We reached Kings Cross in plenty of time and had breakfast on a bench in this busy station. Very soon we heard an ominous announcement: it asked passengers for the 9:30 Edinburgh train to queue in aisle ‘C’ and apologised “for any inconvenience”. This meant that our train was late.
As we have reserved seats we remained seated on the bench until our platform was announced. Unfortunately, our places are not together and as the train is full, there is no possibility of finding a vacant pair of seats together.
The weather is warm but cloudy with sunny intervals and is somewhat humid. Of course, this may change as we pursue our journey north.
As the title indicates, we are going to Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne that is. As usual, we shall be travelling around, having acquired rail rovers for the purpose.
The clues in my Heading out post are explained as follows. Firstly, the castles. The first castle was a Norman motte and bailey built by Robert Curthose, the son of William the Conqueror. The second fortified building on the same site is the Castle Keep built by Henry II between 1168-1178.
The second clue refers to the visit of US President Jimmy Carter in May 1977, who greeted the crowds with “Haway tha lads!”, much to their delight.
When we arrived at Newcastle, we decided to take a taxi to the hotel. This was our first downer as we had a rather miserable taxi driver. When we told him our destination, he responded with obvious disappointment and was off-hand for the rest of the journey. Our little trip to the hotel was obviously not considered worth his while.
At the hotel, there were three receptionists on duty, one on the telephone ordering cabs for customers and two dealing with people. When it was our turn, these two disappeared, leaving us with the woman on the phone. Not exactly welcoming behaviour.
When the remaining receptionist was able to see to us, she was pleasant enough but said the room wasn’t ready. She stored our bags and we went out again, feeling somewhat low spirited as a result of the treatment we had received so far.
We walked about for a while looking for lunch, finally plumping for a branch of Frankie & Bennie’s.
After lunch, we had a further walk and discovered the new public library. We were very impressed with this. It has six floors but much of the ground floor forms an atrium rising about three floors, giving a very open and airy feel, like the interior of a cathedral.
On the top floor there is a viewing area, a carpeted space with a few chairs, and from here there are fine views of the city.
We then crossed the road to the Laing Art Gallery. Part of this is being refurbished but there is still plenty to see, including Japanese paintings and artifacts, a watercolour gallery and some modern works.
It also has a cafe where we had a rest and some refreshments before returning to the hotel to recover our bags and check in.
We were feeling a little more cheerful after our sour beginnings earlier and the assistant who checked us in somewhat restored our confidence in this hotel chain by being attentive, efficient and friendly.
The room is smaller than any other we have occupied at Premier Inn and in consequence of this, the bed is shorter. Let’s hope the latter circumstance is not going to be a problem.
I was feeling quite tired for some reason and thought I would have a little rest. It turned out to be a long rest as I fell asleep!
Eventually, I roused myself and we went out for further exploration and to look for supper. Thus it was that I discovered a new face of Newcastle.
It was Saturday evening and late enough for the young (and not so young) to be going clubbing. That statement, however, does not capture the flavour of the scene.
Near the hotel, every other building seems to be a club, complete with bouncers and queuing enclosure and all the rest. What is extraordinary is the people and how they dress. I have seen crowds of clubbers in London but they don’t look anything like the people I saw here.
The young men mostly wore shirts and slacks and there was nothing remarkable about them. But the women! Well, there was a strange sight indeed. I thought at first that there must be some carnival going on, so exotic were some of the costumes. I saw the shortest skirts I have ever seen but I also saw long skirts and complicated dresses that you might normally see only on the stage at the opera. And there were hats, as though the owners had been to a wedding or were on their way to Ascot. When there were no hats, there were often “fascinators” or other headgear. If not these, then there might be complex, multi-coloured hair arrangements.
I thought that my years in the city had made me hard to surprise but tonight I was surprised. It might sound unkind but I fleetingly wondered whether the city had organized a Festival of Bad Taste and these strangely clad women were competing for the prize. Of course, it was not so, and the startling display has simply been arrived at as the norm for this particular community. To my eye, however, something unique has been achieved.
We looked at a few places advertising food but none was particularly attractive so we continued walking. We then saw a sign indicating Chinatown and followed its indications. It was good that we did so because we soon found a street of Chinese restaurants far away from the crowds of clubbers.
We chose a modest-looking establishment called Mangos and found that they offered a “vegetarian banquet” at an equally modest price. It was very good and sufficiently copious.
After this we made our way slowly back towards the hotel, seeing the sights and taking photos as long as there was enough light. The streets were crowded but everyone seemed in good humour.
By the time we had made tea and sorted out our photos it was past midnight, so we will have a little lie-in tomorrow.
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