City of Salford

Back to the UK for my next post, and the 3rd county I have visited ‘consciously’. It was too obvious to visit Manchester for my Greater Manchester trip, so I chose its neighbour Salford, a place where I went to university and also a place where I have lived twice, so I was looking forward to returning.  Like a lot of people, I never really paid much attention to the history and culture right on my doorstep, usually choosing to look further afield, but its hard to ignore just how much Salford has grown and changed since my university days 18 years ago.

Of course Salford historically was part of the county of Lancashire, but then joined with Manchester, Bolton, Bury and others in the area to form Great Manchester in 1974 and in doing so, became one of the largest metropolitan areas in the UK. Salford itself encompasses quite a large area and includes some small towns such as Eccles and Swinton, but for my trip, I concentrated around the Salford Quays area.

Getting to Salford is pretty simple, but check football fixtures for both City and United before you visit, or else you will more than likely get stuck in heavy football traffic and that is never fun.  Located just over 30 miles from Liverpool if you travel in from the Western end of the M62 and its about 50 miles from Leeds if you are coming from the Eastern end of the M62. National Express buses have a Salford Quays drop off on its way into Manchester but from there it is about a 30 minute walk to the centre of the Quays, from Liverpool the bus journey takes 55 mins and from Leeds the bus takes 90 mins. If you drive in, there are a number of car parks to choose, if you park at the Lowry Outlet car park, you can get 4 hours free if you visit the onsite cinema, and there is also a discount for those visiting the theatre at the Lowry Centre opposite.

There is no specific train station around Salford Quays, the closest ones being Manchester United Football Ground, Eccles or Salford Central, but most people will probably be best getting a train into Manchester City Centre and then jump onto the ever expanding Metrolink. You can pick up a Metrolink tram close to all the main stations in Manchester, there is a stop at Piccadilly, one at Deansgate, one at Victoria and if you arrive via Oxford Road station, its a short walk to St Peters Square. Wherever you catch the tram, just make sure its one labelled either MediaCity or Eccles, and then you can get off right in the heart of Salford Quays.

Salford Quays became one of the first UK urban regeneration projects back in the 80’s, but it was the development of MediaCity UK back in 2007 when the area really took off and became next level. The BBC first moved in, then ITV Granada followed, the University of Salford now have its media department based here as well as other smaller film and tv companies. This means over the past 10 years, shops, bars, restaurants, seasonal events and other attractions have sprung up, and you can easily spend a day or weekend here being thoroughly entertained.

It made sense to start my visit at the Lowry a spectacular waterside building housing theatres, galleries, a restaurant, cafe bar, gift shop and tourist information centre. I have been here many times to watch shows, but this time I spent about an hour exploring the art galleries and in particular the permanent LS Lowry exhibit, as not surprisingly, the Lowry houses the worlds largest public collection of paintings and drawings by my favourite Lancashire artist.

If you fancy some shopping, a meal or the cinema, then opposite the Theatre is the Lowry Outlet Mall.  There are tonnes of discount shops here, including Clarks, Gap, Yankee Candle, Next and Cadburys, and its saved my bacon a few times in the past when I’ve needed a birthday or Christmas present at short notice! The North West based Makers Market also sets up stall on the last weekend of the month here too, which is worth a visit in itself.

For anyone brought up on British children’s TV, its a short walk over to MediaCity and right by the tram stop is the legendary Blue Peter Garden, when the BBC moved up north to its new location, the garden, pond, sculptures all came along too. It’s only small, but its free and its a popular photo spot.

Blue Peter Garden

Stick around and explore MediaCity too, the BBC records BBC Sports, Breakfast, Radio 5Live and 6 Music here, and Granada record Jeremy Kyle, so you may see the odd presenter or band popping out for lunch (I swear I saw Gary Lineker once!). It also means there are sometimes free show tickets as audience members are needed to participate in live recordings, as a result I have sat in on a couple, always good fun! Click This Link for up to date information about what shows and guided tours are available.  If you visit during a big sporting event, its more than likely they will be showing it on the big screens outside the TV studios too, I’ve spent many an evening relaxing in a deckchair, with a drink from a pop up bar watching the Olympics and Wimbledon.

To meet the demand of the new residents and the influx of media, more and more restaurants and bars have sprung up too, as well as the reasonable choice over at the Lowry Outlet Mall. There are some delicious new places for food and drink, Marco Pierre has opened a restaurant here since my last visit, but I have enjoyed a beer and burger at the Dockyard and Lime Bar is always fun with a great music and inexpensive cocktails, and there are the usual chain coffee shops as well as some independents too if you just need warming up.

 

It’s no more than a 10 minute walk, over one of the waterfront bridges from MediaCity to the Imperial War Museum. The tall hard to miss aluminium building is built on a bomb site resulting from a German raid in the 1940’s and represents a shattered globe. The architecture both inside and out was specifically designed to be a little disorientating and unsettling to the visitor, to illustrate the perilous nature of war. There are both permanent and temporary exhibitions on display and a really interesting gift shop selling items inspired by wartime rationing.

 

Imperial War Museum – Designed by Daniel Libeskind

 

You will probably be able to see the top of Manchester United Stadium from most places around the quays, its bright red sign atop of the stadium shining out, and its only a further 15 min walk from the museum. I’ve been to football matches here (charity and during the Olympics) but its always good for a wander (avoiding match days obviously). There is a massive merch store, museum, a cafe open 7 days a week, the statue of the ‘United Trinity’ and take a minute to pause at the Old Trafford Clock, which is permanently stopped at 3.04pm in rememberance of the Munich air crash. Like most big football stadiums you can also take a tour, All details here

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United Trinity – Bobby Charlton, George Best, Denis Law
Watching a charity match

 

BBC Guided Tour £11.75

Lowry Exhibit – Free (open 10-6pm daily)

Imperial War Museum – Free (open 10-5pm daily)

Man Utd Museum & Tour £18 adult ticket.

Other Salford Sights – Salford Lads Club and Music Tour, Open Water Swimming in the Quays and Ordsall Hall Tudor Manor

Tokyo Tales 🇯🇵

I visited Japan back in 1999, eek! I had just graduated from University and had a friend who had moved out to Tokyo to teach English. Prior to going to University I was a temp, so I got a summer job doing admin work to save up (my parents graduation present to me was the flight!) and then I took off for a month to the Land of the Rising Sun.

You still cannot fly direct to Tokyo from any UK airport other than London Heathrow, with Air Nippon, Japan Airlines and British Airways being the only airlines flying direct. If you plan to fly from any other UK airport and want a cheaper option too, then you’re best choosing a European or Middle Eastern airline and changing somewhere like Amsterdam or Abu Dhabi ( I once had a very nice breakfast in Abu Dhabi airport and its maybe the most modern futuristic airport I’ve ever been too).

The main airport is called Narita International and I remember feeling extremely jetlagged and pretty ovewhelmed immediately with the noise, the lights, the mad colours, the people and the language, it was my first time in Asia, and I was completely confused and spellbound all in one go. Luckily my friend had travelled in from the capital to meet me and was on hand to give me a crash course in Japan 101 before I was let loose on my own. As I am always travelling on a budget, I tend to use public transport to get myself to my accommodation, unless I am arriving somewhere late at night alone. When arriving in Narita Airport it is pretty easy to get yourself into Tokyo and onto other surrounding regions by public transport. There is the electric railway or Skyliner which takes about an hour with one change,  the high speed Narita Express which goes direct to the city centre or you can take the cheapest option, the Bus which takes about an hour and drops you off at Tokyo Station. What I will say   is, figure out where you are going and have detailed instructions about how to get to your hotel/hostel/house before you arrive at any of the main train stations in Tokyo.  They are big and busy with multiple exits and just navigating yourself out of some of the stations through the correct exit is a feat in itself, never mind if you have just stepped off a long flight and dont speak any Japanese.

Streets signs are so cute, I didn’t mind getting lost or confused

 

As it was so long ago when I was in Japan, there is no point writing this post up as a factual day by day account of everywhere I visited, ate and drank, but I do remember the main sites I explored, I kept a travel diary and I have photos to help me recollect, the main historic sights are still there to this day though of course, so hopefully that may be of some use to someone.

What I do remember though was being rudely awoken on my first morning by an minor earthquake, it’s was about 4am, and I couldn’t get back to sleep, probably because my bodyclock was still back in the UK. So at about 5am, I grabbed my friends spare key, left her a note (she was working that day anyway) and headed with my guidebook and detailed metro instructions to get to Tsukiji Fish Market. Back then anyone could turn up as soon as the doors opened, not just the fishermen and wholesalers, but the general public too and we were allowed to walk all around the smelly and sometimes still alive stalls of fish, at what is said to be one of the largest fish markets in the world. In fact my Rough Guide to Japan that I still own suggests getting there just after 5am to see the best of the actions and the auctions. But it seems this central wholesale market was never built to become the huge tourist attraction that it is now, and as a result gets so busy, that it seems tourists are no longer allowed into the market until 10am, leaving the professionals a few hours to do business before the public descend.  There are also lots of places to eat around the market, food stalls as well as restaurants, but I was still tired & limited in my language skills, feeling slightly nervous of ordering something unknown, so after being totally flummoxed at the menus, I gave it a miss.

Japanese phrases written in my Rough Guide

 

Not surprisingly, the fish market is located close to the shoreline, so in order to explore some other main Tokyo Districts and tourist spots, you need to get back on the metro. There are tonnes of cool areas to explore in Tokyo, I would pick maybe 2 wards (as they are known) a day to explore, as they all have their own history, style and atmosphere. I do have lots of pictures from Japan but they are all locked away on a hard drive I currently cant access, so hopefully I can add them at a later date.

Shibuya – this ward is truely an unmissable area in Tokyo to explore, you have probably seen so many photos of it maybe without realising, as it features the iconic Shibuya Crossing, possibly the busiest intersection in the world and it is right outside Shibuya Metro Station. I crossed it maybe 2 or 3 times, but remember another time when I arrived during peak commute hours, it was so busy and overwhelming, it took me a couple of goes to pluck up the courage to cross. They say there may be up to 1000 people crossing at once during peak hours, along with the noise, the people and the vast neon electric billboards towering up above, it is most definately an unforgettable and unique Tokyo experience, a must see!

Close by and in the Shibuya region is the Meiji Shrine a stunning complex of shrine buildings that must also be on your list. A short walk from Harajuku station you know you will have arrived when you see the Torii Gate. There is lots to do here, visit the museum, witness a wedding maybe, make an offering, buy a good luck charm or write your wish on an Ema, which is what I did.


Other things I remember doing in the Shibuya region whilst I was there, included the Yoyogi Park (opposite Meiji Shrine). If you go on a Sunday through the East entrance, you will see many of the young locals dressed up in Punk, Rockabilly and Manga costumes, an absolute must see.   The park is one of the largest in Tokyo and you can rent bikes and grab some food here too, its a nice retreat from the busy city centre. The Yebusi Beer Museum is also in this area, which I remember visiting as well as so many truely unique Japanese shops, not surprisingly there is a huge Hello Kitty store here.

Another area I spent a lot of time in was Asakusa.  Here you can visit Senso-Ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest and one of its most important Buddhist Temples. Again, its easy to find the entrance of any temple in Tokyo by the large gates, in this case look out for Kaminariman or Thunder Gate to welcome you inside. Once through the gate is Nakamise -Dori Street, which is full of stalls selling food, clogs, traditional gifts and so much more, so plan enough time for a good wander.

Outside Kaminarimon Gate (I’m blond!)

 

Asakusa is also the oldest Geisha district, so keep a look out for the immaculately dressed women carefully walking the streets in their wooden sandals (Geta), ornate wigs and beautiful Kimono’s. Also look out for the Golden Turd, it is close to Asakusa station and is home to the Asahi Beer Hall, no more description needed!

The final area I will recommend is Chiyoda where you can find the Imperial Palace and impressive Palace gardens. Although you cannot freely walk around the palace grounds, you can apply online or at an information office on site to book a free guided tour, the tour is in Japanese but foreign audio guides are available. You can however visit the palace gardens of which there are multiple entrances, the easiest one being by Otemachi Station. In the immediate area there are many other shrines and a cathedral, and the area is said to be heavy with Cherry Blossoms too come the spring. If you still haven’t shopped till you dropped already, then Akihabara known as Electric City, is where you can geek out over the latest tech gadgets and even if you aren’t in the market for a new camera or phone, still head over for amazing people watching and window shopping.

Still got time, then visit Ueno Park and the National Museum, Ginza for more shopping, see some Kabuki at a theatre and if you have a head for heights see the amazing city views atop the Skytree.

Busy Ginza
Easy day trips from Tokyo include – Disneyland which is accessible by public transport and Daibutsu which is the beautiful giant Buddha in Kamakura – one hour on the train direct from Tokyo Station.

Daibutsu

 

Some handy helpful Japanese phrases –

Hello – Kon’nichiwa

Thank You – Arigato (gozaimasu -add to make it polite)

Ano – Excuse Me (casual)

Goodbye – Sayonara
I’ll write up my other Japanese adventure at a later date, think this post is long enough!

Chester – The Roman Walled City.

When I decided that I wanted to visit every county in the UK, Cheshire was an easy early choice, as it’s so close to where I’m living now. Situated in the North West area of England, it borders many other counties, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire as well as Wales to the West.

The capitol is the historic Chester and is only around 19 miles & 42 minutes by direct train from Liverpool, 42 miles from Manchester and roughly 1.30hrs by train and 183 miles from London, which takes around 2hrs by direct train. I drove via the Mersey Tunnel on my last visit and made good use of one of 4 Park and Rides dotted around the city, we used the one by Chester Zoo and buses leave every 10 minutes to the centre of Chester, and it’s £2.00 return, easy!

We landed nice and early in Chester, and so headed over to a lovely independant coffee shop called Cinderbox Coffee on Bridge Street, which served a good range of breakfast pastries, sandwiches as well as dairy free coffee, their cakes looked good too, but as it was only around 9.30am when we stopped by, I managed to resist.  Once warmed up and caffeinated, myself and my fellow county explorer Jane headed over to the Town Hall Visitor Information Centre to meet our tour guide.

There is over 2000 years of history to explore in Chester, and only so many hours in the day, so we prebooked on the popular Chester Walking Tour which departs daily all year round at 10.30am with an extra afternoon walk at 2pm between Easter and the end of October. The walk takes about 90 mins and dont forget your sensible walking shoes as you’ll be walking along cobbled streets and up high along the Chester Walls and Chester Rows as well as down to the Roman Amphitheatre and Roman gardens.

View from the walls

The Walls were originally started by the Romans and form an almost complete circuit of the city, measuring nearly 2 miles in length. There are four medieval gates to pass through aswell as some impressive towers and other National Heritage structures, one of them being one of the most prominent landmarks of the city, the Eastgate Clock.

Eastgate Clock

The Chester Rows also featured on the walking tour are half timber, covered galleries forming a second floor of shops above the 4 main streets below, some dating as far back at the 13th Century.  Whether taking a guided tour or not, it’s definitely worth finding one of the entrances and heading upwards as these are pretty unique, unlike no-where else and there is still a real sense of medieval history as you wander around the old and new shops up high.

After our walking tour was finished, we actually headed back to one of the Rows for an afternoon tea, at the recommended Mad Hatters which is housed in a 17th century rectory. I found it a little draughty, but the friendly staff, extensive range of teas and delicious cakes more than made up for it, I just had to wear my coat the entire time!

Feeling a bit sluggish after our sandwiches and cakes, we still had a good couple of hours left in the day, so we decided to head back outside and visit the Cathedral. It is located by the walls and opposite the Information Center and like most places in Chester easy to walk to. Founded as a Benedictine Abbey in 1092 and rebuilt in around 1250, there is so much to explore here, as well as the main cathedral building, there is a nature garden, falconery centre, cafe, obligatory gift shop, and dont forget to visit the LEGO project, as they are currently in the process of rebuilding an exact model of the cathedral in LEGO and if all goes to plan, it will make it into the Guinness Book of World Records. With so much more to explore in Cheshire, I’ll be back.

Chester Cathedral

 

River Dee
Cold day out

 

Chester Guided Tour – £7

Cathedral, gardens and birds of prey centre £4

Mad Hatters afternoon tea £16 pp

Other Chester sites – Chester Zoo, Chester Racecourse, River Dee cruise.

New Jersey – The Garden State 🇺🇸

US state No 2

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It would have made sense to stop off in NJ, when I was travelling from NYC to Philadelphia, back in 2007, but for some reason I didn’t. Whilst volunteering in Montana though I became friends with a women who was from New Jersey and so she invited me back to her home town of Trenton, NJ the following year.

New Jersey and its capitol Trenton aren’t really popular places to visit for extended US city breaks, at least for us Europeans, anyway. Sandwiched by its more famous neighbours New York City and Philadelphia, New Jersey is probably more well known for Newark airport, which offers low cost flights to the East coast from the U.K. Most people I know, land in NJ and hop on a train or plane onward to somewhere else. Although I personally wouldn’t be able to justify the cost of a flight to New Jersey solely to visit the 4th smallest US state on its own, there is definitely enough here to justify adding it to your itinerary if you’re in New York or Pennsylvania.

Arrivals. You can fly direct to Newark airport from many U.K. cities, it takes just under 8hrs, add a few more if you have to change along the way. If you’re travelling in from New York, you can get the Long Island Rail Road from JFK Airport to Penn Station and then the New Jersey Transit across the border, this is pretty extensive network and gives you plenty of options of places to visit. If you fancied a visit as an add on from Philadelphia perhaps, then that’s easy too, as the Amtrak train goes from 30th Street Station in Philly and gets you to Trenton in just under 30 minutes, or catch the SEPTA from Philadelphia 30th St or Jefferson Station which takes you to Trenton, from the Transit Centre there, you can hop on the NJ Transit and get pretty much where you want.

So as it’s not too complicated to get there, what should you do once you have made the effort? Well I originally visited because I had an invitation, and so my gracious hosts took me around thier home state and to some of their favourite places and I’m really glad I made the trip, and oh yeah, and the accents were amazing!

Sights. The capital is Trenton, and it is here where I was based for my stay.  I was lucky enough to be staying with friends in their apartment and they had a car, so I was chauffeured around, which was a novelty for me. But as I mentioned earlier, the New Jersey Transit is really extensive, so I don’t think a car is essential here if you just fancy doing a few tourist spots. There is a lot of history in this small state, and if Revolutionary War history or US history in general is your thing, then a visit to The Old Barracks is a must, as it’s the last remaining British army barracks in North America. I always like to get a good history lesson if I’m new to a place and so a stop at the N J State Museum is the perfect way to learn about both the cultural and natural history of the region. There are loads more museums in Trenton, so depending on time and your interests, you could easily fill a day here, along with a visit to one of the many parks, shops and restaurants.

One of the stand outs from my trip to New Jersey was the food, maybe it was because I was staying with locals, so they knew exactly where to eat and drink, but I do remember it all being ginormous in portion size and delicious. The first night we got pizza, I was jet lagged and hungry, and I remember standing in line to pick up our pizza feeling like an extra in the Sopranos, as I was overwhelmed by the amazing accents and the smells of the freshly cooked pizza dough. Italians migrated to the US, mainly between 1880 & 1920 due to poverty back in Italy. Although many did return home, it is said that there are about 1.5 million Italian Americans living in New Jersey and they make up about 18% of the population, so sampling some Italian food has to be on your itinerary when visiting.

New Jersey is also home to a large but dwindling population of Irish Americans and as I visited over St Patrick’s day weekend, it was imperative that we attended a Parade in the capital. Wearing all the green I could find in my suitcase, we headed to downtown Trenton and stood along the ‘sidewalk’ watching the marching bands and the decorated floats, whilst catching sweets and beads thrown from the proud Irish Americans celebrating their heritage, before we found a pub for a pint of Guinness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I am very happy in my new home in this friendly country and the liberal atmosphere of Princeton.” – Albert Einstein 1935

One of the most popular places to visit and very close to Trenton is the town of Princeton, home of the well known private Ivy League University. Only a short 12 mile drive from the capital, or if your relying on public transport, you can get the N J Transit which, depending on the day and schedule, takes between 20 & 55 minutes from Trenton.

As well as being famous for the University, Princeton has other historic bragging rights. Originally settled by the Native Americans of course, the Quakers then moved in around 1690 and set up along the Millstone River. With its location being so close to Philadelphia, it’s no surprise that two of the inhabitants of Princeton signed the Declaration of Independance, and the National Historic Monument Maybury Hill in Princeton is the home to Joseph Hewes a 3rd resident who moved to N Carolina before signing the document too.

It is the university and the wealth of talent that it’s prestige brings, which makes for the most interesting and eclectic mix of history and provides a fascinating day out. Four US presidents have lived here including JFK, but also noted theologians, architects &  writers have lived and studied here too, not forgetting probably the most famous resident –  Albert Einstein, who moved here after fleeing Germany.

There are many ways to explore Princeton University, you can just head off and wander, being mindful that some parts are restricted to students and staff, or you can book on a guided tour, the Official Website has all the details you need including a downloadable self guided walking tour map, and come October there are weekly ghosts tours too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other things on your Princeton hit list should include Albert Einsteins house which is a national historic monument and all the many independent shops, bars and restaurants along Nassau Street and Palmers Square. These include a Princeton official Merch Shop, one dedicated to Mr Einstein, as well as high end clothing stores and some great small independent coffee shops and cafes.

We finished our day out in Princeton sharing some delicious small plates and some beer tasting at Triumph Brewery right on Nassau Street, after I had purchased my official Princeton t-shirt of course.

  • Old Barracks – $8
  • New Jersey State Museum $5
  • Historical Society of Princeton guided walking tour, every Sunday $7
  • Triumph Brewery Happy Hour is Sun-Thur 10pm-Midnight

Other Garden State Spots – Liberty State Park, Cape May, Six Flags, Atlantic City, Sandy Hook.