Since I’m already in England, I planned to take a little trip to see some cities and experience some English culture. Because I’m a bit low on money at the moment (being here ain’t for free, mate), I decided to couchsurf: a new 21st century concept for travelling and seeing the world. Basically it is a community of people, who post their couch on the internet and provide it for random travellers. Everything is for free; you might only need a big store of confidence in your backpack. Staying with unfamiliar and strange people can be a bit scary sometimes.
With a small rucksack full of chocolate, biscuits (bourbon creams!) and t-shirts I hit the road. This is the first “travelling-on-my-own”-experience for me, so I felt a bit like Armstrong setting foot on the moon, Columbus setting sail and also a bit like the Joker setting fire to a stable building (which is my so far “unadventurous” life). Nevertheless, I planned carefully every place I wanted to visit. I don’t want to end up being asked by somebody “have you been to that big, massive blabla”, whether I’ve seen this or that and I have no clue, even though I dwelled in that city. You get the idea: Don’t miss the opportunity. So I prepared myself; confident to get my adventures (which is kind of bound to occur due to my lack of sense of direction anyway).
My first stop happens to be Manchester. Anciently called Mancunia, which probably derives from “mamm~”, which is a breast and “castra”, which is a camp. A breasty camp is supposed to have hills, isn’t it? I am not sure if that camp was male or female breasted, but I know that England is as flat as I am. The nickname of Manchester is Cottonpolis, which sounds, on the other hand, rather appealing to me. It reminds me of Metropolis, Acropolis, Monopoly, which are all pretty awesome. Furthermore, the first atom was split (explicit) in Cottonpolis, they had the first intercity railway station and they have a library in which Marx and Engels (predominantly Engels) used to linger. Anyway, after visiting several interesting places (by bus, which is free in the centre – chapeau, Manchester!) I met Malcolm, my first host. The 72y-o gentleman showed me around the city very hurriedly, telling me stories about playing tennis, walking up and down the hills, classical music and literature. I was pretty impressed when he told me he could speak French fluently. I think English and French are not a very mingling mixture, (if you have ever listened to my host brother’s French, you will understand). Together we went to a theatre and he paid my bill for lunch. Unfortunately, he doesn’t live exactly in Manchester, so we had to go back to Warrington (20min). After chicken and redcurrant jam, cheese and chocolate (affricates overdose?) we played rummy and talked again about literature and the Pope. All in all it was very nice. In the morning I set off after a bowl of porridge, yay.
Next destination is Sheffield, not even an hour away. You’ll see pretty fast, why it is nicknamed Steel City. Every museum, every sculpture in Sheffield suggests a very steely, chromic past – stainless steel, that’s its hobbyhorse (this saying will not be understood by English natives, I’m sorry, but it’s just too good! (pet issue = hobby horse)). Another fun fact about Sheffield: It has the biggest tree-human ratio in Europe with over 2.5 million trees. Unluckily, it was raining when I arrived. But I am an adventurer, I would not be frightened. Orwell once titled the city as “justly […] the ugliest town in the world.” After investigating for about 2 hours before meeting my next host, I cannot agree. Well, he died some time ago, it might have been different. At least, modern Sheffield is pretty nice.
At 12.30 Katherine, a Chinese student, waited for me in front of the Library. I would arrive 20min too late, after my first time being lost. Lost in the moor. Moor Street to be honest, not a real moor; if lost in a real moor, I’d be dead; no army could ever save me from a bloody moor, haha. I am still sorry for my delay, but in the end, it turned out well. Her residence is pretty close to the Uni and so we ate some pretty spicy (for me, not for anybody else probably), Chinese food. As the skies cleared up we strolled around in the city for a bit and drank hot chocolate in Caffè Nero. Trying to exchange some language fragments in Chinese, French and German was pretty funny (Lion-Eater, Greeny). In the evening we forgot to eat and went straight to the cinema to watch Star Trek: Into Darkness. Even though it was rather cool, there have been some heavy logical flaws. But not considering those, the film was great (Christopher Pike: Are you giving me attitude, Spock? Spock: I am expressing multiple attitudes simultaneously sir, to which one are you referring? (!)). My couch in Katherine’s house was actually a bed of 2 metres with a heater at my disposal. In the morning I would set off for Nottingham …
… alias Science City. Due to its enormous amount of students, Nottingham has a very low average age. Obviously, I wanted to see the Nottingham University. After placing my luggage at Peter’s house, I set off westwards. I felt a bit sorry for some of my gamer friends, when I encountered Warhammer World and Games Workshop, that they could not be here (u jelly?). With this interruption of my journey, I didn’t really notice, that I was already walking for almost an hour. Just when I thought about that, a campus appeared. It was closed with a barrier and a little man sat in a little shelter that looked like a little toilet. The campus was closed (aha, obviously), but it was not the right one anyway, just a minor offshoot. I walked back and got lost because I didn’t walk straight but wanted to take a shortcut to the actual university. “Never, never”, I told myself repeatedly, “never, never take a freaking shortcut”, when I was marching along the A52, a six-lane high street. Cars flashed past and my map was useless for I didn’t have any reference point but that very street. After another three-quarters of an hour I realized, I had walked for west again (being now farther away than ever). Then I swore in every language I knew and turned around. It was 4 o’clock when I arrived in the city centre again. For my own good I didn’t calculate on google maps how many miles I had wasted. My legs must be fairly muscular by now, haha (this was ironic laughter). To reward myself in the evening I considered going to the burlesque theatre “Miss Nightingale”. A cheap WOK&GO later I stumbled 5 minutes before the performance into the hall of the Theatre Royal (posh, posh, posh). I received my ticket for about half the price because it was not booked up. Nice fellows there! When I got home, nobody was in. I would spend the night in the living room which looked like an art gallery: Many paintings and fancy chairs … and a cat which would eventually wake me up in the morning. It was a truly peculiar and odd experience to sleep over in a stranger’s (like a person I did not really meet before) living room. But it turned out well, we had breakfast in the morning and he showed me the delights of Marmite. With this experience, a piece of cheese, 2l of water and some biscuits, he drove me to the station. He seemed to be very interested in art and music, so we could’ve had nice discussions, too.
P.S.: Yes, Robin Hood, bla.
The final destination of this journey is to be Birmingham, “The 2nd City”, for obvious reasons. The place where Tolkien and Doyle took inspiration from, Ozzy Osbourne or Black Sabbath have their origin or James “the badass” Watt invented the Steam Engine in 1776. It is, however, said that it might be a very rusty and unfriendly city. But it wasn’t! Futuristic architecture (The Selfridge Building, the Tetris-Tower (not exactly)) and a sophisticated canal network make it really a place to be, a deserved B-City. I stayed with Corina, a Romanian architecture student, who showed me and another Australian Couchsurfer around the city. “A Romanian, an Australian and a Swiss walk into a bar in England …” Multiculturalism at its finest. We saw Dalí statues, the famous Art Gallery in Birmingham and a lot of hidden spots. We planned to eat Romanian food, which was soup, which was nice. That is one big thing about Couchsurfing: You never know what happens next. I didn’t expect to eat Romanian in Birmingham, I’d expect to talk to Brummies. Thank God I didn’t have to sleep on couches like that all the time, it was awful. It was two pieces, but only about 1.3m long, and I am certainly half a metre longer than that. I put them together but the diagonal is only sqrt(2)*1.3, which was still too short. Yet with some acrobatic tricks I succeeded in sleeping.
After a 2h40min journey from Birmingham to Liverpool my trip was over (and it was rainy again in Liverpool. At least I was sure I was in Liverpool, right?) It has been a very exciting experience, I learned a lot, not only about the English cities and cultures but also about travelling, principles, multiculturalism and problems of other people and places. I highly recommend travelling for it opens your mind and it is fun after all. What happens next?