Tag Archives: transport

Andy Blackledge

Manchester: the Heart of the North

There has always been, and will always be, an ongoing debate on where the South of England ends and the North begins. Many think of Crewe as the boundary, others consider Nottingham and Birmingham as ‘Northern’. If we consider Ashby-de-la-Zouch as the centre of England, surely everything above it is in the North? The divide is an enigma, and the North itself is even more of a mystery to many a Southerner.

What cannot be disputed, however, is that the crowning jewel of the North is Manchester: the British capital of music, art, science, and a true home for every hipster. The city gave birth to the computer, the cotton industry, the Suffragettes, the railway, the splitting of the atom, professional football, trade unions, the first library in the English-speaking world, and the first female bishop. It is because of this long and fascinating history that Manchester sits as a bright flame among the dank rain and fog of the North.

oatsy40

Deansgate-Castlefield, one of the most well-known stops in the city. (Photographer: oatsy40; Flickr)

Any trip into Manchester should start from the south end of the city, at the locally famous Deansgate-Castlefield Metrolink stop. The bumblebee-coloured Manchester Metrolink connects the city to its outer suburbs and beyond, and is affectionately known locally as the ‘Met’. From Deansgate-Castlefield you can marvel at Beetham Tower in all its enormity. The 47-floor Hilton hotel stands above the rest of the city like an oblong beacon, reminding one of the mysterious black cuboid in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. From here, Manchester Central is but a short stroll away; take in the architecture of the once-busy train station, now an event venue, and admire the grand scale of what was the entrance to the spectacle that was the North. As you look around you, notice the old warehouses that provide small hints towards Manchester’s industrial past.

It is at this point that you can submerge yourself in the city as you walk up Mount Street, past the grandeur of the Midland Hotel and into Albert Square (no, you’re not back in London, there’s one in Manchester too!) where you can admire the scale of the Town Hall. The square is packed with events and bars all year round for every occasion, from Saint Patrick’s Day to the Manchester Christmas Markets — the largest German markets in the world, outside of Germany.

Becca Swift

St Peter’s Square, Manchester. (Photographer: Becca Swift; Flickr)

Cut through Lloyd Street and you’ll find yourself in St Peter’s Square. Opposite you is the recently opened KPMG headquarters, to your right is Manchester Central Library — the largest library in the city — and to your left is the Cenotaph. Welcome to what many locals consider the gateway to the city centre and one of the busiest squares in the city. If you’re visiting during the week, take care not to get in the way of the hundreds of lawyers, financial advisors and office workers that flood the city; in traditional Northern fashion, they’ll storm through you with a cheeky smile and a ‘Hello’!

Take a left up Mosely Street and you will find the Manchester Art Gallery on your right, a free and exciting gallery, with a range of exhibits from traditional artworks to modernist and interactive pieces. As you walk through the gallery, take a look at not only the art on the walls, but the people inside; it is here that you will see the full variety of Mancunians (a native or inhabitant of Manchester, commonly seen wearing a football shirt or donning Dr. Martens boots), from the Northern family taking a trip out, to the office worker on his lunch break and the high art enthusiast peering at the L.S. Lowry painting on the wall.

Dun.can

Visit Manchester Art Gallery to take in some high art and do a spot of people-watching. (Photographer: Dun.can; Flickr)

Heading east to King Street will land you in the centre of Manchester’s financial district, overflowing with high end boutiques. If you’re visiting the city on a budget, be warned: this is an expensive and exclusive area so guard your wallet from impulse buying! After having admired the buildings of the Hotel Gotham and Agent Provocateur, following Spring Gardens northbound puts you in the centre of Market Street, home to many high street brands. What is most striking about Market Street is not the shops, but the people on the street itself. With street performers, pretzel stands, tightrope walkers, magicians, human statues and more busking musicians that you can wave a stick at, Market Street offers an extravaganza of noises, smells and sights.

At the end of Market Street is Piccadilly Gardens, a once vibrant and beating centre of the city now fallen into unfortunate misery. On the bright side, a recent petition signed by over 20,000 Mancunians has forced the council to take action, and new renovations to transform the gardens into a flourish of flowers and fountains and will hopefully be underway soon.

Walking from Piccadilly Gardens up Lever Street brings you to what defines Manchester: the Northern Quarter. With a plethora of vintage shops and boutiques, record stores, tattoo parlours, art galleries and all things indie, this truly is the living soul of the city. A visit here must be accompanied by a stop in the Nexus Art Cafe, a small, underground cafe centred around that which is at the heart of Manchester: creativity. Coming out of the Art Cafe, visit the famous mural of David Bowie by street artist Akse. Street art is encouraged in the Northern Quarter and on almost every corner will be a piece that catches your eye immediately.

The spirit of the Northern Quarter is captured in Affleck’s Palace, a self-professed ‘emporium of eclecticism, a totem of indie commerce.’ An explosion of creativity and colour, Affleck’s offers a shopping experience like no other in the city. With tattoo parlours neighbouring cereal cafes, and wig stores across the way from steam-punk cosplay, there is nowhere else that more perfectly demonstrates the diversity of the city.

From the Northern Quarter take a walk to the Printworks, a printing factory renovated into an entertainment hub where you can catch a bite to eat, watch a movie in IMAX, or simply admire the the conversion itself. This leads you to the National Football Museum and Manchester Cathedral at the top end of Deansgate road. Walking along Deansgate, which spans almost the whole length of the city, will show you an array of clubs, bars, restaurants, shops and cinemas. Halfway down you’ll come across John Rylands Library, which houses literally millions of first manuscripts and works millennia old in a gorgeously Gothic 19th century library, and still serves as one of the University of Manchester’s many archival buildings.

At the very end of Deansgate is your starting, and now finishing, point at the Deansgate-Castlefield Met stop. While one day isn’t nearly enough to get more than a glimpse of the city, I hope that you will be able to appreciate its electrifying aura. There is a beat to Manchester that keeps the city alive and thriving, and never has that beat been stronger than it is right now. The city is blossoming into a new age and is finding itself, once again, at the centre of a cultural resurgence.

Featured image © Andy Blackledge

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London Tube Etiquette: My First Experience of the London Underground

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series A Semester Abroad in London

Participating in a study abroad program and living in London was the highlight of my Bachelor of Arts degree. This series is a record of my adventure to London and Europe with my young family and my sister as the nanny.

Travelling on the London Tube can be daunting for the uninitiated and involves knowledge and skill beyond just ‘how to top up your Oyster card’. It is a skill that includes certain knowledge of Tube etiquette: always stand to the right on the escalators, don’t make eye contact, Continue reading

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Rodrigo Paredes

Barcelona on a Budget

For most globetrotters, Spain is synonymous with low prices and its carefully cultivated reputation as a budget destination has made it a long-time magnet for bargain hunters searching for sun on a shoestring. However, away from the budget enclaves of the costa resorts and country retreats, Spain’s most prosperous and visited city can come as an unwelcome surprise to the wallets of the uninitiated. Whilst certainly better value for money than Paris, London or Rome, travellers looking to soak up some Catalan culture can expect to pay around €20 for most of the big museums. Dinner for two at a paella or tapas-style restaurant in the tourist-heavy neighbourhoods of Eixample, Raval, Sants or the Gothic Quarter will rarely cost under €50, and if you don’t know where to look you can expect similarly eye-watering prices for a round of drinks. However, you don’t need to head to the outer barrios to experience the best of Barcelona on a student budget, and this brief guide should demonstrate that there’s no need to exchange quality for affordability in the ‘City of Counts’.

Ken Hawkins

If your trip to Barcelona has an open-ended budget, you’re fine. If not, you’ll need to be a little more savvy about where you go if you want to make your cash last. (Photographer: Ken Hawkins; Flickr)

Sightseeing

If you’re coming to Barcelona to worship at the temple of Gaudi, then be prepared to pay a hefty tribute. Entrance to the world-famous Sagrada Familia church will set you back €26, whilst the Casa Mila on the city’s posh Passeig de Gracia avenue costs €22. Even the charming Park Güell, nestled in the hills to the north, will cost you €7 (N.B: you can save a couple of euros for some of these attractions by booking online in advance). Luckily there are still plenty of ways to experience the richest aspects of Barcelona’s unique and fiercely independent way of life for the price of a cup of coffee. First off, it’s worth noting that on the first Sunday of every month, many of Barcelona’s biggest museums waive their entrance fee, so if you’ve timed your visit well then you can easily cram in a week’s worth of attractions on the day and pay nothing.

Tokyographer

El Passeig de Gracia might be aesthetically very nice indeed, but it certainly isn’t cheap. Watch out for certain pockets of the city that will set you back more than you can afford. (Photographer: Tokyographer; Flickr)

If you’re more interested in learning about the history of the city and the role it has played in shaping regional and national culture, then check out the MUHBA (Museum of the History of Barcelona) Group, which operates at a range of sites across the city. If you go to one of these museums, entrance should cost you less than €5 if you’re under 29 years old and, once you’ve paid for one, your ticket will grant you free or greatly-reduced entry to any of the two dozen other museums currently managed by this organisation (they also offer reduced admission to Park Güell).

I’d recommend the City History Museum as your first port of call; housed in a medieval palace in the heart of the Gothic Quarter, it’s the best place to get a crash course in Barcelona’s turbulent history — and if you venture into the basement you can explore the original foundations of the Roman settlement, built in 15 B.C! Another honourable mention for a cheap and unforgettable museum would be the Museu Frederic Marès just around the corner. I first discovered this spot whilst taking shelter from a thunderstorm in its medieval courtyard, and was lured inside when the alcoves failed to keep me dry. This villa contains what is essentially a mad aristocrat’s collection of high art and bric-a-brac, built-up over eighty years and filling four floors of space, ranging from ancient Greek marbles to a room full of Cuban cigars — a great way to wait out a monsoon and a steal at €2.

Eating

Barcelona is one of the world’s great food cities, and while I’m often prone to just getting a sandwich from the local supermarket chain to save money when travelling, it just doesn’t feel right to miss out on the food scene in exchange for a soggy egg sandwich from Aldi. Before getting to the more local fare, it’s worth mentioning just how much Barcelonans love a good burger; burger bars have sprung up in waves across the city in recent years, and connoisseurs have taken advantage of this craze to bring exciting, high-quality and affordable food to the masses.

Ihourahane

Try this place if meat isn’t your thing. (Photographer: Ihourahane; Flickr)

My personal favourite without a doubt is Cat Bar, a somewhat dirty dive in the back streets of El Born which serves up the best vegan burger I’ve ever had in a city that is notoriously carnivorous. An eclectic and friendly place run by a Mancunian expat, it’s also one of the only places in Barcelona you can get craft beer, if you’re into that. Expect no-frills service from the sassy staff, and the satisfaction of coming out with change from a €10 note. Another good option if you want a guaranteed table at any time of night is one of the several branches of local superstar Bocoa Burger, which serves up juicy burgers with a Catalunyan twist and mountains of patatas bravas for similarly budget prices.

If you’ve come to Barcelona for the empanadas and paella, then your best bet for an authentic, budget version which hasn’t just come out of a microwave is probably La Boqueria indoor market, just off La Rambla. A year-round tourist trap, this place might not seem the ideal spot for a budget lunch upon first entering, where overpriced smoothies and suspiciously colourful dishes abound. However, if you penetrate a little further into the darker, more deserted corners of this gargantuan place, then you’ll find some very high quality local cuisine, at local prices. Looking for lunch here is an experience in itself, where you can watch fired-up grandmothers haggling over the price of blood sausage, next to a regiment of fisherman hauling in the latest catch of swordfish and octopus. While there are plenty of cheap markets to grab lunch, this one stands out in terms of atmosphere and variety.

Drinking

In the summer, drinking in Barcelona needn’t be an issue for the cash-strapped traveller, when a solid night out doesn’t require more than a few cervezas and a place to sit on the beach or pavement. However, this is a less attractive option in these brisk winter months, and you will be forced to go indoors and pay for your drinks at a bar. Luckily, as it is with most cities, all the best watering holes are the ones that get you loaded for peanuts, and there’s really no need to pay €14 for a watered-down cocktail at a swanky seafront bar.

Jorge Franganillo

When night falls, don’t panic that you can’t afford the bigger clubs. There’s always a way around things! (Photographer: Jorge Franganillo; Flickr)

Honourable mention goes to Betty Ford’s, a legendary queer bar in El Raval which was once the haunt of Barcelona’s BoHo arts scene, but now welcomes a mix of tourists, skaters and students as well as the old crowd. The beer is very cheap, and whilst the cocktails veer a little toward the pricey side, they don’t mess about and will happily empty half a bottle of rum into your mojito whilst jamming to the endlessly funky playlist. Another winner, and a venue that can’t be beaten on price, can be found on the corner facing Barcelona’s infamous superclub Razzmatazz. While I couldn’t figure out the name of this bar (it doesn’t seem to have one), it seems to exist entirely for the purpose of letting would-be revellers get sufficiently buzzed on cheap sangria before facing the extortionate drinks prices in the venue across the street. A litre of beer is around €5, whilst a litre(!) of sangria topped with a dangerously generous dose of vodka should cost you about €6, making this place much more reminiscent of the cheap bars of the Magaluf strip in terms of price.

I hope this guide will give prospective travellers enough info to enjoy this wonderful city on a genuine student budget, and if you’re looking for things which cost nothing, then http://forfree.barcelona will keep you updated on all free activities and events in Barcelona.

 Featured image © Rodrigo Paredes

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hiromichi-torihara

A Break in the Weather: Czech Republic

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Three Months, Two Students, One Motorbike

We crossed into the Czech Republic, and for the first time on the trip we felt like we were stepping out of our comfort zone. As was to become the norm over the coming weeks and months, we found the first few days in a new country a linguistic struggle. No matter how many times I would practise the basic phrases with Charlotte outside a shop, by the time I got to the counter all memory of the strange noises had faded from my mind like snow in the morning sun. Instead, all I could remember were the now-useless phrases from the previous country, in this instance German.

jake-setlak

Different languages, different currency…these are certainly the trickiest parts of a European road trip where you can hop from country to country in just a day. (Photographer: Jake Setlak; Flickr)

When I approached the counter to pay at our first Czech petrol station, I forgot the three words I had been practising outside a minute before, and in my confusion I reverted back to German, hoping that the geographical proximity to the German border would hold some sway. The young, blonde girl behind the counter stared blankly at me, and coolly replied to everything I said in Czech. I rounded the whole exchange off with trying to pay in Euros, forgetting that the Czech Republic have their own currency. Like I said, the first few days across a border are always difficult, and I resolved to make a conscious effort to learn more phrases as soon as I could.

Yet it wasn’t just the currency and the language that were different; the whole atmosphere of the Czech Republic was different to Germany. The towns and villages we passed through felt a lot more ‘Eastern European’ than they had 20 miles ago. We gently rolled south, our sights set on Prague which was an easy day’s ride away, and found a campsite near the airport which was large and busy. Revelling in how much further our budget stretched here than anywhere else so far, we treated ourselves to the washing machine that was available for guests. With a length of rope strung out between the motorbike, a tree and our tent, we hung our now clean clothes out in the sun, the motorbike looking quite ridiculous in its new role as a clothes horse.

Roman Boed

Prague offers an exchange rate that works very well for UK travellers, and to be able to splash out in a capital city is always a treat for those travelling on a budget. (Photographer: Roman Boed; Flickr)

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Martin Dvoracek

Crossing Borders: Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Three Months, Two Students, One Motorbike

When we did leave Prague we were in no hurry to get too far so we stopped for an early lunch, after an hour or so of riding, at a burger stand in the centre of a town called Kutná Hora. Enjoying the sun, we decided on a whim to try a campsite on the edge of town that we had seen signposted. We were particularly pleased when we learned that Kutná Hora is home to the Sedlec Ossuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to thousands of human bones. Skulls were piled up in every alcove around the dark church, and a chandelier of human thigh bones hung above us. As we usually found in areas with a high concentration of tourists, the ignorance of people around us playing on tablets and talking on their phones proved to be grating. We watched people hurry around, viewing everything before them through the lens of their camera phone, aggressively tutting or nudging strangers out of their way so as to get a better photo, before moving on without taking any time to actually look properly.

Todd Huffman

It’s always frustrating when attractions are so busy you feel you can’t fully appreciate them, but this shouldn’t put you off visiting great places. Shown above, the Sedlec Ossuary. (Photographer: Todd Huffman; Flickr)

We ended up hurrying around the church, keen for the dark, claustrophobic atmosphere that was caused more by the living than the dead, to be eradicated by the warmth of the sun and the space outside. Our macabre evening was not over however, as we dined in the town square surrounded by animal skins and heads. Banishing the final memories of our argument in Prague by splashing out more than we would have spent in the original restaurant anyway, we feasted on meat on the bone, potatoes and vegetables, all washed down with a few local beers.

We kept moving east, avoiding the larger towns and cities and enjoying the sunny Czech Republic. The days got hotter and as we approached the Slovakian border, the sun became almost unbearable, its heat sweeping across the ground like a dragon’s breath consuming all in its path. The stifling heat made us think of shade as a valuable commodity, as only this could offer us scant relief from our discomfort  most leather trousers and motorbike boots are not made with ventilation in mind.

Robert Scheie

When travelling by motorbike, be prepared for the searing, trapped heat brought on by wearing excessive amounts of leather in the sun! (Photographer: Robert Scheie; Flickr)

And so, although we were rich with time and in no hurry, the heat pressed us on, our sweat-soaked bodies only given relief by the cool breeze created by our movement. Luck was on our side though, and we were treated to roads lifted straight from a motorbike magazine. With every mile closer to the Slovak border the road twisted higher into the mountains; a brilliant cacophony of hills, woods, curves and bends kept us entertained as the sun slowly set around us. The pregnant anticipation for the top, the view and the descent built up and up as we rose higher before bursting like a dam as we crossed into Slovakia. Continue reading

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