July 19th, 2011

Days 8 to 11–Manchester, London, and Home

After a delicious breakfast in the hotel of Crunchy Nut Clusters (the heroin of breakfast cereals; seemingly available only in the UK; contains *caramel*) eaten dry and straight from the box–I never did get the hang of the English habit of eggs and toast and everything else for breakfast–we headed for the delights of Manchester.

M’s great goal was to see the Anthony Burgess Foundation, as he is a tremendous fan of that author. I, on the other hand, have not read any Burgess. When I’d thought the foundation had a museum, which would teach about Burgess, I’d plan to accompany him, but then I found it was just an archive, preaching pretty much entirely to the converted. So I set off for The Museum of Science and Industry.

I saw on my tourist map that there would be a church called “The Hidden Gem” close by my route, so I tried a detour to find, and failed–hence the name, I suppose. But instead I found Manchester City Hall, which is one of the loveliest buildings I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t totally clear on what it was at first–maybe a church–so I went in to find a busy, businesslike place of work. There’s a desk where you can sign in, though, and they tourists are allowed to look around, at least in certain areas. I signed a waiver to take these pictures, which had me slightly worried–not really sure what I agreed to. Except I did promise not to photograph the murals in the mural room (second picture below–I don’t know why it’s sideways, and I can’t seem to fix it. Sorry. Please just tip your head.). That’s too bad, as they really were stunning, depicting highlights of Manchester’s history over the past 500 years or so. Really, it was just an incredible place.

So I eventually got over to the Science and Tech Museum, which was also pretty interesting. I was there mainly for the older technologies, the spinning machines that the industrial revolution was founded on. I was less interested in the air and space stuff, though I’m assured Manchester had some wonderful accomplishments in that area. I actually snuck in with a kindergarten (called “reception” in England; I’m learning!) demonstration of the various IR-age machines–it was fascinating, if loud.

Right around the time I was tiring of MOSI, it started to pour outside. This was very disappointing, as it meant that I had to forgo the intriguing fast-food options that would have required a soaking 5-minute walk, and eat lunch instead in the over-priced museum restaurant. 6 pounds for soup and some bread and soda–urgh!

Of course it cleared as I was finishing my last mouthful, but at least then it was an easy stroll to the People’s History Museum. I was a little confused about this one, as I had thought it would be a history of labour unions, and work in the city in general–some of my favourite topics! And there were certainly allusions to that, but it was more earlier stuff, about the fight for the vote for working men, and then for women. Very very interesting, if not exactly what I expected.

Then I went off to meet Mark at the Manchester Art Gallery, a lovely if smallish gallery in the heart of town. At this point, I may have been a bit tuckered by all the looking-at-stuff (I gave up taking pictures), but I still really enjoyed the exhibits, particularly the collection of pieces by artists and designers native to the city.

Then we had tea (on a tiered tray!), a nap, a stroll, dinner in a pub, and then the drizzle and exhaustion were too much for us and we went to see Bad Teacher, which I would not recommend, but that’s another blog post.

The next morning we staggered off to the MetroLink back to Piccadilly station (scoffing at other tourists in our hotel’s lobby, who were waiting for a taxi to the same place). The train back to London was non-local, non-crowded, and with assigned seats–bliss! I even found a bathroom! Back in London, I felt like a tube-map expert compared to my week-ago self, and we reached the hotel in, well, less than an hour, anyway.

For the bulk of the trip, we’d been super-cheap with regard to hotels (no bathroom door/half hour out of town/potato bugs–couldja tell?) but for the last two nights, we swung for something higher end. In London, there seemed to be no middle rung between cupboard-sized basement rooms and the truly posh–the middle rung that happy spots like Best Western and Holiday Inn typically occupy. So we ended up at Tara Copthorne, an incredibly nice (and expensive) hotel in Kennsington. Still, though, we actually *could* afford it, which meant it was the least posh of the posh, ie., in the parent company’s adverts for it’s five London hotels, the Tara doesn’t even rate a mention.

We were celebrated our bathtub and minifridge, functional tv and lack of potato bugs for a while, then headed off into Kennsington, which is a terribly nice part of town. We had an excellent lunch in a kebab shop–just like native Londoners, right?–and walked to where we’d get the airport bus two days later (I was already nervous). Then I thought…why not Westminister Abbey?

Ok, ok, more organized tourists would’ve thought of that before. And they also probably wouldn’t’ve said, “Hey, that’s a big clock! I’m going to take a picture of it…Hey, is this Big Ben?” But the experience of strolling around Parliament and Westminister Abbey was no less awe-inspiring even to dimwits (everything shuts surprisingly early there, so we couldn’t go inside).

Then we walked across the Thames, which I’d been wanting to do, and had dinner in another pub. Did I mention that London pub food is excellent, and fare cheaper than in other restaurants?

We got up early in order to do everything possible with our last day in England. This started with another walk across the Thames, this time on London Bridge, in the rain, but still fun (we’re getting used to it). Then the Tate Modern, where we had not nearly enough time but still managed to really enjoy the Material Gestures display, including the “red” pictures by my heartthrob, Mark Rothko.

Then back to Victoria Station for lunch with friends of Mark’s (my first London pizza=about the same as all pizzas, ie., great). Then briefly to the hotel, then dinner with Kim, who came into town to bid us farewell. We went for a walk in Kennsington Gardens, which later came up in the Martin Amis novel I read on the flight home–now that’s posh. Then we ate some Dairy Milk, watched some tube, and said our last good night to London.

So terrible was our entry into London that I insisted on getting up at 5am in a cold panic about our exit. We were at the bus stop–this doesn’t make me look sane–over an hour early for our planned pickup. The bus driver was mystified and annoyed about this, but finally allowed us onto the bus as the 5:50am bus apparently does not draw that much of a crowd. After the first EasyBus experience, I was pretty relieved.

Gatwick also was more sane the second time round. We were actually present before our flight had begun checkins (sigh) but once they got started it went smoothly enough. Mysteriously, the carryon I’d entered the country with was deemed too big to leave as carryon, so I had to check it. I was worried about my enormous collection of souvenir Dairy Milks being smashed, but let it go.

We wandered the food courts and malls of Gatwick, as our gate had not opened yet, and bought breakfast. My last scone of the trip came with a tiny glass jar of strawberry jam–yes, really! I took the jar home as a souvenir, and it’s in the fridge now. Then Mark bought some duty-free and I bought a 1500mL bottle of water–we won’t be having a repeat of last time’s airplane drought. Then we waited for our gate to open–and waited and waited. Finally I realized that there wasn’t a delay, Gatwick’s system is just different than I’m used to, and one waits mainly in the general seating, not at the gate. I guess that’s ok.

It was a 20 minute indoor walk to the gate when it was at least announced–that’s some airport. And the flight left on time.

The rest of this is not exciting (well, I’m not sure anyone else is finding *any* of this exciting, but if not even I do then it’s a bad sign) so I’ll try to speed up. The flight was fine, the food was edible, no one projectile vomited in my hearing, and though it took a long time our luggage eventually rematerialized (the Dairy Milks, near as I could tell, were fine). Then Mark’s kindly sister-in-law drove us home in her shiny new car. Once there, we bought groceries, and contemplated our mountain of laundry.

A great trip, I think. Thanks for letting me relive it via blog. Next post will be in present tense, and maybe even about a book!

3 Responses to “Days 8 to 11–Manchester, London, and Home”

  • Jeff Bursey says:

    Great to read all about this trip, R. I never visited manchester, but did visit a few other places while living in london. Thanks for the (inadvertent) stroll down memory lane.


  • Julia says:

    I enjoyed reading your travelogue! We too saw (and loved) the Stoppard play at the Royal Haymarket! And the Rothkos at the Tate Modern! So glad to hear that your trip back to TO was less eventful than the one _to_ London. I developed a deep bond with a pelican at St. James’s park, but that’s probably not blog-comment material.

  • Rebecca says:

    Thanks for reading, Jeff and Julia! Funny that our highlights somewhat overlap–glad we share travel tastes!! I missed St. James’s park, but adorable birds are always blog-comment materials!

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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