I can’t believe it. Si and I are finally getting away, and he couldn’t be happier that it’s to the hometown of his beloved football team Liverpool FC.
As I said in my first previous posts regarding travel, we have been desperate to escape our living situation in order to revive our relationship, and languish in some much needed quality time. When the opportunity arose to go on a UK based adventure courtesy of the National Express I jumped at the chance. The National Express is the largest operator of scheduled coach services in the UK, operating high frequency services linking more than 900 destinations – a fact which made the decision of exactly where to visit a pretty difficult one. A nice problem to have though! After much mulling over, and considering a few options including Bath (picturesque) and Manchester (great shopping and home to my fave football team), we settled on Liverpool. I had taken a trip with my friend Ed a few years back, visiting Anfield and a swanky cocktail bar with a panoramic view of the city. We also headed to The Cavern for a quick drink soundtracked by a live band – as a music geek that was an essential stop for me. I grew up with the Beatles, my mum even went to one of their gigs when she was a young swinging sixties babe, so I love that Liverpool has so many musical history references.
Si has only had very fleeting visits while on tour with his band, Young Guns. His experiences of Liverpool have been largely spent in dingy dressing rooms in the back-end of venues, rocking out on stage, or running out to grab a quick bit of food before or after soundcheck. I thought it’d be nice to treat him to a visit of Anfield, knowing he’d appreciate it far more than this Man U fan did, and then finish the day with a meal at a much reccommended restaurant.
As well as pondering whether to travel to alternative UK cities, we had also wondered whether we could use the National Express journey as part of a European weekend break – National Express operates coach services direct to the terminal for all major UK airports 24 hours a day with 1,100 airport services every day. But with our trip to California imminent (just a few days away) I thought a cost-effective UK break would be the sensible option. We are going to need as much money as possible to tick everything off our California to-do list, while hopefully leaving us enough money to be able to book motels that aren’t bed-bug ridden or in too dodgy neighbourhoods.
I have to be honest that I am not a particularly regular user of the National Express currently, but purely because on the whole my commutes involve travelling from my home in Surrey to London, and I have sadly had very little time for pleasure trips in the last couples of years. But I used to use the service when I was in a long distance relationship with a nice chap who lived in Bristol, and always found it a reliable, affordable and comfortable method of travel. I always enjoyed staring out of the window, drifting off into my thoughts while gazing at the everchanging landscapes speeding past. But a few years on I was interested to see how the service has changed and improved, particularly because this form of travel also fits really well with my ongoing quest to be more conscious of the environment, and the way I impact it in my everyday actions.
As you guys know I have made the transition to vegan eating and cruelty-free beauty, and I am endeavouring to reduce my use of plastic, but there’s still much more I could be doing. I don’t drive so I’m helping out there to a degree, and where possible I lift-share if I am going to events where I know friends or even acquaintances might be going too. As I mentiond before I am also a regualr user of trains, but right now with all these delays becoming part of my daily routine, it is not a good time to focus on that service….this blog post could end up in a very dark place if we did!
But travelling by coach is the most environmentally friendly form of public transport – generating up to five times less Co2 per passenger than the average car journey.
On a per passenger kilometre basis, a full modern (Euro VI emissions-standard) 56 seat capacity coach performs better on emissions than the average private car, and also uses road space much more efficiently. Investment also means that the average age of the National Express fleet is less than 5 years old and any vehicles purchased since summer 2014 meet the latest standards for engine emissions (Euro 6). National Express’ policy is to not leave engines running for prolonged periods of time so vehicles are fitted with a mechanism that automatically switches off the engine after 5 minutes idling. So while being great for our bank balances – they have one-way advance fares booked online for just £7.90 for an adult (so for two adults going there and back plus the £1 booking fee it’s £32.60 altogether – our consciences are also feeling pretty great too.
If I’m being honest I can’t say Si was particularly thrilled when I said we’d be travelling via coach rather than via the comfort of our car – he’s a creature of habit, and despite his years of being on the road, he’s got used to being at home now, and gets a bit flappy when he’s away from the routine of being the designated driver. Plus he is completely smitten with his car. But his main concern was that he’d uncomfortably hot – his biggest and most frequent life peave. He’s become a grumpier version of his already grumpy self (I often sing the One foot in the Grave theme tune to him) during this prolonged heatwave. His body cant seem to regulate temperature at the best of times, but the last few weeks he’s been permanently mopping his brow, having at least 3 cold showers a day, while constantly vocalising how unbearably muggy it is – which is super fun for me as you can imagine. But I saw via the information online that the coaches have air-con and therefore that the journey would be a lot more pleasant than the conditions we have to put up with at home. After I confirmed that, his frown eased and I could tell he was wa starting to feel more relaxed. I was secretly preying that it would be effective and fully functioning on the day we were travelling.
We booked into the YHA for our overnight stay. I’d heard that it’s time to abandon the old fashioned perception of what a hostel is, but I did want personal evidence to assure me of this. But it really did appear from all the feedback I found online and via friends, that they’ve come a huge way in terms of aesthetics and facilities, and have become an attractive option rather than just one you seek out due to lack of funds.My last hostel stay was during a weekend trip to Prague back in my single days. This particular one ticked all the hostel stereotypes – the stuffy, cheesey-feet smelling dormitory room of beds (about 12 in this case), thin and lumpy matresses on very basic bed frames, and a sleepless night due to very noisy allebriated fellow travellers.
The Trip Advisor reviews of the Liverpool YHA were overwhelmingly positive, gushy even. It seems everyone that has stayed has been thoroughly impressed with the accommodation they have to offer, not to mention it’s prime location and helpful staff. I was excited to find out whether my experience would match.
The aspect of travel that always causing me anxiety is worrying about access to toilets. With IBS, bladder issues and ongoing Kidney problems, being able to get to a toilet with haste is an essential, and a aspect of a trip which can dictate whether its even possible and/or enjoyable for me. Feeling panicked about the prospect of having an accident in public doesn’t exactly encourage relaxation or the joy that a travel adventure SHOULD deliver. I really wanted to mention this, as I know many people that read this blog battle with similar health issues and will have similar worries. I’ve suffered a number of very near accidents travelling via train in the last year or so because of a lack of toilets on the underground, trains with no toilets, having to find correct change to go through the turnstiles, or from waiting in a queue.
If you suffer with issues related to going to the toilet you will rigidly plan your journey’s with this in mind. You may factor in time to go to the toilet. Whether I need to or not I always go at Waterloo, prior to getting o the tube and then work out whether I am going to be able to make the whole tube journey without needing to go, or whether I’ll need to head up for air at the end of one part of my journey before getting on the next tube line. When your train without loos stops or takes longer than anticipated, and when you are not informed how long you may be delayed on the tube/train, it can be incredibly stressful. So knowing that the National Express Coaches have a toilet on board already makes this a much more appealing prospect for me, having access to it at any point of the journey should I need to really put my mind at ease. Of course when you drive you can stop off at service stations if needed, but there’s not much you can do for all those miles in-between, so in a way this is even better for me on that front. Also while we are talking all things ‘toilet’, there are also disabled toilets at Victoria Coach station should the steps down to the toilets not be easy for you to travel down to.
Finding the gate for our particular coach was very easy, after a short walk from Victoria station and just a quick check of the information board and we knew to head to Gate 7. It wasn’t long before the friendly member of staff was checking our tickets and teasing Si about the fact I was carrying the heavy bags – by the way they have a generous luggage allowance of two medium sized suitcases, each weighing no more than 20kg and a small piece of hand luggage. We left promptly at the scheduled 10.30 time prior to which the same cheeky chap instructed us to wear seat-belts for the journey. It was nice to feel looked after!
Using their entertainment App, Vuer, where you can watch movies, TV shoes, read magazine and even shop on Amazon.
After that we were all ready to use the 6 hour journey how we wanted. I have to admit the length of the drive was a bit off-putting at first, but it actually proved to be a very welcome motivator to be productive and get stuff done. We both got our laptops out – I wrote some blog posts that till now I hadn’t found time to sit down and bash out, and after a quick post lunch nap, Si got going on writing his best man speech, which he’s due to deliver in California in three weeks time. When you have jobs that go way beyond 9-5 it’s often hard to find time to just sit and do. I often find myself with hours of wasted footage that never ends up being edited and made into vlogs, and lists of ideas for blog posts that never get realised. Then there’s all the life admin stuff that starts to pile up, because if you do get a spare moment to chill these tiresome tasks are the last thing you want to do. Here we were forced (in a nice way) to sit in one place for an extended amount of time, without distractions aside from the lovely views and the temptation to drool over Chris Pratt in a movie that was available to watch on their entertainment App.
It’s the most productive we’ve had the opportunity to be in ages. Then we felt less stressed because our mental checklist had been reduced. This put us in good stead to enjoy a more carefree stay in Liverpool. Si also realised how much he’s been missing out on while being the long standing designtated driving. He could actually enjoy the scenery for once rather than focus on the motorway tarmac and back ends of vehicles, and most importantly he would be able to chill out with a beer or two as he was’t driving.
Si initially wasn’t particularly chuffed when I said we’d be staying in YHA either, (high maintenance or what!) purely because his decade playing bass in a band has meant that he’s spent a lot of time travelling from bus bunks, to budget hotels, to slightly grotty hostels. When I challenged his diva-ish ways, he explained that for trips that are intended for pleasure, non-work quality-time, he just doesn’t want to continue that trend. While I completely sympathise and understand his feelings, I’m someone that some people have said is almost too low maintenance. I’m fine with basic, in fact I’m pretty ok with below basic – ‘roughin’ it as my mum would call it. When I was well enough to, I used to love camping and had no problem with getting a bit grimy. However, I assured Si that ‘roughin’ it was the last thing we’d be doing by checking into the YHA Liverpool for a night. As I said before I’d checked out the reviews on Trip Advisor, looked through the gallery pictures, and was soothed that this establishment would be very different to the old stereotype of this kind of accommodation.
And I’m so pleased to report that it not only matched the positive reviews, we came away feeling it had completely exceeded our expectations. From start to finish our stay there was a complete pleasure. First off, the location was great, with the epic Albert Docks in near sight, and our Liverpool One Coach station just a few minutes walk away. By coincidence the two places we chose to eat while we were there were also a very short walk away too.
As you walk up to the building you see outdoor bean-bag cushions on the grass and a ping pong table, which immediately makes you feel that this is going to be a fun, inviting, and family friendly place to stay.
The communal space feels like you’re in some super funky cafe/bar/youth club hybrid, with a black and white Beatles motif on the wall just to remind you of the fact your are in a location steeped in musical history.
The guy on reception was a delight while checking us in too. So upbeat and friendly and ready to offer any help regarding our stay and any activities we had planned. It was a very fast and easy process to get our set of keys, and within a couple of minutes we were headed to our room on the first floor.
No prison-like doors, we had a proud Beefeater soldier on ours, which lead us into an incredibly spacious ensuite room with a double bed and a bunk – we would end up having the whole room to ourselves for the night for an amazing £39. No cheesy smells either, it was completely fresh!
The only thing I can think of to mention is that their are no TV’s, but we took on the challenge and still managed to tether our phones to ensure we could watch Love Island on our Laptops – I know, we are losers, but we are hooked, okay? There’s also no towels or toiletries in the room, so make sure you come prepared for that. Apart from that the room is perfectly well equipped. In fact in many ways it surpassed many hotels that we’ve stayed in over the years. One of my hotel pet peeves is a lack of plugs, or ill thought-out positioning of plugs, but in our room I counted at least 9 plug sockets in very logical locations. Every bed has one located very closely to it because the rooms are often booked out by individuals that don’t know each other, so it makes sense that everyone should get their own personal one. But there’s more dotted around the room, perfect for people’s hairdryers, straighteners and camera chargers for instance. We also loved the little shelves by the bed for all your personal items.
The shower room and separate bathroom were no frills, but spotlessly clean and perfectly functional like the rest of the room. When I said I was staying in a YHA on my insta-stories a follower DM’d me asking if I would be safe. I assured her that I felt incredibly safe and secure, I had no worries on that front. I felt more than safe, I felt relaxed, happy and comfortable.
I ended up being very pleased to have had the option of the bunk in our room. Si’s snoring reached an all time high, so I escaped to the bottom bunk and had a very cosy sleep in there minus my personal foghorn. Si woke up in the morning saying he’d had the best sleep he’d had in ages, and that he had forgotten what it had felt like to feel refreshed. So thank you YHA, you delivered me a less grumpy version of my boyfriend, even if it was for one day only.
Feeling chirpy we headed down downstairs and decided to pay the £6.50 for brekkie after finding out they offered up Linda McCartney Vegan sausages as part of their fry up buffet. So an orange juice, a few delicious sausages, hash browns, beans and toast later, we were feeling energised for our last few hours in Liverpool.
One thing that struck both of us was just how nice the place felt – we just really enjoyed being in the environment and felt at complete ease the whole time. One of those hard to pinpoint things that you just feel and know, like when you go househunting and you feel in your gut whether it’s the place for you or not. A large part of that was down to the staff, who we had a number of short but day brightening chats with during our brief stay. One of our fave members of staff gave us great tips on which buses to get to Anfield and how to save money doing so, while talking about the Everton rivalry and giving us a good ribbing about supporting the Reds. But it wasn’t just the staff, we felt warmed seeing strangers muck in together n the communal kitchen sharing cooking duties and eating meals together. It just had a very warm vibe, and you could tell everyone felt safe, happy and looked after. It also continued the theme of community, something we felt throughout our stay in Liverpool. It’s amazing how uplifting and enriching it can be to be in a place where strangers smile and chat to eachother. I couldn’t help but find myself wishing that London was a bit more like this.
Mowgli Street Food
When I was searching vegans option in Liverpool this was one of the first places that popped up. I instantly knew it was for me, mainly because it reminded me of my absolute favourite London dining spot, Dishoom.
‘Mowgli is all about how Indians eat at home and on their streets. She was born to feed the raw need Indians have for tiffins full of fresh bright intense flavour. Mowgli is not about the intimate, hushed dining experience. It is about the smash and grab zing of healthy, light, virtuosic herbs and spices.’
We decided that this evening meal was going to be our biggest splurge of the trip. It’s the sort of restaurant where you order a bunch of dishes that you can share so you can all tuck in to them and experience as many flavours and types of dishes as possible. This is handy if you are on a budget as you can decide how mad you want to go with this style of eating. We treated ourselves to some delicious cocktails to start our dining in celebratory fashion. I went for the Mowgli Twister which was a non alcoholic option – zingy, fruity, delicious.
The presentation of the dishes was begging for an instagram flat lay shot – all the rich and warm coloured dishes contrasting against the metal containers. I loved eating on a silver metal plate, even if it did remind me of that dinner scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which really disturbed me as a child ( ‘Ooh, monkey Brain).
While we devoured the food with glee, satisfaction, and numerous yummy noises, we did both feel that it would be an even better experience as a meat eater (not that we are encouraging that). They had a very extensive list of meat curry’s that I imagine would sound mouth watering carnivores reading the menu. The combination of ingredients, herbs and spices sounded awesome, so we felt a tad bereft to have to miss out on those, despite the many lovely vegan options we ordered.
We had actually planned to go to a place called Down the Hatch, as it had a menu that was hitting our burger cravings at that time, but we were disappointed to find out that on this particular day it wasn’t open till 5. Luckily we’d had some great vegan recommendations come through via Twitter. Egg cafe had been mentioned numerous times, so we knew where to head instead.
It was slightly off the beaten track and nestled into a street rather unassumingly, despite its colourful paintwork and handpainted sign outside. It was as though I was drawn to it though as I happened to look to my left just as we were passing it. Apparently some magic goes on on the floor below, so perhaps they used their crystals and put a spell on me.
Up a few flights of charmingly rickety wooden steps, painted in purposefully clashing colours, and you reach the floor of the eatery. Instantly we knew this was very different to anywhere we had been before. It had a very homely and rustic feel, and I mean that in a very positive sense. The days meal options are displayed to tantalise, and detailed on some chalks boards behind. It all looked delicious in a comforting and uncomplicated way.
There’s little quirks throughout – the fact you have to pay by cash, that you’re given a ticket (much like you are at street food vendors and canteens), the unusual artwork on the walls, the uneven wooden floorboards and mismatched furniture. It has it’s own specific charm, something you can’t fake. Utterly authentic in it’s ethos.
You could tell that this is a beloved place in the area too, as it was filled with people reading books, tapping on their laptops, meeting large groups of friends – everyone obviously feels relaxed and comfortable to do so. Si and I imagined that if we lived in Liverpool we’d choose to work from there, drinking coffee and enjoying their scrummy food throughout the day. The perfect community haven.
We went for the set meal options which gives you a starter, main, dessert and coffee for £10.75 – not bad huh? So we both had a Lentil and Apricot soup which came with the most delicious garlic bread. Si then went for the vegan Bolognese with pasta and a salad, while I went for a Potato Masala (yes I am obsessed with Indian flavours). For dessert we had a chocolate crunch, which was so generous in size we shared one and saved the second for our journey home. The food was homely and filling, with very generous portion sizes, delivered speedily and hot.
The Albert Docks
My first memory of the seeing the Albert Docks was when I was frequently off from school with tonsilitus in the 90’s, watching day-time TV and enjoying watching ‘grown up’ shows This Morning, which used to be filmed here and presented by OG’s Richard and Judy. I made further great memories in my journalist days when I came to a press conference with Julian Lennon and his mum, regarding a new part of the Beatles museum. I stayed in the Premier Inn that is nestled within the red brick of this epic structure. The sheer size of the hulking great building is an impressive sight to behold, but the area as a whole has so much to offer visitors. The Tate is within it’s walls, as well as restaurants, cafe’s, shops and pubs. There’s also art installations dotted about, in this trip’s case some furry feral creatures that look as though they may have made an escape from the gallery of their own accord.
There’s lot of very quaint and cute old fashioned food trucks and ice cream vans which add character and old fashioned romance to the place, add in a sunset and the views of the mersey and you have the perfect setting for a post date stroll.
We took a few minutes just to admire the views while we were here, because it’s such an interesting mix of the old and elegant architecture, and bold and stark contemporary design. It shouldn’t work but the juxtoposition of styles is striking.
Si was so enamoured with this particular spot he asked me to google rightmove to see just how many mortgages we might need to take out to get one of the apartments within the Albert Dock. I think that’s a clear sign he’s fallen for Liverpool’s charm.
There’s so much more we’d have liked to have done, but it was just a fleeting visit this time round. If you’re planning a visit and want to soak up all the Beatles Nostalgia you could head to The Beatles experience (as well as The Cavern). History buffs might enjoy China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors display at the World Museum – I hear it is very much worth a visit. Arty types should try and head to the Tate – I wish I had been able to drag Si there as it was situated very close to within Albert Docks. There also looks to be some really great shopping opportunities – as well as Liverpool One shopping centre there’s some very cool one off boutiques and vintage stores like Cow that are well worth stopping by.
Anfield Stadium Tour
There are deals on sites like Groupon for activities like this, so make sure you check before you buy the standard £20 adult fare – which I actually think is a very fair price for the experience. As advised by the lovely lady at YHA we decided to get a bus instead of an Uber to save some further pennies. She directed us tot he bus stop just a short walk away and told us to get the 26 bus, opting for the day rider ticket as that would work out cheaper than two single trips.
The journey was so quick we arrived with about half an hour to spare before our tour time slot, so of course we decided to be mega fans and take as many potentioal instagram shots as possible at all the photo worthy sites around the stadium.
We were warned vie email prior to our visit that two areas would be out of bounds on the day of our tour – the managerial dug-out and the Kop Stand – because the grass is in a very important stage of it’s growth and grounds people don’t want us ruining it – the footballs hate to have soggy tootsies. It didn’t dampen our time at all though, as there’s so much to take in, learn about, and experience on the tour, and there’s plenty of other exciting behind the scenes insights.
I got a real kick out of seeing where they all eat their dinners after their games – all finely tuned plates devised by nutrionists of course, and it was weirdly cool to see where they go to the toilet too.
It was also fun to sit exactly where the players do when Jurgen is giving them a half time talk or post-match grilling. We were also amused to see how less plush the away team dressing rooms are in comparison. The Liverpool team have these fancy lit up secret locker cupboards behind where you can see their shirts are hanging, but in the away team dressing room they just have one lone peg/nail to hang something on.
The moments below were Si’s personal highlights. I could see that his mind was drifting off, imagining the emotional sounds of the crowds uniting in voice to You’ll never Walk Alone or fantasising about scoring a winning goal in the FA Cup final. I could tell he’d well and truly really gone to dreamland when I heard him asking a member of staff about season tickets, only to be heartbroken when he was told that there’s a 25 year waiting list.
I hate to say this, but I genuinely can’t imagine another football ground being able to top the quality of this tour. It was so smoothly run, the staff were clearly so passionate about Liverpool and the grounds that it was incredibly infectious, and the use of tech on the audio tour is strikes a great balance of being contemporay without being confusing. The great thing about choosing the audio tour instead of the guided tour is that you can take as long as you like, spending longer time in certain areas, less on some, with the option to skip some of the info that doesn’t interest you as much. But I urge you soak up as much of the information as possible about the Liverpool legacy, it’s incredible heritage, it’s emotional rollercoaster style of play, and it’s line of incredible club changing managers. Even I came away being a fan, and as a Man U supporter that’s saying something.
This was a completely unplanned part of the trip. We were on route to Albert Docks after our trip to Mowgli Street Food for dinner and randomly glanced into a shop window to see two adorable grey cats snoozing in the window. If you watch my instastories you’ll know how much we love cats, more often than not cats that don’t belong to us, so we knew instantly we were going in. The good thing about this place is that you have the choice to enjoy cake and a drink on one of the three floors if you wish, or you can just pay per £1 per 5 minutes to come and hang out with the furry and non furry ones (it was my first time stroking a sphinx cat). So if like us you are travelling on a budget, you can just allow yourself time with the felines that you can afford.
We stayed 15 minutes, and enjoyed every second of it. Si fell in love with a chatty white cat called Max, while I had a soft spot for a very affectionate classic black moggy called Willow.
So that brings you pretty much up to speed. Do go and watch my half hour blog of our trip to Liverpool with the National Express for more info, money saving tips, and hopefully a few giggles too. I truly hope it shows you that travel doesn’t have to cost a fortune to deliver joy, escapism and comfort. Seeing different parts of the country/world shouldn’t be for only the lucky few, we all deserve to be enriched by new sights, sounds, flavours and experiences, and I hope this blog has encouraged the doubtful amongst you to seek out those affordable adventures. I promise you they’re there for the planning. A good place to start is the National Express with it’s competitive prices with thousands of tickets for £5 or less (plus booking fee). And if you haven’t yet, please do give a YHA a chance, for me it has been an absolute game changer and I can’t wait to start a lifelong tour of UK YHA’s.
P.S Wheelchair lifts (available on most services – passengers are advised to pre-book)
Booster seats and the option to bring a child seat (subject to suitability and the passenger will be responsible for fitting)
For more information and to find the best value fares visit www.nationalexpress.com or call 0871 7818181
Please Note – My National Express journey was gifted for review purposes.