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Published: June 15th 2015
We decided that our next ‘holiday’ would be back in the UK to visit family. The last time we were back was 6 years ago, so we were a little apprehensive about what we might find! A Big Bird and a bit of a nightmare journey
We were so very excited to be flying for the first time on the A380…aka Big Bird and Emirates was our airline of choice. Just our luck that it went wrong…our initial flight from Hong Kong was delayed by 6 hours, which meant we missed our connection in Dubai. Emirates were terrible with communication (i.e. all their staff disappeared!) and we found out about the delay when the departures board changed! We were given a princely HK$75 food voucher each (that’s £6.25!) to spend in either Starbucks or McDonalds and no-one could give us any information about our connecting flight probably due to the fact that so many passengers were screaming and shouting at Hong Kong airport staff (a bit unfair we thought!). So, taking a pro-active approach we called Emirates’ Manchester office to see what was happening; 5 minutes later we were happily confirmed onto our new onward flight, the
Former White Star Line building
...the company who owned RMS Titanic and is now 30 James Street, a Titanic themed hotel
office in Manchester had been very helpful but unhappily it meant we were arriving 7 hours after we were meant to and had an almost 5 hour wait in Dubai. On the plus side at least we didn’t have to stay overnight in Dubai like some people!
Some quick phone calls later to let the parents know what was happening and a not-really-appetising-at-3am McDonalds meal and coffee, we settled down to wait for our 6am take off. Once on the Big Bird things continued to go wrong as Neil’s stomach really started to hurt him to the point where he couldn’t eat or drink anything. It was probably the stress of the delay and the rubbish food, but his stomach problems continued for 2 days after we arrived in the UK. This prompted him to wonder which was better – travelling with too much poo (Peru, Bolivia, China, India) or travelling with a distinct lack of poo!
Anyway, we arrived into Manchester airport in what seemed like the furthest corner of the terminal (probably because of the Big Bird being so big!); as soon as we stepped off the plane the cold air hit
us and that was the ‘inside air’ as we called it! Now people continually think we are joking with this temperature lark, but we really aren’t. After living in a tropical country for this long, 20 degrees Celsius is cold to us and we will be in jumpers (sweaters for the non-Brits) and coats – you will notice in every single outside photo we have coats/heavy jumpers on (and under these were 3 other layers!) and sometimes scarves. The last time we were in the UK we were completely unprepared for how cold we would feel…this time, after experiencing the unbearable winter temperatures of Hong Kong (i.e. 16 degrees Celsius), we were prepared! 😉
At Manchester Airport, we went through some nifty automatic passport gates. We were half expecting a big buzzer to go off and us be pulled aside for questioning as we had not only been out of the country for so long, but we have had 3 new passports since we were last in the country and had been in some dodgy areas! Getting though unscathed, Donna’s parents were there ready to meet us and drive us back to the Wirral where we would
be spending our first 4 (supposed to be 5, grrrr!) days. First order of business? Proper toast with marmalade and proper British tea, well for Donna anyway…Neil managed a cup of tea and half a slice of toast minus the marmalade.
As we go with these blogs, we are going to be making observations about what we found strange about the UK…we honestly felt like tourists, somehow stuck between Asia (and never really understanding countries in Asia fully) and the UK (somehow disconnected and not fully understanding our place of birth and home for so many years). A couple of times we found ourselves talking the Asian tourists just so we felt a bit more comfortable! 😉 We did make our families laugh a couple of times with our observations, our first one was about the bread slices…they are super-sized compared to bread in Asia – seriously the bread slices are as big as our heads 😄 Jetlag? It’s all in the head
On our first full day we were up and Donna was eagerly eating more super-sized toast and marmalade at 8:30am (we think she should be renamed to Paddington with her
love of marmalade!), unfortunately Neil’s stomach problems prevented him from eating much at all which annoyed him no end as he had been looking forward to eating lots of British food and chocolate!
We will say at this point, we now think jet lag is a myth (probably prompting a chorus of objections from readers). Bear in mind that by the time we had boarded our first flight we had been up for 24 hours already. We then had a 7.5 hours flight, a 4 hours wait in Dubai and then another 8.5 hours flight with an 8 hour time difference and felt no ill effects at all from it, yay us!
We had managed to keep our visit a secret from Donna’s Nan and Grandad so the first thing to do was to visit them…unfortunately Neil was still nursing his bad stomach, so missed out on the surprising! Donna’s Nan, Vera, promptly broke out the chocolate digestives
(knowing how much Donna loves them) she was very restrained and only ate 4 😉, Neil was most upset to have missed the Nan cuddles and chocolate biscuits!
That evening, we relaxed being alternately
The Three Graces
The Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool building, collectively known as the Three Graces
amazed by a 50 inch television with a HD TV signal and by how cold it actually was…the fluffy slippers Donna’s mum had bought for her were certainly coming in handy! Donna’s Dad kept insisting it was warm enough to sit out in the garden, much to our disagreement! Put your rollers in your hair like you just don’t care
Our Saturday started with a proper bacon and sausage butty (that’s a sandwich to all non-Brits or non-northern Brits!) and it was heavenly! Bacon and sausages are of a supremely high standard in the UK and we miss them (not that we’d eat them that much, but we still miss them!); Donna also misses HP sauce (aka brown sauce) too…Neil prefers tomato ketchup (aka red sauce). Feeling suitably fuelled for the day we headed off to Liverpool; just a small aside, the Wirral is a peninsula snuggly slotted between North Wales and Liverpool…it’s where the ferry across the Mersey goes to and from. We got the train and were actually shocked at how cheap the price was - £3.75 for a day return, we thought this was reasonable when compared to a train journey (e.g.) in
Hong Kong but Donna’s Mum disagreed 😉. Most of the train line on the Wirral is above ground, but once it reaches Birkenhead it goes underground (obviously to go under the Mersey River). The underground system for trains on the Wirral and Liverpool
is actually the oldest in the UK after London’s!
We have to say that Liverpool is one of our favourite cities, we do have fond memories of nights out in Liverpool. If anyone reading has the chance to go to the UK, take time to go to Liverpool and you won’t be disappointed. Liverpool is really capitalising on it’s maritime heritage, with a new hotel opening in the former White Star Line (owners of the Titanic) building
which is Titanic themed. There is also another Titanic hotel in the Albert Dock
and a very good Maritime Museum (free to enter too!) charting Liverpool’s Maritime past. Usually Liverpool is synonymous with The Beatles, we have done all The Beatles stuff before and there is so much more to Liverpool than The Beatles, we decided to highlight the architecture and maritime history instead.
Our first stop was the Pier Head, home to the famous Three Graces (the Liver Buildings, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building). It’s
said that Shanghai’s The Bund is modelled on Liverpool Pier Head and we have to say, we could see the similarities. We marvelled at the super-modern Museum of Liverpool (again, free to enter) and the cute Superlambananas
next to them. Yes, they are sculptures which are a cross between a lamb and a banana!
It was very strange, standing at the Pier Head, looking out over to the Wirral being able to understand what everyone around us was saying and we had to remind ourselves that everyone could understand us too! The Pier Head and Albert Dock were busy, but not as busy as we had expected considering it was a Bank Holiday weekend; we overheard someone saying how busy it was, but honestly, once you have experienced the crowds of mainland China or India, nothing seems busy after that 😉
The title of this section refers to the fact that the girls of Liverpool don’t mind wandering around with their hair in rollers. Obviously it’s a great idea, making sure their hair is perfect for their night out later on, we lost count of the number of girls we saw with their rollers
in. The girls also don’t mind wandering around in their pyjamas either, Donna can just about get on board with the rollers, but pyjamas in public? Nope, never going to get on board with that! Feeling a little overwhelmed
After wandering around the Albert Dock (looking like right tourists snapping pictures), we walked along all the food stalls that had set up for the weekend with delicious treats like pulled pork, Turkish delight, paella (it was at this point we knew Neil was truly better as he was drooling at the stalls!). We then headed up into the main city centre to do a bit of shopping.
When we were last in Liverpool the shopping centre Liverpool One had only just opened; we actually marvelled at the fact it was built with an open roof. It’s an amazing shopping centre, but architects in Asia wouldn’t dare propose a shopping centre with an open roof; partially due to the rain when it comes, but mostly due to the fact that the shopping centres are where most people retreat to for escaping the searing heat! We can imagine the uproar from shoppers in Asia if
Old style ice cream trucks
...Neil wasn't tempted, the prices were silly!
a shopping centre like Liverpool One was opened!
It was in Liverpool One that we noticed the ducks in different locations…this, we were told by a helpful guy, was called the #DuckTrail
. There are ducks dotted around Liverpool, each painted differently and you follow the trail around the city and each duck tells you something unique about the city. Donna was most delighted to find the Everton duck and just HAD to have her photo taken with it. It’s a clever idea we thought and helps people see the sights in a fun way.
The intention was to shop, but the shops were all so huge and were on so many levels, we kind of felt completely overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. It’s very unlike us to pass up the opportunity to shop-til-we-dropped (as Donna’s Mum remarked!) but honestly, the choice in the clothes shops like New Look, Primark and Top Shop/Man spread over 4 or 5 floors was just too much. After an hour of wandering quite aimlessly and not able to focus, we had to call time on the shopping idea as it was just making our heads explode!
After looking around the shops and seeing so many people buying so much stuff, it did lead us to wonder if people really needed all this stuff or whether it was buying for buying sake. It seemed to us, from a lot of things we observed in the UK, that the pursuit of buying things is number one – it doesn’t seem to matter if people need it or not, they just buy! Afternoon tea? Oh go on then!
The only thing to do at this point was to go and sit down and have a cup of tea 😊. We went to a café which is a favourite of Donna’s parents which is in a shop called Rapid; this was the first time we really noticed the prices…it was cheap! We had two caramel coffees, a pot of tea and a (huge) slice of chocolate cake and it came to £6; it was just what we needed for a pick me up and made us able to face a little bit more shopping.
One shop unique to the UK is Argos. This is a shop which sells EVERYTHING (yes, we mean everything);
it has a doorstop catalogue (nicknamed ‘The Book of Wonder’) which you purchase the product you want in store by writing a number on a slip of paper, pay for it and wait for the product to be delivered to a ‘Collection Point’ (i.e. either the right hand side of the counter or the left hand side of the counter!). It was only when we were back in the UK this time that we realised just how unique Argos is (yes, small things amuse us) as we haven’t seen anything like it in any other country! What did annoy us about Argos – we actually encountered this on several occasions in different places – is that they only had 3 members of staff working. It seemed to us that a lot of places in the UK have cut back on their staff which meant a really frustrating experience for the customer of waiting and waiting and…waiting. In Asia, there is an abundance of staff in shops, all ready to jump to your assistance offering you pillows when you are looking at socks 😉
In our next blog, we go against the flow to a Roman city for
the day with lots of yummy food and more observations of what we find weird!
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