Category Archives: England

Manchester and Return to London

We arrived in Manchester from Belfast on the evening of May 5th 2014. Here we had our first and hopefully last bad experience with AirBnB.  We had previously made arrangements to stay at an AirBnB house here, but when we arrived at the house, no one was home and we were unable to get the phone number we were provided to work in order to call them. We waited around for about a half hour with anxiety building and finally decided that we should head back towards the city center and find a hotel. Since it was a weekend most places we tried were full, but after a bit of searching we were able to find a hotel not far from the city center with a room available. As luck would have it, Jocelyn had previously made some contacts through the Co-Op in Rochdale near Manchester in regards to finding a place to stay with someone locally.  We got in touch with a wonderful woman named Zatoon who had us stay at her place for the remaining two days we had in Manchester.  The hospitality she showed us was great and she really helped us get to know the Manchester area and England in general from a locals perspective.  Thank you so much Zatoon!

Our first full day in Manchester, we got settled into Zatoon’s place and then took the bus back into the city center to do some exploring. Manchester is really a neat city with tons of Victorian architecture and a less touristy, more gritty/real feeling than a lot of the more touristy areas of London, etc.  We walked along the canals and ended up in the Manchester “Gay Village”.  This place was interesting with a couple of blocks that seemed to be a non-stop street party with bars and tables outside along the canal.  The city seems to take a certain amount of pride in it as well with street signs that look to be put there by the city announcing when you’ve entered the village.  We saw a group of men in kilts doing what looked to me like a Victorian line dance to live music and also stumbled across a “Village People” (as in the 70′s band) festival happening in the park and watched a drag queen perform some jazz tunes for a while.  Definitely interesting.  From there, we went to the China Town district of Manchester and had some dinner before heading back to Zatoon’s to turn in for the night.

Our second day in Manchester we started out the day at the People’s History Museum.  This museum has a really interesting and refreshing perspective that differs from a lot of the museums you will see.  Whereas most museums focus on the lives and politics of kings and the upper classes, this one is all about the working classes in Manchester and their struggles for democracy, decent wages, and better working conditions. Next, we went to the Museum of Science and Industry.  This was also a very impressive and interesting museum. They had all kinds of exhibits about the machinery and the science that powered the industrial revolution.  Highlights for me included seeing a working recreation of the first programmable computer called “Baby”, and the “Power Hall” where they had all kinds of working steam and other types of engines that powered the mills of Manchester throughout the industrial revolution. Our last day in Manchester we went to a suburb of Manchester called Rochdale. This was where the first consumer Co-Op was formed in 1844 to give the factory workers pouring into the city access to affordable and wholesome food. As such it holds a lot of interest for Jocelyn given her deep involvement with our local Co-Op in Portland. We went to the Rochdale Pioneers Museum which occupies the same building where the Co-Op first opened it’s doors in 1844. This was very interesting and highly reccommended if you’re into Co-Ops and are in the Manchester area.

From Rochdale we got on the train to London to return for our second time on this trip. The reason we came back to London is that we wanted to see a play at Shakespeare’s Globe theater and it doesn’t start having shows until May.  This time we stayed at a hostel close to St. Pauls cathedral and the Globe theater. St. Paul’s cathedral is an amazing building a really great thing to see first thing each day when leaving the hostel.  The play at the Globe was a really awesome experience.  We saw Titus Andronicus and got tickets on the floor.  These are the best seats in the house in my opinion.  If you don’t mind standing for three hours, it puts you right up next to the stage right in the thick of the action. The actors also came out onto the floor a lot and there was a lot of audience participation.  You feel like you’re actually part of the play instead of a mere spectator.  It kind of felt like being at a rock concert in a lot of ways.  Really, really fun and highly reccommended.  The floor tickets are also very cheap at only five pounds.

This concludes our time in Ireland and the UK, and now we’re off to sunny Barcelona, Spain!

Durham

We’ve spent the last two days in Durham, England. We arrived here on 4/2/14 and will be leaving this morning for Edinburgh.  We decided to stop here on our way to Edinburgh because it looked like an interesting smaller English town and it has a neat cathedral and castle.  Unfortunately, neither the cathedral nor the castle allowed photography inside so all I have is photos of the outside of each.

We started the day yesterday by walking around in the Durham cathedral.  It was very impressive with lots of beautiful stonework and stained glass.  It’s not quite as big as the York Minster and the volume and age of the stained glass wasn’t quite as large, but still a very impressive building.  One of the neat things about it is that the stained glass is still very much a work in progress.  There are still a lot of windows that don’t have stained glass so they are adding them slowly for special events, etc.  The newest being the Millenium Window from 1995 which commemorates the 1,000th anniversary of the arrival of St. Cuthbert’s body in Durham and the beginning of the construction of the cathedral.  This building also has a lot of history for Jocelyn.  Her Scottish ancestor William Furbush was held as a prisoner in the cathedral after being captured by Oliver Cromwell’s army at the battle of Dunbar in 1650 during the English Civil war.  He was one of 1,400 prisoners out of an estimated 5,000 that survived the forced march to Durham and the imprisonment in the cathedral.  After being imprisoned there for the winter, he was sold as an indentured servant and shipped to Maine where he worked in a lumber mill.  You can read more about these prisoners as well as what became of William after arriving in America here.

We then took a tour of Durham castle which was also very interesting.  It was build in the 11th century by the Normans and is still in use today as a dorm for about 100 students at University College.  Our tour guide was actually one of the students at the university.  One of the most astonishing things about all these old buildings here is that many of them are still very much in use.

Durham has been fun and it was really interesting to get some hands on experience with some of Jocelyn’s family history.  Now on to Edinburgh!

UK National Railway Museum

On our last day in York, 4/2/14, we visited the UK National Railway Museum since it was at the train station and we had a bit of time before our train to Durham left.  We probably wouldn’t have gone here, but our friends April and David have a son Micah who is very into trains and we had a special request from them for pictures of any old trains we came across on our journeys. There were definitely lots of old trains here and I’m glad we went, it was very interesting.  Micah, I hope you enjoy the pictures!

York

We arrived in York, England on 3/31/14 via the train from London.  We had a little setback in that we missed our original train in London because we got a little lost on our way to the tube station. The guy we talked to at the ticket counter was very cool about it though and gave us tickets for the next train to York. We played our lost, dumb American tourist card on that one so hopefully we don’t need to do that again. It’s good because we would have had to pay a lot more if we would have had to buy new tickets plus we would have eaten the cost of the original tickets. All’s well that ends well I suppose.

We arrived at our AirBnB stay in York around 6:30 PM. It was a really great place with a great host named Mike right in the middle of York. It’s a former ice cream factory and the room was spacious and nice with our own bathroom. Mike pointed us to a really neat little pub for some food and pint called “The House of The Trembling Madness”. We took a walk up on the city walls on our way to the place and got some good views of the sunset.  The pud was kind of hidden away up some stairs in the back of a bottle shop.  Definitely had a speak-easy kind of feel to it, very fun.  The place itself was incredible.  An obviously very old building with hand hewn timbers throughout and a wall full of stuffed animal heads of various kinds including a wild boar. Word has it that this room is where Guy Fawkes, a son of York, and his conspirators started plotting to blow up parliament in 1605. The food was excellent as were the pints and we ended up sitting next to a group of really nice English chaps at a communal table and talking to them for a few hours.  It was a great way to start our stay in York.

The next morning we got up and did a free walking tour of York.  This was a two hour tour led by a volunteer guide who was born and raised in York and is now retired so does the guiding for something to do.  He was really knowledgable about the history of the city and all the little hidden places that you wouldn’t see if just walking around yourself. York, even more than London, shows just how old this country is. It has the city walls still intact almost all the way around it.  The first part of the wall was built by the Roman 9th Legion almost 2,000 years ago.  There is one spot where you can see the Roman foundations and then the medieval wall built on top of that. Absolutely awesome. Another memorable point of the tour was The Holy Trinity Church.  This place had no lights or heat and is pretty much exactly as it was in the middle ages up through Victorian times, etc.  After the walking tour, we went to York Minster, which is probably the most famous landmark in York.  This place was absolutely breathtaking, words can’t even describe it. It is so ancient and the architecture and artwork inside is just awesome.  My photos don’t do it justice, but you can get an idea of what it’s like. Again, the other mind blowing thing is the age of it.  It is build right on top of the original Roman fortress/basilica that was on the same spot. You can actually go down below in the crypt and see parts of the original Roman foundations.  After the Romans left Britain, a church was built in the 600s or so and then they just kept adding on to it with the structure that is there now completed in the 1400s.  With the oldest building in Portland dating from the 1860s, these timescales just blow my mind. After we finished at the Minster, we headed out to another pub after a cheap but hearty dinner of chicken and mushroom pies.  They are really good and there are lots of bakeries around selling them.  If you get there at the end of the day right before closing time they’ll sell them for a pound a piece, not bad for a decent, cheap dinner. After dinner we headed to another pub and listened to some great traditional folk music.

Our last day here is today, 4/2/14.  We walked around some more and saw the other end of the city including York Castle, and Clifford’s Tower.  We walked around on the wall some more and stopped for some coffee and hot chocolate at a little coffee shop built right into one of the gatehouses, which was pretty neat.  We then walked around the market in the city center.  This was also really cool.  It is kind of like the Saturday Market in Portland, a flea market, and a farmers market all rolled into one, and it takes place every day. So many good smells, street musicians, etc.

All in all, York has been my favorite city that we’ve visited so far.  It has so much history and is nice and compact which makes walking to everything very easy.  In fact, during the day pretty much no one drives in the city center and the streets are taken over by pedestrians and bikes. At night, the car traffic seems to pick up a bit, but still not much.  If you’re making a trip to the UK, definitely don’t miss York, it is really something to see.

London

We arrived in London on 3/29/14 from Iceland.  It was about a 3 hour flight and it is in the same timezone as Iceland, so the jet lag is over with for now.  Upon arrival at Heathrow airport, we made our way to the subway station, or “the tube” as they call it here.  Subway has a different meaning here.  They are actually underground sidewalks that go under busy intersections, not an underground train.  Anyway, I had done a little research before on which trains we needed to take, so we had a pretty good idea of where we were headed.  The other thing we did at the airport was buy a UK SIM card for my phone so that we could use the phone if we needed to and have a bit of data to use Google maps, look up train schedules, etc.  This was pretty easy as there are vending machines and stores everywhere.  I just bought the card from a vending machine, popped it in the phone, entered the settings as described, and we were off.

We ran into some trouble on the tube as they were doing some work on one of the stations so we had to get off and board a bus that went to the next station.  This was interesting as it was our first and only ride on a double decker bus so far.  A bit of an inconvenience, but as with all setbacks on a trip like this, you just have to look at it as part of the adventure. There’s no sense in getting too annoyed.  In general, the subway system here is very good.  Nice, clean stations, new trains, etc.  It does seem a bit more confusing than the New York, or Washington DC systems, but then again it’s bigger I think.  Once you get the hang of it though, it’s not bad and gets you anywhere you need to go in this huge city pretty quickly.

We had to walk a little bit between train stations to get to our hotel.  Our walk took us right through the center of Westminster, through Green park, and past Buckingham Palace.  Once we arrived at our hotel, we decompressed for a bit, dropped off our bags, and headed back into the city center and Westminster.  By the time we got back to Westminster, it was dark but everything was lit up well.  Big Ben was especially impressive all lit up and we got some good photos of it.

Our second day in London, we started out at Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.  This is a huge complex of former royal gardens, palaces, lakes, etc.  I would say it rivals the size and grandeur of Central Park in New York City for sure.  It contains Kensington palace where Queen Victoria was born.  The weather was absolutely beautiful, sunny and warm.  Spring has definitely sprung here with daffodils and all the other early spring flowers and trees in full bloom.  Hyde Park also contains “Speakers Corner”, a kind of living monument to free speech.  There were at least 3 or 4 different speakers up on boxes or ladders talking, with actual people around listening and debating.  It was really interesting and not the kind of thing you see in the States even with all of our supposed emphasis on free speech.  Most of them were preaching various religious viewpoints, hellfire and damnation, etc.  Although there was one Irishmen lecturing and debating people about English foreign policy and economics.  There was even a fist fight that broke out between a couple of the religious guys. Luckily people intervened though before it got too out of hand.

We then headed to the British Museum.  This place was incredible.  It was free, although the asked for a five pound donation, which is well worth it.  Just the sheer amount of stuff they have here is amazing.  Apparently there are more Egyptian aritifacts here than there are in Egypt.  Highlights for me included seeing the Rosetta Stone and the displays on Medieval Celts, Vikings, and Anglo-Saxons.

After wandering around a bit more and getting a bite to eat, we went to a nighttime walking tour called “Haunted London”.  This was pretty fun.  It took place in the Financial District of London right on the Thames River near the London Bridge.  This was the first area of London settled and has over 2,000 years of history.  The guide took us to all kinds of hidden little places and told us great stories about ghosts that inhabit them along with a good dose of history of the area. This whole area is really interesting.  The mix of incredibly old buildings with brand new ones makes for interesting juxtapositions.  The little alleyways with pubs, markets, and old churches tucked into them are really fun to explore.  The most interesting place for me was the London Guildhall which has been in use since the 12th century and before that the site had a Roman Coliseum where Gladiator fights took place.

London has been great and I’m looking forward to coming back through here for a couple more days on our way back from Ireland en route to France and Spain.  Now on to York!