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Escapes: Do you believe in yesterday? See Hamburg, the Beatles’ racy proving grounds

Escapes: Do you believe in yesterday? See Hamburg, the Beatles’ racy proving grounds
John, Paul and George, left to right, in Hamburg in the early '60s. (K&K Ulf Kruger OHG / Redfern)

Did you ever get the feeling that the Beatles were having more fun than their fans?

For a while, they certainly did. While paying their dues in Hamburg, Germany, the Beatles enjoyed what one expert called “the wildest time of their lives.”

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I’m Chris Erskine (a.k.a., Ringo), filling in for Catharine Hamm on Escapes, as we trip out this week on the Beatles’ drug-fueled formative years.

Travel writer Dean R. Owen reports many OMG moments in his exploration of the noisy, smoke-filled clubs where the band polished its act. Among the highlights: a three-hour walking tour of the joints, including the site of the Star Club where the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix performed in the 1960s.

“The trip provided me a completely different perspective of the Beatles,” says Owen, a fan since the tender age of 8. “Rather than the mop-top, Edwardian-suited Liverpool lads on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ I was able more clearly to envision John, Paul, and George in leather jackets, jeans and cowboy boots emulating Elvis Presley, Little Richard and other American rock ’n’ roll icons.”

Was it a seedy, twist-and-shout era for the lads? Certainly. The musicians’ early days in Hamburg featured prostitutes and “prellies,” the nickname of a stimulant that helped the band through 30 hours of performing per week.

“They were never again as free as they were in Hamburg,” tour guide Stefanie Hempel said.

If you worry we’ve lost our moral compass, don’t fret. It’s here somewhere. In this edition of Escapes, we also look at Doris Day’s pet-friendly Carmel inn, glide gracefully from England to Scotland aboard a throwback cruise ship and soak up a bit of the Old West in Bishop, Calif.

Escapes isn’t just a newsletter; it’s a frame of mind. As summer approaches, take some inspiration from the Beatles, who always traveled well and played like there was no tomorrow.

Get back to Hamburg

The Beatles’ legacy can be found in walking tours and stories of how the band’s first members (including Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe) were housed in dank storage rooms behind a movie screen.

The pre-Ringo Beatles in Hamburg: From left, guest pianist Roy Young performs with drummer Pete Best, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison at the Star-Club.
The pre-Ringo Beatles in Hamburg: From left, guest pianist Roy Young performs with drummer Pete Best, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison at the Star-Club. (K&K Ulf Kruger OHG / Redferns)

‘Veddy, veddy British’

Passengers aboard the Black Watch, a Norwegian-owned ship, are “veddy, veddy British,” according to cruise writer Karl Zimmerman. Join him as he takes the throwback cruise ship, built in 1972, from England to Scotland.

Traditionalists are likely to enjoy the Black Watch, built in 1972.
Traditionalists are likely to enjoy the Black Watch, built in 1972. (Karl Zimmerlann)

Bad behavior at 30,000 feet

A report by a U.S. flight attendants union found more than two-thirds of them had been sexually harassed. Elliott Hester, a flight attendant himself, looks at the in-flight struggles of those responsible for our safety.

Flight attendants are frequent victims of harassment.
Flight attendants are frequent victims of harassment. (Pakorn Kumruen / Getty Images / EyeEm)

Doris Day and her beloved dogs

Doris Day was an icon of the screen, but her passion for animals was also legendary. Day, who died Monday at 97, was co-owner of the Cypress Inn in Carmel, Calif., a place Sunset Magazine once described as “probably the most famous dog-friendly hotel in the country.” Read Mary Forgione’s take on the inn that welcomed and pampered pets.

Doris Day and her poodles on set.
Doris Day and her poodles on set. (Times file photo)

Striking gold in the Sierra

Bishop, Calif., is probably best known as a pit stop between L.A. and Mammoth Lakes. But in her Weekend Escape, travel writer Sara Lessley found there’s more to the place than first meets the eye, including a fetching Old West aura.

Bishop's Mule Days Parade is another sign of the Old West allure.
Bishop's Mule Days Parade is another sign of the Old West allure. (Sara Lessley)

See Emerald Cave

Jay Jones tells of a small cave on the Colorado River that turns a brilliant emerald green at certain times of the day. Vegas Glass Kayaks, 35 miles from the Las Vegas Strip, offers river tours to the spot just south of Hoover Dam. The cave is accessible only by boat.

Black Canyon, just below Hoover Dam, site of the magic cave.
Black Canyon, just below Hoover Dam, site of the magic cave. (Danny Latham)

What we’re reading

New Yorker staff writer Rebecca Mead reports on the glut of Airbnbs in Barcelona, which attract half a million visitors a year. The article says that Airbnb rentals there are being blamed for driving out residents and for higher rents. Sound familiar?

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In the May edition of Esquire magazine (not yet online), writer Jeff Gordinier recommends chef Gabriela Camara’s new cookbook, “My Mexico City Kitchen,” in which she says that “a tortilla is just a vehicle for anything that tastes good,” including grilled asparagus and fresh marjoram.

And the magazine’s Esquipedia feature gives us this gem: “An airplane is a flying vehicle that makes it possible to depart New York City and, in only six hours, arrive in Los Angeles with the flu.”

Hat in hand

As my editor Catharine Hamm likes to remind you, this weekly newsletter gives readers a chance to catch up or browse. You can subscribe to the newsletter and others from the Los Angeles Times for free. Also please consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times digitally or on paper or both. A print subscription means you can get your hands on our sweeping road trip edition, coming up Sunday. Thank you.

End paper

I’m so glad we had this time together. OK, yeah, I’m channeling Carol Burnett, in honor of the late Tim Conway, whose basset-hound temperament and masterful timing entertained us for decades. I can just hear Hamm asking where the travel angle is in all this. Well, like a good vacation, you always wanted Conway’s skits to go on longer than they did. As with any good trip, you never quite knew what lay ahead.

So long, you funny man.

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