Monday, July 26, 2010
After all of my traveling through Mongolia and Beijing, it was time to bring things a bit closer to home. A few days after I returned from China, I took a day trip up north to Newcastle with some friends.
Our train arrived just before lunch, and we stepped out of the station to find ourselves in a classic English drizzle. Thankfully we had lunch plans to keep us out of the rain. Cafe 21 had come highly recommended, so we headed towards the River Tyne to try chef Terry Laybourne’s cuisine.
We weren’t disappointed. The two-course lunch menu of bean and chorizo soup followed by perfectly seared tuna was one of the best meals I’ve had in England. The Chilean Pinot Noir that accompanied the food was equally excellent. By the end of the meal I was almost convinced I needed to move to Newcastle. This feeling was heightened when the bill came and it was less expensive than a mediocre one course meal in London with no wine, coffee, or cocktails.
As if our moods had affected the atmosphere, we walked out of the restaurant to find blue skies and sunshine. Heading down to the Quayside area by the river, we found ourselves surrounded by the largest hen party I’ve ever seen (Americans: read bachelorette party). Head-to-toe in hot pink and black, the group settled in at a riverside pub for the afternoon.
Not stopping to join the party, we continued our walk to the Gateshead Millenium Bridge, a beautiful pedestrian arc spanning the Tyne. Crossing over to the Gateshead side of the river, we had great views of the bridges to the west, as well as The Sage, a mirrored cocoon of a music and conference venue.
Our final destination was the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. A former grain warehouse, the building had been repurposed as a visual arts center and museum. A friend of ours had recommended it to us, so we decided to pay a visit.
There were several exhibitions on that day, our favorites of which were British artist Cornelia Parker’s Doubtful Sound and Tomas Saraceno’s life-size model of a Black Widow’s web.
The former featured a circle of flattened brass band instruments. It was lit by a single light bulb in the center that splashed shadows all across the walls. The latter was interactive. Donning a pair of cloth boots, we climbed into and around the spider web. Less graceful than the Black Widow, we had to be careful not to get caught in the elastic cables.
After visiting the museum we walked across one of the high bridges over the river, and found ourselves back on the Newcastle side of the Tyne.
By then the hour was approaching pub o’clock, so we ducked into The Crown Posada. The pub, a skinny line of a room, featured historic decor and a long list of local beers and ciders. Absent from these was Newcastle Brown Ale. Confusing.
After a pint, we continued walking north to explore the beautiful Grey Street, which was once voted the finest street in Britain in a BBC Radio 4 poll. The street boasts of some of the best examples of Regency architecture in England. It culminates at Grey’s Monument, which is dedicated to Earl Grey, Prime Minister of Britain from 1830 to 1834.
By the time we reached the monument we were ready for another pint. This time we headed towards the train station and found ourselves at a cosy table in The Forth Hotel. For the second time that day, there was no Newcastle Brown Ale on tap, which I again found rather strange. While the boys ordered pints of ales and ciders, I sipped a super-girly half of Fruli, a strawberry flavored beer from Belgium.
By the time we finished, we had to head back to the train station. But first we needed to find an off-license for the boys to pick up a drink for the ride home. We were directed to the nearest one by a police officer at the train station, who seemed to know the way a little too well. My boyfriend decided to try the infamous Buckfast, a wine-like beverage with herbs and high caffeine content made by British monks. Needless to say, it tasted terrible.
Back in London, I was glad to have spent a day in Newcastle, even if it ended with bad tonic wine. While the city was a world away from the Mongolian countryside and the Great Wall of China, it was nonetheless a great day out in the UK.