We said our goodbyes to Edinburgh on a Monday. If we weren’t going to be late for our train because we got lost trying to find “the steps Ewan McGregor ran down in that one scene in Trainspotting” I would have longingly gazed out over Old Town and openly wept as I said a dramatic goodbye. I didn’t want to leave. I especially didn’t want to leave for Manchester.
No offence to anyone who lives in Manchester, but everyone who found out that we were planning to visit there during our UK adventure kind of stared at us oddly and thought aloud “why would you want to do that?” I figured they were just being uppity. Manchester couldn’t be that bad.
They were right, more or less.
Now, I will preface my bad-mouthing of Manchester by stating that we really didn’t go to the nice parts of the city, as my boyfriend was on a mission to visit all of the apparently down-trodden places that Morrissey and Noel Gallagher lived or worked or played throughout their young lives that led to them becoming musical legends. Had we decided to retrace the steps of some sort of rich socialite then perhaps I would have different things to say about Manchester. But let’s be honest, as a writer I’m sort of glad I had an awful time because it means I get to write about the stupid, hilarious, horrible things that happened.
When we left the train station and stepped onto the streets of Manchester for the first time I was met by a large building that had, in giant words etched on the windows, BOOKS, MOVIES, COFFEE, CULTURE. So naturally I assumed Manchester was the most beautiful place on earth. But that building was rather tall and it was blocking my view of the city, so it is understandable why I had been so misled. Editors Note: Manchester had all of those things, I just wasn’t allowed to enjoy them because they had nothing to do with Oasis or The Smiths.
We arrived in the city approximately five hours before we were allowed to check in to our flat, meaning we had to navigate our way to a cafe where we could plop down until our bodies were ready to go sightseeing with backpacks on. We walked for probably ten minutes and then came across a university campus. I saw a bench and my reaction was to mindlessly walk towards the bench to sit down. There was honestly only one thing I wanted to see in Manchester: the statue of Alan Turing. I have been amazed by Alan Turing’s story since I took a History of Espionage course in my third year of university and I knew that Alan had connections in Manchester. Sure enough the bench I spotted had a statue of Alan Turing sitting on one end of it. I wanted to start running towards it while dropping my cane and then my backpack, recreating my own version of the Run Forrest Run scene, but there were other people around, forcing me to walk briskly to the bench without creating a scene. I sat down next to Alan and held hands with him for awhile. On the top of my list of things to do on our trip was “take a selfie with Alan Turing.” So at least that dream came true.
Boyfriend reminded me that we needed to find a cafe because I couldn’t spend my entire 2 nights in Manchester sitting on a bench next to a statue. So I reluctantly walked away from Alan and headed further into the city to find an oversized leather chair to sit in. We had trouble finding any signs of a cafe and I guess we looked rather lost because a man in a suit, smoking a cigarette, walked up towards us and asked if we needed help. We told him we were tourists looking for a cafe. He asked why we bothered to visit Manchester and pointed us in the direction of our own personal Eden, any building with free wi-fi. Before parting ways he told us he had gotten married ten minutes before. I’m not sure I would be thrilled if I married a man and minutes after we said “I do” all he really wanted to do was stand outside alone for a smoke. We congratulated him and walked in the direction he had pointed.
We found a Cafe Nero, which is a huge chain of cafes in the United Kingdom. I ordered a hot chocolate and we sat there trying to figure out what to do with the rest of our day. Another thing on my short list of “good things that happened in Manchester” was the fact that my hot chocolate had this amazing whip cream on it that didn’t melt the entire time I drank it. It blew my mind. I even wrote a postcard home to my roommate to tell him about the hot chocolate.
We left the cafe to do some more wandering and not surprisingly that wandering led us right back to the Alan Turing bench, where I took a nap on his shoulder until we could check in to our room. I really believe in making the most of my time in a foreign country.
We arrived at our flat and waited outside amongst the broken beer bottles, dirty socks and litter until our host came down to meet us. As soon as we walked into the apartment I was hit by stale, warm air that smelled faintly of the dirty socks from the curb downstairs. He showed us to our room and gave us a list of things we would need to know about the apartment. I asked him a question about the keys and instead of answering it he pointed to the sheet. Oh okay, just ignore the fact that we are standing next to each other and could have a conversation, that’s cool. He told us that if we needed anything he would be “around” and then left us to get acquainted with our dining-room-turned-bedroom. I looked at the laminated paper in my hand and saw “Rule #1: No showering at night.” That rule immediately made me want to break the rules and shower loudly at 2 am. The room itself wasn’t horrible except for the fact that he used the kind of brown paper you see on restaurant tables in a horrible attempt at hiding the giant window between our room and the kitchen. I checked the bed to make sure the sheets looked clean, but without a black light there was really no way of telling. Then I crept through the pitch black hallway to use the bathroom and immediately wanted to throw up. There was mould all over the ceiling, water all over the floor, long brown hair covering everything and a white bath mat that was morphing into a light brown bath mat in front of my eyes. It was horribly dirty. I immediately took pictures of how disgusting it was and then I started feeling really sorry for myself, as if the ceiling mould spelled out “Welcome to Manchester, Lisa.” I solemnly crept back to the dining-bedroom to show the pictures to Boyfriend as if he wouldn’t see it for himself minutes later. He was perturbed but not as personally offended by the dirt as I was. I was no longer concerned with the “no showering at night” rule because I made a pact with Boyfriend that there would be no showering whilst in Manchester because we could probably catch something in that bathtub. I knew travel-sized dry shampoo had come into my life for a reason!
We got changed and put our bags away as fast as possible because I just didn’t want to spend time in that flat if I didn’t have to. And then we set out to discover Manchester. And by “discover Manchester” I mean walk to the church that was on the cover or the inside sleeve or mentioned in that Oasis song and then walk to that music store that one of the guys from Oasis bought a guitar from once (I think). This is probably very offensive to Boyfriend, but I just seriously don’t remember what all of those places we saw meant.
After walking down mediocre streets with mediocre sights Boyfriend suggested that we walk to a place called “Salford” to go to this Boys & Girls club that Morrissey used to go to or was photographed at or something. At least this place had like a giant shrine to Morrissey and was a popular tourist spot for famous musicians. I was a little unsure about “walking to Salford” because by the sounds of it Salford was a different town or city entirely. So he wanted me to walk from one city to another…with a cane. But, being someone who at least wants to give off the appearances of enjoying new things, I agreed and began the trek. It took probably two hours to get there and there was absolutely nothing to look at on the way except this one mural painted on the side of a brick building. Oh, and a sign for an Outlet Mall. That kept my hopes up for a good fifteen minutes of the journey.
The Salford Lad’s Club (which is probably the name of the place?) was on a street called Coronation Street, which ended up being THE Coronation Street that the show used as an inspiration. So I took a few pictures of the street while Boyfriend moped around the Lad’s Club, finding it to be locked. And then as I was taking a picture of Coronation Street I started to notice some of the people walking around us and they looked a little on the scary side. Again, I really don’t mean to offend anyone, but after watching Guy Ritchie movies I came to the realization that a grown man in an Adidas track suit is not a man to be messed with. So I suggested to Boyfriend that maybe we should leave the area and he went “oh I’m sure it’s fine here, but okay.” And then we found a KFC down the road to have a fancy supper at. (We later found out that a man was shot in the head in the KFC parking lot just because he had the largest head of anyone in the vicinity). I tried to find the Outlet mall but all I could find was a TK Maxx so I made Boyfriend wait outside while I found jeans that actually fit me inside. When I was walking around the store a girl came up to me and asked me, out of the blue, “are you alright?” I immediately assumed she was referring to the cane and became a little defensive, saying “yes of course, why wouldn’t I be?” and then walked away from her. And then when I was in line to pay for my jeans the girl behind the counter asked me the same thing. “Are you alright?” And I got a little peeved. I said yes, I’m fine, in a sort of bitchy way probably, and thought “have these people never seen someone with a cane before?” She then asked where my accent was from so I told her I was on vacation from Canada. She immediately looked me in the eye and asked “what the hell are you doing in Salford? Why would you come here?” I didn’t pretend to be confused by her statement. I wondered the exact same thing. Salford seemed to be the place that dreams go to die, or to end up on a British soap opera. Then, as I was leaving the store, a guy walked up to the counter and I overheard the girl ask him “are you alright?” To which he responded “yeah great, you?” And then I realized that was their version of saying “how are you?” which is just something nice that people in the customer service industry say. I felt like a dick.
We then walked the seven hours (slight exaggeration) back to Manchester. And I honestly think that’s all we did on our first of two days in Manchester because I was practically dying from leg pain from the eighteen hour (slighter exaggeration) walk to and from Salford. I was in so much pain that I began daydreaming about finding a store that sells those arm crutches and getting a pair for the rest of my trip. The thought of getting crutches started exciting me more than the thought of going to London freakin’ England. Editors note: on the first day we also went to a museum and did a tour of the history of Manchester’s sewage system. Riveting!
The next morning we woke up early and made our way to the train station to catch a train to Liverpool. As soon as we got off the train in Liverpool and stepped out onto the downtown street I got mad at Boyfriend for making me stay in Manchester when we could have been in Liverpool the whole time. Downtown Liverpool is really cool! I was also mad because we were going to be late and miss the bus tour and the bus was kind of far away from the train station, meaning limping Lisa had to practically run to catch the bus. I stayed pissed off for at least half of the Beatles tour. I was just sitting there on the bus with no air conditioning stewing in resent that I had to sleep in a dirty flat in Manchester instead of the city that has a ferris wheel on a dock by the water and also because I was tired and in pain from running and because frankly I don’t care that much about The Beatles.
Boyfriend decided that after the bus tour he was going to return to Manchester early to go back to Salford to see inside of that boy scout club building. I was having none of it. Liverpool was charming and I planned on spending as much time in the beautiful, historic shopping concourse as possible. How could I leave before checking out Le Hotel Chocolate and the candy store that sold chocolate pizzas? No way. I definitely like chocolate more than Boyfriend likes Jim Morrison or whatever his name is. Editors note: His name is Morrissey.
So we parted ways, I promised Boyfriend I wouldn’t die in Liverpool and I went off on my own with a pep in my step to check out the gorgeous wharf and the ginormous outdoor shopping area.
I had a lovely time in Liverpool. I took selfies by the Yellow Submarine and the ferris wheel, I browsed around for stores that sold arm crutches because I saw a lot of people using them so I figured there must be stores on every corner, but I never found any. I thought about walking up to a few people and saying “excuse me, sir, but can you tell me where you got your crutches? They are very nice I would like to purchase some,” or flat out asking a stranger if I could negotiate a price for the crutches that were holding them upright, but I had a sense that wouldn’t go over well. So I continued shopping. I bought a giant bag of chocolate at a bargain store, I paid money to use a public washroom in the shopping concourse and they had bathroom stalls specifically for people with canes which made me feel special. I only got really lost once the whole time I was there but I was surrounded by stores so I felt very comforted. Then a really nice man told me how to find the train station and I returned at my respective time to board my train back to Picadilly Station in Manchester. “I’m such a pro at travelling alone!” I thought.
At the train station I bought some food and then helped a pigeon with one leg find his way back outside. When it was closer to boarding time I looked around for my train but could not find it. I asked for assistance and a gentleman told me that my train was not going to Picadilly Station, it was going to Victoria Station. I had no clue where Victoria Station was. I had about 5% battery left on my cell phone and I left my charger back at our filthy flat. I knew I was about to be lost and alone in Manchester, so I did what I do best and started hyperventilating. What would become of me?!
TO BE CONTINUED…..
Stay tuned to see if Lisa makes it out alive!