Classic Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour – by Susan Hammond
July 1 – 9, 2018
The birth of our Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour happened on New Year’s Eve 2017. My husband and I were enjoying a brief time with our youngest son, Jack, before he went out to celebrate with friends and ring in the New Year. We were discussing our family vacation plans for the next year, and Jack mentioned that he would really love to see Eric Clapton in concert since the soon-to-be 73-year-old was getting ready to retire. Well, before I knew it, we purchased four tickets to the British Summer Time in Hyde Park where Eric Clapton headlined this all-day event! Since we now had the genesis for our family vacation, we decided to “go big” and journey to other destinations in the UK that would fulfill this classic rock theme. We also invited our traveling pals Suzanne, Terry, and Matthew Levy to join us on this journey, and their love for classic rock was echoed throughout our trip.
First, we all flew into Manchester, England meeting our middle son Max (who is currently serving in the US Peace Corps and had journeyed over 20 hours from Manila). We then took the train to Liverpool starting our pilgrimage to the city of the Beatles, and I have to say we were not disappointed. To keep everyone awake until early evening, I arranged for a Beatles walking tour with a local Blue Badge guide. We ended this tour at the Liverpool Museum which is located on the Mersey River where a special John and Yoko free exhibit called Double Fantasy was on display to the public. The next day was fun while we explored Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s homes, plus even drove by the barbershop where those famous haircuts were manicured in the early 60’s. Also, The Beatles Story Museum was a huge hit amongst our group allowing everyone to be totally caught up in Beatlemania one more time before heading on to our next stop on tour.
One of the biggest surprises about this trip was the fact that England was still competing in the FIFA World Cup while we were in Liverpool. We found a cozy corner to watch the England vs. Columbia game together where England won in the final minutes during a shootout. By that time, some of us ventured out to a neighborly pub to enjoy the festivities of the win and assist all the locals in chanting “Bring it Home” in the streets of Liverpool. Then, of course, our trip would not have been complete without stopping by The Cavern Club that evening to feel the vibe and listen to local music.
On day three, feeling fully rested and Beatles fulfilled, we drove to the next stop on this family vacation – Stonehenge, surviving my husband driving the narrow back roads on the opposite side of the street. Now, I know this doesn’t follow the Rock ‘n’ Roll theme of this trip, however it was on everyone’s bucket list; so why not! If I were to make this side trip again, I would have dropped off the car outside of London to avoid city traffic and then take the train into the city. Rush hour, accidents, and driving on the opposite of the road can be stressful and easily avoided by taking advantage of the UK’s public transportation.
Since this was not our first time to London, we wanted to do something different by exploring some of the neighborhoods of this diverse city. There is no better way to absorb London’s glorious past and gleaming present than by taking a stroll along the southern bank of the River Thames. After hopping on the underground near our hotel and popping up at The London Bridge at the base of The Shard (U.K.’s tallest building), we walked along the river heading west until we ended up at the Borough Market. All our senses were working overtime at this unique market with its array of local and global produce at more than 100 specialty stalls. The Dickensian streets and railway arches were surrounded by the Southwark Cathedral which is London’s oldest Gothic church.
A couple of hours later, we headed across town to the posh restaurants and shops of Notting Hill. This neighborhood’s cobblestoned streets weave through scrunched alleyways and richly furnished Victorian townhomes, and its stylish shops and passionate antique vendors. Notting Hill’s famed Portobello Road Market is a rummager’s delight celebrated as much for its idyllic streetscapes as it is for its café lifestyle. On the weekends, Portobello Road is a carnival of musicians, antique stalls, and street food vendors. If you are a Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts fan, you might remember the movie called Notting Hill where the awkwardly funny Grant owned a travel book store on Portobello Road with a blue door. This book store is amazingly still there! That same evening we tubed back down to the River Thames to have dinner overlooking the south bank at OXO Tower celebrating my husband’s birthday. Great lively conversation, view, and delicious food!
In keeping with the rock ‘n’ roll theme, we elected to travel to Paris the next day visiting lead vocalist of the Door’s, Jim Morrison, grave site which is in NE Paris at the Pere-Lachaise cemetery. So, we took the Eurostar train from London to Paris for the day leaving from St. Pancras International rail station. I was not expecting the wave of travelers at 7 am that Friday morning. I felt I was in a cruise terminal embarking on a large ship with over 5,000 travelers. Although, the Eurostar personnel were very efficient boarding several trains at one time, passport control slowed down things some, plus security prior to boarding these trains was mandatory.
Paris was new to all three boys, so after visiting the cemetery, we took the Metro to Montmartre where many artists i.e. Monet, Picasso had studios or lived close by the end of the 19th century. There are many ways to approach the intimidating climb to this unique village that overlooks the city of Paris from the north. If you have the energy and good knees (which we did), then take the more than 300 steps that lead to the Basilica Sacre-Coeur. Or, another option is the mini-train that departs close to Moulin Rouge which takes about 35 minutes to reach Montmartre. Trust me, this train is not only for children; petite yet very practical!
Other stops in our short visit to Paris included a photo stop at Triumph de Arc and the infamous Eiffel Tower. And of course, as luck would have it, the French were playing in the FIFA World Cup the same afternoon we were exploring this beautiful city. So, we too celebrated with the locals as they beat Russia in the semi-finals. After recording more than 22,000 steps in Paris and briefly exposing our 3 young men to the French culture, food, and sports enthusiasm in one day, we relaxed on the train back to London feeling content and satisfied that we had a fabulous day.
I feel that London is not so much a city as a patchwork of villages. While Londoners do value their history and traditions, they are also restless and preoccupied with novelty and change. So rather than try to make sense of this chaotic city, you just get out there and give it a go to see what happens. The last neighborhood that we explored on this trip was Covent Garden. Upon grabbing a bite to eat at Nags Head, we walked to the over 400-year-old Piazza of Covent Garden Market, site of the famous flower, fruit and vegetable market from 1656 to 1974. This vivid market was a place much frequented by Charles Dickinson in the late 1800’s, and he loved this area so much that he mentioned the market many times in his novels. Like many other places in London, Covent Gardens has experienced various stages of life. From humble beginning as a Convent garden, it has moved through many guises over the centuries. From a home to the aristocracy and the main center of theatrical life in London it developed into the largest produce market in the world. Now it is a popular shopping and tourist site with the Royal Opera House as the anchor backdrop.
Winding down our week having fun and making family and friend memories, we all enjoyed listening to some of Eric Clapton’s classic hits such as Lay Down Sally, Wonderful Tonight, Layla and Tears in Heaven. My hope is that all the boys will remember how much we enjoyed our time together, were happy to see some new sights, received a subtle history lesson, and experienced a suitable blend of something a little different that will remain in their hearts forever.