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Published: March 25th 2012
Millennium Bridge By Night
Wow, its all colourful and stuff.
You know how I said my next blog entry was coming from Bergen when I wrote last?
Most of my trips away have literally been over seas, so I tend to forget that trips that don't involve boarding a plane are still are still in fact, trips. Such a trip, is a weekend away in Newcastle.
It was really to nice travel within the UK for a change, something I don't do enough of, but plan to correct this year.
For a start, you don't need your passport, you don't have to pack stolen hotel shower gel bottles into a tiny, clear zip-lock bag, you don't need to bring an adapter with you, you can use your iPhone normally without being charged through the roof for it, and you can enjoy a ride with a few mates and a few BYO beers on-board a train that will drop you right in the middle of the city you are going to - which is exactly what I did with Davies, Sag, Sag's girlfriend Sarah and my good friend Al as we alighted at Newcastle's central station.
Our hostel, The Albatross, was a five minute walk from the station
Arguably the city's best known landmark.
and had a really sterile, institutionalised feel to it. I've said before that I prefer the smaller, boutique hostels that feel more like a home away from home, and this was not one of those hostels. But it was clear why the place needed to have rules as we were kept up on our first night by a bunch of drunken kids in the dorm next door who were partying until 6am.
The hostel also had the longest distance between a dorm and a bathroom ever
, which included two flights of stairs, three doors and three hallways. If I had to do the same commute at my flat in London, it would be the equivalent of having to go to the Tesco across the road every time I wanted to piss. Add to this the push-the-button-for-five-seconds-of-water showers and the relative paucity of them, and it was hard to understand how this place got voted the best hostel in the UK one year. If this is the best hostel in the UK, I'd hate to think what the rest of them are like. The last UK hostel I stayed in would tend to back me up on this
To be fair, the hostel did have a lounge area, a kitchen, WiFi, DVDs to watch and
Built in honour of Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey.
free coffee and tea, though these are now pretty standard luxuries at most hostels these days.
Anyway, enough hostel-ranting.
Regular readers of this blog may remember Joy, John, Aaron and Ruth from my trip to Greece
- the reason we were in Newcastle was to celebrate Sag and Ruth's birthdays, and we were joined by Matt, Hannah (both flatmates of John, Joy and Ruth) and Fiona (Sag's flatmate).
We met up with the rest of our posse at Yates's, the large pub across the road. Set up with a DJ and lights for a big night out, the place was pretty dead for a Friday night. The hot girl serving out shots of apple sourz would keep coming back to us every five minutes as there was no-one else in the whole establishment. The cheap shots and cocktail pitchers were what we were there for however and they served their purpose as we got well and truly warmed up for night out in Newcastle's infamous Bigg Market.
Upon arrival in Newcastle, it was immediately clear that there was marked decrease in fashion levels here compared to London. Less tight jeans and check shirts and more track suits and
St. James's Park
I refuse to call this hallowed stadium the Sports Direct Arena.
hoodies, as well as other bizarre crimes of fashion.
It also became apparent why the Bigg Market is known by some as the 'Pigg Market'. There were more than a few girls who were larger than life wearing clothes that weren't, not to mention a lot of mutton dressed up as lamb. You gotta love it when a dose of reality reinforces a stereotype.
Matt, who studied in Newcastle, then regaled us with a tale of the inter-generational night out in Newcastle where the 58-year-old Grandma is in a club with her daughter and grand-daughter, all on the lash, all scantily-dressed. He once overheard one such 58-year-old grandma tell a guy in a club; "if you buy me a drink, I'll let you lick my munch". True story. I'm unsure if he took her up on the offer.
We ended up in a bar/club called Label, which wasn't too busy either but was sufficient to have a decent night out in, with room to bust your moves. Mindful that we all still had another "Bigg" night tomorrow, we all pulled the plug relatively early and were all back at the hostel by 2am.
Perhaps in typical Newcastle style, we
Once voted the best street in Britain.
all had breakfast at the nearest Wetherspoon's where we were joined by the last member of our party, Kevin, who you may remember from Milan
. With our group complete, Matt then took us on a walking tour of the city.
Newcastle is a pretty compact city, as we discovered when walking past the Bigg Market and realising that everywhere we had been last night was within 400m of the hostel.
From the Monument we then walked down Grey Street, voted one of the best streets in England with some of 'the finest examples of Victorian and Georgian architecture' according to something Al read. The buildings are indeed fine, the general beige of Newcastle's Victorian quarter reminiscent of the old buildings in Bath.
Passing by The Castle from which Newcastle earned its name, we then stop by for a pleasant pint (or half pint) of ale in the sunshine at The Bridge Hotel before walking down to the Quayside, passing Newcastle's famous bridges, the Tyne Bridge, the Swing Bridge, and the Millennium Bridge which apparently opens like an eyelid to let ships through, and actually wobbles a bit if you jump on it.
For our dose of culture in Newcastle,
The bridge apparently lifts upwards, pulled up by those suspension ropes, to let ships through.
we visit the Baltic, an old, art-deco grain store that now houses a contemporary art museum. The exhibition we saw presented some very interesting ideas about how we might live in the future - small, self-contained 'pods' that you would sleep, read and chill out in.
Atop the Baltic, is a magnificent view across the River Tyne and all of it's bridges.
Culture dose over, it was time to head back to the pub and in particular, the likeable Head Of Steam, which is also a live jazz venue.
It was here that we decided Sag needed to do 30 shots today/tonight to celebrate his 30th birthday. Estimating that 30 full strength shots may quite rightly, be too much for him, we start buying him shots with a lower percentage of alcohol, starting with a shot of Midori.
The beers and shots continue at an Irish pub where we watch Newcastle's hated football rivals Sunderland beat Liverpool 1-0, much to the obvious anger and disgust of the local punters.
We pass the Wetherspoon's en route back to the hostel where they are offering 4 Jaegerbombs for £5. We can't resist and order 12 of them - at 4.40pm in
With The Sage Gateshead on the left, a music and arts centre.
the afternoon. For some reason the boys force me to have two. Sag smashes shots #12 and #13 here.
Geordies have a reputation for their resistance to the cold, with most girls on a night out 'dressed' in no more than a boob tube and a mini-skirt despite the temperature being near freezing point, and the guys being well known for being well 'ard.
Therefore, we would wear nothing but our short sleeve Ben Sherman's out tonight - no jackets allowed (for the guys, anyway). When in Newcastle...
While the girls (and some of the guys) get ready, Matt, Davies, Kevin, Al and myself all head down early to the Quayside for some cocktails at Newcastle's Pitcher & Piano, which is right next to the Millennium Bridge, a pretty sweet setting. The place itself is pretty impressive too. The "apple crumble" cocktails we have are good.
Slowly but surely, the rest of our crew arrive where we have half of the quite-large bar reserved for our relatively small party of thirteen.
Pre-dinner cocktails over, it was time to head to Noosh, where we had a table reserved for dinner.
I don't know how the Geordies do it because
Some Of The Crew
Me, Aaron, Ruth, Matt, Sag, John and Kevin.
with the wind blowing, the walk to the restaurant was intolerably cold.
In the warmth of the restaurant and having drank a little more than everyone else, I get hit with a nasty bout of drunken narcolepsy which is very difficult to resist. To rescue the situation, a triple espresso is ordered for me which comes with four sticks of sugar, of which Sag, Aaron, Al and Kevin grab one each and proceed to empty it's contents into my coffee. The espresso was sweet-as, and I felt like I had the weight of the world lifted off my er, eyelids.
Turning my attention to the food, I thought it was fairly mediocre.
The night continues at the bar next to Noosh, The Empress.
It was here that we ordered 40 Jaegerbombs for £40. Incredible. Only in Newcastle.
We make some new friends at the bar, who help us get through all our Jaegerbombs - unsurprisingly, the memory starts to get a bit hazy from here on in.
From other people's memories and research done after the fact, I have since discovered that the next place we went to was the famous/infamous Bambu, a place my flatmate Hannah had told
Not sure what the point of stacking up the glasses was.
me was an old stomping ground of hers back when she was at uni in Newcastle. Incidentally, it is also where the ex-Newcastle United striker Andy Carroll was arrested for assault a few years back. What I do remember is some of our crew getting stuck in the wrong queue outside and not getting in for ages, and walking down some steps to see the main dancefloor open up right in front of me, the space heaving with people bouncing to an RnB/hip-hop soundtrack.
It was here that Sag completed his mission with shot #30.
We then move on to a place called Madame Koo's, which I only discovered the name of after looking through the receipts in my back pocket, of which there were an alarming number. I remember having a really good time here, I think everyone in our group was. There may even have been some heartfelt man-love moments. The music here was more dancey, as I remember group-jumping to Avicii's 'Levels' - I remember the place being massive too.
Little by little our group slowly disintegrates and eventually Matt and I stumble back to the hostel lounge to be greeted by Sag, Kevin and Hannah, where
The actual Geordie Shore. One of the most hilarious sights was this old lady who musyt have been around sixty, dressed in leather on a quad bike decorated with streamers, blasting out classic rock, seemingly from a ghetto blaster.
we enjoy someone else's pizza and a cup of tea before hitting the sack.
When Kevin awoke the next day, something didn't feel right. Struggling to get his feet out from under the blanket, he finds himself unable to. He opens his eyes and sees a mop of curly hair just a foot away from his face - his dorm-mate is just sitting down on the ledge right in front of him. A little perturbed, he rolls over the other way and falls back to sleep....
Half-asleep, half-awake, there is man dressed immaculately in a suit packing his bags for what seems like forever
. "This is the weirdest morning ever", thinks Kevin. Or perhaps this is a dream?
Looking across at the bunk across from him, a girl sits up. There are no girls staying in his dorm.
"Oh shit, I'm in the wrong dorm..." (he wasn't).
He looks down at his feet - he has managed to slip himself inside his duvet cover which is why his feet were stuck.
It really was the weirdest morning...
The Albatross staff are pretty strict about the checkout rule - having been in the bathroom as the clock struck eleven,
King Edward's Bay
Picturesque bay in Tynemouth.
I couldn't get back into my room to collect my bag. Perhaps if the walk from the bathroom wasn't so damn long I might've made it in time.
I don't blame them though - most people come to Newcastle for the nightlife so if they didn't kick people out at check out time, they would never get rid of anyone.
Unsurprisingly, I am the last one downstairs, and it has been decided by the group that we are going to the beach on this lovely day. It was warm enough to ditch the coat too.
Newcastle is the only other city in England apart from London to have an underground train system.
The platforms and the trains have a glorious 70s quality to them, like the older parts of Heathrow Airport, and parts of The University of Auckland campus.
The ride out to Tynemouth is about thirty minutes long but in my tired, sick, hungover state, it felt a lot
Rather strangely, Tynemouth's Sunday market is located in its train station and rather makes the station more crowded than it should be. There are all sorts of retro nic-nacs available for sale by a mostly older generation of
A Dip In The North Sea
The water is freezing - you don't want to linger too long in it, as Al, Sag, Kev and Matt discover.
The main thoroughfare leading out to sea is lined with wonderfully kitsch, old stone buildings and is rather nice. Some of our crew line up for fish and chips for which there is a formidable queue and others opt for an old school bakery, the sort of which just doesn't seem to exist in London. So far the whole place has the feel of a time-warp.
We then enjoy our food on the citadel overlooking King Edward's Bay, which I imagine would be packed in the summer. It is a charming little bay.
You would think the ocean breeze would help my hangover, but it doesn't.
I have zero appetite but when Ruth is unable to finish up her fish and chips, I volunteer to take them off her and end up devouring most of it, feeling a little better afterwards.
John, Joy, Ruth, Hannah and Fiona then take off back to Newcastle for their early train back to London - the rest of us walk around the coast for a bit and onto the beach.
North of King Edward's Bay is the main beach which stretches out for miles. It would be an awesome beach if only the
weather was a bit warmer - even in summer the temperature only averages about 14 degrees here.
Dipping our feet in the North Sea, it is rather cold - then after about ten seconds your feet actually start hurting and start to go numb. It doesn't stop a couple of hardy local souls (or lunatics) from having a swim though. These people really are hard (or crazy).
It was a sunny day, and yes, I could've gone without my coat, although it was more comfortable with it on. But for the locals, it was like summer as half the men walking around were wearing shorts and the odd lad went shirtless. Kids lined up to buy ice cream and the queue at the fish and chip shop was out the door and on to the street - they must've been making a killing. Here in all in all its glory was that famous north-east resilience.
Back in Newcastle, Kevin, Al, Davies and I set about trying to get to the Angel Of The North, perhaps the most famous sight of the north-east.
As we zombied from bus stop to bus stop in our severely hungover state, none of us,
Former grain store cum contemporary arts centre.
for the life of us, could work out which bus to take out there. There is a big pink bus with a picture of the Angel emblazoned across it called The Angel parked at one of the bus stops, but rather incredulously it doesn't actually go to The Angel. So for such a famous sight, and allowing for the fact that most tourists trying to get there will inevitably be hungover, it has got to be easier to get to The Angel than it actually is. We work out that we probably can't get there and back before we have to catch our trains back to London so we flag it. Although disappointed, we now appreciated the chance to chill out - at where else but the pub.
Before that however, I still had one more personal mission - a trip to St James's Park, home of the famous Newcastle United.
Having been called St James's Park for over 100 years, the club's tactless owner has recently renamed it the "Sports Direct Arena" - you couldn't cheapen the stadium's lustre any more if you had called it the "Sainsbury's Basics Arena". With massive Sports Direct signs plastered all over
Neat old buildings on the Quayside.
it's grey exterior, someone who didn't know any better would think that the place is a massive Sports Direct warehouse store. A stone's throw from the city centre, it really goes to show how central the football club is to the city and its people.
It is one of the biggest and most atmospheric stadiums in the country although it is hard to make judgement without going inside it or attending a match. I felt I still had to pass by it though.
Rather aptly, the bar out the front of the stadium is called "Shearer's" - after the club legend and top goal scorer, former England captain Alan Shearer.
Waiting for our train, Davies, Al, Kevin, Sag, Sarah, Matt and myself ended up back at Yates's to watch the England vs France rugby match. While ordering my Coke at the bar, a massive, hard-looking bald guy is buying a round of eight Jaegerbombs. The smell emanating from them makes me want to puke. Enough with the Jaegerbombs already, we already had more than 60 between us yesterday. Trust a Geordie to be smashing eight Jaegerbombs on a leisurely Sunday afternoon though.
I have never seen so many drink
By day, minus the carnage.
specials as I have in Newcastle. No wonder Newcastle has the reputation it does as a binge-drinking capital. It is a student town I suppose. In saying that, the advertising is almost irresponsible from a societal perspective (says a guy who participated in the consumption of 40 Jaegerbombs for £40 - yes, I have recognised the irony). Britain definitely has a problem with binge-drinking and as a foreigner, I have found that you quite easily get sucked into it. The problem isn't as bad in continental Europe for example - but I don't think that continental Europeans have any less fun as a result.
I have also never seen so many Gregg's in one place. When Kevin went to look for an ATM, he came across three Gregg's before finding one.
On discussing my Newcastle adventure with my flatmate Hannah, she shook her head at the places I ended up. Turns out that we didn't go to any of Newcastle's classier nightlife establishments - but that we had enjoyed the 'classic' Newcastle experience.
My next blog entry will definitely be from Bergen this time. Until then...
Howay the lads (and lasses)!
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