Weekly Photo Challenge: Perspective

WordPress puts up a photo challenge each week and this week’s is Perspective. Taking photos, for me, is about memories when I travel. It’s my perspective on what I see and do. I like to have photos of the grand scheme of things, a street, a building, a view. But I also then like to move in closer and pick up some details…a plant or flower, a window, a carving, a shop window or something in it. When walking through the streets of a city, I’m looking in all directions, including up where you will pick out details on buildings, signs, all kinds of things like this, spotted in Manchester, UK.

You know people live in these tall, seemingly anonymous towers but if you look closely, there’s evidence that they’re actually homes to real people.

One tall building looks very much like another. Does it contain offices? Hotel rooms? Flats/apartments/condos?

Look closer, and thanks to a good zoom lens…

Yep, someone lives here. Real people. Real homes.

 

We got Day trips

Day trips, we got day trips. Now that we have a rental car booked for my trip to Manchester, we are starting to think about day trips to make. I fancied seeing Chatsworth house again. I visited there with a group of friends back in September, 2000 on a rainy day. Wasn’t very good for walking in the gardens, just the house and a quick trip to the cafe. It’s a beautiful manor house, home to the Cavendish family, the  Dukes of Devonshire. In recent years, it’s been featured in both the movie about Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire (“The Duchess”, played by Keira Knightly), and in two recent appearances, it has represented Darcy’s home Pemberly in a remake of Pride and Prejudice (also with Keira Knightly) and in a television series, Death Comes to Pemberly.

There’s been a house here since Tudor times when it was first owned by “Bess” of  Hardwick from 1549. The house that’s there now dates from around the turn of the 18th Century. It’s pretty spectacular inside, with painted ceilings, elaborate plaster work and the gardens are extensive, with fountains and outbuildings. The stables and greenhouses can be visited (I believe the cafe and gift shop are now in the stables as well as some little shops).

I fancy another visit to see it again and update my photos and it isn’t that far to drive across the beautiful Peak District from the Manchester area so, weather permitting, I think that’s on the cards. We can go in the morning and find a nice country pub on the way back for lunch. In fact, I did some judicious Googling, as you do, and found one called the Royal Oak near Buxton that will suit requirements perfectly.

Not sure yet on other day trips though we’ve discussed taking the train over to Liverpool perhaps. I thought about Ripon and Fountains Abbey in the Yorkshire region or maybe just another visit to one of our favourite cities, York. We’d like to find somewhere where we could meet up with friends that might come from the Sunderland/Newcastle area.

We have pretty much everything booked for the France/London trip. The rental car is reserved, the theatre tickets for The Mousetrap are bought, the tickets/voucher for the Tower of London also bought and printed. We thought we’d stay at an airport hotel the night before we have that really early flight to Paris so that’s booked, too. Maybe we won’t have to get up *quite* so early though it still won’t be much more of a lie in. Every little bit helps and we can drop off the car at the airport the night before as well, after we check in with the luggage.

Itinerary building – Accommodations

Abbesses Metro, Paris

Abbesses Metro, Paris

Step one: Book the main flight to the U.K. ….. check
Step two: Book the one way flights to Paris….check.

LeavingParisEurostarStep three:  Pick and book a hotel in Paris (five nights) and one in London (two nights).
Step four: Book the Eurostar Paris to London.

The Eurostar website won’t let me book their own hotels with the ticket as a package unless I book a return ticket. Too bad because you can get some very good package deals from Eurostar with a return ticket.

Requirements: Location, and budget. Budget is very slightly flexible, depending on what’s included we could go a little bit over if necessary. Wi-fi is a must and having a safe deposit box in the room that will fit the laptop is desireable. Breakfast included would be nice but not a deal-breaker.

In Paris, we were thinking of staying around the Opera district, the 8th or 9th district. We want it to be fairly central and we don’t want to be right on top of the train stations (Gare du Nord and Est) because I’ve heard that area is a bit rough even if the hotels are cheaper. Probably a good reason for it, you get what you pay for! The right bank of the Seine will be more convenient this time because we’ll be using Gare St. Lazarre for our day trips and leaving via Gare du Nord on the Eurostar.

I did look on the British Airways site to see if I could get a deal on Paris hotels with the flights but they were still all very expensive. Fail, B.A.

For London, I thought either near Euston station or Bloomsbury might be the most convenient as we’ll arrive at St. Pancras and G. leaves from Euston to go back to Manchester (oh, note to self, make sure he books that train ticket, too!) I will probably get a taxi to Paddington and then the train to Heathrow from there. The Canadian Dollar has taken a hit against the pound lately so hotels are going to cost a bit more than usual but the Euro is still a good exchange rate at this moment in time.

I have been scouring websites like Expedia, Trivago, booking.com and hotels.com, making notes of likely candidates and making the mistake of looking up the TripAdvisor reviews which only further confuses me unless overall it’s generally not so good. Reviews, as I’ve said before, are so subjective and you really have to read between the lines. A lot of people whine about small rooms. I can handle small rooms unless they’re like a closet. Were the rooms as dirty as some people complained when others have found it spotless? I am a bit skeptical of that one as am I about scattered reviews about rude staff. In my mind, it takes two and in general most hotel staff are professional, sometimes a bit business like, and often very friendly,  but never rude.

Yesterday, I visited the hair salon and after that, post-coffee break with some relatives I bumped into, went to the travel agent. The woman I usually deal with wasn’t in and I wanted to get this sorted so sat down with one of the other agents. I have her the list of possibilities but told her I was open to anything else she found that was in the budget range and location. They don’t always have the access through their booking agents to everything you could find online but often they can sometimes get better deals with their sources.

The Welcome Hotel, Paris. It's on the left bank near Odeon stop. Rooms were small, but not closet-sized and it was in a great location.

The Welcome Hotel, Paris. It’s on the left bank near the Odeon Metro stop. Rooms were small, but not closet-sized and it was in a great location.

One of the Paris hotels I’d noted was in one of those sources and she also found another one not far from it which I think I’d seen on my web surfing. She couldn’t book straight away. Some hotels through her booking system are “On Request”, that is, she has to request the availability and wait 24 hours or so until the hotel replies so she’s put in for that for these two hotels: My Hotel Opera St. George, and Hotel Opera Lafayette. I gave TripAdvisor a cursory glance and overall either sounds ok, they’re in our budget range albeit very slightly over the top end. Breakfast is included in both so I think that makes up for the little over-budget because you’d have to buy it anyway. I think we’d be happy with either one.

Ok, so we’re waiting for availability on those. Crossing my bits that at least one of them will be a go.  Next step: Eurostar. That’s pretty straight forward. I knew the time and the class of the ticket we wanted so it’s booked and pre-paid. Check.

Melia White Hotel, London. We bagged a great rate that time. Possibly through the Air Canada website, I seem to recall

Melia White Hotel, London. We bagged a great rate that time. Possibly through the Air Canada website, I seem to recall

On to London. Here’s where I ended up being delighted I had gone to the agent because what we ended up booking was far nicer that I would have found on my own.  I had given her a few names for hotels I’d chosen including one, a Hilton, that had been in the budget range earlier in the week but which, I thought, was a sale that had just ended. She came up with another name, and said it looked like she could get a very good rate. It was just a little over our budget but  it had free cancellation (barring a fee of one night’s accommodation and taxes) and a full breakfast buffet. The location is perfect, the hotel is a luxury four star and I didn’t hesitate. We’re staying at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Grafton. I looked at the cheapest room through the website’s booking widget and we’re paying almost 25% cheaper than that. The equivalent booking on Expedia was a little more expensive again. Result! I never would have considered this hotel otherwise. Booked and prepaid! Check.

Yeah, that’s the other thing, most of the time you get the best rates if you prepay the whole thing. Often you still get free cancellation, sometimes with a fee of one night’s accomodation or even less. Sometimes, though, it’s non-refundable. If you have trip cancellation insurance that will cover you.

Once the Paris hotel is booked, we can book a rental car for the week I’m in Manchester because we like the flexibility for day trips, visiting mates and getting groceries and shopping. That’s pretty much the main items on the list, then we turn to a new list, our itinerary, both in Paris, the Paris day trips, London and things we might do while in Manchester. But that’s something for a future blog post!

Travel Theme: Illuminated

Travel theme from Where’s My Backpack this week is Illuminated.

Now I could post photos from some of the many buildings and monuments that  are lit up at night. But everyone else will probably do that. Instead, an alternative, the illuminated manuscript. This is a late 15th century Canterbury Tales which we saw in the John Ryland Library in Manchester, UK. While it isn’t as exquisite as, say, the Book of Kells in Dublin (which I’ve also seen) or other similar illuminated gospels, it is one of the only ones I have seen that I could photograph (no flash, of course!).

Canterbury Tales above a non-illuminated copy, both from the late 15th century

Travel Theme: Winter

I don’t do a lot of traveling in winter. It’s too easy to get delayed or cancelled flights due to the Canadian winters. The few times I have ventured out in mid-winter were not to destinations away from the cold but to England where it wasn’t always a lot warmer. Still, over there, the grass is still green in January even if covered in a dusting of snow now and then.

Feeding the pigeons in January in London’s Green Park.

Manchester Christmas markets.

Manchester Christmas Markets which I wrote about here are a sure sign of winter. European style Christmas markets are increasingly popular all over. I’d love to go to the ones in places like Vienna, Prague or Munich.

Slightly wintery looking Coronation Street set, ITV studios (now moving to a new location in Media City, Salford

There’s more winter over at Ailsa’s challenge post here.

Travel Theme: Connections

Where’s My Backpack’s travel theme this week is “Connections”.  Anyone that travels makes connections, whether it be for transportation, or for the people you meet. You might make a spiritual connection to a location as well, a place in which you really feel at home. Connections can be made on an emotional level as well.

Piccadilly Station concourse (via the Manchester Evening News)

Piccadilly Station concourse (via the Manchester Evening News)

I met the man I’m currently engaged to in an online chat room for fans of Coronation Street, a British serial, the longest running on television today. He lives in Salford, UK which is in the Greater Manchester Area. We really made a connection over the airwaves and when we met up face to face, on July 12, 2004, it took a plane and a train connection to get there. I flew to London and a few days later, took a train (though I missed the first one because the signs at the platforms weren’t obvious as to which was the arrival from Manchester and which was the departure) to Piccadilly station. We met in the concourse. It really felt like time stood still. A cliche, yes, but that’s what it seemed like.

He still lives there and we travel back and forth, trading visits alternately. For me to fly to Manchester, I have to make a connection in London Heathrow most of the time though have had to route through Toronto once in awhile. That’s frustrating when you have to fly 2 hours backwards to go forwards, whether I fly past Halifax to come back or fly west to Toronto to fly east to London. It’s a connection we gladly do without if we can help it. We then usually travel somewhere onward, by car, train or plane.

Speaking of Coronation Street, in addition to a fiance,  I’ve made many, many wonderful connections with new friends who are fans of the show. We have fan gatherings, called “pings”, and if someone travels to your home town, often there is a ping organized so you can meet and chat with the local fans, many of whom you may know from the various boards and forums.  There have been international gatherings organized in Manchester, the home of Coronation Street, where fans/friends who connected via the internet have met up and enjoyed hanging out together and even been lucky enough to visit the television studio where the show is filmed. Good times!

Corrie fans at the Cafe (Roys Rolls, Coronation Street set, 2010)

Corrie fans at the Cafe (Roys Rolls, Coronation Street set, 2010)

Daily Prompt – Service

Manchester's Chinatown

Manchester’s Chinatown

I’m sure i posted this but it seems to have disappeared….Trying again…

WordPress’s daily prompt to inspire bloggers to write is “service” for today’s word. Good service or bad service, you pick.

What instantly comes to mind is a group meal I attended at a Chinese restaurant in Manchester about 10 years ago or so.

We were a group of about 10 or 11 and headed into Manchester to Chinatown. I hesitate after all these years to name and shame the restaurant because it’s been a long time and they could have upped the game. Prior visits to them had always resulted in a good evening with good service. I don’t know if it was a one off but I don’t think any of us has dared try them again.

However, here’s the story:

We unsuspecting group gathered for a drink and to meet up with friends, old and new. What went wrong… the list is long! The drinks orders were very slow in coming and sometimes the wait staff forgot to ask everyone for re-orders through the meal. We were around a round table that seemed far too small for 10. They didn’t provide us with a circular movable platform for the center of the table to make passing around the dishes easier which many Chinese restaurants do provide, and when one of us finally complained loudly, we did get one. Which was broken. We had to gingerly turn the glass ourselves and hope it moved.

They brought two courses out at once instead of one at a time, further confusing and crowding the table as everyone tried to reach and pass. The one waitress kept elbowing one couple, leaning around them and at one point one of them received a beer right down his back! Another guest spilled another beer trying to move something else out of the way.

The music on the sound system was horrible, pan pipes playing every kind of music except Chinese. The piece de resistance was a lovely dish of prawns which suddenly acquired an extra bit…. a big blue bottle fly that was hovering landed in it, got stuck in the sauce and wiggled it’s little legs helplessly while the 10 of us collectively moaned loudly… ewwwwwwwww! The waitress seemed to find this amusing but took the dish back to replace it. Hopefully with something new but it took us 15 minutes of warily contemplating the fresh replacement before anyone had the nerve to try some!

To top it all off, yes it’s possible to further wreck this, they buggered up the bill! Two of the men were so incensed that they sought out the manager who had conveniently NOT managed his restaurant very well tonight, having found plenty to keep him busy behind the bar instead of being aware of the problems going on under his nose. They explained the events of the night which they *think* were confirmed by the staff but, not speaking any Chinese, they had to take that on faith. The manager offered them 30 pounds off the bar bill (which was about 50 pounds between the 10 of us). He wouldn’t extend that to the 50 so we took it and counted out the money to pay the 235 pound total bill to the penny! No tip. That’s quite a lot of money they ended up losing over all. We took the thirty pounds and, discovering that our favourite pub nearby was closed, spent it on a round or two of drinks at lovely Lass O’Gowrie pub instead.

Visiting Manchester

Manchester city centre

Manchester city centre

London is one of the greatest cities in the world and is one of the top tourist destinations. All roads may lead to Rome but there are a lot of flights that go directly to London from major airports world wide so getting there is fairly easy. There is a lot to do and see in London and a lot of tourists don’t go anywhere else in the UK from there unless they have specific interests. Of course lots of people also visit other locations and attractions, cities and regions in the UK but it’s always London you hear about.

I’ve been to London a lot. It’s one of my favourite cities, due to the history initially, and all the other reasons why people visit. But I’ve also been to the second largest city in the UK, Manchester, nearly as many times. The reason I went there for the first time, in 2000 was related to Coronation Street, my favourite television show which is filmed there. I have a lot of friends I’ve made via the internet over the years who are Corrie fans and several of them live in the Manchester area. My first visit was as a part of a large group of Corrie internet friends who headed there for a week long get together to meet, greet and celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary. My next couple of visits were also related in a way, visiting those same friends.

Then I met my now-fiance who, coincidentally, also lived in the Manchester area, in the next-door city of Salford. We met online through a mutual Corrie friend who knew him online through the heavy metal music forums and boards. Things clicked and here we are, still conducting our relationship between two continents for the time being. Since 2004, I’ve been to Manchester yearly and have grown to know the city a bit better. We have visited museums, attended theatre, shopped, and dined out, all in the Manchester area. Manchester has lots of similar attractions to London though on a smaller scale. I didn’t mention football as we aren’t fans but the two football clubs there, Manchester United and Manchester City, are also big draws.

Manchester is a little over 2 hours by train from London Euston. It’s a city with a strong industrial history with a strong Victorian architecture presence. I find it’s similar to Glasgow in many ways as far as the look and feel goes. There’s a thriving university presence and therefore, plenty of pubs and clubs, especially around the Gay Village quarter. The city centre shopping is very good and there’s a huge shopping mall/centre in Trafford. There’s a natural history museum at the university, a National Football Museum near the cathedral, and a great Science in Industry museum in the city centre though there are rumours that it may be closed to redirect funding to London museums. A crime if ever there was one! There are a couple of good sized galleries as well as quite a few smaller ones scattered about.

There are several theatres that produce some very good productions at prices greatly cheaper than London West End prices and you can find restaurants from a great number of ethnic choices. Nearby in Rusholme is the “curry mile”, a stretch of road lined with Indian, Thai and Chinese restaurants and there are dozens of good places to eat in the Chinatown area of Manchester. The Greater Manchester area towns and villages also have some good places to visit, a short bus or drive away such as the huge Bury market. There is also an interesting Jewish Museum in Salford, an old Tudor mansion (Ordsall Hall), also in Salford and a transportation museum in Salford as well. Salford Quays has outlet shopping, the Imperial War Museum North and the Lowry theatre and gallery. The MEN arena puts on top class concerts and other events. Manchester has a nice catheral as does Salford and there’s even an observation wheel, though it’s much smaller than the London Eye (and cheaper!).

Rochdale Canal, home of the Gay Village in Manchester

Manchester’s gay scene is hopping and it’s Pride events are reknowned. The Christmas markets in the city centre from mid-November to Christmas attract thousands. The Northern Quarter is where you’ll find the funkier side of Manchester. There are some lovely museums and galleries as well as some off the beaten track places to visit such as the medieval Chetham’s library, the Victorian John Rylands Library and the Hatworks museum in Stockport.

Manchester is also a good base camp for day trips to the Lake District, Liverpool, Chester, York, Blackpool, North Wales and the Peak District, all of which are a short train journey away or under two hours by car at the most.

Coronation Street is still filmed in Manchester, soon to be produced out of the new BBC Media City in Salford Quays (the BBC is sharing the space with ITV studios who produce Corrie), moving out of the old Granada Studios buildings this year. You never know when you’re going to bump into an actor from the show and with more BBC productions moving to the northern studios, star spotting will be more productive if you’re into that sort of thing.

Manchester might not be as exciting as London on the surface but it’s a friendly city, compact, pretty good transportation system around the city. If you’re looking to see more of the UK, the North is a good place to start and Manchester is a good starting point.

Photos I’ve taken in the Greater Manchester region
Photos I’ve taken at Granada Studios on the Coronation Street set
The Lake District
North Wales

Weekly Photo Challenge – Beyond

This is in reply to WordPress’s Weekly Challenge. “Beyond” is this week’s word.

I know they say to just post one photo but I will have to post several. First, though, my take on “Beyond”. I have traveled this week to the U.K. for a specific reason and it truly is a look beyond. When you watch your favourite show on television, you know it’s filmed on a studio set, or it could be filmed on a set constructed outdoors specifically for that show. They may also add in real locations from a city or other area. You don’t really see what’s beyond your screen, though, what it really looks like.

This week, I get to see beyond the screen with a special tour of the television studios where my favourite tv show is filmed in Manchester. It’s Coronation Street and it’s filmed at Granada Studios (now ITV). The show has been on the air for 52 years and holds the record for longest current television show. I was part of a group who got to visit both the constructed set of the neighbourhood used for outside filming as well as some of the studio sets for the interior filming.

The iconic pub of Coronation Street, the Rovers Return. on the outdoor set.

The iconic pub of Coronation Street, the Rovers Return. on the outdoor set.

Inside the open door, but from the inside set you wouldn't walk into a wall like this.

Inside the open door, but from the inside set you wouldn’t walk into a wall like this.

What's inside the building.

What’s inside the building.

What the actual pub set looks like

What the actual pub set looks like. You can see the door in the back and can compare it to what we saw through the door above on the outdoor building. You don’t usually see in through the door from the outside on film, anyway.

The “Street” is 2/3 the size of a real street due to size constraints so they use creative camera angles to give the impression of a full size street and buildings. The actors have to walk slower, too, to give the impression of a longer street. The buildings are mere shells, with very little inside aside from storage and a few props so that filming from the outside through doors and windows will be consistent with what you might see on the inside set.

The studio sets are amazing. There is so much detail that you never really notice watching on screen because you mostly focus on the actors rather than the background but it’s all designed to give you the whole story of the character that owns that room. They also do little things like when there has been a house or business that has had a fire, when they redecorate it, something is painted orange. It might be a staircase in a factory or a sign on a door but it’s there.

The Kabin, which is the corner shop, "dressed" and ready for filming.

The Kabin, which is the corner shop, “dressed” and ready for filming.

Another set ready and lit for filming

Another set ready and lit for filming

This is the "Barlow" set. There is a piece of furniture in this room that's been part of this room since 1960, from the very first episode.

This is the “Barlow” set. There is a piece of furniture in this room that’s been part of this room since 1960, from the very first episode.

We were escorted by the studio liason officer who had so much behind the scenes information that there is too much to write here but one other insight is that the boss/owner of the local underwear factory, which is called Underworld, is always a baddie or at least, not very sympathetic. Thus the business name. The devil comes from the Underworld.

It’s a fan dream come true to see behind the scenes and beyond the screens we watch every episode and I will be watching for all these little touches that much closer.

For all you Coronation Street fans, a bit more about the day here, with a link to more photos.

From behind the camera

From behind the camera

A view of the studio with two of the sets at the back of the shot

A view of the studio with two of the sets at the back of the shot

Fab Photo Friday – Manchester city centre

In honour of the upcoming journey to Manchester next week, I give you a few photos from the city centre.

This is the square next to the “Triangle” shops (on the right). The building used to be the old corn market. The wheel and sculpture are fairly new and there’s a ground level sculpture/fountain that you can’t see. the new buildings behind the wheel are Selfidge’s and Marks and Spencer, a new flagship store built after the IRA bomb damaged the old one in 1996. Between the damage in this area caused from that (though not one person was killed) and the millenium, the city centre of Manchester has been given quite a facelift.

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Manchester’s city centre, the Triangle shops on the right, the Wheel and Exchange square

These were in a window in a shop in the Triangle, taken from the car as we drove by!

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On the main street, Deansgate, there’s a pub called Moon Under Water. It’s one of the Wetherspoon’s franchise. They often take old buildings, renovate them and open pubs. This one used to be a movie cinema. It’s a very large pub with an upstairs and large back are past the open area where you come in. Upstairs outside the toilets you will find this lovely stained glass window. There are also framed photos of famous Mancunians including the final photo here of famed fictional characters from the longest currently running television show in the world, Coronation Street and it’s where I’m going to be this time next week!

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Stained glass in Moon Under Water, Deansgate

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From Coronation Street, on the air since Dec. 9, 1060. Two of the original characters and arguably two of the most famous. Played by Violet Carson OBE (Ena Sharples) and the late Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner)