Back in February or March, Rasa was informed of a conference in her field coming up in Manchester, England at the end of June. We talked it over and decided it would be a good idea to go. It would be her first in-person conference as a PhD student (due to the pandemic) and was scheduled to include a number of big names in her field as participants, including her unofficial supervisor (whom she would be able to meet in person for the first time).
We also decided that since she was going, Monki and I should join in and we could turn it into a family vacation (again, our first out of country since the pandemic started). Then, with this decision made, we just let it ferment in the back of our minds for a while, reminding each other that we really need to get to planning. One of our first decisions was that we’d avoid London this trip (we’d been there four years ago) and since we were not going to be city-bound, a car was probably better than relying on busses and trains.
We also put a few things on our bucket list – Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park and Monki wanted to see dinosaur bones and mummies (she’d recently started watching a show on Netflix called Ridley Jones) so we wanted to make sure those things were in our itinerary.
Eventually, Rasa suggested that since we couldn’t fly directly into Manchester, we should get close and then fly out from someplace else. After much debate and searching, we figured the best route would be to fly into Liverpool and fly out of Bristol. Inexpensive flights, however, dictated that we’d fly in the night before Rasa’s conference and then have to rush to drive the next morning to get her there in time. We could do this. We also decided against sleeping in Manchester, since there was little there we wanted to see or do. This meant our next stop would be in Nottingham, where my friend John lived with his family. So we booked a hotel there.
We booked a couple of other rooms and made arrangements to stay with some friends, prebooked our day at Peppa Pig World and a few other activities and we were ready to start our trip – or at least feeling a bit more relaxed about it. Of course, the closer it got, the more anxiety appeared, both with Rasa getting nervous about her presentation and my own fear of driving on the right-hand side of the road. Be that as it may, on Thursday, June 23, we got everything packed up (and thanks to Rasa, with a suitcase a whole 5kg under our 20kg weight limit!) and headed off to the airport for our 22:20 flight.
Day 0 and 1 – June 23-24
We got to the airport a couple of hours early (as we’re supposed to), did the whole check-in thing where there was a question about Monki’s car seat. We didn’t bring her full car seat since it’s a pain in the ass to travel with and she’s big enough that in the UK, she only needs a booster seat. We had gotten one specifically for this trip and according to all the regulations I had read, it should be no problem to bring it on the plane. In Kaunas, there was a brief question about it, but it turned out the only issue was whether or not we had booked priority vs regular tickets. Our priority ticket allowed us the seat and all was right with the world.
We went through security no problem and only hit a snag when we got to passport control. See, upon doing our research we had been told that flying into the UK, we’d all need passports, not national ID cards. Monki only has her American passport, so we figured we’d use that when she was flying. Except, when we tried to leave the country with her, it appeared she was here illegally. Thankfully, Rasa had Monki’s Lithuanian ID card, so crisis averted.
Waiting to get on the plane, Monki made friends with another little girl in the terminal, so that was fun, and then, finally, they let us through. Only, before they let us out on the tarmac to actually get on the plane, we had to wait for them to unlock the door at the bottom of the stairs. This wasn’t a big deal, except, since it was already late and Monki was tired, she began to get a bit scared they were never going to open the door for us. But, eventually, they did, and we were able to board the plane.
Monki’s booster seat fit just fine and she was all excited for the plane to take-off. It wasn’t until about an hour into the flight that the pressure and motion got to her and she spent the last 90 minutes or so crying in pain and fighting off nausea. We were definitely going to have to figure something out for the flight back.
Once we landed, it was an easy process to get through customs and immigration (where, yes, Monki needed her passport) and the hotel we had booked was literally across the street from the terminal. In fact, it was on the roof of the parking structure. We checked in, got our room and proceeded to crash out. Friday was going to be a long day.
On Friday we woke up early and went down for breakfast before heading out to find the car (and walking by the Yellow Submarine sculpture out front of the John Lennon International Airport). The car was its own thing. Where the rental office was supposed to be, it wasn’t and, like poor Amazing Race contestants, we didn’t read the messages closely enough that it took us a few minutes to track down where the rental office had been moved to during these pandemic times. Not good, considering we were under a time crunch. We were about 45 minutes away from Manchester and Rasa was supposed to be there for registration by 9:30 so it was going to be tight no matter how we cut it.
When we got to the rental office, I asked about upgrading to an automatic instead of a manual transmission, figuring that would be easier to drive and one less thing to worry about in the car. They could do it, but it was too expensive. Then, in a nice twist of fate, the guys working liked Monki’s and my jackets complete with superhero pins and gave us a discount. So instead of a manual 4-door sedan, they put us into a 7-seat Volkswagen Sharan family van. Great.
Except it wasn’t clean and only had half a tank of gas so they needed to get that sorted before they could give it to us. At this point it was 8:40 and they swore it would only be 5 minutes.
20 minutes later, they finally pulled up and handed off the keys. We had 30 minutes to drive 45 minutes away and I was behind the wheel, driving on the right side of the road to a place I’d never been. This was going to be fun.
I popped the address into both the car’s GPS and my phone’s Google maps and away we went. We made it to Manchester and the hotel by 10am, after a few false turns and trying to figure out the parking app, and we walked in with Rasa as she picked up her badge and was led off to her conference.
Now, Monki and I were alone and ready for a day’s adventures! I had already spoken to my friend Ieva, who I knew from Vilnius but was now living in Manchester with her son, M, and we had decided to meet up at the Science and Industry Museum. This place had a few good things going for it: It was science, which Monki loves, it was within relatively easy walking distance, and, best of all, it was free! This beat out SeaLife and various other activities we had looked at. So Monki and I headed off, following the directions of one of the hotel employees, which included the direction to go through “Gay Village.” Who knew?
We arrived a few minutes early and went in for a wander before our new friends showed up. There were exhibits about early computers and steam engines, but nothing seemed to catch Monki’s eye until we saw a guy getting ready to put on a demonstration show called “Revolution Manchester.” That showed promise. We grabbed a seat.
Soon, Ieva and M showed up and joined us to watch. The show was fun, with exploding balloons and examples of how air pressure worked. When it was over, we went up to the second floor, where the exhibits changed from text-based to a more hands-on approach. Now Monki was in her element! She had a great time cranking a car up and down and learning about magnets and densities. Before too long, however, lunch time called. We tried to go to the museum café, but there was really nothing there Monki would eat (I bought her a juice box only because she pulled the straw off before I could stop her), so instead we all trundled off to McDonald’s. On the way there, Ieva showed us some funky painted steps and a cool little sandpit play area right in the middle of town. Afterwards, we went to another play area in Piccadilly Park before it was getting late in the day and Ieva and M had to head home while we had to go back to the hotel and pick up Rasa.
We got there just as her presentation was ending so our timing was perfect! According to Rasa, it went okay and people asked questions and everyone was well-pleased with the result – Yay her!!
But now, it was off to Nottingham, which was slightly more than two hours away. In Nottingham, we were going to see my friend John, whom I had met originally on my first European trip when we ran into each other at The Blue Lagoon in Iceland. Of course, since then we’d both gotten married and had daughters and the original plan was for the 6 of us to all get together. As it turned out, though, neither of our respective spouses were really up for being social for a variety of reasons so, after many rounds of back and forths changing plans constantly, John and I decided to just meet up, the two of us.
We got into town and found our hotel, which was pretty centrally located – which was really the only thing going for it. It was kind of a mess, very small, and the extra bed they had for Monki was situated half-way under a ledge so the odds of her hitting her head were extremely high.
I got Rasa and Monki off to dinner (again, McDonald’s – this would be a running theme this trip), making sure they knew how to get back to the hotel and I went to the Market Square to meet John. Evidently, the “thing to do” was meet up at the Left Lion, a local landmark so famous they named a cultural magazine after it. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong lion (there are two and I picked looking towards the building they guard, as opposed to looking out from the building) but I found John anyway.
When I greeted him, I apologized for all the confusion in making plans: “It’s been a day,” I said.
“It’s been 14 years,” he responded.
He guided me through various parts of town to one of his favorite haunts, a movie theater/restaurant combo place called Broadway. Honestly, if I lived in Nottingham, I would hang out here, too. Not only was the food good, but it had this wonderful vibe (and really friendly staff). Didn’t have a chance to check out a movie, but we’ll leave that for next time.
Leaving there, I got the local’s tour of history and famous places, including a mandatory picture in front of the Robin Hood statue, before John took me to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem which, according to legend, is the oldest pub in England. It’s built into the rockface of the cliff behind it and again, was full of friendliness and great atmosphere. After several hours of wonderful conversation and a few drinks, we said goodnight and I headed back to the hotel.
I made my way to the room, plugged in my key… and nothing happened. Now, I hadn’t drunk enough to make me miss the right room or be able to insert an electronic key card backwards, so something was wrong. No worries, I went downstairs to get them to re-initialize the card. Then I tried it again.
Back downstairs and the guy working the night shift suggested it might be my phone demagnetizing the card. Okay, keep the phone and card separate.
Still no go.
Back downstairs and the guy working is dealing with Friday night drunks and he looks at me “Still not working?” I shake my head. “Okay, I’ll come up and let you in.”
Great! Except his key doesn’t work, either. We’re both stymied until he hits on the answer: “Is there anyone in the room?” he asks.
“My wife and daughter.”
“Would she have locked the door?”
“That’ll do it. If the door is locked from the inside, we can’t get in.”
I thanked him and called Rasa. No answer. I knocked. No answer.
I continued to repeat these two activities, with the knocking getting louder and more insistent the longer I did it.
This went on for 20 minutes, and I was just about to go sleep in the car, when Rasa finally woke up and opened the door. We laughed and I got ready for bed, both of us knowing this would provide teasing opportunities for a long time to come.
3 thoughts on “And so it begins – England 2022 #1”
Enjoyed the adventure. How lovely to meet up with old acquaintances. Good on you.
Thanks! It’s fun to see people you haven’t seen in a long time! You’re next! 😀👍🏻
On Tue, Jul 12, 2022 at 6:31 AM Getting the Hang of Thursdays < firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote: