[August 18, 2007 – Saturday]
We immediately ran into our first hiccup of this road trip moments after we left Birmingham city proper.
You see, unlike Malaysia, most of the motorways (highways) in the UK are toll free. In fact, when we were planning for this road trip, we did not even know tolled roads existed in the UK. We thought all roads in the UK were free of charge.
Apparently we did not know enough. Apparently, there are two ring roads in the UK, one for London and one for Birmingham. They are built to allow motorway users to bypass the heavy traffic going into and out of both these cities. Understandably so, because London is the largest, and Birmingham is the second largest city in the UK. And both these roads are tolled.
To make matters worse, we were supposed to have no business coming to this tolled road, we only ended up having to come face to face with the toll booth because took a wrong turn. And ended up being £3 poorer for it! And ended up having to take another detour through some village roads to rejoin the correct road, wasting one precious hour!
So what was supposed to be a 5 hours drive ended up being 6 hours instead, and we arrived at Newcastle fairly late into the night.
Well, not Newcastle to be exact. Newcastle is built beside the River Tyne. That’s why it is called Newcastle-upon-Tyne. We arrived at the city just across Newcastle, but on the opposite side of the river, and this city is called Gateshead.
It didn’t matter though, because the things that we wanted to see are actually NOT inside Newcastle, but on the River Tyne herself. And it didn’t matter that it was night, because it was the night view we were after.
What things we wanted to see? Well, these things…
It is a very nice bridge, this Millennium Bridge. And have you noticed how the colors lighting up the arch are different? Yes, it changes color continuously. There’s also green and red colors not shown here.
The building on the left in the photo above, that’s The Sage Gateshead. When we were there in 2007, it was a rather new and state of the art performance center. Basically all sorts of musicals and art performances and conferences and rock concerts were held here. And that bridge on the far right, that’s the Tyne Bridge.
This is an impressive looking bridge! Even more so at night!
And then I’m going to show you an even nicer photo…
Magnificent, isn’t it? Views like this made that grueling 6 hours drive so worth it in the end…
My friend took these photos of Newcastle. He is a great photographer isn’t he? He now lives in Tokyo. If you are ever in Tokyo and wants to engage his photography services, let me know… 😉
[August 19, 2007 – Sunday]
We only wanted to come to Newcastle for those bridges and night views. The following morning, we woke up, not knowing what to do. So we took a drive into Newcastle city, hoping to come across interesting places to see. We also met some other friends who were on a road trip too, but on different routes.
St James’ Park, home of Newcastle United. What’s Newcastle United? Well, nothing much, merely a joke of a football club (Geordies will kill me for this). To be honest, I actually pitied the fans. You see, when Roman Abramovich (rich Russian oil tycoon) bought Chelsea a few years ago and transformed Chelsea from a crap team into a world beater, it started a trend where all the rich people wanted to buy an English Premier League club.
The problem was, not all these rich owners bought the clubs out of passion. Some saw it as an investment, a money making vehicle. Newcastle United was bought by one such owner, a certain American called Mike Ashley. Unfortunately for them, these English clubs are actually bad investments. They regularly make losses year over year so the owners actually have to prop the clubs up with their own money. Mike got a taste of it, didn’t like it, and he tried to sell the club after a year or two. But he couldn’t find a buyer.
So he decided to turn this football club around by running it like a business. Sold all the good players and replaced them with cheap players, and promptly got them relegated to the lower leagues, making them even more worthless. They just recently made it back to the Premier League and have not recovered completely. I think Mike is still there as chairman by the way, but I think he is more sensible now.
Anyway, enough of football talk. We quickly discovered that there was nothing to see inside Newcastle city. No, that’s the wrong way to say it… We quickly discovered we did not know anything about Newcastle city, so we could not find any places of interest worth checking out. So we made our way back to the riverside.
Good move, because apparently there was some sort of a Sunday market going on along the streets.
We spent a couple hours lingering in the market, looking at goods and food and stuff. It was a good call that we wasted so much time there, because just as we were about to leave, we were treated with another awesome spectacle. If we had left 5 minutes earlier we wouldn’t see this.
You see, the River Tyne is a major river and many boats use it, including some fairly big ones. This Millennium Bridge, sitting low as it was, blocks the path of those bigger boats. So the bridge designers designed it in such a way that when a big boat wants to pass, they have a mechanism to raise the bridge by flipping it up by 45 degrees, like above. This way, the big boats can pass.
We left Newcastle/Gateshead after lunch. We had one last place to hit before leaving Newcastle for good. This place is a short drive away from Gateshead. You will be able to see it from afar as you drive towards the motorway.
Okay, you might think, what’s so special about this Angel of the North? It looks just like an ugly, rusty bronze sculpture.
Well… let me show you another photo of it to put things in perspective…
Remember I said you can see this from afar? This thing is massive…
Like, freaking massive! I don’t remember why they built this, to commemorate some miners or something I think. But I do know that this structure is crazy. You know, if you read physics, the law of physics demands that in a building block, the base should be large and the top should be small. That’s why the pyramids were built like that. That’s why the skyscrapers that are in the race to be the tallest are shaped like how they are. Even a tiny bit, but the base is always bigger then the top.
And then we got this Angel of the North with its freaking wide span of wing at the top half of the structure. And that wing means there is a very big surface to be attacked by blowing winds. The fact that this thing can stand and remain stable itself is already an amazing mystery, worthy of us making a visit to see it up close!
Spectacular! And that’s how we draw our Newcastle chapter to a close as we proceeded to our final stop before heading back to Liverpool…
[to be continued]