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Travel

A Short Trip to Hull, the Future City of Culture in the UK

According to the Rough Guide, it's a top ten vacation destination for this year. Or is it? (It isn't)
January 12, 2016, 1:20pm

All photos by Jake Lewis

Believe me when I say this: I wanted to like Hull. It had appeared in the 2016 Rough Guide Top 10 Places to Visit, even though this was a place I had not even once heard anything good about. People from the midlands and the north, usually quick to defend any of their grey bogs out of pure pride, were dismissive of Hull, but the strong desire in me to root for the underdog grew and grew until, finally, I booked a train ticket to this port town to see what it was that was worth seeing. I wanted to answer a question that had been bothering me for a while, too: Is it better to romanticize these unorthodox travel "destinations," or to call a spade a spade?

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Before you put the key in the ignition of your Ferrari Facebook Comment of Hatred, this trip was undertaken with the kind of seriousness and regional tact you'd expect from a guy who eats the same Pret baguette with a different hot sauce every day. I've checked my privilege, guys, and let me tell you: the levels are high.

My criteria for the trip was less based around traditional tourism, i.e. museums and churches and stuff, and more around the living aspects, the normal stuff. As it is 2017's UK City of Culture, and it being on a vacation guide alongside breathing, pretty, fascinating places like Amsterdam and Vancouver, I wanted to experience the bars, the restaurants, pubs, and, if I was feeling saucy, perhaps a club. Could Hull really stand up alongside the arty freeze of Reykjavík, or the befuddling ultra-future of Seoul?

Hull train station looks suspiciously like Brighton train station, to the point where I thought I'd made a huge error. But I spotted a larger-than-life size statue of poet and librarian Philip Larkin, so knew I was in the place where he died of esophageal cancer. I dropped my bags off at the hotel. It was around 6 PM when I finally got my shit together, the perfect time to go and get a little drink, to wet my whistle.

After a bit of research I discovered that the road where all the nice drinking holes are was called Prince's Avenue, a veritable treasure trove of trendy bars, pubs, restaurants etc. After walking up and down it a few times, I settled on a place called The Bowery.

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It wasn't particularly trendy, but it was a nice place with very friendly staff. There was a smattering of people in there, but I didn't expect a full bar on a Wednesday night at 7 PM. There was an element of "regeneration madness" in the toilets where they had fashioned urinals out of gas canisters. It was incredibly hard to spit in these urinals, and I found myself having to bend over slightly, putting my face near the piss hole just to gob in it. There's no need for that.

My tum-tum was starting to rumble. I had heard from various sources in the town that the best restaurant in Hull was in the marina area, and was called 1884. It boasted a slew of delightful sounding fish dishes alongside hay smoked duck breast, thyme, and garlic gnocchi, and of course some expensive aged beef. Unfortunately, it was fucking shut. Closed. Not a light on in the building. It was around 8:30 PM. Next door was a pub called The Green Bricks. It was open for business, and I wanted to drown my sorrows briefly before heading off to the next location.

Inside this gigantic pub sat not one person. I was very surprised by this, as I was told the marina area would be popping off and filled with Hull's well-to-do enjoying a tipple. The bar staff assured me that its quietness was due to a post-Christmas hush and it was perfectly normal for it to be empty. I didn't really buy it. There was something off. A kind of defeated vibe pervading the place, like the Fuhrerbunker dinner table in summer 1945. A cab driver told me that the marina area had a massive redevelopment a few years ago, but since then no one had come there and it remained fairly empty.

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Even so, I didn't feel this was an adequate reflection of the place. I knew there was something more out there. Newlands Avenue is, apparently, student central. Bars, restaurants, you name it. It was all happening over at Newlands. Perhaps I'd get invited to a house party and end up doing balloons and smoking crap weed with my future wife. But I still hadn't eaten. I had to line my stomach before I filled it with mcat and get punched in the face while trying to put "Flat Beat" on Spotify in a front room. A local Mexican place was recommended, so I went inside.

"Table for two please, mate."

"Sorry, we stopped serving food at nine."

What do you mean you stop serving food at nine? It's a restaurant, what else are you going to do? Food-shaped cocktails? I was starting to think Hull didn't want me to enjoy it, didn't want me to taste its wines or enjoy its sweet meats. There was also this Greek place, but it only seemed to sell pizzas.

A friend told me after I had left a few days later that food not being served past nine was a normal thing outside of London. That people just sort of, go home. This struck me as either very European, a French-like attitude to commercial competence, or really depressing, a self-imposed curfew born of boredom and indifference.

A Chinese takeaway was open and I got myself a very spicy though pretty decent chicken chow mein. There was a reggae-themed bar across the road, so I went for a cocktail.

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But six pints deep, and with a corrosive pile of noodles sat like a big rock in the marshland of my gut, I had lost the will. My enthusiasm, like the many eateries of Hull, was closed for the night, not serving any longer. I got a cab past a club called Propaganda that was doing drinks for £1 until midnight. It had an ominous green glow, and appeared like an elderly woman's bungalow that had been taken over by thugs and oiks after they tie her up and put her in the shed. I don't think I've ever seen a club with double glazed windows.

The next day I went for a walk around the town. Hull is to be the subject of a £25 million [$36 million] regeneration which will go a way to cement its status as 'City of Culture' for 2017. Perhaps the closure of clubs like the above goes some way to realizing that dream, but for now it acts as a terrifying statue, like something out of a less-appreciated Goosebumps novel.

The town center was like every town center I had ever seen. I was quite enamored with this greengrocers, which had a lovely big green sign. It looks nice, doesn't it? It looks like you could have a nice, relieving chat about your rebellious son inside it.

Another thing I really liked was this Laser Quest, which had some lads laughing and playing pool inside it. It's odd to think that a building covered in giant black and yellow stripes, entered through huge metal doors and a second floor with blacked out windows isn't an eyesore in this instance, but here we are.

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It was raining quite heavily, so I took refuge in the shopping center. Again, it looked like any other shopping center, but there was something off about the feeling. It had a moody drabness, like no one wanted to be there. I went to Pizza Express, as there weren't a great many sit-down places in the streets I walked down.

I became angry with the Rough Guide. I thought, Why have you done this? Why have you arbitrarily placed Hull on this fucking list, knowing full well it's like this? Perhaps they don't know it's like this, and are guiding unsuspecting tourists to a place they don't want to go to.

It must be taken into account that the day I've chosen to experience Hull in all its glory is a rainy Wednesday in January. But would Amsterdam be like this? Would Mexico City? You can't pre-emptively put a place on a vacation destination list in the hope that after its second major regeneration in however many years, it will be a success.

I didn't hate Hull. It didn't ask me to go there, and is just sort of trying to get on with it, much like myself. A misery, slogging through life, waiting for the rain to stop so you can run across to the next place, only to realize it's all the same, and it doesn't matter. Hull is not a good place for a vacation, but acts as a giant town-sized mirror, showing you how much of a cunt you are, and how, in the long run, nothing you say or do really makes much difference. Every new regeneration is just a stop gap for the next one, but ultimately, you're just a glum port town falling apart at the seams.

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