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!