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August 28-September 4, 2009
Written September 19
Friends and Families,
A few weeks ago, I had a pair of work meetings: one in Manchester, England and one in Paris (do I even have to say "France"?) In between, we toured the English countryside a bit. The following is the start of the diary for the two weeks.
August 28, 2009
Business in Frankfurt, Manchester, and Beyond
This week’s trip to Offenbach was a bit more complicated than most. First, Marianne was coming along. This is, of course, my favorite form of travel, but she would have to kill two days in Frankfurt. (One week later, I just asked her what she did. She couldn't’t remember. Actually, I understand that. Frankfurt was always a nice place to live but not a place for memorable visits.)
Offenbach was not without excitement however. On Friday evening, we were entertained by our own hotel lounge singer. He was “something else”. Actually, his voice is good and his guitar work is even better than good. All in all, it was a nice start to our exotic travels.
August 29, 2009
We got up very early for our flight to Manchester. At six in the morning, it only took about 15 minutes to have the car parked. Of course we had another 15 minutes of walking to the ticket counter and 20 minutes through (first) security before we were able to grab a quick coffee and muesli for breakfast.
When boarding time came, we headed to the gate and discovered that flights to the United Kingdom, like those to North America, have two security checks and we were at the end of a long line. We did manage to get on the last shuttle bus to our flight but, because Marianne’s leg was feeling a bit gimpy, we were the last couple on the plane. The good news was that the Lufthansa stewardess saw us struggling and offered us a pair of unclaimed seats in row 5, just behind business class. She changed the tone of the day’s travel by that small thoughtfulness.
The flight itself was a bit less than two hours of no events; the best one can say for any airplane trip. Our bags came out quickly and in just a few minutes we were getting into an English taxi, suitcases at our feet, driver on the right, and more headroom than even I need. The trip in was as uneventful as the flight, although this driving on the right is going to take some adjusting to. At least someone else is driving for the first several days.
We were staying at the Chancellors Convention Centre, which is associated with Manchester University. I was attending a “forum” dealing with standardization in the nuclear power industry. Not the most exciting of topics but, what can I say, it’s what puts bread on the table.
On the internet, the Conference Centre shows pictures of a stately old mansion. Our hotel room, however, was essentially a dormitory room - a single, tiny dormitory room. We asked if they had something bigger, but they said we’d need to wait a day, so we squeezed into our little room, way out in the corner of the building farthest from the conference rooms.
The next day, they did move us into a nice big room, this time right in the old mansion itself. Again, we were fortunate to have folks do us a favor and, although the hotel is a bit tired, we’ll give it high marks for all the willing staff.
Now we had a weekend in Manchester to look forward to. Marianne had a whole Manchester week to look forward to! But, those are other stories.
Manchester : First Impressions
Our hotel was a bit away from the center of town so we needed to learn the bus system. It turned out to be pretty easy and there were buses from the edge of our Manchester U. campus to downtown every few minutes. I guess I would have expected subways, but this system seemed to work too.
The city has a mix of old and new buildings, elegant and shabby. The people in the street were also a mix, but here the mix was certainly not elegant. Later in the trip, we would see a museum sign explaining the “Manchester Attitude” as a creative and controversial swagger and in-your-face persona. Maybe like folks in New Jersey. I’m not sure we ever got comfortable with it, but we could recognize it and react a bit less to all the tattoos, wildly colored hair, and considerable street drunkenness. No one would mistake Manchester for Disneyland.
Our bus from campus to center ran through "The Curry Mile”, a collection of shops and restaurants catering to all sorts of folks from Southeast Asia, most form India, but just about everything else as well. On Friday we would have our one dinner away from our conference crowd and we chose an Indian place where we proceeded to stuff ourselves. We’ve heard that the best Indian food in the world is in England and, although we are not experts, our experience would not contradict that.
Our Saturday arrival downtown coincided with a huge Gay Pride parade. Now, we are from a part of the States where we recognize both the right for people to have their choices and the enrichment an active gay presence can give a community. However, we’d never seen such a large celebration, one that was completely undampened by the occasional rain. There were the “normal” outlandish groups with themes and behavior seemingly meant to shock the straight crowd, but there were pretty mundane parade entries as well: Quakers, policemen, firemen, and even an entry from the national prison system.
The Whitworth Gallery
Our first museum/gallery stop was the Whitworth Gallery, just up the road from our hotel. The gallery was founded in 1889 by Sir Joseph Whitworth, the man who first standardized screw threads in England. (I still remember struggling with the nuts and bolts on my first car, a British MG-TD. Whitworth was definitely not standard in America in the early 60's.)
The permanent collections seemed to focus on local production from woven cloth through fancy wallpaper. This was more history museum than art gallery. The more artistic parts of the displays leaned toward “installations”, my least favorite form of weird art. You can see for yourself.
Sunday, August 30
The Wheel of Manchester
After our standard English Breakfast in our dormitory dining hall, we grabbed a bus and headed downtown. One day in town and we were feeling pretty confident. We headed toward the Urbis art gallery but were detoured by “The Wheel of Manchester” a giant Ferris wheel erected in the center of the commercial district.
I really don’t like heights but we just had to try. It looked pretty secure; no open seating and we learned that it was built in Germany. No flaky Whitworth threads here. By the time we were done, we had seen all of Manchester, including the Beatles-made-famous Manchester Cathedral, the towering Hilton Hotel, and, our next stop, the slant-roofed Urbis Art Gallery.
Our pictures (Note how much bigger a smile Marianne has getting on than getting off -- and it was HER idea.)
From the website: “Urbis is an exhibition centre about city life.” With this as an introduction, we didn’t really know what we were facing. Even AFTER being inside for an hour, we weren’t sure what we had seen. The architecture is impressive but the art work was more strange than anything else. I know, I know, art can be meant to simply generate reaction and discussion, but Urbis was definitely not our style.
Rylands Library -- nice surprise.
If the Urbis was a disappointment, the Ryland’s Library was a wonderful surprise. Built in the 1890‘s by Mrs. Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her husband John, the museum is reportedly regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world. We would not disagree.
The Library was famous both for its architecture and its contents. Mrs. Rylands insisted on the finest material available, even ancient oak from Poland. Ceilings were vaulted stones instead of the more-usual wood, because of the fear of fire. The Library was lighted by one of the earliest electric lighting installations in order to avoid the danger and soot of oil lamps.
The collection includes books of the period but also collected manuscripts, including the St. John Fragment, the earliest known piece of the New Testament in existence. The collections are available to scholars and other “Readers”, upon proper registration and justification. For us tourists, just looking and walking among the books would suffice.
Monday, August 31
I originally thought my conference would begin today, but it turned out that our first “event” would be an evening reception. That left us with a third full day to explore, but the weather continued to discourage us with its constant threat of downpours. It made a nice, slow start of the day inevitable. Besides, it was a “bank holiday” and everyone else was sleeping in too, I suspect.
MOSI - Museum of Science and Industry
Our one goal of the day was MOSI, the Museum of Science and Industry. It is a sprawling facility on the southern edge of downtown. We had been warned that a full tour could take several hours so we limited ourselves to three of the five buildings. Seeing even that much on a bank holiday required considerable navigation between kids, baby carts, and haggard parents.
Our first stop was lunch. Simple toasted sandwiches but a nice refueling before we earned our museum badges. The first building, the Main Building, had three display floors. On top was a large, static display meant to show students the history of experimental science. It was a little disturbing seeing school chem lab benches like I used in college now being used to illustrate ancient history.
The ground floor held dozens of the machines that made Manchester famous: textile manufacturing machines. At one time, Manchester was the center of the cotton and the wool trade. (Elsewhere downtown is the old Cotton Exchange building, featuring the largest room in the world when it was the trading floor for the world’s cotton market.) Elaborate spinning and weaving machines were everywhere. Next time we will try to be here when everything runs for demonstrations. (Next time??)
Our next stop, after passing by an old steam train, was the Power Hall. The 1855 Hall was built as a produce transfer station and now holds examples of the steam and hydraulic power plants and steam locomotives. The plants made the Manchester mills run and the trains started the goods on their way to markets throughout British Empire. I even had a chance to explain to Marianne how steam engines work! For me, it was fun. For her, who knows?
Our last stop was the Air and Space Hall. This too is housed in a 19th Century Victorian market building but it is bursting at the seams from all the cars, trucks, planes and space displays. By now, we have seen many car-truck-plane-rocket displays so we are getting a bit jaded. After the wide open spaces of the Air and Space Annex at Dulles, MOSI seemed like an old engineer’s crowded garage. Among the various bits and pieces of history, the most poignant display may have been a small suicide airplane from Japan’s futile effort to turn around World War II. The simple machine was little more than a winged bomb with no wheels and no chance for pilot survival. Today’s walking suicide bombers seemed somehow related.
Tuesday through Friday
For the rest of the week, I went to conference sessions while Marianne stretched her time in Manchester, in part by return visits to the Ryland Museum and the galleries and new visits to the Manchester Art Center, the China Arts Center and the Crafts and Design Center. She particularly liked the last, but you’ll have to talk to her to get details.
On Saturday, we picked up a car and headed to York. But, that’s another story.
John and Marianne
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