Europe

Touring the U.K. with Rail Europe

written by | Posted on May 1st, 2011

Today, Cardiff is a bustling city—an attractive mix of both the old and the new, with centuries-old buildings mixed in with newly redeveloped trendy stores and restaurants with a downtown area that offers a spacious, cobblestone pedestrian-only area surrounded by a bevy of storefronts. Nearby is the palatial-looking Cardiff City Hall that looks very much like a presidential palace and the classical looking National Museum and Gallery of Wales. Modern-day Cardiff Bay houses a variety of redeveloped structures and the relatively new and massive Wales Millennium Centre built in 2004, which is now the venue for a variety of theater, dance companies and concert fare.

From Cardiff, clients can head to Liverpool via a 4-hour train ride with a brief train change in Crewe. Here again, the train offers laid-back comfort in a slow-paced comfortable environment with the gorgeous countryside gliding by at eye level. Passengers can enjoy a light breakfast off the cart to start off their day and there’s plenty of kick-back time with a collapsible table convenient for working on one’s laptop.

Upon arrival in Liverpool at the Lime Street Station, this is an eye-opener. Riding through the city with its mix of old and new, this is not the grimy port city that many people envision. It’s a vibrant city, much of it rebuilt, with immaculate streets and a variety of tourist attractions, many of them related to the Beatlemania of the ‘60s which, by the way, is still very much alive here.

Albert Dock itself—recommend lunch at the restaurant at the Merseyside Maritime Museum—is a warehouse complex built in 1846 that was used as working docks and warehouses up to 1972, then redeveloped in the 1980s and still considered one of Britain’s maritime treasures. Today, it houses, in addition to the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the Tate Liverpool Gallery, a Holiday Inn hotel, offices and apartments, as well as a variety of restaurants, clubs and bars. One of its more popular attractions is the Beatles Story Museum, tracing the Beatles history, a special John Lennon section and a short “Fab4” 3D film.

The Beatles, in fact, are all over this town. There’s a Beatles Magical Mystery Tour that takes you to the places that inspired their songs such as “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields,” the place where John Lennon and Paul McCartney met, The Beatles’ homes and schools and, of course, the Cavern Club where they played early in their career. There’s another Beatles display at the Merseyside Ferry building. Here, too, you’ll also find the Hard Days Night Hotel and the Eleanor Rigby Hotel. Whew!

And, of course, you can’t go to Liverpool without taking the “Ferry, Cross the Mersey,” which offers Exploration Tours every day, with an ongoing narration of the port’s history of the port and city attractions.

Our 1-night home here is the boutique Heywood House Hotel, a former bank building built in 1799 that’s been renovated into Liverpool’s only ‘budgetique’ hotel with 35 luxuriously appointed rooms featuring free Internet access, Bose SoundDock iPod stations, sumptuous Hypnos beds and heavenly showers. It’s located behind the Noble House Restaurant & Bar, which shares part of the original bank building—it’s centrally located and very comfortable.

The point-to-point back to London is via first class on the Virgin Express, with service and comfort that rivals its sister company—Virgin Atlantic Airlines—with plush seating, and complimentary meals and drinks including wine, beer and spirits. It’s a 2-hour ride to Euston Station, and about a half-hour cab ride back to the hotel for a final night and time to reflect on the excellent service, efficiency and comfort of Rail Europe’s U.K. trains, not to mention the value of point-to point tickets that can only be taken advantage of if you buy them here in North America.

And remember, Samir says, “Our top selling destinations right now are London to York, London to Manchester and London to Edinburgh and often people will just fly into London and do one of those train trips—that’s the travel pattern. So a pass is going to be a waste, whereas with a point-to-point if you get it in advance, you’ll get a good deal. Often there’s some pretty good fares available with those point-to-point discounts fares, so you can save yourself a little bit of money. You won’t be paying like $259 for a point-to-point ticket, you’ll be paying a lot less. Most importantly, she adds, “Travel agents are able to buy them on our website at agent.raileurope.com.”