, recent times have been a bit rough, especially this season. From a Merseyside pub, I watched through my fingers as the team got pummeled by a close rival in a Premier League (England’s top division) match away from home this past Saturday. Luckily, though, the place was packed with friendly fans, a group of which I managed to befriend and who then acted as my guides for a day of pub-hopping and roaming the city centre thereafter. The next day, I made a trek to Anfield, Liverpool’s home stadium. Even on Easter, there were hoards of fans from all over the world lining up to tour the facility. I did so myself, and got to see everything from the dressing rooms to the offices to the playing field. As a fan of the club, this served as a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts for me. To mark my journey, I managed to snag a small pinch of grass from the pitch and slip it into a plastic bag for my journey home. But, if the TSA agents at the Liverpool John Lennon Airport ask, that never happened.
My final and probably favorite aspect of the trip to Merseyside was, again, the music. Home to the Beatles and a handful of other legendary bands, the city of Liverpool is full of musical attractions. I spent a good couple hours roaming the Beatles Experience museum, saw statues and other Beatle-related monuments all over the place, and got a chance to visit the Cavern Club, a venue that the Beatles played almost 300 times. Though the original Cavern was shut down in the 80’s, a replica has been built on the exact same street, and it is still very much a part of the Merseybeat pulse. While I was there, a band called the Shakers played a three-hour long set of nothing but Merseybeat music, with its upbeat tempos, catchy guitar riffs, and poppy vocal harmonies. The band shifted from original songs to classics to Beatles covers seamlessly, and kept the crowd dancing the whole night long.
Liverpool might not be the flashiest or most “name-brand” city in Europe, or even in the British Isles, but I’ll be damned if its not worth a visit. Even if music or sports aren’t exactly your cup of tea, there is a lot to see. There are scads of free museums, boat tours of the nearby Mersey River, beautiful areas like the Albert Dock where you can catch a coffee or do some shopping, and much more that I couldn’t fit into this post. And, even if you decide to go it alone like I did, I guarantee you won’t struggle to make friends with the Scousers you come across.
As for me, this was the last trip of my semester. Well, that is, my academic semester. For the next few weekends, I’ll be busy grinding away on all of my above mentioned academic duties. While that means I’ll be out of commission on the blog circuit for a while, I urge you to stay tuned. I have one last trip planned between my exams and my return home to the States. It’s a big one: roughly three weeks of travel that will take me across half a dozen countries. It’s currently the motivational force pulling me through these rough couple weeks on campus, so it can’t come soon enough. I’ll be excited to share it all with you when things are all said and done. But, until then, take it easy and pray these finals don’t do me in for good.