Sunday, February 27, 2011

Manchester Is My Heaven Pt II: People We Met

This visit to England had plenty of 'new' aspects to area visited, first time visit to Old Trafford; we even flew into a new airport! But one of the things that had made this trip 'new,' was also largely what made it so special. Our friends.

Through Twitter, I have been lucky enough to 'meet' supporters of Manchester United from around the world. My Twitter friends hail from India, Singapore, Portugal, Australia, Indonsesia, Ireland (and of course, England), just to name a few! After talking with some of them for almost a year, I was finally going to get to see the real, live them. It's a bit difficult to describe how significant and unique this is. When you to talk to someone so much, almost every single day, you can't help but feel incredibly connected to them. Even if it's only via computer. For me, it's still a little startling (in a good way!) how close I am to my friends who are thousands of miles away.

As I describe my friends, I'll use their Twitter handles - to protect the innocent, of course! ;)

After we completely destroyed City (ahem), we made our way to the Trinity Statue in front of Old Trafford to meet some of our amazing Twitter friends. After some initial hugging and "I can't believe it's!!" we made our way to Sam Platts' Pub. I have to admit, it felt a little silly introducing myself as 'Red Mama!' But as I matched up user names with real names and Twit-personalities with faces, all the sheepish grins and awkwardness disappeared. I hugged every one of my darling 'tweeps' with the wholehearted joy of embracing a long lost friend.

There was RATompkins, one of my favorites on Twitter. He's always the first one to say good morning, never shies away from his own opinion, and has a wicked sense of humor. And did I mention he loves Star Wars and Harry Potter, too? I could kick myself for not spending more time with him, but I am very happy that I at least got a hug from my favorite chef.

DoronSolomon came up to Manchester from London with yolkie_ and MrsYolkie. Poor Doron, on crutches from a recent surgery. (Although he might have considered himself lucky; I restrained myself from too much hugging because I didn't want to knock him over!) The Yolkies have recently gotten married in our mutual favorite place, Walt Disney World. The Mrs and I share a love of cupcakes and all things Disney. She loves America as much as I love England, so it might have happened that we were born in the wrong place! After our many wonderful chats, it was so good to finally meet her! She was as beautiful as she is nice. As for her husband, he is the founder of 7 Cantonas and False10 websites. Another one I didn't get to talk to as much as I would have liked, but he and my husband discussed football from one end to the other! I think they had a great time trading perspectives on the beautiful game.

There was another Orlando enthusiast in our crowd that evening, none other than PhilGatt. Loving, hard-working, down-to-earth husband, father, and United fan - I have truly enjoyed getting to know him through Twitter, and it was amazing to get to meet him in person. And, exactly as I had imagined, he had a wonderful, infectious smile. He had lost his voice shouting for United at the match, which just goes to show he works as hard at being a United fan as he does for everything else he does. :)

As I was chatting, a wonderful, exuberant blonde came up to me, "Hi! I'm Ellie!!" Known as 16Ellie on Twitter, this lady was full of energy and Manchester United enthusiasm. It was impossible not to be the same around her! She also introduced me to Almanuman, a tall, distinguished gentleman with a very welcoming manner. They both conveyed a great sense of belonging to this Yank girl.

And then there was HappyHero. Where can I begin with this guy? Only one way -- Winkbang! (sorry, little inside joke, there.) And that pretty much sums this one up. Anytime he and I are on Twitter at the same time, you can be sure I am laughing. His quick wit is a sure-fire way to make you LOL. ;) But behind this funny guy lurks a heart of gold. During my ticket fiasco, he offered me his, and his kindness is something I will never forget. Thankfully, I didn't have to rob him of seeing the spectacular Rooney bicycle kick, but I was incredibly touched no matter.

They always say "small world," or "6 degrees of separation," positing that we're all connected in some way. This was never more evident than when we met Manutdot. First of all, let me say, this guy was the only one who was nothing like I'd imagined!! For some reason, I had darker hair and not as tall in my head. But, he was definitely as nice in person as he is on Twitter. He actually contacted United to put our names in the match program(me) as first time visitors to Old Trafford from the States! What an incredible keepsake. After the match as we were talking, we came to find out that he not only works for the same company as my husband's best friend from university, but he actually knows him!! Small, small world! We went to college in the one of the smallest states in the Union, the University of Delaware. To travel all the way to England, happen to meet a friend from Twitter, who happens to work with our friend? Total shock. And to say we got along well with Darren is an understatement. I (and especially my husband) really enjoyed his company, and we hope to see him every time we visit Manchester, and of course, if he ever travels to the States.

Meeting TreacleTart99 and Moscow21508 was like opening a gift that you didn't know you were getting, and it turns out to be exactly what you wanted. I wasn't sure what their plans were, and hoped they'd make it to the 'tweetup.' She might be surprised to learn this, but after becoming her friend on Twitter, I was a bit in awe of Treacs. She was just so funny and confident - it sounds cheesy, but I thought she was really cool! And when I met her in person, she was exactly the same. And, of course, completely genuine and kind as well. Moscow was the same. Funnily enough, during the match they took a photograph of the stand we were sitting in. They had no idea where our seats were, but after working it out looking at my pictures, they have a shot of us in the stands! Another fantastic memento of our trip to Old Trafford. We were extremely grateful to have met them both and spent time with them. Laughing and getting to know the two of them was a highlight of our trip.

I don't even know where to begin with SparklyDevil and Luzhniki2008. Because of them, this trip felt less like a tourist's journey and more like coming home to visit family. We have become indescribably close during my time on Twitter, discussing everything and anything under the sun. Our likes and dislikes are so similar and we are so like-minded in our values and priorities - I really mean the word when I call them family. They made us feel that way, nothing less. From dinners, to playing chauffeur and tour guide, the experience of having these two share their city with us was nothing less than magnificent. I know I have used a lot of superlatives in this post, but I don't know of any to describe how authentic, generous and kind-hearted these two people are. My gratitude for having them in my life (now and always) knows no bounds.

And, of course, last but certainly not least, we met Mike and Damon. Mike is SomersetReds' dad, and he and Damon met us outside Old Trafford to give us tickets to the match. Not only were they bestowing on us something akin to a golden ticket, but they seemed genuinely happy to be helping us. After giving us the tickets, Mike gave me an incredibly sweet smooch on the cheek and said how nice it was to meet me. I loved him :)

Going to Manchester is intrinsically momentous for a Red. But going to Manchester and having the pleasure and honor of meeting these people made the whole experience that much more special. You all have become so much more than names on a computer screen. Thank you for making our trip one we will never forget.

We can't forget to mention Blissbubbley, Spursboy, and the artist formerly known as MsMozza. We didn't catch up with them this time around, but you can bet I'm making sure of it next time we're in Manchester!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Manchester Is My Heaven Pt I: Things We Saw

Fourteen years ago, my husband and I (in addition to LOTS of wedding planning!) were trying to decide where we wanted to venture for our honeymoon. His parents were springing for the trip as our wedding present, and basically let us pick (within reason) the destination of our choice. We both hemmed and hawed, each of us wanting to make sure the other one was happy with the decision. When my mother suggested the United Kingdom, our eyes lit up! He said, "I thought you wanted to go somewhere tropical!" and I said, "I thought YOU did!" An adventure overseas to see the famous sights versus just laying on the beach for a week? Well, we found another thing in common and another reason we were perfect for each other. We went to London for for the first time the day after our wedding, and our lives were never the same.

This trip to Manchester was our fifth trip to England. But it was our first trip to the north of England, so we were very much looking forward to exploring a new region of our adopted country.

Our first glimpse of Manchester.

Manchester itself is a cool city to visit. It's a very bustling, contemporary city with a lot of modern architecture...sleek clean lines, and chic glass and metal. For example, our hotel, the

Hilton DeansgateBut, then you would turn the corner and see buildings like this:

And you would remember you were definitely in England! London has the same mix of old and new, of course, but the contrast seemed sharper somehow in Manchester. I'm not sure if the locals feel this, but as an outsider looking in, it seemed a city with a great heritage, but that was bursting at the seams with new energy, fresh ideas, and inspired city identity. Not surprisingly, I loved it.

The City Centre of Manchester was full of fun shopping, cool restaurants, and lots to look at. We wandered around most of the afternoon on Friday, until it was time to meet some friends for dinner...more about the fabulous Luzhniki2008 and Sparkly_Devil1 in Part II of the series...

Saturday was the Manchester city derby...we saw Old Trafford. As I said, that in itself will be a whole different post. After the match, we met some amazing folks. Again, too much to say about that to include now...

Sunday was our trip to the city of York. Another new place to visit in England! And, being located just over an hour away from Manchester by train, it was an easy destination for a day trip. York was founded in the year 71 AD, and boasts a Roman, Saxon and Viking heritage. It is the kind of city we Americans think of when we think "British"... gorgeous, old architecture; castle walls and big, beautiful cathedrals. The Shambles is a beautiful, historic cobblestone street, voted "The Most Picturesque in Britain." We walked around, took in the sights, visited a few pubs. It was an amazing little town. By mid-afternoon, it was pouring down rain, though, so our visit didn't cover nearly enough for our liking. It's definitely a place we would love to visit again in the future.

Monday in Manchester: It was Valentine's Day. We got to spend our day in red, with our hearts filled with love. At Old Trafford, of course! After spending the majority of our Valentine's there, we had a lovely, romantic dinner at Wagamama's in the Manchester City Centre. A place we discovered in London in 2004 (our son's first trip across the pond!), we constantly wish this restaurant existed in the United States. (I believe there might be one in Massachusetts, but it's nowhere as ubiquitous as it is in the UK!) There is simply nothing comparable here. Someday, we will open a franchise here in the Mid-Atlantic USA!

Tuesday was our last full day in Manchester, so we spent it soaking up as much of the city as we could. The day began with our morning trip to Caffe Nero for our wake-up call...we visited this particular coffee place every day of our trip. The first day we visited we were surprised at how strong the coffee was! It was delicious, though. It wasn't until that last day that we read the sign: "All of our coffee is made with two shots of espresso. If you would like a milder version, please request your coffee with only one shot." Wow!! No wonder our hands were a little shaky the first few days!

The guidebook said our first destination was "tucked into an unfashionable corner of town" - The Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives. As you enter, it has the look of a very small rowhome. But not only is there a large room with police motorcycles and a car, there is also a room showcasing vintage police uniforms and another that illustrated the typical detective's office in the 1950's. Everything was quite interesting, but as we turned to leave, one of the staff stopped us -- there was actually an entire police station once housed there! We got to see where criminals were booked, and even the cells that were used to hold prisoners. And upstairs was a courtroom. This museum exceeded our expectations by a far sight, and it's a really interesting place to visit.
Next, it was of to the Imperial War Museum North. We got on the Metrolink and rode it all the way out to the Media CityUK stop. This stop wasn't in any of the guidebooks, or on the tram map we had, so we figured it had to be new. What a great area! All of the big media outlets were in the process of building studios there, all on the waterfront. Along with the Lowry Hotel, the theatre and the War Museum, it was truly a beautiful area they are developing.

We had been to the War Museum in London a couple of times and really enjoyed it, so we were very much looking forward to visiting its Northern counterpart. It was just as amazing and enlightening. It was so interesting to peruse the exhibits and displays. Both my husband and I are fascinated in particular by World War II, and the way it affected British society. One feature the museum had that was especially compelling was the "Big Picture Show." On the hour, the entire museum goes dark, and large images are projected all around on the's a quite inspiring and moving feel you are right in the middle of things. It's a remarkable way to learn about history.

All too soon, it was Wednesday morning, and time to start our trek back to the States. Even though we have been to England many times before, this trip provided us with the opportunity to see parts of the country we hadn't seen before, and experience a whole new component to the nation we have come to love so much. Our journey to Manchester, in addition to the religious experience that is Old Trafford, and the making of lifelong friends, gave us a great perspective on what England means beyond just London.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Manchester Is My Heaven

I don't even know where to begin this post. We've been back from Manchester for almost a week now, and I am finally beginning to digest and process all that we saw and did while we were there. It's hard to find the right words to describe our trip...we experienced an abundance, and we felt so much. It was joy, pure and simple.

There is no way I can do our pilgrimage justice with only one post. There is so much to say, so many things to describe, so many emotions to put to words. There were innumerable facets to this experience - way beyond the typical first time trip to a new city. So, I'll be doing this in three parts: 1.) The Things We Saw, 2.) The People We Met, and last but certainly not least, 3.) The Football Club We Love.

If I did have to manage to squeeze all of the experiences and emotions from our adventure into a single word, it could only be one: special.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Never Forget.

Please visit:
The Faithful
Man United Devils Blog
The Republik of Mancunia

To read touching and inspiring tributes to our Busby Babes
and the special
Munich Remembered section of the Manchester United website.