Ear infections, train rides, gorilla attacks, history, and industrial England constituted another eventful week of my study abroad experience. While most of this week was spent obeying doctors orders I worked my way through the antibiotics in time to join my flatmates Mikal, Julianna, Alex and Rachel on a trip to Manchester, England. This time we took the train from Aberystwyth to Manchester Piccadilly, more or less the city center. I will pay more for a train ticket as opposed to a bus anytime. The journey took a little under three hours and the time flew as we glided from station to station out of Wales and into England. Manchester is the 2nd most populous city in the United Kingdom and is a center of modern commerce. It was in Manchester that Ernest Rutherford conducted his gold foil experiments for you science nerds. The city today is still known today for its engineering outputs as well as its architecture, culture, and transport connections. Manchester was a total different world compared to my experiences in Aberystwyth and Cardiff; larger, more urban, and vibrant. The shops even stayed open past 4 pm! Looking at you Cardiff. We got into Piccadilly station around 7 on Friday. Leaving the station I got excited to see that the city was full of supper nanny cabs. If you don’t know what I’m talking about “The Supper Nanny” was a television show where a sassy British woman came to America in a English Hackney cab and just lit into the parents of some monster child. She was basically the Gordan Ramsey of Child Care. It was a great show and to my delight hackney cabs are everywhere.
Now I just need to find a red telephone booth and a triple decker bus but I have time. We easily found our hostel which located conveniently near the the train station. Hostels are always a mixed bag, Hatters Hostel was no different. Great location and guide to the nightlife but they refused to provide toilet paper for the men’s bathroom. I corned a maid and she sputtered she would look for it but probably wouldn’t be able to find any. Maybe they beat the maids that give out toilet paper or maybe I corner a guest wearing an apron and she was just trying to escape me. But more about Hatters later.
We started Saturday walking through a fun hipster store called Afflecks. It was full of eccentricities, souvenirs, records, band T-shirts and anything that might tickle your fancy if you ever had a emo phase. We all bought a little something or another. It was a great representation of the youths culture around Manchester. I’ve included some photos of the historic building below.
Manchester’s architecture is a constant mix between the old and the new. High-end shopping centers with huge LCD screen advertisements border against cathedrals and bricked buildings as old as the city itself. Our next stop was a modern feature, The National Football Museum. In America we call it soccer but if you ask the British we have it all wrong. Rugby and Football are the national pastimes here. Football is said to be the working mans game. Walking through the hall of fame reading the stories of the greats it was common to see quotes about playing football with pigs bladders blow up or being the most popular boy on the road because he owned a leather football. The museum was a great stop. Highlights included the 1966 world cup exhibition, a random statute of Micheal Jackson, the world cup itself and a football touched by David Beckham himself (swoon, ladies) in the 2002 World Cup. Oh! and the most important part, Pickles the dog. Pickles became a national hero in 1966 when the world cup was stolen from Westminster and ransomed for money. Pickles found part of the trophy in a storm drain while on a walk with his owner. Pickles was awarded the silver medal of the National Canine Defense League making all of your dogs tricks seem lame in comparison. Go pickles.
Our next stop and one of my favorites was the Manchester Cathedral. It’s exact age is hard to say but there is a depiction of an angel on the walls that dates back to 700 AD that gives evidence of Saxon Church. From that period onward the Cathedral was built and rebuilt until it was truly something to behold. Unfortunately extensive damage from German bombings in 1940 caused the Cathedral to be rebuilt again. Great care was taken to save authenticity. Masses still take place regularly and tours where free. You can click on the pictures to enlarge them if you wish to see the detail of the cathedral.
After the Cathedral we stopped for lunch and then happened upon The Old Wellington Hotel and Pub, the oldest building of its kind in Manchester. Built in 1552 the half timbered structure certainly gives off a pilgrimish vibe. Sadly we did not sample its ales or food. Another fun sight to see.
We did however sample many deserts from a street fair on the way to our next stop, the John Rylands Library. This enormous and beautiful library was built in honor of John Rylands by his wife, Enriqueta, to celebrate his accomplishments. John Rylands was Manchester’s first multimillionaire, starting out with his brother in the textile industry. The memorial to her husband and gift to the people was built in 1889 by architect Basil Champneys and took 10 years to complete. It is now part of the University of Manchester and houses 250,000 volumes of which some predate Manchester itself. It was truly remarkable. One of the oldest artifacts is a fragment of papyrus carbon dating to the 2nd or 3rd century. Many historians consider it to be the earliest portion of the New Testament written in the original ancient Greek by John himself.
After we left the library we saw Manchester’s Chinatown which wasn’t much to write home about even though I’m figuratively writing home about it. But we had fun exploring more authentic Chinese groceries with diverse ingredients and bright advertisements. After going to dinner and making it back to the hostel the pedometer on my phone said we had walked over 13 miles. Pretty good for a days travel, pretty bad for all of our feet. The night was still young and we were determined to get the full Manchester Experience. Our hostel sponsored a Pub Crawl. Ten pounds for a free drink at 3 pubs and the cover charge to Mikals favorite night club, the Factory. Mikal had went on about what a great place it was but he had also shown me a video of the roof collapsing on patrons so I had doubts. With the assurance the roof had been repaired we all agreed to go. It was a great decision. I highly recommend the Manchester nightlife. Having a guide to lead us to the Pubs was even better and let us relax a bit more in a strange place. Regardless, our group had a great and safe night of clubbing in Manchester. We ended it with the absolute best thing you can end a night of drinking with, street food. I had a lamb kebob and the others had pizza or some collection of fried meats.
Perhaps you remember the promise of a gorilla attack in the beginning of this post? Well we are getting there. I hope you also remember me saying that sometimes hostels are a mixed bag. Well in our 8 person mixed dorm we constituted 5 of the beds and the other three were filled by 2 Australians here for a rugby match and one guy from Brussels just passing through. Well our dorm was on the 4th floor of what seemed to be mount Everest. The night before we had been woken at 4:30 am by the Australians coming back from a pub crawl of there own. So after factory and street food we climbed the stairs to the fourth floor quietly, slipped in our key card expecting our roommates from down under to still be at the bars. That’s not we found. Julianna was first through the door, I was third. In the time it took for me to travel to the door frame the light awoke the bearded wild-man on the top bunk. He roared to life screaming at the top of his lungs first pounding his feet into the bed railing and then his fist toward the ceiling. Belting animal noises at the top of his lungs preparing to jump from the bunk our entire tired, slightly inebriated group froze. I was the one to get the full blast of it being the closest to the door and his bunk. His mate in the bunk below him also woke up and started screaming. This seemed to calm him and he laid back down. There you go, that’s your gorilla attack as promised. The Australians didn’t say another word to us but we didn’t get beat to death in our sleep so I call it a win win.
The next day, Sunday, we continued our walking tour of Manchester. We attempted to see town hall but it was closed to guests for the day. I still managed to get some nice pictures of it from the outside. Our train came at 3:30 that afternoon so we didn’t get to see as much as the day before. I have included some pictures of the streets and other sights to see. Between the pain in our feet, the Factory and the wild Australians this weekend was certainly a bonding experience for flat 59. We are making plans to see a proper English Football game next. But for now it’s time to buckle down to my school work. With 50% of my grade resting on essays due this week I have a lot to do. I cannot decide which education system I prefer. Perhaps I will have more thoughts once I receive my grades.
Thanks for reading!