Monday, September 28, 2009

Manchester

This weekend, I went back to Manchester.

Although, whatever possessed me to book a ticket departing Euston Station at 7pm on a Friday night, I'll never know. One slow, hot, overcrowded bus ride, one manic change of trains at Victoria (where, despite the crowds, I still managed to give three people directions, including two ladies who spoke very little English. Does this make me a local yet?), I squeezed myself and what I had thought was a tiny suitcase, out of the tube at Euston, and onto my Virgin train to Manchester.

It was an oasis.

I had only booked my tickets last week, so naturally the only tickets available were First Class ones and I am so glad they were. I had a window seat to myself and there were complimentary drinks and snacks...who would have thought? I don't know if I'll ever be able to travel in standard class again!

Just over two hours later, I arrived in Manchester and, not totally sure I was going the right way, I followed the crowds and ended up in familiar parts of the city and made my way to my hotel, which just happened to be the hotel I worked in when I first arrived in Manchester 5 years ago. Luckily, the "Dragon Lady" (aka, my old boss) no longer worked there!


On Saturday, I walked from the city to my old stomping ground, the lovely Hulme. Most things were exactly the same as I remember them. There were a few new apartment blocks and the shortcut I used each day to the bus stop was overgrown, and could almost pass for a nice park. It was green, anyway! The ASDA we used to shop at has been extended and now is huge. There is also and Argos catalogue store and a Pound Stretcher next door, which are new, and would have been very handy to have nearby when I lived there. The Caribbean food stand had been replaced with a larger building, but you could still get your Goat Curry, which is good to know!


The old house was still there and looked even more dreary than when we had lived there. I would love to have seen the inside, to see if they had fixed the leaky shower, painted the walls and repaired all the cracks. Aaah, home sweet home!


It felt like I had only been away for 5 days instead of 5 years.





After strolling down memory lane(s), I jumped on the bus and headed out to The Trafford Centre, once my favourite place to shop. I used to think this shopping centre was big, but that was before I had been to Dubai! I caught up with my friend Lisa,a fellow Aussie who has lived in the UK for almost 10 years, and still has some of her Aussie accent left and then met up with Pam, who I used to work with (at my favourite office job ever...after I left the job from hell at the Novotel!), for afternoon tea in Chorlton, a lovely village south of Manchester city.

After walking all day, it was back to the hotel for me for a nice, long bath and room service for dinner. This is the life!

Sunday morning, I decided to sleep in, since checkout wasn't until 12 noon, and treat myself to a buffet breakfast, before heading out to see the city centre. I walked up to Piccadilly Gardens. Still the same. Wandered down Market Street. Same. Then I went into the Arndale Centre and this was all new. Five years ago, it was about half its current size, after being rebuilt following an IRA bomb in 1996. The centre is now finished and is a great place to shop...which is what I did, although not too much because I'm still not a fan of shopping. But I was hot and had only brought a thick jacket, underestimating the mild weather in Manchester.





After my small amount of retail therapy, I decided to explore a part of Manchester that, for whatever reason, I had never been to when I lived here. It was Castlefields, an area of Manchester situated on the canals, and apparently dates back to Roman times. It was gritty and urban, just like Manchester on the whole and I loved it. It is really beautiful, in its own way.





It felt good to be back in Manchester and I am pleased to say that I did all my exploring without a map and was even asked for directions, which I could give with confidence. I realised that Manchester will always feel like home to me...one of my homes, anyway!

Exploring done and most old haunts re-visited, it was time to go back to the hotel, have a quick drink and head off to the train station. First Class on the way home again...lovely!

That was until I arrived in London to a closed Victoria Line due to engineering works, escalators that weren't working, so many stairs with a heavy suitcase, three trains just to get me to the end of the line and a 30 minute wait for the bus home.

Good to be home!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Snapshot


I went to see Wicked on Saturday and it was amazing!

I found out at the late Friday that I had Saturday off so I got online that night and booked tickets for the next day. And I got awesome seats. Four rows from the front and right in the middle.

If you're in London and haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for? It was absolutely brilliant!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunday Snapshot (and a little bit more!)

Today, I went to Covent Garden. Loved it!

I love stumbling across random things and instead of a photo this week, here is a video of some street performers at Covent Garden today. I arrived a bit late into their set so I have no idea who they are, but they were amazing!

video

This week has been an interesting one. On Monday, I checked my bank balance in my Australian account to check if my sister had paid the money in for my fridge that was sold a few weeks back and I found an amount of money that I was not expecting. In other words, it was a LOT more than I was expecting! I called my bank in Australia and asked them what the amount was for.

It turns out that it was my tax return. Apparently, I had paid too much tax and received a lump sum payment as a result. The ATO was now my new best friend. As great as this was, this left me with the question of the best way to transfer this money to my UK account.

After searching the web, I went with Tranzfers, a company recommended by WorkGateways.com, an essential site for any person wishing to move to the UK. They gave me a great exchange rate and my first transfer was free, compared to the almost $100 my bank was going to charge me. I highly recommend them.

So this week has been a good one, and next week will be even better once I have the money in my account (delayed, thanks to another Royal Mail strike!).

Now, about that shopping list...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sunday Snapshots

Bridges I've crossed...


St Paul's Cathedral from the Millenium Footbridge


York Bridge at Regent's Park


View from London Bridge


London Eye from The Jubilee Footbridge


Westminster from Westminster Bridge


Tower Bridge

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Be Cool to Your School

School is back today and with it came drama and tears over breakfast cereal, threats to send me back to the airport (because according to Little Boy 3, that is where I come from!), one crazy traffic jam and a mad sprint to the school gate as a result.

Let the good times begin.

I, for one, am glad that school is back. My routine is back with it, I am working more hours and will be earning more money. The last two days of summer holidays have been exhausting. On Tuesday, I took the kids out on the bus, then on the tube into London and a boat ride to Greenwich for a picnic in the Park. It was a great day out, everyone was well behaved (including me!) and after the trip back home, we were all worn out. Wednesday was a wet day and I had planned to spend the day at home so we could all have some down time before school started.

Imagine my horror when their dad mentioned that we could go the London Transport Museum...in the city...on a wet day...with two kids under five! After trying to convince them that a whole day inside playing "Farmyards" would be much more fun, we all got our rain jackets on and headed once again into London. The weather could not make up its mind what it wanted to do, so it was rainy, windy, cold, warm, sunny and the jackets were on and off more times than I could count.

Our first stop was to visit their dad in his office and pretty much as soon as I arrived, I wanted to leave. I hadn't been in an office since I left Australia and I realised that I didn't miss it at all. In fact, I was sure that if I stayed there too long, they would make me start answering the phones! It was enough to make me want to run screaming from the place!

Anyway, we did leave without answering a single phone call, and headed to Covent Garden and the London Transport Museum. I was expecting to be bored, but it was actually great fun. The kids played in the play area mostly and I had a look at all the old buses and trains. Also, I never realised what was in Covent Garden itself and is definitely a place to come back and explore...without kids!

We caught two trains and a bus home and we were all dead on our feet after our day out. But at least the kids slept well...lucky them!

Here are some pics of the Transport Museum: