Well, it was bound to happen, my first official backpacking mishap — but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me tell it from the start.
Friday night was the kickoff of my first solo backpacking adventure. I was counting down the hours to my first stop, Pembrokeshire in Wales (even the town’s name alone draws smiles, don’t you think?). It was not easy to plot the route from London, as Pembrokeshire was all the way out on the southwestern-most corner of Wales. The only train itinerary would entail a 3-hour stopover at dawn in Cardiff. However, I thought that no trip of mine would be complete without me doing something like hurling myself off a cliff, so I was dead set on meeting fellow adrenaline junkies on a coasteering adventure.
Fast forward to 3 am at the Cardiff Central Station. Lugging my monstrous backpack along, I wandered off from the train station in search of a decent resto where I can bide my time until the next train at 6 am. I guess there was either a pier nearby or the gulls over here have evolved in some strange way, because I tell you, these birds were HUGE and they dotted the streets like pigeons. Barely two minutes away from the station, I found throngs of people in a street lined with pubs and realized that I must be in one of Cardiff’s nightspots. It would have been nice to walk into a pub for some brew and chat up the locals, but at this time, they were already fairly drunk, and I found myself yet again playing one of my favorite games — let’s-watch-the-drunk-friends-brawl-until-the-police-comes — from the fast-food joint where I parked.
Once 6 am rolled by, I went back to the train platform, brimming with anticipation. But alas — here’s the kicker. Apparently, there are train stations in the UK which will have 2 trains on the same platform — each one going into a different direction. You can probably tell what happened next.
It wasn’t like I was the only idiot who made the mistake of hopping on the train to Crewe instead of Pembrokeshire. In all fairness, the sign in front of the train carriage was WRONG, and the other train has already left when they made the announcement over the PA to inform us of the correction. Apparently, these things happened all the time as the others just basically shrugged it off and went on the next train back to the right direction.
After much deliberation, I finally submitted to the fact that I’ll never make it to the coasteering kickoff spot in time, so I mumbled my what-the-hell’s and booked a train to Liverpool instead. Ladies and gents, if there’s one tip that you’ll take away from all my ramblings, it should be this — if possible, never EVER book a train ticket for the same day. EVER. Avail of your tickets well in advance (and your plan B’s, if still practical) to take advantage of the discounted prices. They weren’t lying when they said that buying rail tickets on the same day is akin to flushing your money down the loo.
When all was said and done, going to Liverpool was actually a good move. Liverpool was a great place to wander about, even if by accident. I was making a beeline from the train station to the Albert Docks, but I got distracted along the way by the myriad of shops in Liverpool One. It was a massive network of boutiques, cafes and clothing chains; I would go as far as saying that I found the shopping here even better than at Oxford Street. Street performers were also aplenty; in the country which gave the world the likes of the Beatles, Oasis, and Suede, you have to wonder how much raw talent is still left undiscovered.
Managing to pry myself away from shopping lures, I finally got to the waterfront. For once, it was a glorious sunny day, perfect for prancing around the cobblestones of the riverside walks. The reason I darted for the docks was to check out the Beatles Story museum, a magnet for Beatles fanatics who flock to Liverpool. I inevitably found myself browsing knick-knacks at its gift shop, which was right next to the nifty Beatles-themed Starbucks.
The local tourism industry is just too happy to oblige the droves of Beatles-worshippers; left and right were offers of Beatles tours, using anything from buses to bikes to amphibious vans. I hopped on the Magical Mystery coach tour, and it was certainly cool to see the actual streets that raised and inspired these four lads who shook the world. The guy sitting next to me was a Beatles nut through and through. He didn’t just know all the lyrics to the Beatles tunes that played in the bus; he was also able to name the albums from which these songs came from.
After invading the Liverpool streets to shamelessly pose in front of the Beatles homes and landmarks, I trooped over to the famous Cavern Club, a proud beacon in the world of British music. On its outside walls, the bricks bear the names of bands and artists who have graced the bar, which includes Oasis, Elton John, and the Beatles, of course.
The day almost started out as a disaster, but it seemed like as time passed, it just kept on getting better. That same night, Liverpool was launching its new museum with a free lights show by the waterfront, together with a concert by the award-winning Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (playing Beatles tunes, of course!). How awesome was that?! Apparently, not as awesome as the grins on the faces of Beatles fans, with ages ranging from 10 to 90, who sang along to the music. Click on the video below to watch some snippets of the concert:
0:00 – A Hard Day’s Night
0:41 – Here Comes the Sun
1:00 – With a Little Help from My Friends
1:41 – Yesterday
1:25 – Ob-la-di, ob-la-da
[ Enough blabbing, here are the Liverpool pics!]
Coasteering Half-day Trip with Preseli Adventure – GBP 59
Rail ticket: London to Pembrokeshire – GBP 17
Rail ticket: Cardiff to Liverpool (same day) – GBP 51.50
Beatles Magical Mystery Tour – GBP 15.95