On Arrivals is a nonfiction travel narrative series on the blog. Arriving in a new place can be thrilling, scary, joyous, nerve-racking, and exciting. You never know what to expect and the unfamiliarity of a new place can lend its share of challenges and rewards. I wanted to share stories of my own arrivals into foreign lands with you. Some tales show successes while others highlight failures. Some will make you laugh while some may make you cry. Some are anecdotal while some are serious. And many show that travel isn’t always as glamorous as it seems. You can read the first installment here, I hope you enjoy the second in this series!
Somewhere outside Liverpool, England during the Jurassic* Period
*just kidding. I meant the era before smartphones and uber
“Oh thank God,” I repeat, somewhat relieved. I turn back to Jen, “OK great, I’ll wait here while you go ask them for help.”
“Wait what? Why me?”
“You found them.”
“Exactly. I spotted them so you should be the one to flag them down.”
“I can’t. Mom told me not to talk to strangers.”
Jen rolls her eyes. “First, when have you ever listened to your mother? Second, you’re 20. And third…my mom said the same thing so it’s an invalid argument.”
“Oh come on, pleaseeee be the one to do it? I swear you’ll be fine. I mean look, they have a dog.”
“What the hell does a dog have to do with anything?”
“I once read serial killers start out showing violence toward animals. That one is still alive.” I say matter-of-factly. “So you’re good.”
Jen falls silent, gaping at me as if two heads sprout from my neck. The freckles mapping her face begin fading with the sun as it inches further below the horizon. I remain silent, waiting for her to bring this conversation back from the brink of ridiculousness. After all, Jen has always been the rational half of this friendship.
She opens her mouth and speaks slowly. “Orrrrr……they just haven’t killed it yet. Murderers are sadistic remember? They like to play with their victim. Gain their trust. Make them feel safe…then POW!!!!” Her arm cuts through the air in a chopping motion. “Decapitate ’em with a shovel.”
I wait a beat. “Oh jeez now I really want to go talk to them.”
“Do you see any other choice Kristen? We haven’t seen a soul since the bus driver kicked us off hours ago. It’s going to be completely dark soon.”
“I know but I just hate that there’s two of them. We’re outnumbered.”
“What?” It’s her turn to take a beat. “There’s two of us.”
“Yes, but they’re men. Therefore they outnumber us.”
“What kind of logic is that?”
“Oh I’m sorry, I guess my logic got off at the right bus stop.”
From the look now etched on Jen’s face, I suspect she may be the bigger threat. She mumbles something unflattering under her breath before throwing her hands in defeat. “Oh my gosh fine. I’ll go. We survived being locked in that fake hospital in the Czech Republic, I’m sure we’ll survive this.” She stalks off toward the two men, barely making it four steps before turning around to throw one last parting line, “Oh, and if you think you see even a teeny tiny semblance of trouble, you better come rescue me. Or die trying. Because if you don’t? I will come back and haunt the f*** out of you.”
Shivering from either her words, the chill in the air, or a culmination of both, I remain in place at the bus stop – the one we’d been forcibly dumped at two hours prior – on the rare chance another bus happens by.
A crystal ball would tell me one never does.
The catalyst for our most certain death appeared that night before in much the same way most catalysts for certain death appear – over pints of beer inside a dimly lit pub.
Jen and I sat huddled beneath the portrait of whichever duke this particular London tavern was named after, steadily ignoring our friends as they succumbed to the aphrodisiac-tic lilt of the English accent and flirted with the barman across the room. The waitress plopped down our fourth round of Fosters, an Australian beer chosen more for its cheap price than for its taste. I took a sip, mulling over the plan Jen had just finished pitching me. “Let me get this straight, you’re saying we should ditch everyone and sneak off to Liverpool. Tonight?”
“It’s nothing personal,” she explained. “It’s basic logistics. Remember Prague?”
Holding an esoteric allure few possess, Jen’s heady combination of vivaciousness, hilarity, and all around fun-ness along with an ability to slip into any social situation like a second skin made her the flame and us the moths. Her influence over our group ran deep. Its true depth exposing itself three weeks prior when everyone had gathered at a local internet cafe to book a much discussed trip to Dublin. Ever the contrarian (and at the time one of those arrogant but I’ve already done Dublin types), I had purchased a ticket to Prague instead, inviting anyone interested to tag along. They’d all politely passed before returning to their argument over which Irish Shamrocker tour sounded more appealing; until Jen, who’s fast-friendship made me the reluctant Robin to her Batman, switched gears and announced she’d be taking me up on my offer. Six days later, all twelve of us had boarded a plane to Prague.
I took another swig of my Fosters as the suppressed memories of the trip unleashed themselves. Twelve of us standing atop Charles Bridge arguing over what to do next. Twelve of us tripping over each other in our shared hostel dorm. Twelve us trying to stick together on public transport. Twelve of us wandering from restaurant to restaurant in the hopes of finding a table large enough to seat us all together. Twelve of us navigating the city after Jen and I gave up on our failed attempts to branch off. Jen had a point.
Traveling with 12 people f****** sucked.
Setting my beer on the table, I looked back at her and sighed. “You know your popularity is my personal hell right?” She didn’t say anything. There was no need. She already knew my answer.
The plan was simple, if not particularly sophisticated. We would lure everyone to the late-night bars lining the SoHo district, dance til the lights came on, stumble home in the wee hours of morn, and wait until everyone else passed out before quietly packing our bags. Sneaking out under the cloak of darkness, we’d meet in our building’s lobby in time to catch the 6am train to Liverpool with none being the wiser. The plan worked.
Not surprising since the collective age of our group averaged out to 19.
The problem with drunkenly hatching an escape plan is you’re so focused on getting away that little thought is put into what happens once you actually get where you’re escaping to. Emerging from Liverpool Station, we looked every bit the poster children for backpackers everywhere – two hungover 20-somethings, bags strapped at the waist and hair piled into buns so haphazard they’d render tears from a ballerina, wondering what the hell to do next.
We had no accommodation. No plan. No map. No idea of what there was to do in Liverpool apart from partake in Beatlemania which, considering Jen and I possess DNA from hippie fathers who continue throwing peace signs and use I’m hip in everyday conversation, was the whole reason we wanted to come to Liverpool in the first place. We’d been listening to The Beatles since our cozy womb days.
In order to explore the Fab Four’s hometown, we first had to find somewhere to stay.
The first hostel we approached had no vacancy. Blaming its close proximity to the train station, we held out hope for option number two. When that one proved full we chalked it up to the busy summer tourist season. After being turned away from stops number three and four, we tried places with a higher price tag. I made an inappropriate joke comparing our plight to that of Mary, Joseph, and their holy fetus when that exercise proved futile.
Mustering any last dregs of optimism, we entered hotel number seven. Only to be defeated by a laughing receptionist who, in-between breaths, informed us Paul McCartney was performing that night. The whole town had been booked solid for months. Taking pity on our fallen expressions, he composed himself long enough to secure us a reservation at the nearest available hotel – a Premier Inn 50 minutes outside Liverpool.
That was almost half the time it’d taken us to get in from London.
One roundtrip taxi ride out to the boonies (ironic as many Britons think Liverpool is the boonies) to dump our bags off and back, Jen and I finally made it to the Magical Mystery Tour Office, the mother walrus of all Beatlemania pilgrimage companies. Wanting to goo goo g’joob inside the multi-colored bus as it made the rounds to every iconic Beatles site, I approached the desk clerk and asked for a ticket to ride. A quip I’m sure he’s never heard before.
“Sorry. All tours er sold out.”
Of course they were. I turned to search for Jen who’d mentioned something earlier about trying to flirt her way into the Employees Only toilet. “Wait,” the clerk yelled, motioning me back over. He leaned in close and whispered “Yous didn’t ‘ear this from me.” I gave a slight nod. “The tour is nowt special. Yous can do it on yer own.” He slid a map across the counter. “Everyth’n yous wanna see is marked on e’yer.”
Calling the slim foldout a map was an insult to cartographers far and wide. Main streets stretched across its surface, exaggerated to appear twice their size while smaller streets got the ax entirely. Cartoon depictions of buildings, churches, town-homes, and parks marked various points of Beatles interest. Though no one could describe this caricature of a map as drawn to scale, there was a quiet confidence in its simplicity. We felt assured this easy-to-figure-out blueprint would prove useful.
And it did.
For the first couple hours at least.
Jen and I began our self-guided tour with a history refresher at The Beatles Story, an exhibition detailing the tale of how four young lads from a poor industrial town rose to become members of the world’s greatest band. From there we hopped on the local bus to Strawberry Fields, the park grounds of a former children’s home where John Lennon played as a child. Around the block is the church hall where Lennon first met Paul McCartney. The sun beamed down on us as we snapped photos of a gravestone resting in the church’s adjacent cemetery, the name Eleanor Rigby carved in situ. It’s a headstone Lennon and McCartney claim having no memory of despite penning a song of the same name.
With the morning’s previous trials now behind us, our day continued with ease. We skipped the childhood homes of both Ringo Starr and George Harrison (a slight guilt weighing on us because they always get the short-end of the stick when it comes to Beatles praise) and proceeded to Lennon’s home. After the obligatory photo-sesh, Jen and I consulted our “map”, noting we had two stops left before calling it a day.
The icon of a traditional English townhouse marked the locale of our next site – McCartney’s childhood home. It sat on the opposite end of the map from where we stood now, much too far to walk to. Having successfully navigated the bus system earlier, we felt confident and hopped aboard another double-decker. Settling in on the upper level, we watched the suburbs of Liverpool pass by. Each thinking the other was on the look out for street signs so as not to miss our stop. It took fifty minutes to realize neither of us had been paying any attention at all.
On the corner of Are We There Yet Lane and Confusion Avenue, the bus came to a stop. The driver emerged from below and took stock of his last two remaining passengers. Then kicked us off. With an unhelpful “yous should ‘ave gottun off quite a few stops ago,” he closed the door and drove off, leaving us here in the present.
Jen is now waving me over. I assume this means the coast is clear and no one is getting murdered today. Abandoning my post, I approach her, the two men, and their dog.
I smile inwardly as she introduces me to James and Ollie, finding the pure Britishness of their names amusing.
“Aye ‘ear yous two got yoselves a bit lost,” the one called James says in the thick Merseyside accent often associated with Liverpool.
I nod as Jen interjects, “You got that right. Tell Kristen here what you told me. How far are we from Liverpool?”
“Over an ‘our darl’n.”
Jen continues talking in her I-know-something-you-don’t-but-wait-til-you-find-out tone, “Now tell her how long it takes to get from Lennon to McCartney’s house?”
“Less ‘an 20 minutes by foot. Dat map yous got is quite shit.”
I let out a small burst of exasperated laughter. A. Twenty. Minute.Walk.
Jen interrupts me as I open my mouth to speak. “Don’t bother. I already asked. Next bus isn’t until tomorrow. James and Ollie are kindly giving us a ride back to town.”
“It’s nah problem at all,” says Ollie, “Juss come wi’ us ter drop the dog off and we’ll get go’n.”
I thank them and we make our way down the hedge-lined sidewalk, passing rows of identical Georgian townhomes. Turns out James and Ollie are brothers, each with a wife and a couple young children. Upon finding out Jen and I are from Florida, we spend the rest of the walk discussing their favorite place in all of America – Disney World. I pause as we reach their driveway, assuming we’re to wait here while they put the dog inside. Instead they invite us in for tea. We accept; however, quickly retracting said acceptance when we enter and see the look on Ollie’s wife’s face as she stands over the stove plating dinner. Someone may be murdered tonight after all. And it isn’t us.
“Poor Ollie is screwed,” I whisper to Jen as we cram into the backseat of their smart car, “‘Course I’d be pissed too if my husband brought home two young college chicks.”
On the drive into town we find out James and Ollie were born and raised in Liverpool. Only 8 years McCartney’s junior (give or take a year for one of the brothers), they regale us with tales of what it was like witnessing the band’s rise to stardom. Taking an intentional detour through Penny Lane, they point out various spots referenced in the popular song before letting off on the gas a few blocks over, stopping in front of the fire brigade where their cousin works. He’s close friends with McCartney’s brother, Mike and insist he’s the fireman mentioned in the song. As they rattle off stories of their cousin’s experience as an official member of the McCartney family, I wonder if any of them are true. I suspect Liverpool is a place where everyone has a cousin, brother, uncle, or niece once removed who has ties to The Beatles. Whatever the case, I hang on to every word, wanting my own connection (however tenuous it may be) to the foremost influential band in history.
Expecting James and Ollie to continue towards the city center, I’m surprised when instead they pull up outside McCartney’s home. James makes a remark about needing photographic evidence of the world’s longest journey from Lennon to McCartney’s house ever. Jen and I happily clamber out of the car to strike a pose.
Not wanting to impose on their kindness any further, we insist we can find our back way from here.
As James climbs back in the car, Ollie leans forward in the passenger seat to yell through the open door, “At least now yous can tell yer friends you’ve been here, there, and everywhere in Liverpool!” Leaving us on the curb, they drive off with one last toot of the horn.
“How long do you think he’s been practicing that line in his head?” asks Jen.
“Mm, probably the whole drive over,” I loop my arm through hers, “So, what’s next?”
“Beatles’s tribute band at the world-famous Cavern Club?”
“Sure. How do we get there?”
“Let’s see.” She pulls the map from her purse. “According to this I think we need to take the bus.”
Have you ever gotten lost when traveling only to find it made your experience that much better? Let me know in the comments below!
Why Suffer From FOMO When You Don’t Have To?
The current Travel Dispatch journey kicked off in Panama on Nov 15 and is showcasing a classic “round the world” loop as I weave my way from Latin America to The Balkans, Eastern Europe to the Middle East, and Southeast Asia back to the US over a period of 12 months and with a budget of $25,000. Finally along live by subscribing below!