Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Notes from Manchester and Hadrian's Wall

I've waited too long to update and lost followers again. Oops!
We've actually been back from our trip since last Thursday and I'm still not done sorting through all the photos. Rather than wait any longer I figured I better just start posting what I've got!!

This trip was the result of a Lufthansa deal posted on Regensblog in December. They had fares around 100 EUR to various destinations and I'd just had a crappy month and was looking to plan our next escape. The deal included Manchester, so I decided to book it and then decide later what we wanted to do from there - and we ended up deciding on driving up to Scotland!!

So, we flew into Manchester on Thursday morning. As usual, the airport was hell. No drinks through the security check, of course - and there are usually two security checks for flights to the UK. There's so little for food/drink available behind the second check that we stood around outside it chugging all our water so we could go through and have a seat and our lunch in peace. (The sign said we couldn't take food through the check either, but we asked the guy about it and he let us take it in.) I really hate the airport. All the ridiculous security just serves as a giant reminder that some people are such worthless assholes that they would try to hurt each other on airplanes. If humans just weren't so prone to being dicks, boarding a plane would be as easy as boarding the train.

All was well once we got on the plane, though. I love Lufthansa. Big snack and free wine on a one and a half hour flight = win. Forget all those crappy American airlines. I did laugh in the airplane bathroom though - there was a no-smoking sign right next to a sign indicating the location of the ashtray.

Upon arrival we were greeted by a giant glowing UK BORDER sign above passport control. Very dramatic. There were also brochures everywhere about not spreading swine flu around. They asked a million questions, like whether we had any friends who lived in the UK, what kind of scientist Damon was, etc. We were dorkily thrilled, though, that while asking all the questions, he took the time to find the earliest possible empty box in our passports for the stamp. So often they just skip to a fresh new page and stamp there and I'm trying to hang onto my clean pages and put off the trip to the embassy for new ones as long as possible.

We arrived in Manchester around noon, but would be picking up friends at the airport around 9:30 pm with our car rental to head out immediately to our hotel for the night in Carlisle, two hours north of Manchester. But, we'd booked the car well before all these plans were created, so we were due to pick up the car right after our plane arrived. Whether they made us actually hold to that reservation would determine how we spent the afternoon.

I've been in Germany too long. I was sure that the rental people would tell us we had to take the car when we said we would. But no!! When we arrived at the desk to see if we could pick it up that evening, they were completely casual about it. In Germany they'd have looked at us like no one had ever asked to do anything so completely absurd. It was no problem to change the pick-up time or the drop-off time for the car! They were friendly too. I texted my friend that we'd arrived in her country and were enjoying the customer service. So, we decided to pick it up later and take the train into Manchester to check it out.

The Manchester Airport train station is connected to one of the terminals, so very convenient. We had no idea what we were doing when we arrived so we went up to the desk to ask some guy what train to take and to get tickets. He treated us like idiots for our basic questions. Oops, so much for the customer service. Still, we got the info we needed so it was all good. Manchester Airport is a major terminal and all the trains leaving from there stop at Manchester Piccadilly station in downtown Manchester. For both of us it cost 6.40 GBP round trip and took 20 minutes.

Around this point I have a note that says "lots of British looking people!" - hehe. Go figure!

Manchester & Hadrian's Wall May 2009

Upon arriving at the station downtown, we tried to find a place with a map we could pick up to figure out where we were and where we might want to go, but the only general info desk was shut down. We ended up wandering off in a direction that generally looked promising and eventually came upon a map on the street. Using that, we decided to check out something marked Chinese Gate, just on a whim. And, we discovered there's a little tiny Chinatown in Manchester!!! Woo hoo!! This means dim sum, moon cakes, sesame balls, and maybe some cute stationery (if there's a more Asia-wide shop). We made a note to come back there later and moved on toward the city hall. On the way, we stopped for coffee. The goodies in the coffee shop looked so good and so different from what's in Germany that we had to get something, so I got a little tiny piece of chocolate-covered cheesecake. Damn!! It was completely different from German Kaesekuchen - so much more rich and sweet, more like what you'd get in the US. So began a week of cramming my face with all kinds of treats on an island that knows how to do sweet snacks. Hell yes.

Anyway, we moved on to the city hall, and on the way finally found a tourist info stop and got some maps. From there we headed toward the cathedral, and on the way went past a street market selling all kinds of goodies, including fresh donuts! But, we had to save room for some goodies in Chinatown later! Manchester's downtown is a very Boston-like mix of old and new (see photos). Some is very new, as there was a major IRA bombing in downtown Manchester in 1996.

We got some shrimp dumplings, barbecue pork rolls, and spring rolls at a place in Chinatown called Little Yang Sing. It was so super-formal - the waitress insisted on unwrapping our chopsticks for us - but everything tasted amazing, probably because we've been totally deprived. It's kind of weird how excited I get about finding a Chinatown. I didn't realize how much all my fun Chicago and Boston Chinatown memories affected me until getting to Germany and not having anything like it around. Afterward we loaded up on goodies at a Chinese bakery and stopped in a couple of shops (none of what I was looking for, though).

By the time we finished in Chinatown it was time to head back to the airport to pick up the car and all the luggage that we'd checked at the left luggage there (5 GBP per piece). The left luggage place closed at 8pm, so we had some extra time at the airport before needing to get the car and pick up our friends. We waltzed into a sit-down restaurant in the terminal like we owned the place, until a waitress stopped us halfway through and asked, "Uh, do you need a table for two?" can't just seat yourself like in Germany! (That one I never managed to get over the whole week. I kept wanting to walk right in. I like picking my own spot!) We wasted some time there, then headed to pick up the car, just in time, as our friends' plane came in a little early. But, as we tried to get over to their terminal to pick them up, we were attacked by a crazy roundabout and ended up instead on a motorway, speeding away from the airport with no clue what was going on. Doh! What a mess the roads are. Anyway, we managed to turn around somewhere and get back to the terminal within around 10 minutes, then off to Carlisle!

Our home for the night, the Pine Grove Hotel, had insisted we call with our arrival time because we would be getting in so late and someone might have to get up to let us in. We did so, but when we got there a big party was happening in the lounge, so I guess we needn't have worried! Our room was a blast from the past (see photos) - with the most unfortunate feature being the carpeted bathroom. Think of all those pee dribbles....ugh. Our friends, however, had a completely different room - it came with a frilly canopy bed, goofy period phone, and other bits in line with a sort of princess theme. So, some variability there, eh?

The next morning we all enjoyed breakfast before driving off to check out Hadrian's Wall before continuing north to Scotland. We just set the TomTom to Brampton, and once we arrived there, followed some signs toward the wall. It was incredibly cold and windy! Spring wasn't nearly so progressed as in Heidelberg, either - rapeseed was still bright, bright yellow (it had already faded here) and some of the trees were still nearly bare! We checked out some bits of wall and stopped at one former turret where there was a cafe and gift shop. The people working there were as friendly as could be and Damon and I spotted some kind of bar in the cafe made of Rice Krispies and chocolate!!! (Rice Krispies are a special treat in Germany only to be had for a high price at the import shop.) It was delicious (of course we got it!!). We also stopped at a priory ruin, which still has an operating church and of course a little gift shop. Be sure to check out the photos, so that I didn't spend all week poring over them for nothing. ;)

By the way, does anyone know: why are all the tables in the UK sticky? I thought it was just a problem at the first place we ate, but actually, they're all sticky everywhere, like it's a special kind of finish or something.


  1. That looks like a great trip. We still haven't gotten our Northern UK on, but maybe we'll get a piece of it in 2010. We're thinking of a North Sea / Scandinavian cruise. After driving around Cornwall and Southern Ireland though, I'm more inclined to do a trip like yours.

  2. Loved all of your photos from the trip... Wow... you were busy! :)

  3. Glad to hear you guys had a good trip!!


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