Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tour of the North (of England)!

I did it! I FINALLY made it to England after 5 visits and two years of living in Europe.  Took long enough huh? But, it was well worth the wait.  Although I've always wanted to make it to England, I must admit that I didn't go for touristic reasons; I went to visit some of my friends that I met in Almería last year.  My original plan was just to meet one of my closest friends from the past year, Hannah, but then I was able to plan my trip to see others as well!  It snow-balled into one amazing reunion.
Reunion in Manchester
We had another long weekend so I flew into Manchester on Friday.  I have five friends that I met last year in Almería that go to Manchester University, and in addition to that I have two friends that go to Essex University that decided to visit the same weekend.  This made for quite the reunion, even though it only lasted a night.  My first impression of Manchester that it was much bigger and much more modern than I expected.  Although it is quite a modern city, it does have tons of history as well.  An interesting blend of new and old.  The eight of us caught up over a delicious meal at a Mexican restaurant and a few pints afterwards.  We walked around the centre a bit, but we mostly we just focused on making up for lost time!  It was a quick visit, but I really enjoyed it.
Saturday morning I took a train to meet Hannah in Durham, where she is finishing her last year at Durham University.  I was warned that Durham would be much smaller than Manchester, and though it was true nothing seems small after going to college in St. Joseph, Minnesota, population 6,000 (student pop 4,000).  The first thing I saw as the train pulled into Durham Station was the enormous Durham Cathedral that is perched on top of a hill along the edge of a beautiful winding river.  The city of Durham seems to sprawl out from this church in winding cobblestone roads making for an even more picturesque view.  Hannah picked me up at the station, we were literally both jumping for joy in the excitement of our reunion! We made the short (steep) walk down to the city centre and made our way toward Hannah's flat.  She pointed out all of the "colleges" along the way.  The best way for me to explain "colleges" to fellow Americans is to describe them as a mix between Hogwarts Houses and Fraternities/Sororities. Basically, the entire university is split up into multiple groups that live on the same campus and do activities together for all four years.  Seemed like a cool idea to me!  Anyway, after we dropped off my stuff, we didn't lose any time and headed straight for the cathedral.  Although this beautiful 11th century, romanesque church is visually stunning and full of history, I must admit that I was most excited to visit because I knew that a few scenes from the first two movies in the Harry Potter series had been filmed there.  For those of you wondering which ones, you can find the list here. After the cathedral Hannah showed me Durham Castle (where some students still live!) and the centre.  We enjoyed a late afternoon tea and then headed back to get ready for the night.  Coincidentally, one of Hannah's friends that I just so happened to have met the previous year while he was studying abroad in Madrid was having a birthday party.  He was nice enough to let me come along with Hannah and we had a great night out! My night ended in the perfect way, with a hot order of fish and chips.
Newcastle upon Tyne
On Sunday, Hannah's flatmates and I went on a little day trip. We took Hannah's car and she let me sit in the passenger's seat.  Not only was it disorienting going down the opposite side of the road, but sitting where the driver's seat normally is was a very strange experience for me.  First stop was Newcastle upon Tyne for a full-English breakfast.  A full English breakfast includes sausage, bacon, baked beans, toasted, roasted tomatoes, mushrooms and an egg sunny-side up.  I enjoyed the breakfast but all of Hannah's friends seemed to love it even more, it's their breakfast comfort food.  After breakfast we walked along the river and went up to a skybox to get an amazing view of town.  The most unique part of Newcastle has to be its bridges, especially the Millennium Bridge. This pedestrian bridge is the stunning focal point of the view from the skybox. Afterward the view we wondered through a Sunday market and walked through the city centre before moving on.  Then, Hannah took us to "The Angel of the North" which is Northern England's symbol of sorts.  It's basically a giant, steel, red statue with an enormous wingspan.  To be honest, it's mostly just a site for a quick photo which is ironic because we asked a stranger for a group picture there and she ended up taking a picture of the five of us at such an angle that the angel couldn't be scene.  We had a good laugh about that one.  Then, we went to Hannah's house in Chester-le-street for afternoon tea.  Her mum went over the top and had a spread of scones, cakes, finger sandwiches and other goodies along with tea for everyone.  We got to meet Hannah's adorable dog, Alfie, chat with her parents and watch some hysterical home videos. It was a lovely afternoon and so nice to see where Hannah comes from.  By the time we left, evening was quickly approaching and Hannah and I wanted to fit in a quick nap before another night out.  I can't remember the last time I went out on a Sunday night, but Hannah was determined to take me to Klute which is a club whose claim to fame is being "the worst night club in Europe".  I've heard so much about this club that I was also determined to go.  Although a Sunday, the club ended up getting pretty full and we had a great time dancing to cheesy music and drinking a "quaddie."
Hannah and I with the Angel of the North
Monday, I went for a long run in the morning for my half marathon training.  I ran so far that I was able to see a bit of the countryside. I must admit after all my city runs in Madrid it was nice to have a country run for a change. Then, Hannah and I got a nice lunch at a place called "Saddlers" in town before I had to take the train back to Manchester airport.  It was sad to say goodbye, but Hannah is one of those people that I know it's only a matter of time before I see her again.
I could not have had a more perfect visit to England. It was fun to be with friends and have personal tour guides to show me around. I have nothing but respect for England and it's people.  They people are friendly, they know how to make the best tea, and I must say their food was surprisingly good! Thank you to everyone who made this weekend so memorable.  This was my first, but surely not my last visit to England.

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