This week was one of the best on exchange so far! Why? Because as I said in my Week 12 post, I’ve begun to realize it’s really who you travel with that defines your experience.
After a rather stressful Monday + Tuesday preparing for a big presentation and a final exam, I was so relieved to be leaving for a much-anticipated trip to the UK. Despite what you may think, yes, I have actually been doing schoolwork all these weeks. I simply didn’t mention them much because I wouldn’t want to bore people who read this! But rest assured, I actually was fulfilling myself academically while on exchange! 🙂 Maybe I’ll elaborate on WU and academics in a future post.
PART 1: MANCHESTER
To save money, I opted for a looong itinerary to get to my first destination, Manchester. Here it was:
5:30: leave my place (I’d gotten a solid 3 hours of sleep that night.. blegh)
6:00: take a cheap bus from Vienna to the Bratislava airport (BTS)
7:20: arrive at BTS and wait in the airport 2.5 hours for my flight
10:00: Ryan Air flight leaves for London Stansted (STN)
11:30: land at STN (the time has changed to one hour earlier); make my way over to London Euston train station via regional train and Tube
14:20: Virgin train leaves for Manchester
16:30: train arrives at Manchester Piccadilly (it’s actually 5:30pm Vienna time at this point)
So, I traveled about 12 hours to reach Manchester (including buffer time), whereas a more direct itinerary would have taken only two or three hours. On the other hand, I probably saved over €200! Okay, just so you don’t think I’m ridiculously cheap, I will usually pay extra in order to get to places quickly and comfortably. The way I see it, the opportunity cost of taking ridiculously long itineraries just to save some money is the time foregone to see more sights, to rest up, etc. (business nerdage!!!) and I’m totally game for shelling out a bit more here and there, if it makes the trip easier. However…. I have limits. Since I was booking my trip relatively late in the game, prices had skyrocketed compared to what I’d seen before. Whoever said last-minute flights were super cheap needs to convince me. Not once have I come across a super cheap last-minute flight during this exchange (albeit I’ve never flown standby, so I don’t know about this). Maybe I’ve just been looking on the wrong websites.
When I finally got to Manchester, I was greeted by my good friend Wendy from back home at UBC. She was studying at the Manchester Business School for exchange. Although I’d just seen her days before in Prague, it was nice to travel somewhere and see a familiar face. The very first thing we did, of course, was go for afternoon tea. In Vancouver, we call it high tea. I’m not sure where that name came from exactly. We went to Richmond Tea Rooms, which was a funny coincidence because I actually live in a suburb called Richmond back home. It was Alice in Wonderland themed, which made it a fun, quirky place to chat and hang out with a good friend.
After tea, we browsed the Christmas market at Manchester City Hall. It seems that all of these markets are modeled after the German-style Christmas markets, because they all look very similar to the ones I’ve seen in Austria and Germany: brown wooden cabins, lots of lights, serving items like hot mulled wine and meat & potatoes. Oh, and we walked by Manchester’s Chinatown as well.. all two blocks of it.
We went back to Wendy’s residence, where we watched the movie Her. It was quite the interesting film, and the sad ending got me thinking about the future of artificial intelligence and its role in the human world. I won’t elaborate on it too much, but I think I’ll do some more reading about it on my own. On a brighter note, I thought Joaquin Phoenix was great in that movie. After Her, we invited Blake to come over and hang out with us. It was once again nice to see a familiar face, even though we’d just seen each other the previous weekend.
In the morning, Wendy, Blake and I went to have a classic English breakfast, like a North American continental breakfast but differentiated by the addition of tomato, mushroom, and beans.
That afternoon, Wendy had classes, so the “burden” was passed onto Blake to show me around Manchester. We walked around Northern Quarter, passing by Affleck’s, an “independent retailer” with all sorts of edgy/grungy/punky/wacky clothing and accessory stores. Northern Quarter has a Gastown feeling to it (an eclectic and historical part of Vancouver). We walked by The Printworks, the central Arndale Mall area, and visited another Christmas market around there.
Our last activity for the afternoon was the Manchester Art Gallery, where they had a special exhibition on WWI and WWII called The Sensory War. Since being in Europe, I’ve been learning about the World Wars with a more local perspective, depending on where I am, for example Vienna, Amsterdam, and Prague. The exhibit at Manchester Art Gallery, which I thought focused a lot on pain and suffering, was haunting, eye-opening, and thought-provoking. Although I don’t know a great deal about art history, I really do enjoy looking at art, especially 20th and 21st century works. I’d love to start a little art collection, and I’d probably start with some small-time local Vancouver artists. So, if you have any pieces of your own, hit me up! 😀
That evening, we planned to go out with some of Wendy and Blake’s friends they’d met in Manchester during their exchange: Jenny, Rachel, Emme, Jackie, and William. So, we all met up for dinner, and ate… Nando’s. Yep. In contrast to its mediocre popularity in Vancouver, it’s apparently a huge thing in the UK! Although it was more expensive, I actually thought it tasted better than back home.
After dinner, we all went to this 3-storey nightclub called Factory. Somehow we got special wristbands to bypass the line (or the British call it. the cue), and it was super packed. The night was tons of fun though! Another great evening with old and new friends.
The next day, I had to say goodbye to Wendy and I ventured on to my next destination.
PART 2: LONDON
The trip wasn’t so bad this time: I just took one 4.5 hour bus from Manchester to London. Although there were some delays, I was so relieved when we finally got into the city. There, I was greeted by my good friend Aaron. Aaron and I met in first year through CVC, the biggest student social club on campus at UBC. Being the adventurous and “no holding back” guy that he is, he was taking time off school to do an internship in London. Needless to say, I was happy to see him after almost a year! We spent the evening roaming around London, passing Covent Garden and random streets.
The next day, we walked through Hyde Park and yet another Christmas market. This one seemed more commercialized because it had amusement park rides, and it was really big.
We walked past Buckingham Palace, where there was some sort of procession (I’m not sure if it was the changing of the guards). And since the flag was waving, the Queen was in!
We made our way to Oxford Circus, the biggest and most famous shopping street in the UK. We walked around that area, had lunch (I had really good fish and chips), and did some shopping.
As it got darker, we went to The Shard. Aaron had told me about this monstrous glass building, which is supposedly the tallest in the EU and hosts offices, restaurants and bars, and the Shangri-La Hotel. We spontaneously decided to go to Aqua Shard, the midpoint bar of The Shard, on the 31st floor. We waited in line 45 minutes to get up there, but it was worth it. The bar was posh and the drinks were expensive (£14 for mine), but entry was free and the view was breathtaking. You could see the bright lights of London, including those shining from Tower Bridge and the River Thames.
After The Shard, Aaron brought me to Canary Wharf, a water-surrounded business park that reminded him of Vancouver. Spontaneously again, we rented free city bikes and rode around Canary Wharf area for a little while. By the end of the evening, we were both pretty tired because it felt like we’d done a thousand things that day.
For my last morning in London, I accompanied Aaron to Dominion Theatre, where the Hillsong church held their service. There were tons of people! On our way there, we passed by the London Eye, Big Ben, and Trafalgar Square. We were lucky to have sunshine and a beautiful morning. These London photos deserve some enlargement:
We had lunch at Blackfriars station, and then it was time for me to make my trek back to Vienna. I had a similarly lengthy trip as on the way to the UK. Luckily, my Ryan Air flight landed in Bratislava early, and I was back home an hour and a half earlier than expected!
Once again, I’ll reiterate that a great travelling experience is dependent on who you’re with. This was a weekend full of great friends, old and new, and one of the best trips I’ve had thus far. Although seeing those from home got me feeling a little homesick, I’m thankful that I was able to see these great people during my exchange semester.