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Published: June 23rd 2015
Going against the flow away from the Three Queens
We happened to be back on the Wirral on the last Bank Holiday weekend of May which was during the scheduled events for celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Cunard company
. Part of these celebrations were the ‘Three Queens’ (Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria) Cunard ships in formation on the River Mersey for the first time in maritime history. Although we knew it would be an amazing sight, we made a calculated decision as we knew thousands of people were making their way to Liverpool and the Wirral to see this event and going against the flow, we went to the Roman city of Chester for the day.
As we were driving along the M53 motorway, it confirmed our decision had been right – there were tailbacks of 9km or so (5.5 miles) along the motorway and at a popular ‘Park and Ride’ train station, there were literally hundreds of cars parked haphazardly along narrow country lanes! No wee wall but an inside out telephone box
Chester was founded as a ‘castrum’ or Roman fort by Emperor Vespasian in AD79 and it was one of
They look mediaeval some of 'The Rows' are, but a lot were actually built in Victorian times as part of a 'black and white revival'
the three main army camps in ‘Britannia’ and Chester was one of the last cities in England to fall to the Normans. The city is one of the best preserved walled cities in the UK and although it has a number of mediaeval buildings, a lot of the black and white buildings are actually Victorian restorations built during a ‘black and white revival’ fad!
The last time we visited Chester was around 18 years ago and back then we didn’t really appreciate the architecture and history of the city and only went there for shopping! We have to say that living in Asia, we don’t see that many really old and historical buildings; the oldest we would say is probably the colonial architecture in places like Malaysia, Hong Kong and Goa in India, so it was really fascinating to just wander around the city admiring the buildings.
Unfortunately for us, portions of the city walls were off limits due to restoration work (dashing hopes of standing on them and shouting ‘I am Spartacus’!), but there was still plenty to see. The interesting feature of the buildings is the black and white architecture and ‘The
Rows’ which are unique to Chester and nothing else exists like this elsewhere in the world. Historians think that ‘The Rows’ were built on the rubble of Roman ruins and they date back to mediaeval times (c. 13th Century). They are buildings which now have shops (used to be places to live as well) on the lowest two storeys. The shops on the ground floor are lower than the street and have steps down to them so they are like crypts/vaults; the shops on the first floor have a continuous walkway running undercover with the shops to one side and a shelf/slope up to railings overlooking the street.
Again, we looked like complete tourists taking pictures and even found an old red telephone box to take a photo of…a rare sight nowadays thanks to mobile phones. When we looked at this phone box, we were a bit puzzled because it was ‘inside out’ - the door had been sealed and the phone was located outside instead of inside! Then we remembered when we were younger and had to use phone boxes, the smell of wee was unbearable in them so assumed the door had been sealed to
prevent people from weeing in it! In Asia we have the ‘wee walls’ (i.e. where, people...ahem, sorry...men have a wee when there isn’t a toilet around), in the UK, the telephone boxes were used for this purpose too! We have SO been in Asia too long…bird poo on the hand
As we were walking next to the cathedral (which has amazing architectural details and dates back to the Norman era), Donna was pointing something out to Neil in the distance and as her hand was outstretched, a bird kindly did the biggest and warmest poo on her hand. Once upon a time that would have been a complete freak out moment, but after a short internal debate of whether she should take a photo, she pulled out a tissue, then a wet wipe and cleaned it off with a brief comment on how warm the poo was and that she was glad it wasn’t her head! After that, where we could, walking under trees was avoided as none of us wanted bird poo on the head! A revelation of manners and gold dust ice cream
Walking down by the River Dee, Donna
Donna and Janya the elephant
Janya means life in Hindi. The statue was donated by Chester zoo to celebrate the strong friendship between the zoo and the city. It also signifies Chester zoo's global role in wildlife conservation
managed to offend an ice cream seller in their little hut by proclaiming ‘£2.50 for a Magnum? That’s a bit of a rip off’, not realising that there was someone sitting inside the hut! Now as delicious as Magnum ice creams
are, they are not worth £2.50. The prices of the ice cream were ridiculous, they weren’t made from gold dust! Anyway, even Neil agreed it was too cold for ice cream so it didn’t matter that they were overpriced.
While we were walking around Chester and particularly down at the river, we noticed just how polite British people are! One thing that REALLY annoys us about Asia is people’s behaviour when we are taking a photo. They expect everyone else to stay out of their photo but then barge in front of other people when they are trying to take the same photo…grrrr, this is particularly bad with Chinese tourists and we remember several tussles at Chinese historical sites with rude people! However, in the politeness personified UK, there is none of this malarkey going on…oh no! When people noticed we were taking photos, they actually stopped and made a real effort to not walk into our photos,
Obligatory tourist photo
You don't see many of these around now!
wow, we just aren’t used to that level of politeness any more. We even had a nice guy stop and ask if we wanted a photo of the four of us together…again, so nice!
Fortunately, we had managed to remember our manners so didn’t let doors slam in people’s face or barge in front of people when they were queuing. To be fair, we don’t really do this anyway…it’s more a push the door open so we can get through without holding it for anyone else. We NEVER barge in front of people in queues…we are British, don’t you know and the whole foundation of our society is based on the concept of being able to queue and we will reprimand people who don't observe the etiquette of queuing! 😉 An American Centurion in Chester
On our way back into Chester centre we stopped by the ruins of St John’s church (which was the cathedral before the current one was built) and had a marvel at the Roman Amphitheatre which is still undergoing archaeological investigation. This amphitheatre was built in the 1st Century, it could sit between 8-10,000 people and is the largest
known military amphitheatre in the UK. It also happens to be a ‘Scheduled Monument’ (we had to look up what this was ourselves!), which means it’s a ‘nationally important’ archaeological site given protection against unauthorised change. We half expected there to be a few people dressed up as centurions, lions and gladiators re-enacting what the amphitheatre was originally used for with crowds gleefully cheering them on; you might think we are joking, but in Asia that would definitely be the case! 😉
Speaking of centurions, we were highly amused to see a guy all dressed up as one on Bridge Street and even more amused when we listened to him and discovered he was an American! How random is that, an American dressed up as a Roman Centurion giving people information about the city of Chester?! We aren't sure if he worked for the city of Chester or whether he had a fetish for dressing up and giving history lessons; remembering our manners we didn't ask him (but we really wanted to!). Spuds and real British service
We have to say that British food has a really bad reputation around the world, which
actually puzzles us. Proper British food can be outstanding and we certainly got our fill of it when we were there!
One of the things we miss is jacket (i.e. baked) potatoes and we were delighted to find a Spud-u-Like restaurant in Chester and just had to have one for lunch! It was actually outstanding value – a huge jacket potato with a topping, with a side salad and drink, all for £4.95 and this was where we really noticed the service standards in the UK. Again, service in the UK has a bad reputation but from our experience, the people working in restaurants or bars really couldn’t do enough for us and were so friendly and accommodating. Looking back, we weren’t sure what we expected service-wise, but it was definitely not what we got, it was a pleasant surprise but maybe it ties into the impeccable politeness of the British! Hoylake Lights, filament lights and light nights...that's a bit of a mouthful!
On our last night with Donna’s parents we opted for a trip out to Hoylake, home to the Royal Liverpool Golf Open
every August. We stopped off at the pub Hoylake Lights (a
Lol, a Roman soldier
he was American by the way!
Wetherspoons chain) which was unbelievable value…a main course and a drink (including alcohol!) from as little as £5.40 (at this point can we say how weird it is that we don't have to put the conversion into £ in brackets here like we do on other blogs?!). Donna opted for the traditional fish and chips and Neil for the not-so-traditional pulled pork quesadilla! One thing that Wetherspoons are doing is putting calorie counts on their menus and, wow, we were genuinely shocked at the calorie count for the fish and chips (1220!), Donna’s Mum was convinced it was the mushy peas pushing the calories up…nothing to do with the fried fish and the fried chips?! 😉
A while ago the EU brought in legislation regarding light bulbs (yes, you are reading this correctly) and energy efficiency. We noticed that instead of using the nasty energy saving light bulbs, a lot of places were using ‘old fashioned’ filament light bulbs
. It’s a good idea actually and it made some places look very stylish indeed! Hoylake Lights was one of these places and it made us giggle because of it's name and there were loads of lights in there (it's
actually named after two lighthouses) so it was an appropriate name.
As we were walking along Hoylake Promenade, the first thing we noticed was how bloody cold it was! The second thing we noticed was the wind turbines out in the Irish Sea; the UK has a lot of wind turbines especially in coastal areas and dotted around the countryside. We know it’s a controversial thing in the UK, these wind turbines with a lot of people grumbling about them being eye sores/inefficient/whatever, but to us, they look so pretty and if it wasn’t so cold, we would have stood there and watched them for a while. 😉
One aspect of the UK we really struggled to get used to is how light it was late at night. In SE Asia, sunrise is around 05:30 and sunset is around 18:30-19:00 at the very, very latest (in winter it's about 17:30-18:00). In the UK, sunrise was at 04:45 and sunset was at 21:30…that’s bonkers how light it is so late at night and it was really difficult to get used to and for us it was a little bit disorientating! We would hate to think
what it's like further north in Scotland or the Scandinavian countries for how light it is in the mornings/at night, it must be terrible trying to sleep!
That's all from the Wirral, Liverpool and Chester where we'd had a fab time with Donna's parents. The next part of our trip would take us first further north for a night’s stay in a historic market town, then east across the country to Neil’s parents…we were looking forward to seeing places we haven’t seen, family we hadn't met yet and family we haven’t seen in years!
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