Coal, Geordies, ships, the River Tyne and hardy natives, known as Novacastrians, who brave glacial winter temperatures in t shirts – this was the extent of my knowledge of Newcastle until chance took me there on a whirlwind trip.
Determined to make the most of the one day I had to explore, I began with the City Sightseeing Newcastle-Gateshead Hop On-Hop Off bus tour.
The tour is a comprehensive look and commentary on Newcastle as it is today – a city of contrasts, where old and new sit side by side, the juxtaposition of ultra-modern and ancient structures highlighting its long and still unfolding history. It takes in all those reminders of the past, like the Roman city walls and the Norman Castle Keep. It covers the houses of the Mediaeval Merchants who grew rich on coal and ship-building. It passes through the opulent 19th century inner city area of Grainger Town, the neo-classical masterpiece of Richard Grainger which, now discoloured by time, is like sepia-tinted print of ancient Rome.
The bus paused at St James Park, home of Newcastle United Football Club. With a history stretching back for over a century, today St James Park is a gleaming modern structure which seats over 53, 000. The tour crossed the river by the old Tyne bridge, giving spectacular views of the regenerated area along the banks and of those stunning and innovative landmarks, like the gently pivoting Gateshead Millenium Bridge, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts and the Sage Gateshead Music Centre, which shines like a great geodesic dome in the light.
The City Sightseeing Gateshead Newcastle Hop-on Hop-off bus tour was gave an excellent overview of the city as well as a potted and lively history. It was a good indication of the size and scope of the place (walkable!) It highlighted places worth a re-look. It was cheap (7 pounds per adult ticket valid for 24 hours) and it fitted perfectly (with hops on and off) into a morning, leaving the afternoon free for rambling at will and exploring galleries and museums.