My friend and former coworker Ntina currently lives in Manchester after leaving Greece about 3 years ago. She visited Munich on August and I repaid the favour this November by visiting Manchester for the weekend.
Going from Germany to the U.K. reminded me how it feels to travel between in and out of Schengen areas. In short, it sucks. I travel to Greece almost once per month and it’s a breeze; board the plane, fly, get off, get your baggage, off to public transport. For this trip, I had to go through passport control, but… I don’t have a renewed passport, so I used my ID. Problem is that Greek ID cards are huge and have two layers of lamination. I have had my ID card for so many years that the lamination started crumbling, causing quirky comments from the customs officers and my detached and annoyed facial expression as a response.
Well, regardless, I was there, we met and took the train to her place. In Germany and Greece transportation is public. Not so in Manchester. There are different companies each with their own trains and you can elect to get cheaper tickets that would be limited to one company. I have no idea how well the system works, but it was definitely unusual to me.
After leaving my baggage at the house, we went for a walk around the city and also visited one of the many Christmas markets there.
After some proper English breakfast, we got off to exploring around Castlefield. We were lucky that the weather was unusually warm and sunny for the period, thus reducing our reliance to transportation.
One of the first things I noticed about Manchester from the previous day, was how alive it felt even at nights, almost as alive as a typical Greek city but still miles ahead compared to Munich. It kind of makes sense. Munich is a bit more regal, it is a nicer place to visit and admire the combination of neo-classical, baroque and even gothic architectures. Manchester on the other hand is more about the nitty-gritty; more down to earth as its legacy of the industrial revolutions dictates and will be more eager to welcome you, even if it is not as pretty or as safe as Munich.
Regardless, a big part of this experience has to do with the language as well. English, being the Lingua Franca of the world is simply much easier to get you around compared to German, which unless you come from a German or Allemanic-speaking country, chances are that it won’t be your first foreign language.
The problem with Manchester is that you need time to visit everything. That was far more from the two days I had at my disposal, so we decided to go to the Museum of Science and Industry next.
The museum starts with a very impressive show of The Manchester Baby, the world’s first stored programme computer, which means that it was re-programmable without storing the programs in hardware (making them effectively impossible to change without a soldering iron)!
One of the first areas in the museum is dedicated in showcasing and even demonstrating how textile production was automated back in the industrial revolution, from cotton boll to ready-to-use fabric. Ingenious engineering and all of it 100% analog, loud and unhealthy. We have gotten far, haven’t we?
The other exhibits showcased how telecommunications and mass media developed over the years. Impressive stuff, a bit melancholic and somewhat… creepy technological designs during the 70s era that never really gelled with me, but once again, witnessing the progress humanity has achieved in a mere century is mind blowing.
Oh, we managed to visit a last section in the museum dedicated to trains, but now we are getting to the kind of mechanical engineering I have no real interest for.
After leaving the museum, we took a bus to Salford. We took two buses in total and both of them were small, ridiculously cramped and with only one exit! Compared to the buses in Germany or Greece (which are usually MAN or Mercedes-Benz vehicles) I can’t say that riding a bus was an enjoyable experience. I also found out that you have to say “thanks” to the driver when you are getting off. These forced pleasantries never sat well with me, though I will always thank a driver who held off from closing the doors and taking off, waiting for me to get on board!
Transportation aside, we arrived in the district (actually, City) of Salford, where we went through the Lowry Centre and then to the MediaCityUK area where BBC and other production studios are located. This area was very beautifully combining older with modern architecture and is a very beautiful place to behold.
The Imperial War Museum North was also located there, but we were rather exhausted and the temperature was dropping rapidly, forcing us to take the tram and get back home.
Not to end the day as of yet, we visited a couple of friends who after having travelled to more than 55 (!) countries by now, they had some impressive stories to tell! I won’t name them here out of respect for their privacy, but i would like to thank them once again for having us in the evening!
Next day, after some lunch and with little time to waste I hopped back on the train and went straight to the airport.
And then came the security checkpoint; what a useless nightmare! I was flying business so I expected to go through relatively quickly but… no. I spent 30 minutes with security personnel who wanted to go through every little bit of accessory my camera bag had, plus they wanted to keep my lens cleaning fluid even though its volume was within the E.U. limits due to warning labels on the bottle. After all this stupid and slow ordeal was done, I moved on and they called me back, because “they hadn’t completed all checks”.
Honestly, I understand the pressure they are having and the reasons that might (MIGHT) justify them to be this much on-edge, but if you think a large european guy with camera equipment is going to drop a plane (with himself in it no less), because of a lens-cleaning fluid bottle with a “don’t drink” warning, then yes, I can only begin to understand how awful the airport experience must be in the U.S.
Anyway, the dusking sun soon went away completely and as the plane took off I sat comfortably on the window seat on the plane and took one last photo of Manchester. I’ve enjoyed the trip immensely and I don’t think I have seen the last of the city yet!