One of the greatest things we share is a love and passion for music. All sorts of music. Neither of us follow any genre and (hip) hop around between classical and rock, rap and pop, we even dabbled with jazz last year and thanks to the fantastic Hackney Colliery Band found it maybe wasn’t so bad after all.
That’s not to say we don’t have favourites and certain groups/singers who we would put some effort into seeing. Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters hold the record for the group we have seen the most - taking our kids to see them at a very early age and continuing that through the last 20 years!
We actively seek out new musical experiences from attending the world premiere of the Hacienda Classical when no one knew what on earth would happen (Happy Monday’s Bez was there – always unpredictable), to the combined skills of McBusted! We even enjoy the occasional ‘fake’ band – ticket prices are much cheaper to watch Fake That or the Tom Jones impersonator who morphed into Neil Sedaka during the interval (maybe one we won’t be revisiting!).
So when we heard on the grapevine that a brand new group – Manchester Baroque – would be holding their inaugural performance in Manchester – tickets just £10 and a night when we were already going to be in the city. Hardly difficult to make that decision!
Manchester Baroque have a catchy slogan ‘Old Instruments, New Ideas’. They are led by Dr Pauline Nobes, who specialises in historical performance and they aim to recreate some of the famous baroque concerts held in Manchester in the 18th century. (That meant nothing to us either!) One of us was quite familiar with baroque music and the other was secretly hoping it was actually some new style of rock music ‘ba-rock’! (time to get the black studded ankle boots out?!)
The debut concert took place in St Ann’s Church in the city centre to a sell out audience. The church was obviously picked for its historical connections and beauty, but maybe not for the view from the seats! Luckily, before the second half someone left early due to a fidgety toddler, so we quickly shuffled into their centre stage view (don’t think anyone noticed!) and it was time to get the cameras out (you should know by now we go nowhere without them!).
The concert consisted of 6 concertos and an introduction to the group and their aims. Not noticed by us until Dr Nobes pointed it out, was that the instruments were definitely ‘old’ (even older than us!), either genuine 18thcentury instruments or recreations. The Violins had pigs gut strings and the cello had no stand and was held by the musician between her knees– can’t imagine how uncomfortable that was! Most surprising was the flute which looked just like the recorder I used to play (very poorly!) at primary school.
We both really enjoyed the evening – the concertos were short and lively and played with great passion. Learning about the history of Baroque and the aim of the group's project was fascinating. This music would have been the ‘rock’ music of the 18th century I have no doubt! Don’t you imagine Mozart to be the Bowie of his day? The Aladdin Sane of the 18th century?
Whilst queuing for the interval toilet break (second issue with a church just 3 toilets!) several members of the very knowledgeable audience stated that Manchester has had a huge gap with a lack of Baroque musicians (not noticed that either!). Maybe Manchester Baroque have just filled that.
Visit their website to sign up for updates on their upcoming projects.
"No one knew what they was gonna do
But Tchaikovsky had the news
He said ...Let there be sound, and there was sound
Let there be light, and there was light
Let there be drums, and there was drums
Let there be guitar, and there was guitar
Let there be rock"
Not much drops through your letterbox anymore - not even bills. The daily post delivery (if you get one) generally consists of unwanted adverts, Domino’s pizza offers (is anything ever full price there?), begging letters from charities and the occasional letter from the tax man. But if you're very lucky, once in a while something very special will drop through your door. 2018 saw our postman deliver two such letters.
Our first, which was a complete surprise was a letter from ERNIE – master of the premium bonds - advising of a £25 win on my bond! As I am the owner of just £2 worth of premium bonds, won in a local newspaper colouring competition over 46 years ago (?!), it was a great surprise when they won a prize! It might not have been the jackpot and it didn’t take long to spend but it was a very enjoyable win!
Secondly, not so much a surprise but even more special to both of us, was the letter which arrived with a Buckingham Palace postmark confirming our attendance at a Royal Garden Party to be hosted by the Queen, after both being nominated through Chris' work for services to business in Manchester.
We RSVP'd and dutifully headed to ‘google’ for help and advice!
Now the beautiful invitations – something we will treasure for ever – came with a plethora of helpful advice and tips for the day but somehow, we needed more!
Our first job was to sort out our transport for the day. We are lucky to live on the West Coast Main Line so getting down to London from Wigan is a relatively smooth job thanks to Virgin trains. Book early enough and you can even manage to get first class travel at a bargain price. Thankfully this time we were lucky and managed to get first class tickets on our train of choice for under £20.
Now the clothes. Dress codes are a nightmare. Not so much for men as it is just a choice of suit style and colour but what do these ‘dress code’ terms really mean? Day dress? My ‘day dress’ usually involved my black or blue trousers with a selection of tops from Fat Face, White Stuff, Wallis and Next. I was quite sure at this point that none of those would be acceptable! Dresses are completely absent from my wardrobe, so my first job was seeking one out. Not being a natural ‘dresser up’ this was actually a really tricky choice coupled with the ‘should I wear tights’ and the eternal ‘will my high heels be comfortable?’. Thankfully there were blogs aplenty showing outfits people had chosen ranging from cocktail dresses to trouser suits and to my relief lots of fellow ‘non dresser ups’ (are these even words!?) wearing lovely ordinary dresses. I have to admit this was my least favourite part of the whole experience; racked by indecision and a total lack of confidence in my ability to choose appropriate clothes (if you know me you will understand..ripped jeans and scarves dominate my wardrobe!) I was finally dragged into Debenhams by my 80 year old Mum who declared we were not leaving until I chose something! Surprisingly of the two dresses I thought might do, I actually liked one of them enough to think I could wear it helped by the fact that there was a lovely blush jacket waiting in my wardrobe to go with it. So navy blue dress with a tropical print, blush jacket, a beautiful blush scarf (which I have loved ever since!) and some nude wedge heels – following the ‘no heels’ advice! Thanks to a good friend Angie I had a lovely feathery fascinator – blush again - and was ready to go. Not sure I was fully confident in my choices but basically, I ran out of time! At this point I’ll just mention that Chris chose his favourite blue suit and a white shirt which I dutifully ironed. So much easier for men….
The day dawned, bright and sunny. An early hair appointment with friend and hairdresser Lisa who transformed my hair then set it like concrete! Half an hour of deciding what to do about shoes – eventually we all decided that comfort should rule so out came some comfy (frumpy) blue wedge sandals (managed to get my ankle chain on though!) and the blush heels remained in their box for another time. The lovely Lisa dropped us at the station and we were ready to go.
In the lead up to the party I had done extensive research on umbrellas and coats and what actually happened if the ‘heavens opened’. I knew (thanks again bloggers) what umbrellas were acceptable and what would happen if it did indeed rain. Now I don’t know if you remember last year but something very extraordinary happened and we had a long period of hot and sunny weather. Coping with the heat I had not researched and not long after our arrival in London we were carrying jackets and searching shops for sunglasses!
You may know we love to walk, so travelled down to the palace on foot – thank goodness for the comfy shoes! It was almost like following the Pied Piper as at every turn someone else joined the walk – knowingly smiling at each other as the outfits gave away our destination.
As we arrived at the entrance to Green Park, we were met by volunteers who pointed us in the direction of the different entrances. There were substantial queues at all of them, so we decided to go around to the rear of the palace and join the queue there. This saved us no time as that was also a substantial queue, but it was extremely well organised, moved along quickly and you were surrounded by thousands of excited people. The sun was shining, it was very hot, and the crowds were friendly. It was at this point that we began to notice groups of tourists photographing us! You almost felt like shouting ‘we’re no one special!’ – what they imagined was taking place I have no idea!
As the line progressed you were greeted by friendly smiling police officers – heavily armed – but there to keep you safe and guide you in. Tickets checked and we were in. Actually, inside Buckingham Palace gardens. That feeling is so hard to describe. I am sure no one imagines that ever happening to them. We certainly didn’t.
Again, thanks to the research (thanks again bloggers!) we had a vague idea of where we needed to be and when, so we took the time to wander around the beautiful gardens. Happily taking photos for other couples and selfies by the bucket load! Being able to take your camera along was a very pleasant surprise. We chose to leave the Fuji’s at home and opted to go ‘mobile’ for the day. Cameras on mobile phones are of exceptional quality now and of course much more portable.
We reached the front of the palace (back entrance) still snapping happily away and met the crowds of people waiting for the arrival of the royal party. As you gaze across the immaculate lawns you realise the sheer number of people who are actually there with you – 8000 people are invited to each event with three parties across the summer months.
We joined the throng but had no real chance of seeing much through the lines of top hats! Bang on time out came the royal party onto the patio and made their way slowly across the garden to their tea tents; talking to what must have been pre-arranged guests. We got very close to Prince Edward at this point standing nonchalantly on the lawn chatting and resembling nothing more than a founding member of the Kingsman society! (geeky film reference sorry!)
We watched the Beefeaters march away, listened to the bands playing and then decided to go and sample the afternoon tea. Again (thanks bloggers!) thanks to the research done beforehand we knew exactly what to expect. Join one of the lines choose your drink and then select whichever sandwiches and cakes you want to fill your small plate. There was a large choice of drinks and we decided to sample one of each from the cakes and sandwiches. The queues looked long but the whole thing is extremely well organised and moves along quickly and efficiently. 27,000 cups of tea are served, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 cakes and every mouthful we tasted was exquisite. Not sure we have ever tasted such delicious sandwiches and cakes and despite your plate looking on the small side (we’re northern remember! Pies, pea and mash up here!) it perfectly fitted ‘one of each’. Now at this point I need to tell you that seating is not readily available. There were a lot of elderly guests and it was a very hot day. There are seats around and about the gardens but we, like many others, stood to eat our tea.
Due to the heat the next stop was the spotless toilet block to freshen up – sticky fingers! It was here that I realised my choice of the frumpy blue sandals was indeed the right choice as there were numerous ladies walking around barefoot carrying their stilettos in their hands (non heel wearers may not realise that once they are off and particularly on a hot day they are not going back on for the rest of that day!)
Not sure if this was a result of the heat or if this is a usual occurrence but there were plentiful bottles of water for you to have and even ice creams! We ate our ice creams leaning on the walls of Buckingham Palace (still can’t believe I am actually saying that!) and tried to take in what was going on around us. We met some very worthy attendees proudly telling their stories and introducing you to their families.
Words cannot describe what a good day we were having but it was at this stage that something quite magical happened. As we wandered around the lawns trying to catch a glimpse of the royal party in their tea tent, we saw the Beefeaters begin their walk back to protect the Queen. As we turned around to watch, a Beefeater stood directly in front of us and we realised they were forming a line for the Queen to walk back to the palace. Accidentally we found ourselves right at the front of this line and together with a lovely young couple from Ireland could not believe our luck! The royal party made their way through the line across the gardens towards the palace right in front of us. Time for some point and click photography hoping to get at least one good pic. Obviously well trained to smile for everyone we got some amazing photos of the party and several where they even appeared to be smiling just for us! Proudest moment when the Queen smiled for my photo – I’m definitely sure it was me she was smiling at!
Despite the retirement of the royal party there remained much to see and do – bands, music, the gardens and even selected areas inside the Palace (no photos allowed there!)
Sadly, as all great days come to an end it was time to leave to catch the train home. The exit was through the palace and the very famous doors you usually only see after weddings and visits of dignitaries. Time for some more snapping and then we went under the gates and out onto the front. Once again paparazzi style photography from hundreds of tourists, which by now I was used to and quite enjoying! I’d never see any of the photos so who cares what I look like!
Despite taxis everywhere we decided to walk back to Euston and once again the frumpy shoes were proven to be the right choice. First class ride home on the train (we were very tired!) and the end of a truly wonderful day. A day we will probably never ever repeat. I can’t imagine you would ever be asked twice, but what a huge honour to go just once.
It was about this time last year when we first received our invitation and began to plan. If you’ve just received yours congratulations and we hope you have a wonderful day! Maybe some of this might help you who knows! We came back from London with so many memories, new sunglasses, tights which didn’t ladder and a fascinator which thanks to Lisa stayed exactly where it should have done all day!
Our big 5 tips:
"Why am I here?
I wanna feel
I wanna see
I want to meet the queen..."
The hot, hot, very hot summer continues - doesn’t it feel like we went straight from snow to heatwave – bizarre!
Hands up if you’re too hot to sleep? Every plant in your garden dead? Washing basket piled up after multiple changes during every day…? But still there is nothing like sunshine to lift everyone’s mood, entice you outside and just make you feel better about everything.
The hottest day of the year so far (it just keeps changing!) saw the temperature reach a whopping 35C (90F) in London while Manchester basked in temperatures of 29/31C.
What a glorious day to spend two hours waiting for and eventually travelling on a train on a journey that should have taken 20 minutes. No drivers and a train stuck behind another which had broken down resulted in two cancellations and then a very slow journey missing out all the small stations which it should have stopped at (there was a genuine collective groan on the platform when that was announced). Finally, on arrival at Manchester Victoria, there were no available platforms, so another wait on the outskirts of the city in blistering heat. I love train travel, but the current unreliable service across the North West is becoming a massive problem. You almost feel like standing up somewhere high (Beetham Tower maybe?) and shouting down South – “Oi have you seen what is happening up North??”. What a ridiculous situation when a train cancels all its stops to get back on time. Shouldn’t the priority be to get people to their destinations?
Still, I arrived safely, and the sun was still shining, so all thoughts of the journey soon disappeared. We were lucky to have entrance to the VIP garden at the Jazz Festival so spent a lovely evening relaxing on deckchairs listening to the free music at the festival. We go nowhere without our cameras and that evening had promised the best ‘blood moon’ for decades and a lunar eclipse, but as so often happens in this country, despite the heat along came the clouds and the moon was nowhere to be seen. Never mind there is always something to photograph!
Excitingly, having seen ice cream rolls on many an Instagram video, we were delighted to find The Ice Alchemists serving the jazz festival audience. What a fascinating procedure to watch (and photograph – our cameras are always ready!) and they tasted good too. The urge to pick a ‘roll’ up and eat it as you would a wrap was irresistible, but believe me don’t try that yourselves it is very messy especially on a hot night!
As the sun presumably disappeared for the night – who knows there was so much cloud we couldn’t see! – we decided to go and try some night shooting. We don’t do this too often as we like to go to bed early – we are over 50!!
Manchester is currently ‘buzzing’ with a fantastic art sculpture trail from Wild in Art with 101 large bees designed by a variety of people - professional and amateur artists and even Liam Gallagher! (you can find his in the corn Exchange building).
Of course, we knew all about the Bee in the City event – in fact when the LGBTQ Queen Bee followed us on Instagram we were very excited - but I’m not sure either was us was prepared for just how amazing the bees are. Everyone different and the expressions are just a dream to photograph. We saw our first half a dozen late at night and got some amazing (well we thought so!) shots. The following day we saw more including some of the smaller ones designed by schools in the cathedral and the library. Every bee is surrounded by people patiently waiting to photograph them. You feel like you’re playing Pokémon Go collecting each one!
We’ve already been asked which is our favourite bee, that's a hard decision. We have so many more to see, but each one is wonderful. Our favourite shots this weekend were of the fantastic Bee-vina Mccall in Spinningfields. The bees are buzzing around until September – go and see them you won’t be disappointed! I’m sure there will be a further blog on the bees when we get around the other 80+ (even the sneaky ones outside of the city centre!)
So, our weekend was spent in the hot sunshine spending time with family, eating, listening to music, eating ice cream, moaning about trains, searching for bees and photographing (I’m sure this is not a surprise to you!)- imagine our surprise on Sunday morning when we woke to torrential rain – now where did I put my coat….
It was with some trepidation that I accepted Chris’ invite to the Manchester Jazz festival. We both love music – all sorts of music, but for some reason this does not include jazz – at all. I imagine jazz (as described by a close friend!) to be ‘stuffy’ and jazz festivals to be full of people in cardigans debating very important things (unlike our nights out which usually involve debating a million different solutions to the current Avengers problems!).
What we do both strongly believe though is in supporting local events and trying new things.
The Manchester Jazz Festival takes place annually and this year (in their own words!) had ‘over 500 musicians in 80 events spread over 7 venues, free gigs, music day and night indoors and out, regional jazz artists, new talent, innovation and contemporary jazz trying to break down musical boundaries’…phew. Exhausting just to write it all down!
How exciting you might think, but to me the most tempting reason to go to one of their concerts was the temporary venue they had on Albert Square – the ‘Salon Perdu’ - a 1920’s touring music venue (Spiegeltent), it is a structure of great beauty and one I was desperate to get inside! Added to very reasonable ticket prices it was time for one of us to do some ‘male research’ (is that a real thing? Its always quoted in our home!).
So, after studying the programme, it was decided that we would go to the final concert and watch ‘The Hackney Colliery Band’. ‘They’re great fun’ I was told – ‘you’ll love it!’. (I would insert here the emoji with its eyes raised – it is my favourite – but unfortunately not sure how to do it, so please just picture it in your head!)
Imagine my delight (insert eye raising emoji again!) when we arrived at the venue (which is truly the most wonderful place I have ever been to listen to music) to find there were not one but two jazz bands that night and all for just £18.50. Bargain!
First up - Zambian artist Namvula – at this point I was trying to work out how long this performance was going to last? Did I need another drink? Where were the toilets? Were these shoes going to hurt all night? Does anyone go for comfortable shoes when they go out? How many photos should I take of the lovely building? Shall we try a couple of selfies? Distracted? Yes, just slightly, but it didn’t last long. The music coming from the stage surprised me – unusual African beats with a great singing voice and so easy to listen and sway along to. I was even more surprised to find I was enjoying it despite my immediate neighbour debating whether this was indeed jazz or some unusual fusion. He wasn’t sure - I wasn’t bothered.
Why are people like this? Music is music it doesn’t need to be a genre. People can either sing, play and make good music or they can’t. You either love it or you don’t. It would be a boring world if we were all identical.
So - an hour soon passed, swaying in time with the audience to the music onstage and I had now begun to look forward to what was coming next and forgotten all about my shoes (still hurting).
Cue the arrival of the ten-piece Hackney Colliery Band – drums, trombones, trumpets, saxophones and a very large sousaphone which looked like it was being played via a shower attachment (the old ones which excitingly used to turn your bath taps into a shower!)
They were loud, lively and looked like they were having a blast. I loved them from the minute they came on stage and played a mixture of their own compositions and unusual arrangements of some great rock songs! Three of my favourite songs from Nirvana, the Prodigy and Blackstreet (No Diggity was my ringtone for many years until it got me into trouble at a conference – long story!!) Once again, my neighbour expressed his displeasure that they hadn’t just stuck to covers as they were much better when they did! I strongly disagree their original music was fun and exciting and most importantly tuneful and great to dance to!
After weeks of complaining to anyone that would listen that I was having to go a jazz festival (insert emoji again – you know which one by now!) life once again proved that sometimes the things you aren’t keen on doing turn out to be the best experiences in your life. I’m not sure I’m now a jazz convert, but both acts we saw were excellent that night – proving that true talent always shines through.
So now I find myself stalking the internet to find where I can next see the Hackney Colliery Band, sending the videos to all my friends and family and generally taking a keen interest in seeing them again! I'd even go so far to say I am looking forward to next year’s Jazz festival (insert a whole row of laughing emojis!).
As we've previously mentioned we are both 'larks', awake and ready to go very early in the morning. This has its advantages - watching the sun rise, catching early morning mist, getting to work on time!
Imagine our excitement when we found out a steam train was due to pass through Manchester Victoria generating (hopefully!) lots of contrasting ancient (well maybe not ancient!) and modern transport pics! Imagine our horror when we found out it was due to pass through at 6.30am. we're about 45 minutes away from the city centre on a good day (rare and infrequent - the days when no one else is on the road!)- mentally adding on breakfast, getting ready (have to put my lipstick on!), parking, walking etc meant a very, very early start and after a busy week it was not something either of us relished.
It was an opportunity we didn't want to miss, so time to book a last minute hotel deal in Manchester for the night (this is how seriously we take our photography now!) and there was even time for a Friday night family meet up with the 'grown ups'.
Even without the travelling, Saturday still brought a very early start and when the alarm rang at 5.30am we almost had to drag each other out of bed. Thankfully Chris had done a pre-visit 'recce' on his work lunch break earlier in the week, so we knew exactly where to stand (or thought we did!). The sun was out, the city was quiet and, unlike earlier in the week, it was warmish (no frost!).
We positioned ourselves at the side of the track, just before the train would disappear inside the station - at the side of the embankment building and not on the actual track!
I didn't realise we had become train spotters too ( I will shortly be buying my very own anorak!), but there was considerable excitement as we saw the steam appear and the familiar chug chug noises. It wasn't the prettiest of steam trains, but it was a delightful sight making its way through the building works and the new flats in and around the station. Happy travellers waved from every window (they must have been up so early as the train had departed Liverpool at least 40 minutes previous) and the train looked really inviting particularly the First Class section (until we reached home and priced it up!).
As it entered Victoria Station, we casually set off to the other side of the bridge to see it come out the other side. Even managing to look at each others videos and photos! At this point our plans went slightly (well massively!) array - neither of us had read the actual timings! We waited until 7am and then checked to find the train had just gone straight through Victoria and we had completely missed its departure! Still, no time for disappointment as we saw lots of early morning trains and trams and the trainlines looked particularly impressive in the early morning sunshine!
So, there we were 7am - all done for the day and a bit lost for ideas. The lighting was spectacular, so we wandered around for 8km passing through the Northern Quarter and back into the city with a stop for cinnamon swirls on the steps of the Bridgewater Hall. We still had time to kill before we were expected at our next appointment, so called in at Salford Quays (again the lighting was really, really good!) and were met by rowers, wild water swimmers and more spectacular sunshine.
All done for the day and back home in time to watch the Royal Wedding (might have been a slight afternoon nap though!) we were pretty pleased with our mornings work!
The famous British Bank Holiday - what does it make you think of? Rain? Traffic jams? Old films on the TV? Who remembers when Disneytime was the bank holiday treat and the only time you saw Disney film clips outside of a cinema! How times have changed.
No matter what the weather, Bank Holidays are such a treat. No Monday morning get up (hands up who forgot to cancel their work alarm!) and a four day working week to follow. Time to spend with your family and friends, barbecues to eat, gardens to dig, scarecrow festivals to visit and no end of weird and wonderful UK traditions.
The 2018 early May Bank Holiday followed the strange weather pattern of the rest of this year producing the hottest temperatures for that day for more than 40 years, cue queues at the beaches and garden centres, the sound of lawns being mowed, people digging and planting, the smells of sausages being massacred on barbecues and badly sunburnt people visiting Boots for some after Sun! Sound familiar?
We retreated into the cool, peaceful surroundings of Manchester Cathedral - strangely quiet for a Saturday morning. We love to take the cameras inside the building and when the sun shines through the stained glass it becomes a photographers dream. Imagine our delight when we realised a young harpist @elfair89 (better known as Elfair Grug Dyer!) was setting up to rehearse for a concert later that day. After asking her permission, we then spent at least twenty minutes photographing her and the harp whilst listening to the most beautiful music which was so in keeping with the surroundings of the cathedral.
If only we had been able to stay to her 11am coffee concert (all free of charge with donations for your coffee and cake!). Sadly we had duties elsewhere and after a quick recharge in the café at the Royal Exchange Theatre (my first glimpse of the original trading boards still hanging in the building - remnants of its previous life as a cotton exchange) we sadly left behind the crowds of people who were now enjoying al fresco dining and socialising in the by now glorious sunshine.
In line with probably half the country we gardened, visited the garden centre for some bark to hide the weeds and came away with some half price garden furniture. ( word of warning here delivery is later this week and we fully expect that to be the end of everyone’s summer - sorry!).
We walked 7k with daughter and the pup early in the morning before it got too hot, which happened surprisingly early! Then enjoyed the beautiful weather in our currently tidy garden listening to our neighbours digging their garden and playing darts! We took lunch al fresco and enjoyed a lazy afternoon.
If only every Monday was as relaxing as this…now somebody bring me an ice cream?
Competition comes in many forms including two of England’s most famous cities vying for the title of ‘second city’ after London. What attributes does this second city need? What would be the one thing that would propel one of the cities to the coveted second place? Would there be any advantage to being the official ‘second city’
Manchester is a very familiar city to us with strong family and work links. We socialise in the city, dine there, attend different sorts of events and frequently just wander around with our cameras uncovering hidden corners and hoping for exceptional photo shots. Conversely Birmingham is a place we’ve never really spent any time in other than to pass through on occasion and, in the pre-arena days, attend concerts at the NEC.
Our recent short visit to Birmingham gave us for the first time, and purely from a tourism view, the opportunity to see for ourselves the differences in the two cities.
Arriving in Birmingham late afternoon on a working week day was the first surprise – where was the city centre traffic? In fact, the whole time we were there we saw no traffic queueing in the city centre at all. Sadly, horrific traffic jams are part of everyday life all the time in Manchester. How does Birmingham achieve that?
Another notable difference was the skyline. Birmingham was surprisingly flat and even though the two cities have similar skylines filled with cranes and building sites, Manchester appears to be growing upwards at a rapid rate. The views are equally stunning but quite different.
Birmingham has a very compact shopping quarter including its very large markets, the Bullring and the Grand Central area around the station. Manchester is much more spread out with substantial distances between some of its main shops. Like most shopping centres now there is no real individuality to them with the same shops and restaurants offering the same clothes and food.
Birmingham’s New Street station is huge and feels more like an airport terminal with restaurants and food bars, shops and space. It has undergone a huge transformation in the last few years and now is part of the Grand Central shopping mall – or maybe the shopping mall is part of the station? Either way it is very central to the city and gives easy access to most areas. The Manchester stations both sit just on the outskirts of the city centre and are relatively small in comparison, but it is easier to find out where you need to be in them. New Street offers a bewildering array of platforms and lounges and there were so many different options for you to go through that it was a very confusing experience!
Both cities have interesting buildings, art galleries and museums – equal amounts of photo opportunities! Whilst Birmingham cathedral is interesting particularly the stunning stained glass windows, Manchester’s is exquisite. We return to it repeatedly and never fail to be disappointed. Manchester also has the beautiful Harry Potter like library inside the Chetham’s buildings and the equally stunning John Ryland’s library on Deans gate. Both free to visit and definite must sees.
And, in what is a very controversial subject up north, Birmingham has more than one Michelin star restaurant whereas Manchester has yet to achieve one despite several chefs having a try. That is not to say that Manchester has no Michelin quality food just that it never seems to fully meet the criteria. Does this matter – maybe, maybe not we could both recommend many a Manchester restaurant where you are guaranteed to have good food and service. However, for many the lack of a star in Manchester has become an obsession and having one would probably help lift the city out of what seems its focus on burgers.
The canal development around the Gas Street Basin area in Birmingham is another must see and something Manchester could learn from. Bars and restaurants, miles of well paved walking opportunities, well signposted routes – a joy to walk down and spend time in. Particularly attractive at night with many a twinkling fairy light and canal side seat.
Manchester has the previously mentioned Northern Quarter. Edgy and exciting, unusual restaurants and bars and a wealth of quirky, individual shops to visit including the famous Affleck’s. Ever changing murals appear on walls in the old-fashioned streets. Modern yet still having a period feel it’s a perfect film location– most notably being used in scenes from Captain America and Peaky Blinders.
Constantly trying to encourage visitors to the city, Manchester City Council are particularly good at events and themes – Chinese New Year resulted in a city full of red lanterns and decorations – Halloween saw the city turn green and giant tentacles above House of Fraser. Having never been in Birmingham for the equivalent it’s not fair to say who does it best. Think a visit to Birmingham’s Christmas markets will take place later this year for a brand new experience and to do some further research (as well as trying some more Michelin standard food!)
So, it’s probably too early yet for any final comparison, if one is even needed, and does it even matter who is first or second? Makes no difference to us. What we do believe very strongly is in the amazing cities we have in the UK. Go and visit them both you won’t be disappointed.
Do you ever wake up and decide to go and see a bridge? It’s a normal occurrence in our house!
Sunday morning is one of the few mornings that we usually have a little bit of a spare time so we like to go out very early with our cameras and try to capture something different. A photowalk with a purpose.
Just beneath the M60 motorway close to the Chill Factore is a brand new road bridge crossing the Manchester Ship Canal to Barton and beyond – hopefully relieving some of the (what can be horrific) traffic around the Trafford Centre and Event City.
Parking at the Trafford Centre and walking to, and then across, the new bridge as far as the shared stadium of Salford Red Devils Rugby League and Sale Sharks Rugby Union gave us a 6k walk (tracked to ensure we keep up with our Us Against the Year Challenge on Map My Walk!) Perfect start to a winter Sunday morning with the added bonus of some exercise and umpteen photo opportunities. Our average pace is pretty rubbish – we stop too many times to take a photo!
A very impressive bridge well worth the trip. Fascinating structure and frightening when you see how they are held up. It was a perfect photowalk with urban opportunities everywhere – motorway bridge, the stadium, the new bridge enhanced by a surprisingly beautiful Manchester Ship Canal complete with reflections of trees and shimmering sunlight.
We finished the walk with a trip inside the Chill Factore – from urban Trafford to an alpine village in seconds! The slope is particularly impressive although I’m not sure I’ll ever be going down it! I’ll stick to taking photos of bridges!
Birmingham has been high on our list of places to visit for some time. We'd had a long planned-for trip to Purnells to take and it is just a hour and a half train journey direct from home. Having a Christmas birthday in the family always means extra thought and planning to ensure Chris' birthday doesn’t disappear into the Christmas festivities. Finding two lots of special presents in one week can be quite a challenge cue this years brainwave – a day trip to Birmingham for lunch at Purnells and a trip round the markets. As with any activity undertaken close to the Christmas season the chance of illness stopping plans is very high and unsurprisingly I came down with a heavy cold and the decision was made to postpone (disappointment after disappointment as I also missed Star Wars Episode 8 The Last Jedi!)
Sometimes disappointment eventually unveils unexpected hidden silver linings. We made the decision to rearrange our trip for February and include a few nights in Birmingham so, and I am sure this is familiar to everyone, it was time for an online accommodation search and to read countless reviews. For no other reason than they looked nice and sounded a bit different we settled on the Staying Cool apartments located in the Rotunda. We booked direct and got what we felt was a really good price for a city centre hotel room.
As is the case (in our house anyway busy lives etc…) we then forgot all about it and only read up the night before what was actually included – small kitchen, small amount of breakfast food, toiletries all included in our mini studio apartment. We hadn’t realised at this point how different a ‘hotel’ room we had booked.
On arrival – pleasant surprise number 1 was the proximity of the station. A very short walk from the front of Birmingham New Street although we managed to end up on the wrong side of the road! Couldn’t actually miss the Rotunda towering over everything else!
Easy check in and our lift up to our 18th floor apartment and surprise number 2 - the view - wow
As soon as you enter the room you have floor to ceiling windows and the most amazing view over the Bullring shopping centre, Birmingham markets and beyond. Bizarrely there in the middle of all the modern buildings is the old Church of St Martins in the Bullring.
And the room was so much more than just another hotel room - as described it was a mini studio with a small kitchen, bedroom, living area and dining section – all separate and feeling perfectly in proportion for the two of us. Interestingly the bed faces away from the windows making it feel very private and allowing you to leave the windows uncovered all night.
Most excitingly we realised that the two middle windows fully opened (like your patio doors at home)! You’re safe behind a rail and there are some strict safety rules but the feeling of being so high and so open is breathtaking (particularly when the wind blows!
Apart from our Purnells lunch, we ate every meal sitting out just looking at the views. Over the three days we were blessed with clouds, sunshine and even a misty morning giving us the opportunity to use our cameras to full capacity! My favourite was the trains travelling through a short piece of the track filled with lights. They glittered as the lights reflected on their carriages – magical!
For us it was so much better than your average hotel room – we loved the freedom of being able to breakfast when we wanted and choose our own food and wine for the evening plus I am sure it was considerably cheaper! Little extras like the milk in the fridge, granola for breakfast and even oranges for you to squeeze your own juice coupled with a departure day check out of 12 noon made it a perfect stay, oh and did I mention the views.
Needless to say we did a few tweets and Instagrams which were picked up and retweeted by Staying Cool and just to cap it all off we got a bottle of Prosecco on checking out as a thank you for the tweets and posts. It's not often we're lost for words but we were with this - what a great gesture - thank you Danny and the team!
Only problem now is we want a view like that all the time! Interestingly we've learnt that they are opening up similar apartments in Manchester. Can’t wait to see how they turn out.
January is such a strange month - nothing much happening after the excitement of Christmas and New Year, no presents to buy, no food to plan for and probably for most people either a big credit card or no money in the bank account after the excesses of the previous month. Its a month of new starts - diets, exercise, savings - we all do it at least for a few weeks! It probably should be a restful month after the stress of the Christmas build up - a month of winter walks and holiday planning.
Our January hasn't turned out like that! For some reason both of our 'grown ups' decided to start 2018 with a big new start and are currently in the process of moving house/flat , which (as we all know) brings a whole new range of stress and worry to everyone involved!
Lucy and Simon finally move this weekend after selling their house back at the beginning of October - house sales take so long now! Adam is right at the start of his process but as it is a flat for flat rental swap it probably should be a quicker process - won't it? I really hope so! With lots of paperwork to sort and discussions needed we decided to take a trip to the brand new Salford-ish Tim Hortons. But did it live up to expectations?
Life and other