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UK Trip Report: Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool in September 2016

I was in the UK from September 9 through 19, 2016, and visited Glasgow, Manchester, and Liverpool. It might take a while to post this report, and I'll start with logistics and then get to experiences, so I just want to say, I had a GREAT time, and if anyone is at all thinking of going to these places - GO!

And yes, that includes Manchester. I've only seen a few comments on Manchester here, and they were all negative. Obviously people will all have different experiences, but my two night stay in Manchester was just as rewarding as my other cities.

And for those who always want to go to places that aren't "touristy" but are still worthwhile - go to these places! Even at the designated tourist attractions, locals almost always outnumbered tourists.

First, the itinerary:
Sept 8: Fly EWR to GLA (via DUB) on Aer Lingus
Sept 9-12: Glasgow
Sept 13: Train from Glasgow Central to Manchester Picadilly; sightseeing in Manchester
Sept 14: Manchester
Sept 15: Train from Manchester Picadilly to Liverpool Lime Street; sightseeing in Liverpool
Sept 16: Liverpool
Sept 17: Day trip to Chester
Sept 18: Liverpool
Sept 19: Fly LPL to JFK (via DUB) on Aer Lingus

FLIGHTS:
There are nonstops to Glasgow and Manchester from New York, but not to Liverpool. Aer Lingus not only has flights to all three through their Dublin hub, but had, by far, the lowest price ($690!). I have no idea why leaving from EWR and returning to JFK was how the Aer Lingus website did the tickets; for me it's not a problem as they're equally convenient. Changing in Dublin was OK, but with several caveats.

First, the flights to Glasgow and Edinburgh leave from gates 336 and 337, and the signage only goes up to 335. And there is no person at this part of the airport to ask for help. I finally followed someone who knew that you simply follow signs for 335, and then signs for 336 and 337 start to appear. It was a long walk, and these gate areas have only vending machines which only take euro coins. A sign in this gate area indicated that the nearest more extensive services were a 10 minute walk - each way.

More in the "be prepared" category than in the "problem" category was that I coming from the US and going to the UK, so I didn't have euros. Machines in the airport need euro coins; live vendors will take foreign notes, but not foreign coins. On the way back I wanted to buy a beverage and had to use my credit card. I know some people love using their credit cards for very low amounts, but I'm old (OK, just 53), and not used to this. Incidentally, even though it was for €1.80, I had to sign the slip (I have chip and sign, not chip and PIN).

And also in the "be prepared" category, while my flight from Dublin to JFK boarded via a jetway (the "tube"), other flights used buses to and from the terminal, or in one case, just involved walking out to the plane. Yes, in that weather (I was lucky it was clear and not too cold, but if it had been cold and/or raining, which is more likely in these places - no fun). A potentially bigger problem is that the propeller plane used on the short flights from Dublin to Glasgow or Liverpool is boarded via very steep steps. Boarding wasn't so hard, but deplaning was; taking my carry-ons down those very narrow and very steep steps was difficult, and if anyone has balance problems or issues with steep stairs (like my mother does), it's potential trouble.

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Hotel in Glasgow:

I stayed at the Argyll Guest House: http://www.argyllguesthouseglasgow.co.uk/. My rate was £50 per night including breakfast. My room was across the street from the main Argyll Hotel, so I had to cross the street for breakfast or the front desk. The problem is that there is no traffic light at the nearest corner. In the morning, the traffic was light and I could dash across; later in the day, one may want to walk a block or two to the light to cross with more guaranteed safety. The bedroom was a good size and it had a completely separate bathroom (all ensuite). Internet is free, and I measured speeds around 10 mbps. The breakfast (full Scottish including blood sausages) was good; they will make you fried or poached eggs, but even their prepared scrambled eggs were fresh. I'd certainly stay here again.

My only slight issue was the location. It's in the neighborhood of Finnieston, which is near the Kelvingrove Museum, but not near other tourist sights (unless you enjoy very long walks, some very uphill). Rick emphasizes the restaurants in Finnieston, but these were not of particular interest to me as I was looking for more basic food. However, there are frequent buses along Sauchiehall street, and it's also a stop for the hop-on hop-off buses (that's HOHO for you travel regulars). The neighborhood itself is fine - just a bit removed. Next time I may stay in the centre, as this makes getting to outlying areas easier (for some places I had to go into the centre then back out again - details to follow).

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Hotel in Manchester:

I stayed at Roomzzz: http://www.roomzzz.com/manchester-city/. This is an aparthotel (also called serviced apartments), meaning you get daily maid service, but also have a full apartment with a kitchen. I was in the smallest room (plenty for one person, as it was not much smaller than my New York City apartment - really), and it had a dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave, and two-burner cooktop (called a "hob" in Brit-speak), along with various utensils and cookware. The rain shower is great, and the bathroom floor is even heated. There's a washer and dryer on almost every floor (free to use, and the desk will sell you a detergent pod for 50p). So, it's great for long stays, although my 2 night stay was also great. It's in the center, across the street from the Chinatown arch, and within a 20 minute walk of everything I saw (I never took any transit, of any kind, while in Manchester). They have a "grab and go" breakfast station in the lobby, with tea, coffee, croissants, and some fruit; this is free. If you want a more extensive breakfast, you'd have to make it (remember you do have a kitchen). Internet is free, and I measured speeds around 25 mbps. I paid £79 per night, and felt this was very good value. I'd definitely stay here again.

My room was on the lowest floor, which is another way of saying underground. There were sort-of windows, but it got almost no natural light even in the middle of the day. I see in online reviews that this really bothers some people (I had no problem with it), and that while you can request a room on a higher floor, it's not guaranteed. So, if you need natural light at this hotel, you may have to spring for a bigger room to be guaranteed a higher floor.

One problem: it does have a European washer and dryer. I know Europeans think these are just dandy, but as an American, I'm less thrilled. So, be prepared to need help figuring out how to set it, and be sure to select "short wash" if you don't want a cold water wash to take 90 minutes (I missed this part). And know that even after 90 minutes of drying, your clothes won't be really dry, as it appears to be a ventless condensation dryer. Again, I know some of this is basic to those used to these machines, but it's definitely not what I'm used to.

I note that Roomzzz is a chain, and it's in various kinds of converted buildings in each city; I'd certainly look to their other properties if I were staying in one of their other cities.

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Hotel in Liverpool:

I stayed at the Premier Inn Moorfields: http://www.premierinn.com/gb/en/hotels/england/merseyside/liverpool/liverpool-city-centre-moorfields.html. Note that there are three Premier Inns in the Liverpool city centre, as well as others on the outskirts. Being me, I chose the cheapest central one. The rates are a bit funky in Liverpool (according to Rick, it's city wide, not just this property or chain): they go up on Friday, go up a lot on Saturdays, then plummet on Sundays. So while my total for a nonrefundable booking for 4 nights was £262.50, including £2 for using a credit card instead of a debit card, my rate breakdown was:

Thursday: £45
Friday: £66.50
Saturday: £116
Sunday: £35

I forget how much more a refundable booking would have been, but it was at least £40.

The room was a nice size for two people, so as a single it was fine. There wasn't much storage space for clothes, though - two would definitely had trouble on that score. It had a daybed (sofa whose back cushion comes off) as well as a queen size bed. I'd stay here again as well, although next time I may spring for the more central Premier Inns. This one is right across the street from the gay quarter and a few blocks from the Cavern quarter, but a bit farther from other attractions; still, nothing is more than a 20-25 minute walk (Chinatown and the Cathedrals would be about the farthest "central" attractions). There's a Tesco Express around the corner, which for some reason attracts a pretty unsavory clientele outside; I never felt unsafe coming back at night to the hotel, but it was "rougher" than the neighborhoods near my other hotels. Also, rooms face one of two streets; mine faced the "back" street of Hockenhall Alley, and I got a lot of street noise on some nights (not too late, but certainly until midnight).

There is free slow Internet. I measured the speed as around 0.5 mbps - similar to what I got roaming with my US T-Mobile plan. Faster Internet (I don't know how much faster since I didn't buy it) costs £5 per day. Breakfast is £6.95 for continental or £8.95 for full. I had the full breakfast one morning, and a lot of the items had been sitting out a while and were hard/cold/stale. So, I just got yogurt and fruit from Tesco the other mornings.

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Research: I used Rick Steves Great Britain (new edition from May 2016) for Liverpool and Glasgow. I confirmed in a bookstore that these chapters are the same ones as in his separate England and Scotland books. The same is true for Rough Guide, so I also bought a Rough Guide Great Britain, since this included Manchester and Chester, which Rick doesn't cover. I really liked the Glasgow chapter in the Lonely Planet Scotland, but the Glasgow chapter in Lonely Planet Great Britain is much shorter and less detailed. I didn't want to buy two books (LP England and LP Scotland); they sell the chapters as PDF's, but I don't have a tablet and don't like using PDF's on my phone, so I couldn't use it for my trip. I did look at it from the library for info beforehand.

I found all of these very helpful, although inevitably there's a lot of duplication. These three cities all have a lot to see and do, but not as much as say, New York or Paris (or London), so with a few exceptions, one source would have been sufficient for each.

There was no way I was going to lug two large books for two small chapters each, so I cut out the chapters I needed, and left the rest at home. Which segues into:

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Packing and luggage: Once before, going to Russia in 2001, I used carry on only. But that was when I could take a 22 x 14 x 9 inch bag of any weight, and when airlines weren't being picky. For all my other European trips before and after, I had always checked a 24 inch bag and then brought a carry-on (about 22 x 14 x 9). However, I got bedbugs on a recent trip and had to throw away my luggage as a precaution. Since I had to buy new luggage, I used this as an opportunity to try to do carry on only. Aer Lingus allows a carry on of 10 kg (22 pounds) and maximum size of 55 x 40 x 24 in cm, which is 21.5 x 15.5 x 9.5 in inches. They also allow a personal item of 25 x 33 x 20 in cm, which is 10 x 13 x 8 in inches; no weight limit is specified for this.

I found a Delsey Hyperlite bag which is 21 inches high and only weighs 4.7 pounds. It literally flew up when I picked it up the first time, as it was so much lighter than I was expecting. Apparently, their Delsey Chatillon bag is similar (the Hyperlite is billed as a Macys exclusive). As my personal item, I used Rick's Euro Flight Bag - for the simple reason that my mother gave me hers, as it didn't work for her packing style. The two bags were a smashing success. The Euro Flight Bag slides over the handle of the Hyperlite, and together they had enough room for me to stuff in 3 pairs of pants (trousers for our UK readers), 6 pairs of underwear, 6 pairs of socks, 6 long sleeved shirts, 1 short sleeved shirt, 1 cotton sweater, my 4 thin book chapters, phone charging cord and adapter, Bluetooth keyboard, toiletry kit, 3-1-1 bag, prescription mouth rinse (4 ounces, but exempted from 3-1-1 rules) and a tote bag to carry during the day. Since I had used up the mouth rinse, and ended up throwing out 1 shirt, 1 pair of underwear, and 1 pair of socks (all were more worn than I had thought, and really had to go), I had room on the way back for 7 DVD's and 8 CD's. Buying used CD's and DVD's is always a major part of my trips, and the only shopping I do. Since I was doing laundry halfway through (at Roomzzz, where the laundry is always open), and of course was wearing one outfit on the plane (pants, shirt, socks, underwear) in addition to what I packed, this was plenty of clothes. I'm not a fan of sink washing, and in the UK there's the problem that it takes days to dry.

One big weight and space saver: I used to travel with a somewhat heavy netbook. But it died shortly after I got a smartphone. Since I not only didn't have the netbook, but didn't need its large charging cord and "brick," I saved a lot of weight and space by just taking the phone and Bluetooth keyboard.

You may have heard the "definition" of an alcoholic is "someone who drinks more than you do." Reading various posts here, I've come to the conclusion that an "overpacker" is "someone who brings more than you do." I see a lot of judgment, as well as the false dichotomy that there is only "carry on" and "multiple steamer trunks" with nothing in between. So, while I greatly enjoyed the freedom that only having carry on luggage gave me, and I'm posting what worked for me in case it helps others, everyone has to find what works for them.

Fun fact: in Liverpool airport they had sizer boxes for the various airlines, for carry ons and personal items. My Delsey fit exactly into the Easyjet carry on sizer; it was too big for the Ryanair or Wizz Air carry on sizers. My Euro Flight bag was too big as a personal item for all the airlines, but if not fully packed it could have been squished down to fit (mine was fully packed). So, if I were taking a budget airline with what I packed, I would have had to check the Delsey and carefully pack the Euro Flight bag to carry it on. I had no problems on Aer Lingus with my stuff.

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Glasgow:

This was the only one of my cities that I had been to before - for one day, in September 1993. I took the HOHO then, and I used it on this trip. It's one of the few places where HOHO's work the way they're supposed to. They really come every 10 minutes (alternating between live and prerecorded commentary), and they make it easy to see some sights that are a bit far on the buses otherwise. And, one of the stops was a block from my hotel, so it was very convenient to use it to take a midday break, then resume sightseeing. I got a 2 day ticket for £16 and used it on my second and third day, so I got a lot of use from this. The only major sights the HOHO doesn't go to are ones south of the Clyde, like the Burrell Collection and House For An Art Lover.

On my other days, I bought a day pass from First buses for £4.50. Glasgow buses only take cash and don't give change (my hotel receptionist had prepped me for this). The complication is that there are multiple bus companies as well as a separate company for the subway, and they don't cross-honor each other's tickets. Rick had said that First operated most of the buses, and sure enough, they went everywhere I needed to go.

Although almost all attractions in Glasgow are free, some of the strongest impressions were made by the few that I had to pay (modest amounts) for. The People's Palace (free) was a highlight, and it really put the wonderful Tenement Museum (£6.50) in better perspective. I learned at the People's Palace that many families lived in 1 room (a "single end") or 2 rooms, so to see the 4 rooms in the Tenement Museum was to realize that its tenant was better off. The docents really make this place come alive - be sure to talk to them and ask questions.

The Hunterian Museum is free, but the reconstructed home of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, formerly also free is now £5. It's worth it; I just wish I could have lingered longer (you see it with a docent, no photos are allowed, and the tour is a half hour only). The docent's tip to always be sure to look under a Mackintosh table, as that's where he put the ornamentation, proved very useful later.

I wasn't too taken with the Glasgow Boys or the Colorists in the Hunterian (nothing bad, just not special to me). I also wasn't as enthralled with the Riverside Museum as I had hoped to be. Both were free and I don't regret seeing them, but they haven't left the strong impressions the People's Palace, Tenement Museum, or Mackintosh House did - or two sights I'll talk about next.

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My last full day, I started with the Burrell Collection (free). This involved only one bus from my hotel, but a long ride since it went east into the center then turned south and west. The Burrell is in the middle of a park; it's hard to find even though I was using Google maps. It's an eclectic collection, as the only criteria Burrell seems to have used were, do I like it, and/or can I buy it cheap (there were anecdotes in the museum about his cheapness, use of anonymous bidders to avoid driving up the price, and rage at others bidding against him). There's bound to be something for almost everyone here, although as a whole, I had higher (possibly unrealistic) expectations. I did like the amazing glassware (particularly Dutch) and Chinese porcelain.

I next went to the House For An Art Lover. (A normal person might have taken a taxi, but cheapskate me with an all day bus pass walked through the park to a bus stop, took the bus two or three stops, then walked a bit to the next park, then walked through the park to the house). This is one major sight that Rick doesn't mention, but should. It seems there was a competition in 1900 in a German magazine to create a house for this hypothetical person of refined tastes. Charles Rennie Mackintosh's entry was disqualified on a technicality (he didn't submit the correct number of drawings, or something), and ultimately no one won the prize. But his entry was considered special, and along with two others was published. Fast forward to 1988, when a Mackintosh researcher found the original drawings among his papers, and had the idea to build it. Remember, it was done as a hypothetical, with no concern for budget and no detailed drawings (just for some of the main rooms, and a floor plan for the rest of the house). So, turning it into a real house, using materials would have been available in the period whenever possible, that would also be able to meet modern fire codes and such, was quite an undertaking. It was completed in the late 1990's. It's quite amazing - a hybrid between Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, if you can imagine such a thing. Furthermore, since it was published, it had influence even though it wasn't built until modern times. I spent several hours there, and it was certainly worth far more than the £4.50 admission fee. It was my last major Glasgow sight, so my stay there ended on a high note. Again, if you do go, be sure to look underneath every table!

I said it above but it's worth emphasizing: in Glasgow, even at the tourist attractions I mentioned, locals either were as numerous as visitors, or actually outnumbered them. And Glaswegians, true to their reputation, are eager to talk to anyone and everyone - although also true to their reputation, you may not understand what they're saying. If you think Trainspotting is an exaggeration, think again. (One American on my Hunterian Mackintosh House tour asked the docent to slow down so she could understand him; he replied that he would try, but he only had a half hour for the whole tour so he couldn't talk much slower than he was already. She still had great difficulty; I had already been there two days and did better).

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I forgot to mention that my first day, to fight jet lag, I did Rick's City Centre Walk as well as his West End Walk. Both were interesting, although the Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street are closed for renovation, so you can't go in and there' s nothing to see from the outside. Unfortunately, this day had the worst weather of my whole trip, first with light intermittent rain, then heavy rain (you know it's heavy when Glaswegians are actually using umbrellas). However, it did work for the jet lag, and by day 2 I was relatively rested. Another disappointment was that the Glasgow School of Art, one of Mackintosh's major works, was covered in extremely obscuring scaffolding (I know it was heavily damaged in a fire, but I've never seen scaffolding that so thoroughly covered a building before).

An aside about weather. I know Rick likes to say "there's no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing." But I disagree (so do Brits, by the way, or they wouldn't always be running to the Canary Islands and such). And people say silly things like "why are you worried about rain - you won't melt." I'm not worried about melting, but I don't enjoy any of the following: my maps and guidebooks getting wet; not having visibility, particularly out of bus windows (hard to find your stop when you can't see it); not being able to stroll leisurely and enjoy a city walk because it's coming down in buckets; and having to juggle an umbrella along with my other things (wearing glasses, I need an umbrella if the rain is more than a fine mist). I also don't come from a maritime climate, and find it hard to dress for it. Such places have 1000% humidity, so if it's a bit cool, you freeze, and if it's a bit warm, you roast. If I dress for how I cold I feel, it's too hot (I can't wear a wool sweater when it's 60 degrees F, no matter how cold I actually feel). I learned on a prior trip to Amsterdam (similar climate) that I need lots of thin cotton or fleece layers, or else I'm freezing.

However, I do understand that, as one writer put it, "summer in Glasgow merely means cheerier umbrellas," and that if you want "good" weather in September, you go to Spain or Italy, not northwestern England and western Scotland. I also understand that if I am going to a place with what I consider bad weather, I have to prepare for it. So, I bought the aforementioned thin cotton sweater, as well as bringing my coat with a fleece liner. And most important, I mentally prepared every day to have rain, and considered it a coup if there was none. In the end, I did fine, with only 1 day of real rain. I had another problem - the heat wave! I had only brought 1 short sleeved shirt, and could have used more. I ended up tying my jacket around my waist for some days when I had needed it in the morning, but would have roasted with it on by afternoon. (When everyone says "dress in layers," which is indeed the only way to deal with the climate, they don't tell you what to do with the layers you take off!) Even with all my precautions, I didn't enjoy my hands and face feeling cold on a few days, due to the aforementioned 1000% humidity (I had a scarf, but had neglected to bring gloves). I know that for some it's nothing, but I consider it a personal accomplishment that I was able to work with, rather than against, the weather.

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My train from Glasgow to Manchester was prebooked on Virgin's website for £21.50; the last minute price is more like £69. They're not as sophisticated as Amtrak in the US - I had to pick it up at the station, whereas Amtrak has emailed you the tickets for about 5 years. I needed the reservation number and credit card, and picking it up from a window was quick (I did it a few days before travel, when I was near the station).

The train ride itself was fine, although there was minimal luggage storage space (I couldn't see a rack for larger bags near my seat). Again, having just smaller bags made this easy (the 21" bag fit over the seat, but my old 24" bag would not have).

While I'm at it, my train trip from Manchester to Liverpool was prebooked on Northern for £3 (yes, only 3 pounds). At that price I could have afforded to throw the ticket away, although I ended up using it. Northern has a ticket app which worked fine; I don't know if it requires data while on the train, or only needs it to download the ticket, or also to activate the ticket (the downloading and activating are two separate steps). Since I had mobile data I didn't have to pay attention, but if you don't, you may need to opt for a paper ticket. This train was delayed, and since it was an Advance, I couldn't take any other one (it was only about a 15-20 minute wait). But the reason for the delay is relevant to others. There was an accident on the line between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport. So, anyone counting on the train to get to the airport on time could have been in trouble - yet more proof of what the regulars here are always saying: when it comes to getting to your flight, don't take chances, and have a backup plan (or two).

And to complete the train rides, my trip from Liverpool to Chester showed up on the National Rail site as various prices (at least £12). But when I went to the ticket seller, it turned out this could be made on local Merseyrail trains, and since it was a Saturday, I could get a £5 day ticket (I don't know what it would have cost on other days). These trains are unreserved and for most of the day, they're every 30 minutes on Sundays and every 15 minutes Monday through Saturday. As a further bonus, these trains make four stops in central Liverpool, first at Moorfields (a block from my hotel!), then Lime Street, then Central, then James Street, before heading under the Mersey to Chester. So, a day trip to Chester couldn't be easier.

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Manchester:

As I said above, this gets a bad rap here on RS. But I had a good time. And as a bonus, I found the accents in Manchester the easiest to understand, by far, of the three cities I visited.

All of the cities I visited on this trip, in various ways, are or were second cities (London is always first). So, Manchester has the second largest gay population in England, and Glasgow is the second largest shopping city in the UK (how these two things are measured is not clear to me, but these claims are often made). But Manchester has a number of firsts as well, and not just for England or the UK, but the world. It was the first industrial city in the world; the world's first railway connected Manchester and Liverpool, and the original station in Manchester still stands; the world's first computer was built there. And it was the location for two historic meetings; it's where Karl Marx met Friedrich Engels, and where Charles Rolls met Henry Royce. Its cotton mills once supplied something like 60% of the world's cotton cloth.

When Variety reviewed That's Entertainment! in 1974, they said, "While many may ponder the future of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, nobody can deny that it has had one hell of a past!" I kept thinking of this while in Manchester, except that their present is impressive too (I won't try to predict any place's future). In the center, there's a huge mix of people (even more than in Glasgow) all bustling everywhere; it hardly seems like a city past its prime. At night it was more deserted, but many restaurants were still open, and bus stops were crowded with people going home at 9 and 10 PM.

The undisputed highlight of Manchester for me was the Museum of Science and Industry (free). Here, the focus is on industry. If you go, be SURE to see the demonstrations of cotton-making. If you go without a demo, it's just a bunch of old machines. But the docents make it come alive, not only showing how the machines worked, but detailing the various hazards (and boy were there a lot of them!). I also had no idea how many steps there were going from raw cotton to finished fabric.

Due to the child labor, the job hazards, the low pay for long hours, etc. Manchester was a hotbed of social movements, and they're detailed in the People's History Museum (free). This was interesting, albeit a bit hard for this non-Brit to follow at times. If Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are heroes to you, this museum will be tough going - it doesn't pretend to be neutral politically.

I really enjoyed the Manchester Art Gallery (free), both the special exhibit on photography in Vogue magazine and the permanent collection. The John Rylands Library (free) was interesting because it looked far more like a church than any library I've seen. The Northern Quarter had some interesting stores. And I saw a movie one night at HOME, the arts center just south of the Rochdale canal. As I said, all of these sights and activities were walking distance from my hotel, so I never took any transit while in Manchester. I could have taken the Metrolink (tram) to the Imperial War Museum North, but didn't have time - next trip. However, I did find myself constantly being turned around and getting slightly lost - again, even with Google maps on my phone. I didn't have this problem nearly as much in Glasgow or Liverpool.

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Liverpool:

Here, even more than Glasgow, Rick's chapter covered everything I needed to know. So I'll just say to follow his advice. I did do a HOHO here one day (City Explorer, the less expensive one with live guides); this was very handy to reach the cathedrals.

I was a bit disappointed in the Museum of Liverpool (free), as I found it too much of a jumble. I saw the Merseyside Maritime Museum and International Slavery Museum (free) over two separate visits, and highly recommend this, as there's lots to take in. I liked the Tate Gallery Liverpool (the free floors, anyway; the special exhibit was something like £12, and I didn't see it). The Beatles Story main exhibit at Albert Dock was very interesting and worth the £14.95. The branch at Pier Head (included in the price) had an interesting exhibit on the "British Invasion" (noting that, logically, this was an American coinage and the actual British bands didn't hear it until they went to the US), and a total waste of time in the Fab 4D Experience (that's 12 minutes of my life I'll never get back).

Seeing the two cathedrals was interesting (they really are quite a contrast) and the suitcase monument on Hope Street between them was also interesting. The guide on my HOHO said when seeing the Metropolitan Cathedral (the Catholic one), to be sure to detour to the Liverpool Waterhouse Cafe in the Victoria Gallery & Museum. I'm glad I did - very attractive. A funny side note - when I showed a coworker my pictures, she said the Metropolitan Cathedral looked more like a synagogue than a church. She's got a point - it reminded me of pictures I've seen of Catholic churches in Rio and Brasilia.

As for Liverpool accents, they're definitely harder to understand at times than Manchester ones, although easier than Glasgow ones.

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I didn't do a "Beatles tour," but I made sure to prebook my National Trust tour of John Lennon's and Paul McCartney's Childhood Homes: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/beatles-childhood-homes. This was pricey (£24 including the £1 booking fee), but well worth it. In addition to learning all kinds of things about John and Paul, you learn about how people lived at that time. I was also struck by how suburban their neighborhoods, even today, feel, and how far from the city center; I imagine it was even more so when when they lived there.

As an aside, John grew up pretty fancy; it was and still is a neighborhood of doctors and lawyers, and the house not only had a name (Mendips) but was built with bells to summon staff (although John's aunt and uncle didn't have staff, some of the prior owners seem to have). So, much is made of how Paul McCartney's house was much more modest. It is, in comparison to John's. But having learned about the 1 and 2 room flats in Glasgow, and seen the "luxury" of the 4 room apartment in the Tenement Museum there, I saw that Paul's house was hardly in the same category. It may have been a council flat in a row house that they rented (John's aunt and uncle owned their semi-detached house), but he and his brother each had their own bedroom, and at some point they got a washing machine. When I mentioned this to the docent, she explained that John grew up the richest, then Paul, then George, then Ringo. She had theories about how this played out in their later relationship to money (speculative, of course, but interesting nonetheless).

Incidentally, most of the people on the tour were older than me by quite a bit, although there was one young couple from London. And I've talked about difficult accents, but one man had a truly indecipherable one. I wanted to ask him, "Excuse me, I can't understand a word you're saying, so I'd love to know where you're from," but of course didn't. I wouldn't be surprised if he was Geordie (people from Newcastle), as I find them even harder to understand than Glaswegians.

One thing that I found fascinating; people in these cities don't seem to have had refrigerators or even iceboxes, in the 1950's. (Remember that on the American 1950's TV series The Honeymooners, it's a sign of the Kramden's poverty that they only have an icebox, while the Nortons have a refrigerator). One shopped every day, and had fresh milk delivered daily. There was a larder (pantry) built near an outside wall to keep things cold; given the weather in Glagow and Liverpool, this often worked well. But a stray story in the Merseyside Maritime Museum started to make more sense. It spoke of the "Cunard Yanks," Cunard ship staff from Liverpool who, because of their regular travel to the US, could get all sorts of things not available at home. One Cunard Yank remembered bringing back refrigerators and having the ship's electrician set up a transformer so the US machines could work on UK current. At first I thought, ??? - that's a huge and heavy thing to schlep. But if, for some reason, it wasn't standard to have a refrigerator in the UK, it makes more sense that this would be a cherished item to bring back. Of course, the records they brought had a direct impact on music; that's where people like The Beatles heard all the US music that the BBC didn't play.

Again, there were things I missed for lack of time, including the Walker Art Gallery and the World Museum. Reasons to go back!

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11154 posts

Chester:

This was quite an interesting contrast to the other places I saw. It is much more overtly "pretty" and "quaint" than them. It has highly visible tourists, both regional and from farther away. There are even big bus tour operators who stop there (their customers were wearing the whisper headsets). I walked on part of the old wall (originally Roman, but heavily modified in multiple eras since). I also walked around the central area of The Rows - two story galleried shopping arcades. The town has a very nice vibe, but it was a bit of a shock after being in such "local" feeling places as Glasgow, Manchester, and Liverpool. It is certainly the most overtly photogenic of the places I visited, and to those seeking a more "beaten path" experience, it would be the most comfortable (one office mate really lit up when I showed her the pictures; she was more cool to my pictures of the other places, as their essence isn't as readily captured in photos, but in the experiencing of them).

A side note: as I said above, I was looking for used CD's and DVD's. Well, Chester has a row of charity shops just outside the walls, on Frodsham Street - and they actually open before 10 AM. So, I was able to hit the British Heart Foundation and Oxfam, then buy a plug adapter at Poundland, all before starting my formal sightseeing. Of course, these kinds of experiences are, to me, just as much fun. And again, for those who want to "meet the locals," local shopping is the way to go.

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11154 posts

Along that line, I had fun in the supermarkets. It was interesting to see the range - Waitrose and M&S Simply Food are definitely higher end, Sainsbury's is in the middle, and Tesco is more basic. The variety of frozen prepared dinners in the Waitrose on Byres Road in Glasgow is worth a trip to see. The big shock was seeing Penn State Snacks brand pretzels in Tesco. I went to Penn State and did not have a happy time there (understatement alert). The last place I expected to be reminded of this was in a British supermarket, but that just goes to show where expectations get you. Then, as the second surprise, Aer Lingus gave them to me on the plane returning from Dublin to JFK. I've kept the bag as a souvenir.

Incidentally, Penn State Snacks are a UK brand, and aren't related to the school. If you're as curious about this name as I am, there's more info about this company here: http://onwardstate.com/2014/10/20/why-is-there-a-pretzel-company-in-the-uk-called-penn-state-snacks/

One quirk; all the Glasgow supermarkets were selling blackberries and raspberries, all grown in the UK (place of origin is prominently displayed on the package). I love these, so they were often my dessert. When I went to Manchester and Liverpool, these became harder (raspberries) or much harder (blackberries) to find. I don't know why, since it was the same time period, the stuff was often from southern England anyway (so it wasn't local to Glasgow), and I tried a range of supermarkets (even the fancy ones often didn't have them).

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11154 posts

I've mentioned Internet in my hotels (the only one I noticed was Premier Inn, because it was so slow; video took a LONG time to load and even then sometimes skipped). But I forgot to mention T-Mobile. I have T-Mobile Simple Choice in the US, which for travel to the UK gives unlimited free texts, unlimited free slow internet, and calls at $0.20 per minute when on cellular and free when on Wi-Fi. It is often said that with this T-Mobile deal, regardless of what network your phone shows, your speeds will be throttled down to 128 kbps (or 0.128 mbps). My phone said 3G at all times. I did frequent speed tests, and got results ranging from 0.3 to 2.7 mbps. This was fast enough for mapping, looking up websites, etc. Having Internet when out and about was a great convenience, and not having it would have meant recalibrating how I traveled (remembering to look everything up in the hotel before going out for the day, for instance).

One thing I discovered. When I did go on Wi-Fi, many required me to go to a login page on my browser. However, that page often wouldn't load, saying there was an error, and at first I thought I was stuck. I soon learned that if I just tried to go to another web page (any site would do), it would then redirect to the login page. However, some places like restaurants required that I either sign in with Facebook or Twitter (I'm not a member of either one), or else give them my mobile number and e-mail address (they send the password to the e-mail address, so you can't give a fake). Not being eager to give more information, I would forego this "free" Wi-Fi and just continue on my slower 3G connection.

Posted by
65 posts

Harold,

I really enjoyed your report. Thanks for including so much detail. I had initially wondered if you had used your trip to see some football, since both Manchester and Liverpool have well known teams. Seeing an EPL game is on our travel bucket list. :)

You had mentioned that you had gotten bedbugs on a prior trip and had to throw away your luggage. You may already do this, but I would recommend bagging all of your clothing when you return from a trip and running everything through a hot drier. You can also put your suitcase in a black trash bag and place it in a hot car (if you have access to one) for a couple of days. The heat will kill any critters that may have hitched a ride.

Thanks again for your report. It sounds like you had a great trip!
Sharon

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11154 posts

Sharon: I did indeed have a great trip - one of my best. I made sure to post details because, unlike "popular" destinations like London or Paris, there's few ways to get direct information about these places, and I want everyone to know it's not because they're not worthwhile.

Yes, football (soccer to those of us in the US) is huge in all three cities. I didn't go to any games, or to the stadiums (in particular, the one where Manchester United plays is a huge draw, with hourly tours).

As for bedbugs, I did all the bagging and drying on the trip where the bugs were acquired. I'm probably one of the few tourists in Barcelona who went to the supermarket in El Corte Inglés in search of both trash large bags and smaller ziplock bags. [I didn't do that for this trip, although it's not a bad idea.] From Barcelona, I took all the double bags out of the suitcases before bringing them into my apartment building, and left the suitcases outside the building. It's likely the bags were not infested (long story), but I didn't want to even take the chance (it was miserable enough having them for a night; the idea of having them in my house was too scary to risk). There's also the fact that replacing luggage is a lot cheaper than treating for bedbugs once they're in your dwelling.

I don't have access to a car, or to a garage (to keep the potentially bugged bag out of the house), or to a lawn (where you can take the bag from the garage, spray the bag with bug-killing chemicals, then let it dry out, then hose it down to get rid of the chemicals - at least, that's what some websites describe as a viable procedure). Living in New York City, my choices were, new suitcases (cost in the low hundreds of dollars) or a new house (cost in the hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars, if it's going to be large enough to have a separate garage and a yard). Guess which one I chose.

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23550 posts

It is thrilling to see the neighborhood through the eyes of a visitor.

Accents can be a real challenge - I sometimes find myself translating the more difficult ones to my wife.

It sounds, Harold, that you mostly enjoyed your train trips. That's good.....

Excellent reports...

Posted by
65 posts

Harold,

Thanks for your reply. SO glad the bedbugs didn't make it into your house. It sounds as if you were proactive and saved yourself a big headache. My husband brought them home from a business trip a few years ago. It was expensive and frustrating to get rid of them. We had to bring in the big heaters and heat the entire house. I was thankful we were able to afford the not-inexpensive process, but it was still a very unpleasant experience. Ever since then, I have been a little obsessed about making sure we bag everything and run it through a dryer after we travel!

Thanks again,

Sharon

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1077 posts

Thank you for your pragmatic report. I enjoyed your expense accounting and accommodations reviews. I love history and museums when we travel because it helps one get the big picture of a place.

Posted by
231 posts

What a great read, Harold. Yeah, what is one suppose to do with all those layers? As far as taking a carry-on and a checked piece of luggage, that's all I've ever done. It's an occassional hassle climbing up steps of a metro station (lugging my two and wifey's checked bag). For us, the benefit is doing laundry fewer times, taking extra shoes, and having enty of room to take home gifts and cherizhed finds.

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2 posts

Thanks for the great information Harold. My wife and I will be going to Edinburgh, Liverpool, London and Wales in January. Your post helped greatly.

Posted by
2372 posts

Harold, thanks for an excellent well-written trip report! Great details!
Enjoyed reading it very much!
This will help me plan my spring 2017 trip.

Posted by
1845 posts

Wonderful reading, Harold. Lots of pertinent and useful information on destinations not well covered by most travel authors. This is definitely a travel report I'll be filing away for future trip information! It's well written and enjoyable to read. Thanks for posting!

Posted by
213 posts

Really enjoyed your report - Ive been to none of these places so was great to read about them. Lots of great tips too! Thank you!

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671 posts

@Harold: I have a meeting in Edinburgh later this year and noted the Aer Lingus had by far the cheapest flights from Newark. I have never flow this airline before. How was your flight experience?

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11154 posts

Robert: Overall the Aer Lingus flights were fine. I already posted the "problems" I had (finding the gate was the worst, but now you know the "secret" to just follow signs for 335, and 336 and 337 signs will start appearing along the way).

On the trans-Atlantic flight, the one thing that was in any way unusual was that there was only one drinks service. So, if you want wine (or even just extra soda) with your meal, you have to get it with that drinks service; they don't bring a drinks cart again when they bring dinner. They did announce this, but some people didn't hear or understand it. This was on the way over; I don't remember the way back.

You probably already know that if you fly Aer Lingus back to the US, you almost always clear US immigration and customs in Dublin. This means you must allow enough time for this, but also means your arrival in the US is easier. The signage to the US-bound gates was crystal clear to me, but I did encounter people who were confused.

I'd certainly fly Aer Lingus again, particularly since they often have good prices and their routes don't involve lots of "backtracking" like, say, Turkish Air often does. Aer Lingus also participates in United Mileage Plus, so I added the points for my flight to that account.

Posted by
924 posts

Beautifully written! I so enjoyed your trip report. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.

Posted by
5704 posts

I appreciated the information on weather in Glasgow. A friend from London warned me about the possibility of rain but your explained it more clearly. Be prepared!

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20 posts

Great review! We are going to be in that area in July 2017 to take our son to look at a college in Leeds. But we fly direct ATL into MAN and will spend a day or two in Manchester. I know my son will want to tour Man U's stadium! Your report gives some other ideas there as well as what to do if we go to Glasgow. Still working on our itinerary for us after we drop the kid at the university for a week.

We also always travel with carry on luggage only, and so I am always on the hunt for the "perfect" luggage. I will look into your recommendation on the Delsey! I have some luggage I love, but you never know what's lurking around the corner....

For layer removal, may I recommend a small daypack? You can stuff it empty into your luggage, and then carry it when you're out and about touring, and stuff your jacket, etc in there.

Posted by
5435 posts

Harold, I'd missed your trip report when you posted it, but caught it now that it's been bumped up. You took such care to provide such a detailed and interesting report, chock full of useful info! I enjoyed it very much. I'm definitely wanting to go back to Glasgow and see so many things I didn't see last year when I was there with my family (long story). Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and even the Tenement Museum (I literally walked them to the front door and then had to turn around and go back downtown to meet my husband, who was arriving that afternoon)!!

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11154 posts

Kim: Sorry to hear you missed the Tenement Museum - truly memorable. As I said, when you go, be sure to ask the docents questions; they really know all kinds of stuff about not only the woman who lived there, but the times she lived in.