Trip to the UK – Chapter 2: Manchester through sandy eyes

We landed yawning and excited. How the two go together I can’t say. Our luggage came in quickly and everything went smoothly as it should. Until we hit a stop. At the border control our Italian paper IDs raised suspicion. A few questions followed: where do you come from? What’s the nature of your visit in the UK? We were surprised. For the first time in Europe our ID didn’t allow us a swift walk through. When both officers (one for each sister) took out a UV pocket lamp with magnifying glass, concern flashed in our eyes. I could already see them sending us back, our holiday plans going up in smoke (not to mention all the money already spent on festival tickets and accommodation). The officers must have seen us exchange a worried look because they felt obliged to explain that our IDs can be easily forged and it’s difficult for them to check that they are not. Since no other reassuring words followed this explanation, they didn’t comfort us in the least. Then both officers gave us a good scrutinizing look, stared once again at our IDs (back and front with their UV lights) then exchanged a glance and a small nod. We then knew we were safe, though we were left through with a reproachful: “Next time use a passport!”. Not the warmest welcome, dear Britain.

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Near Deansgate Station – Castlefield

The cloudy weather that awaited us outside the airport did nothing to lift our spirits. The grumpy welcome at our hotel was yet another disappointment, but by 9 am we were walking the reasonably empty streets of Castlefield. A lucky choice because the area has a fascinating architecture and it’s perfect for a walk to get a first feel for the city. The neighbourhood develops around a small network of canals that were used in the past to transport the carbon inside the city.

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Merchants Bridge area – Castlefield

The old brick constructions are beautiful and often converted from industrial buildings. Connecting the southern area is a number of small picturesque bridges. Mixed with the old architecture are some modern structures, some disturbing the landscape more than others. We quickly checked out the Museum of Science and Industry (free entrance) which you shouldn’t miss, especially if you ever visit Manchester with kids.

At the end of our Castlefield exploration we walked towards the Albert square and intrigued by the sight of a nearby building we ended up in the Central Library. A great example of well used technology and a great service to the citizenship. A big hall hosts a basic coffee shop with interactive tables: large tables with a touch screen surface, which allow you to drink your tea while checking out the best sightseeing spots in Manchester or the latest issue of your favorite newspaper. If all tables are taken, a number of totems offer the same content and much more: the history of Manchester through videos and archive documents, audio extracts etc. On the same floor, not far away from the main hall, there is a small cosy performance room, in this case used by some artists participating to the Manchester Jazz Festival. And this is just the reception area (free entrance). We were in awe of this example of British service and efficiency.

Come lunchtime we decided to feed our musical culture as well as our bellies and stopped at the Jazz Festival pavilion for a free concert by Cameron Vale. A young band that gives jazz a modern twist. We left refreshed and recharged, feeling a bit more reconciled with the country.

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Chetham’s School of Music

We kept walking following the trail of the Dig the City Festival – a garden festival which was in all honesty, cute, but uneventful – to reach the oldest library in the UK, Chetham’s Library. It took us a little while to figure out where the entrance was since it is hidden inside the Chetham’s School of Music. But once we understood we had to go through the school entrance and be admitted by a grumpy guard, we crossed the arch into a Harry Potter movie. The school was a priest residence at first, then a charity school and from 1969 a specialist music school. Even from the outside it spreads its charm.

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Chetham’s Library
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Chetham’s Library – reading room

As for the library it looks taken straight from a Harry Potter scene of the forbidden library in Hogwarts. Rows of old leather bound books with partially erased titles neatly arranged in shelves that go from floor to ceiling and facing each other. The shelves create small alcoves with a high table between them to study the chosen books. These alcoves are closed by simply worked iron gates and aren’t accessible to the visitors. A small reading room at the end of the library is open to users and it is still furnished with the original interior.

By the time our eyes were satisfied it was time for tea and how could we not have some in the motherland of tea? So we picked our place and relaxed with a delicious tea and scones. The warmth and sugar made us fuzzy and had the undesired effect of letting our tiredness reemerge. After all, we had been up and about for 15 hours already. We decided a regrouping mission was necessary. A good hot shower would help to get ready to face the evening appointment.

Time for a shower and a change and we were back on our tram, direction the Ritz for the first punk concert of the week. Now, I’m not a punk fan, my sister is, but I don’t mind trying other music styles once in a while and observing the crowd is always fun. I didn’t want to be front stage though (what with the whole pogo dancing) so I was delighted to find out that the Ritz has a big comfy balcony equipped with cool couches and high seats from which you can observe the stage and the audience while being a few feet away from a bar. I elected it as my perfect spot, while my sister found a place just in front of the stage.

One can say much about the British people but you can’t say they don’t start their concerts on time. The first group, Snuff, was supposed to start at 7:55 pm, 7:55 sharp it did. Though this often means that the line up is so efficient and strict that the concert lacks flexibility and spontaneity, I particularly think of some long encores that you can get in other concerts. Anyway, I did quite enjoy Snuff, probably because they have a softer sound. I particularly appreciated the trombone that added a little melodic twist and a folky rhythm. Yes, the fact that one of the musicians was handsome probably did play a part in my enjoyment.

The audience didn’t go crazy, it was rather calm, just mostly keeping the rhythm with their heads and feet. A bit more pogo dancing did take place during the main band, Bad Religion, but I must admit I didn’t appreciate them as much. I found them often off key and too much into the screaming act, nevertheless I managed to sleep through the last couple of songs. The rest of the audience though enjoyed themselves and smiles were all around. They all looked chilled and relaxed without a problem in the whole world, blissed punks!

Trip to the UK – Chapter 1: Are we going to get this flight?

Prologue

My little sister and I organised this trip to the UK with three months advance, which naturally resulted in as much time spent in fantasising about the amazing things we were going to see and do. My mind created the ideal vacation during those three months without thinking once to compare it to reality. I only had those seven days of complete and utter freedom, so all my expectations were concentrated on this one holiday: I needed it to be perfect. I didn’t leave it all in the hands of Fate, I actually did some research and put some effort in looking for alternative spots to sightsee.

To cut a long story short, I had put all my money (literally and figuratively) on this trip, so it was bound to disappoint, at least partially. Nevertheless, some stories are worth telling even though they are not all rainbows and unicorns.

Are we going to get this flight?

I had the genius idea to go to the Esperanzah festival the day before our departure. We had arranged a shuttle to pick us up at home (in Brussels) at 3:00 am to bring us to the airport. The festival takes place in Floreffe and officially finishes around midnight, but no public transportation is available that late, so we had to leave earlier. We were so worried about missing our last connection that we decided to go to the bus stop well in advance (20 minutes). It would have been a good move too if we didn’t notice (obviously too late) that we were waiting at a suppressed stop. We did run to the following stop, tongues sticking out and heart pumping, but deep down we knew we couldn’t make it in time to catch the bus. Continue reading “Trip to the UK – Chapter 1: Are we going to get this flight?”

Berlin melodious bites

Lunch at the Berliner Philharmonie is a relaxing and poetic experience and, to top it all off, it’s free! Every Tuesday at 13:00 the Philharmonie offers a concert in the atrium of their concert hall (Herbert-von-Karajan-Str. 1, just next to Potsdamer Platz).

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A thousand quick steps in Marseille

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I landed in Marseille knowing almost nothing about this city: I very rarely plan my travels. I like to be surprised and anyway the first thing I do to get a feel of a new place is just to walk through it – and possibly get lost. So when our 6:00am flight from Brussels landed in Marseille at about 8:30 in the morning this is what I already knew:

  • it is a dangerous city according to my mum (although she has never visited);
  • word has it that it’s very vibrant and interesting from a street art point of view, and
  • that Bouillabaisse is a typical dish I should try (advice from my house mate).

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Amsterdam in 42 hours

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A nice bike in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a city you should experience on foot or by bike, simply because every corner holds a little surprise. Most people know Amsterdam because of its drug policy, its red light district or the Van Gogh museum, so I won’t talk about those.

Leave behind the busy streets, and walk a few hundred metres to escape the tourists. Walk. Take time to look at the narrow streets with trees and flowers, the canals lined with typical houseboats and the beautiful apartments. In Amsterdam, windows are large so when the sun shines everybody can have their share and almost nobody uses curtains. This makes it very easy to get a glimpse of the interiors. Many of the apartments in the central area are beautiful and eclectic, and some are used as studios or labs. Don’t be shy and take a peek into the rooms; you could get some inspiration to furnish your own apartment.

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Travelling south of Rome – City life

Ice cream in front of Lecce's amphitheatre
Ice cream in front of Lecce’s amphitheatre

Last but not least the cities. We only quickly visited Lecce and Bari. Our trip was more countryside village-orientated, so I don’t have much to say or suggest. Lecce is full of Baroque buildings so for someone like me who doesn’t really care for the elaborate Baroque architecture, Lecce is not that interesting.

The amphitheatre in the main square is a nice site and frequently used by locals. I would suggest a quick look at the Santa Croce Cathedral because the decorations on the ceiling are very impressive. Another church worth a visit is Santa Chiara because of its papier-mâché ceiling. Papier-mâché is a traditional handicraft in Lecce.

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Travelling south of Rome – On the right side of the sea

View of Polignano a Mare
View of Polignano a Mare

The sea is a wonderful sight. You never really appreciate it until you haven’t seen it for months. It is pure relaxation and bliss. Monopoli and Polignano a Mare have two beautiful historic centres: Polignano is smaller but has more character while Monopoli is more like a small town than a village.

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