(Where's that? - somewhere in England - all shall be revealed).
36 hours after getting up the previous morning we arrived in Manchester - but it was only 24 hours on the clock due to time differences. After all we had heard about congestion at Heathrow, we were glad to have chosen Manchester as it was surprisingly quick and easy to get through immigration. Especially since there was one queue for EU countries, and another for non-EU countries, which was far shorter. We went off to collect our rental car and found that the Hertz office didn't open till 7 a.m. Fortunately there wasn't long to wait. We were third in the queue. The office opened. We waited ... and waited...
There was one person on duty, he had a Spanish name which I won't mention but will say he seemed to be on permanent siesta. His actions were carried out as if moving through treacle. It took an hour to process three customers! Our travel agent had booked our car for 9 a.m. so it wasn't ready (he was supposed to have changed it, but hadn't). So even after being attended to, we had to wait further till the car arrived which was about 8.30.
Then we drove into Manchester where we needed to visit the information centre. At this stage I was beginning to really feel that we weren't in New Zealand any more, because the style of housing is so different. Manchester was a surprise - I had expected a grimy industrial city. In fact the centre of Manchester is remarkably clean with many wonderful buildings, including a huge Town Hall, mostly dating from the height of its prosperity in the 1800s when huge fortunes were being made in the cotton industry. (An English visitor in New Zealand once asked me why we call sheets, towels etc "manchester". It is of course, because that's where it all came from. Similar to denim being "de Nimes" - from Nimes - in France). Christchurch actually has similar Victorian Gothic buildings, since that's when the city was being established - but ours aren't nearly as grand as those in Manchester, and they are of a different coloured stone - more greyish.
Those last two aren't Singapore - Manchester has a Chinatown too, though it's rather small
We looked around for a while, still had quarter of an hour to spare and so we visited the art gallery. And then it was time to collect our Heritage Passes. I was beginning to wonder if there were any English people left in Britain, after encountering an Indian woman at the immigration desk and a Spaniard at the rental car company. And then, the phone booths have notices in Polish. But the young man at the information centre did indeed have an English accent. And he was very helpful. Except that ... P brought out his laptop to get the booking reference number, and was told they needed a printed copy. "If you e-mail it to me, I'll print it out for you". Which was great, except that meant we had to find wireless internet. The young man suggested Starbucks, so off we went and stood outside Starbucks while P tried to find an open wireless network. Not much luck so eventually I went in, ordered a mango-passionfruit frappacino (delicious) and asked "Do you have free wi-fi?"
"We have wi-fi, but it's not free". And then in a conspiratorial whisper: "I shouldn't be telling you this, but the restaurant over the road has free wi-fi". So P went to stand outside the restaurant over the road to e-mail the booking confirmation, while I enjoyed the frappacino. Mission accomplished, we headed back to the information centre, picked up our passes, and headed out of Manchester.
Our plan was to reach the area around Coventry/Warwick/Stratford on Avon but P wanted to make a slight detour to a friend's place to talk to him about internet access. So we plotted an interesting-looking route and headed out towards the Peak District National Park, which would have been very scenic if it hadn't been raining. I noticed several differences to New Zealand:
1. The trees are all deciduous species, though it's summer so they are still green. In New Zealand the native trees are mostly evergreen broadleafed species, and we also have a lot of plantation conifers.
2. There are no barbed wire fences, only drystone walls which we find very picturesque.
3. It takes me a while to put my finger on it - it is late summer and the fields are still green. Around Canterbury where we live they would be brown at this season of year.
4. England is flat. You would think that "Peak District" would mean - well, peaks. Not a bit. There are rolling hills. Every so often we come across a sign warning of a steep descent, and we would wonder for a while when it was coming, then the road would flatten out and we would say "oh, was that it?"
Eventually mid-afternoon we reached Buxton and as we hadn't had lunch, we stopped at the supermarket only to find the car park was "pay and display". We have never seen a pay carpark at a supermarket in New Zealand (though you may get wheel clamped if you try and park at one all day). We decide not to pay, figuring that we can always claim we have only just arrived in the country and don't have any coins for the machine (almost true, except for the change from Starbucks).
The supermarket was expensive, and all the fruit was organic and fair trade. In the checkout queue a conversation was going on: "He's going as a day pupil, he's only seven, and he's spent so many years in France he needs to get settled". My mind was quickly tagging this as a wealthy area! We ate lunch in the car park in the rain, and then headed on. Just north of the town of Matlock we hit another "first in England" - first roadworks! The road had been reduced to a single lane with northbound traffic and southbound traffic alternating, controlled by traffic lights. Southbound traffic had backed up for several miles and it took us an hour to go five miles. Eventually though, we got through, headed for the motorway and skirted round the south of Nottingham and across to our friend's house near Melton Mowbray.
By the time we set off again it was nearly dark. We navigated around Leicester and along the M69 which we left at Hinckley in an attempt to find somewhere to stay. The first b &b was full, the second was dark and not responding to the doorbell. At a small town called Nuneaton (just north of Coventry) we spotted a sign on a pub advertising room rates, and we were able to get a room for the night for £38.50 - quite reasonable - and to get a meal at the restarant even though it was almost ten o'clock. By this time I felt as if I was about to fall over, and the floor seemed to be sloping (though I'm sure it wasn't), so it was a quick meal before falling into bed.
Next.... Coventry Cathedral and Warwick Castle..