13 countries, 24 cities, 18,000 miles. From beginning to end, the map of the trek:
The last stop. At the end of my longest ever trip abroad, it all came down to the city on the Thames.
London was more about visiting with friends and walking around various neighborhoods, such as Portobello Road than it was doing the tourist attractions.
That’s not to say Portobello Road is not touristy and I completely avoided the tourist attractions. But being “museum’d out,” I chose two of the many free museums so that I wouldn’t feel guilty about making short visits: National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum.
Yes, this was walking through the many parks in London…
And some other sites:
And on day 90, it was time to return to the USA.
Well, more than a day. A couple of days in Liverpool. I would consider myself a casual fan of The Beatles as opposed to a diehard one. But as important as The Beatles are to music history, I was excited to get to experience a little of this history. My visit was short–it was more with friends and family of friends–but I got the highlights. I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Liverpool. I had always heard it to be a more working class city. But it’s a city full of culture and has an exciting vibe with its huge waterfront and bustling shopping areas.
But it was walking down Mathew Street, home to the Cavern Club where The Beatles played before hitting it big, that was the highlight. The Beatles tour ended at Strawberry Field. Strawberry Fields forever.
As things start to wind down, it’s nice to have this part of the trip continue to see friends. Really, after so much sightseeing, history, and walking tours, getting to experience life in the UK with locals instead of living like a local is a welcome change of pace. Bristol itself is on the smaller side and is filled with college students, being a college town. Here are some photos:
Coming from Dublin, a city with an excellent tourism infrastructure, it was interesting comparing Belfast to it, what with Belfast recent period of peace. There is lots of growth here in Belfast, which benefits more from the UK economy (fragile as it is) than Dublin does from Ireland.
Belfast, with its small city centre, is easy to traverse by foot. You can pretty much get anywhere in about a ten minute walk from the centre in any direction. Belfast is very working class and, while I enjoyed my few days here, one can imagine this will be a much better, more lively place to visit within the next few years. People are down to earth, especially since they haven’t been overwhelmed by tourists. The restaurant scene is growing and it’s cheaper to get a pint at a pub here than most other places in the UK.
Here are some highlights in photos:
When you hear certain cities or countries mentioned, there are words immediately used to describe them which are conjured up by negative images of recent history. Columbia begets “drugs,” Nicaragua reminds people of the Sandinistas, North Korea possibly never recovering from Dennis Rodman.
Belfast’s recent history of unrest is known as “The Troubles.” To me, when innocent people are shot dead or blown up from bombings, using “The Troubles” seems a bit like calling the swine flu a “chest cold.” No matter which side of the conflict you are on.
But despite remaining undercurrents of conflict, Belfast is at peace now. And it is slowly becoming a hot tourist destination, at least in the UK. It’s one of the cheapest destinations, with the pound going a heck of a lot further than London.
I took a walking tour of West Belfast that focuses on the Catholic and Republican side in the Falls Road area. This area is now famous for its many political murals and memorials. The tour was conducted by a former IRA member who was in prison for over 13 years. It was fascinating to get the perspective from a side I hadn’t really gotten from what I recall reading and hearing in the news.
A short distance away is Shankill Road, where the Unionists and Loyalists are concentrated. Walking around the Shankill area, you see many Union Jacks as well as memorials and murals focused on their cause.
From listening to the guide to walking the streets, one gets the sense that despite the peace, there is still a strong undercurrent of conflict. Hopefully one that will remain peaceful.
I didn’t plan this. Dublin wasn’t even on the list of places to visit. I had been to Dublin before and loved it. It’s a livable, walkable city with a great vibe. Not beautiful and grand like Paris or Lisbon, but a charm of its own. But I started working on a project with a good friend who lives here and decided to change things a little. Okay, a lot as my original plan was to go to Croatia.
I knew I had to be in London to fly back to LA and wanted to spend some time in the UK to visit with friends. So I looked on the calendar and thought March 16th would be good, as that would give me a couple of weeks in the UK. And it meant more time being able to speak English (not that it has been that difficult–the most difficult place being Warsaw).
So I booked a flight, figuring it’ll be no problem finding an apartment on Airbnb or, if I have to, a hotel.
Hmm…doesn’t seem to be many apartments available under something like $400. Huh…hotels seem pretty pricey too. Then it hit me. March 17th. St. Patrick’s Day. Dublin.
Well, the apartment was out. And fortunately, I found a nice hotel at a decent price in a convenient location.
And I was set for St. Patrick’s Day. When I arrived the night of the 16th, I could see the buildings bathed in green light:
The next morning, the city was a sea of people dressed in their finest green:
The parade itself was almost secondary to the people watching, mostly because you couldn’t see much of it unless you got there early enough to get a front row view. So I, like everyone else, used my camera holding it high over people’s heads so I could enjoy the parade…after it was over and I could see what the pictures were.
It’s an overused phrase. Old World Charm. Ever watch House Hunters International where the people who are searching for a new home in a new country want that “old world charm.” Make no mistake, there is something to be said for it. A Paris apartment in the typical Haussmann style. A pre-war London flat. Who wants modern in the old country? Maybe when you’re on the 6th floor and really wish you didn’t have to climb those stairs.
Which brings me to Lisbon. While some places promote “old world” a part of a touristic lure, Lisbon is truly Old World, well, because they don’t have the money to keep upgrading. One of the so-called PIIGS nations, Portugal has major economic woes. According to the guide of the walking tour I took (maybe the best of the free walking tours I’ve done during this trip), the unemployment rate between those between 25 and 35 is about 35%. The rate is dropping but, according to our guide, that’s because Portugal’s president has been recommending the younger people leave the country to find jobs so the unemployment rate goes down.
Because of this, many of the buildings remain as they have for decades, even centuries. True, there are many abandoned buildings but that adds to the charm of the city. Lisbon is hilly. Lisbon has many narrow streets with many gems – tiny bars, restaurants, shops. The best thing to do is to meander and get lost. Eventually, you find a way back. But when you can buy a shot homemade cherry liqueur from a woman out of the window to her home for a euro in the Alfama section, you know this place is special. The people are friendly, the food is amazing, the prices are right, and the experience is delightful. Lisbon has become one of my favorite destinations ever.