March 16 – Paris to Liverpool
Stade de France from the RER metro station, where Arsenal should have been crowned European champions if not for Henrik Larsson.
My flight from Paris to Liverpool was slightly delayed, but when I stepped out of the customs area, I spotted my dear cousin Rowenna seated on the floor with her bags sprawled next to her. I was a little amazed that her bags were the same size as mine though I was only on a one week trip while she was in Switzerland and Berlin for two weeks. But after I reminded myself that half the items in my bags were for her, that got me feeling better. 😉
We left the airport and took the bus that would bring us to Lime Street. We deposited our bags at the train station and set out to locate the Monro, a gastropub that was apparently rather famous. It wasn’t easy finding it because Rowie didn’t remember the exact directions, plus the streets aren’t very well organized. When we finally found it, it was pretty packed and we waited a long time before we even got to see the menu. The waitress was a tall and slim girl with blond hair and pink highlights, i.e. bimbo. I didn’t think I would have the chance to encounter a bimbo outside the US.
So anyway, our food took really long to come even when the lunch crowd started to disperse. And we were seated near smokers, so it wasn’t too pleasant. We had a quick lunch and then left the pub.
Cod and other types of fish with spinach mash
Chicken stir-fry with potatoes
So after lunch, we strolled around the Albert Docks, looking at the Beatles Museum, the Liver building, and Tate Liverpool. I was pretty incredulous to learn that Liverpool is the 2008 European Capital of Culture. From what I saw of the city, it didn’t strike me as being a cultural hub at all, ‘cept for being the hometown of the Beatles. Liverpool is a city that you can visit once and not have to return, or totally leave it out of an itinerary because you won’t be missing out on much. Unless you are a Beatles fan… or a Liverpool/Everton fan… or you’re simply here to hang out with a beloved cousin. Rowie probably got pretty tired of me dissing Liverpool, but hey, I just came from London and Paris – expectations were high.
You would have thought the English knew better.
After the stroll around the Docks, we headed back to the city centre and walked along Bold Street, looking at quirky and eclectic shops. We were pretty tired by then though I didn’t think we did very much that day. We swung by where we left our bags and hopped on a train to Ainsdale, where Mike lives with his parents. Rowie had requested Ann (Mike’s mom) to prepare a traditional roast dinner for me so that was awaiting us at home, and also served as motivation to restrain from too much snacking. We did allow ourselves some donuts though. We reached Ainsdale soon enough and Mike came to pick us up from the train station. His house was about a five minute drive away. Soon we pulled into a nice neighborhood and stopped in front of a cozy looking house.
We met Ann in the kitchen where she was busy finishing up with dinner preparations. The house was very nice and I loved it very much. It was very comfy and warm – if my house was like that, I wouldn’t want to leave it. Rowie told me that Ann was someone who was very proud of her house and I could see why. The bedroom was so comfortable that I told Rowie I wanted to stay in and sleep the entire night, instead of going out as we had planned. The dinner, as scrumptious as it looks, tasted even better. Roast beef, with potatoes roasted in goose fat, cauliflower topped with melted cheese, spinach, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. And of course, English cider. I’m glad I came to Liverpool – it was a home away from home and a chance to meet warm lovely people.
Through the course of dinner and dessert, Terry (Mike’s dad) and I chatted. He had many stories to tell – being in the British army, he had been stationed in Southeast Asia for a number of years, so he does know Singapore pretty well. Despite being the only Arsenal fan in a household of Liverpool fans, they put me at ease. 😉 It turns out Steve Simonsen (formerly from Everton, and now Stoke City) is their family friend. According to Rowie, a Premier League team has approached Simonsen but he’s decided to continue playing with Stoke.
Swiss Chocolate fondue
After dinner, Terry gave us a ride to the train station and we headed back to Liverpool. The Bell family lives in Ainsdale, Southport, which is just outside Liverpool. A couple of Mike’s mates were joining us and I can’t remember now what were the names of the places we went to because I was just following wherever they brought me. It was a luxury for me compared to London and Paris where I had to depend on myself the whole time. The first pub we went to, the guys checking our ID said I looked 13. HAHA. I usually get called 16 or 17, but woah, 13 is a whole decade away from 23. But I’m used to it. The crowd was an older one, so that’s probably why I seemed relatively younger. The second pub we went to had a younger crowd. There, Mike’s friends Foll and his girlfriend Maria joined us. Another guy, Rob, and Gaz (visiting from Newcastle) joined us as well.
At the third and last pub.
The last place we went to was called Magnet and there was some kind of live band performing. It was a very eclectic combination with a trombone, a xylophone, drums, violin and guitar. Mike’s friends left, and we followed suit soon after because I was very sleepy. We each had an X marked on our hands when we entered the pub and Mike, in his slightly drunken stupor, declared that he was Professor X, I was Wolverine and Rowie was Jean Gray. We headed next door for pizza and it was hilarious listening to Mike talk. Anyhow, we hopped into a taxi and about half an hour later, were back home.
The next morning, I awoke and started packing up to prepare for my train to London, where I would catch my return flight to New York. After breakfast, I said my goodbyes to Terry and Ann, promising that I will see them again one day (but how? I’m not returning to Liverpool) and thanking them for their hospitality and warmth, which I sorely missed ever since I left Singapore.
Mike drove me to Liverpool and it was a mad rush as we went to Chinatown to buy Prima Taste products for me to bring back to Ithaca so I could cook. I bought mee goreng, laksa and char kway teow pre-made mix. I said a hurried goodbye to Rowie before they dropped me off at Lime Street and I had to literally run to the platform to catch my train and made it just in time.
The train ride to London passed through cities like Birmingham and Coventry, before pulling into London Euston. It took about three hours and from Euston, I took the tube to Heathrow. At Heathrow, the Virgin Atlantic check-in desks served all flights, so everyone joins the same queue (regardless of your departure time) and wait for their turn. Such inefficiency and disorganization. I decided to check myself in at the DIY machine and then drop off my luggage at the counter. While I was queuing to drop off my luggage, a staff member came to the queue and asked who was departing to Newark, I said I was and she whisked me off to an empty counter. I’m not sure why, I wasn’t that late. At that point, it was still more than an hour to my departure.
After I reached the security check gates, I realized why. The queues were so long and many people were held up at the area where they were checking for liquids and giving away Ziploc bags to store the liquids in.
March 17 – New York
The flight went all right. I was quite sleepy so that makes long flights a whole lot easier to get through. After landing in Newark, which is in New Jersey, I called Rishi, who was in New York to find out where I was going to be staying for the night. It was past 12midnight when I got out of the airport and Newark is a forty minute bus ride from Manhattan, I think. Rishi was staying at Vanderbilt YMCA so after getting off the bus at Times Square, I hopped onto a taxi towards YMCA. So exciting, my first time sitting in one of New York’s famous yellow taxi.
After very nice spring weather in Europe, I returned to snow in New York. It wasn’t very pleasant, and I had learned at the airport upon landing that many flights had been canceled due to the snow and poor weather. Another blessing from the Almighty Father who watches over His sheep day and night. But I’m glad I got to see snow in New York. It’s priceless to look at New Yorkers dealing with snow. New Yorkers are such impatient people, but I suppose in most cities, people are like that because time is money and slowing down means less money earned.
After I made it to YMCA, I found out from Rishi that Justin and Amy were staying there too. Justin and Amy are my schoolmates from NTU, who are here at University of Maryland as exchange students. How nice to know that I would be meeting them in the morning. The next morning, we checked out and Rishi and I were heading back to Ithaca, while Justin and Amy’s spring break had just began that weekend. We went with them to Herald Square Hotel, where we had stayed during our first weekend to NY and came across a set in the midst of filming at 42nd Grand Central subway station.
As you can see, NY really is the place to be. It’s almost understandable why the locals behave like the world revolves around them. Rishi and I were talking to Dan and Dave (the Aussies) and we unanimously agreed that once you have made it in NY, you can make it anywhere else in the world.
Justin, Amy and Rishi along the subway underpass
And with this I must end my spring break story, but it is certainly not “The End”. To Europe. With my promise of return.