From Manchester to Liverpool to London: Pictures and Commentaries.
Stonehenge, one of UK's seven wonders.
This past summer, my daughter was chosen to represent America in the International Cecchetti Ballet Competition in Manchester, England. Manchester? I was excited. I grew up in Singapore and we follow English soccer with great devotion and enthusiasm to match. Most of us have a favorite English soccer team. My family, particularly my brothers are diehard Manchester United Soccer fans. I was therefore, a little partial to this place…at last, I’m able to visit the place I heard so much about…at least on television. I can’t wait.
But where on earth is Manchester, England?
Manchester is located in the north-west part of England and is the third most visited place after London and Edinburgh. It may not have the charm and sophistication of London, the capital of England but it holds its own in terms of what it has to offer. Known for the birth of capitalism and Industrial Revolution, it has evolved into a modern metropolis and is at the forefront of technology like no other place in England. Today, it is noted for its music scene and sporting connections.
So, now I know why the competition is held in Manchester.
The Lowry at Salford Quays
The Lowry at Salford Quays
On pier 8, Salford Quays, the majestic and sophisticated Lowry theatre and art gallery looms, a distinctive combination of stainless steel and glass. This is the venue for the competition. Covering an area bigger than five football (soccer to the American folks) pitches, it houses two theatres and its roomy interior holds some of the art pieces done by the celebrated 20th century painter, L.S. Lowry (for whom the theatre was named), known for this painting of industrial north-west England.
Shaina was here for eight days, learning from master teachers and competing with ballet dancers from all over the world.
For first eight days, our plans were dependent on her schedule as our first order of tasks was to make sure she’s well taken care of. That meant not traveling too far away at any one time and we can only sneak away when she’s in classes. We managed to sneak out the first two days but then things got busier and it was down to who was willing to make the sacrifice to stay behind since it didn’t take three persons to chaperone Shaina. Of course, the dice fell on me.
We stayed at a hotel within walking distance of the Lowry, overlooking the Salford Quays and water sports center. I spent a lot of time geese watching, in between waiting for Shaina. With my coffee, laptop and my company of geese, I have no complains. The weather was cooperative—in fact, local people said that it was unusually warm and rainless during that time of the year. I guess someone sent out a request to be kind a thoroughly spoilt San Diegan.
When I was able to steal way, I picked Lake District. Home to a number of romantic poets like Wordsworth and Coleridge, it was the natural choice. Although, it took us nearly two and a half hours to get there from Manchester—once we got there—we were completely awed over. The sheer scenic splendor envelops you in a magical spell of tranquility and utter oozing beauty. From the breathtaking lakes to the quaint shops lining winding cobblestone streets to the literary landmarks of Dove Cottages and Rydal Mount (both former homes of Wordsworth), I think I can live here forever.
There was talk to visit Lancaster Castle but due to our tight schedule, we had to be happy to just walk around the grounds. You see, by the time we got there, we just missed the last tour. Walking around the grounds, with its cold hard stone walls rising above us, this medieval castle cast a reflective charm. Built in 1093, this architectural wonder of a castle became a crown court and prison in the 13th century, a role it still performs today. It has seen the fall of quite a few heads, being the execution site until 1865.
Since Liverpool is just over an hour away from Manchester, we thought we can squeeze in a day’s visit. After all, it’s officially the World Capital of Pop and the birth place of the Beatles and is a favorite destination for lovers of art and music. . A day’s visit can be limiting, so we drove to where we needed to go before we did anything else—Liverpool Stadium to buy soccer paraphernalia—Manchester United, of course.
That out of the way, we headed straight to Albert Dock. Liverpool is one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to its spectacular waterfront and Albert Dock is one of the tourist attractions built around the waterfront. We were not disappointed—museums, shops and restaurants vie for attention and we had to walk a few rounds before deciding what to do. For music fans, it is essential to make a stop at The Beatles Story, a tour showcasing the Fab four’s memorabilia and insights from family and friends. It was also here that I had the best French fries.
Ferris wheel on the grounds of Albert Dock, where there is something for everyone.
Yes, even if you have the brilliant idea of driving over a flooded bridge.
Would like to get around in a London Cab--too bad, the Tube is cheaper.
The Telephone Booth--an endangered specimen of the old good times?
Before we knew it, the competition was over and we were free to roam the streets of London, so to speak. Shania can’t wait, after all, she has heard of the shopping paradise on Oxford Street and my husband can’t wait to show us his old apartment on St. Johns Wood, across from the world’s famous cricket field and a stone's throw away from Abbey Road, the famous recording studio for the Beatles and other famous bands. As for Aaron, he just wanted out of his job as the navigator. I don’t blame him, there have been too many wrong turns, rounabouts and one-way streets.
But all that will have to wait, because we can’t skip Stonehenge. I’ve been fascinated with Stonehenge ever since I read Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, where the female protagonist escaped to Stonehenge and laid down to rest on the ancient altar before her arrest and final demise. The place of ancient mystery and awaits…
After meandering through a windy road, we finally spotted the infamous pillars and around the arrangement of stones, curious spectators gawked and took pictures, all enthralled with the awesomeness of it all. We quickly bought our tickets for the self-guided tour and joined the masses of “worshippers.” Standing in the presence of these massive stones, one steeped in historical intrigue—was it built to worship the sun, or was it used at one time as a site for burial or human sacrifice, or as an astronomical calendar to tell summer and winter solstices or eclipses?—the mystery continues to be a intriguing marvel puzzle. The continual hum of winds through the pillars (Thomas Hardy likened it to the booming tune from a gigantic one-stringed harp) adds to the awe-inspiring experience.
History has it that the ancient monument of stones was built in several stages from 2800 to 1800 B.C. How builders managed to move these huge pillars of stone and then proceed to built it using only the most primitive of tools remain a great topic of discussion.
Having seen this wonder, I no longer wonder at the wonder of it all—it’s totally deserving of the wonder. It’s the most awesome thing I’ve seen in my life.
London Here We Come
If I’ve to end the trip right here, I’ll be satisfied but as it turned out, we have a couple of days in London and it’s only an hour away if you don’t get waylaid by the beautiful English countryside. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking, since they do say more than what I can say. Enjoy:
Harrods Department Store in the background--London's most famous department store..
Harrods Food Hall--come hungry--there's lots to eat.
Westminster Abbey, London
Located near the House of Parliament, the abbey serves as a burial ground for a number of politicians, sovereigns and even artists. About 3300 people were buried in the church and its cloisters. Among them were Charles Darwin, Sir Issac Newton and David Livingstone. It is also used for every royal coronation except Edward V and Edward VIII since 1066. Walking through the worship sanctuary can be a soul-enriching experience.
Stained glass in Westminster Abbey.
Outside Buckingham Palace.
Since we missed the changing of guards, I feel obligated to bring it to you via youtube (thank goodness for this invention)....enjoy!
Hyde Park, one of the several royal parks in London.
Flowers at Hype Park.
If you're short on money and time, wander around St. James Park, across from the Buckingham Palace for some free entertainment--mother nature herself.
St. James Park is also linked to a near-continuous flow of other gardens, including Hype Park, Green Park, Kensingston Gardens--known as the green lung of London. Here you can spent hours taking in the lush scenery or enjoy a lazy afternoon just doing nothing at all. They say relaxation is the art of enjoyment.
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