Meet Me in Manchester.

I love living in Spain, but I'll admit that it was a gulp of fresh air to step onto English-speaking soil. It was almost stunning how easily I understood everything (well, nearly everything--Brits say some funny things), and how easily I was understood in return. John and I visited Manchester last weekend, a simple Ryan Air flight away from Madrid, to visit my grandfather, who was in town for business.

Manchester was cold, as you might expect, but the rain held out until our very last day. Our hotel was very conveniently located downtown on the river (below), so everything was comfortably within walking distance. We went on a business excursion day with my grandfather to see what a day in his life is like when he's in Manchester, and spent the rest of our time touring around the city as well as visiting nearby Chester.

It's very obvious that Manchester was once a very industry-based city, and we learned more about that part of the city's history when we visited The Museum of Science and Industry. It has great, hands-on exhibits (perfect if you have kids, or are a big-kid-at-heart, and love to learn), including one on 3D Printing (see photo below). The best part? It's free, but you are encouraged to give a donation. It also had a nice cafe for resting your feet and delaying the inevitable cold and probable rain outside. From the photos below, you can probably tell that Manchester is a mix of old and new, historical buildings neighbor sharp-angled modern construction. And you know what? It works. I loved the feeling I got walking around Manchester. Definitely not as much green space in the city as I would have liked, but it's somewhere I would love to return to one day...maybe in warmer weather!

3D printing at the Museum of Science and Industry. Can you believe all of these objects were  printed ?!?

3D printing at the Museum of Science and Industry. Can you believe all of these objects were printed?!?

We also took a morning/afternoon trip out to Chester. My parents visited Chester a few years ago, and wholeheartedly recommended the city; we were not disappointed! (We asked one British woman what she thought about Chester, and she said it was "boring"--what Europeans don't realize is that we can't sit in a pub from 1293 in the U.S. We took her comment with a grain of salt and went to Chester anyway!)

Upon walking out of the hotel in Manchester, I realized that I had left my camera switched to "on" for a week, so my battery was dead. So I relied on my trusty iPhone camera for photos this trip.

Chester was a perfect destination for a few hours of walking, stopping in little shops, eating at a 13th century pub (playing 21st century music), walking the city walls, touring the cathedral, having afternoon tea, and buying a couple of books in a second hand bookstore (I exhibited some self-control). I'd recommend this little, charming town to anyone visiting the area--it's a nice escape from the big-city feel of Manchester, and allows you to see oh-so-green English countryside on the train ride there and back.

The main shopping street in Chester.

The main shopping street in Chester.

So beautiful. You don't see signs like this painted on buildings anymore!

So beautiful. You don't see signs like this painted on buildings anymore!

See that big, dark sky? It had a nice hail storm brewing, waiting for us when we walked out of the cathedral.

See that big, dark sky? It had a nice hail storm brewing, waiting for us when we walked out of the cathedral.

I've been attending Anglican churches now for several years, and this reading in the Book of Common Prayer holds a lot of meaning and memories of worship in the U.S. and here in Spain.

I've been attending Anglican churches now for several years, and this reading in the Book of Common Prayer holds a lot of meaning and memories of worship in the U.S. and here in Spain.

Afternoon tea on the wall that surrounds Chester. While to me this would be a scone, clotted cream and jam, and tea with milk, the British have a lovely name for the whole affair: a Cream Tea.

Afternoon tea on the wall that surrounds Chester. While to me this would be a scone, clotted cream and jam, and tea with milk, the British have a lovely name for the whole affair: a Cream Tea.


Life is better with a Belgian waffle. {A weekend in Brussels.}

The weekend before Christmas, we headed north to Brussels, Belgium, which felt like we had traveled to a different world. Cold and perpetually cloudy, though unfortunately not snowy, Brussels truly felt wintery. At night in the center of town, the Grand Place magically lit up during the nightly light show. Click on the video below for a short glimpse (and excuse the poor quality--somehow uploading it to Youtube from my computer made the quality pretty low). I felt like I was in a winter wonderland meets Hogwarts--wonderful all around!

Grand Place in the daytime. Do you see the sun? Neither did we.

Grand Place in the daytime. Do you see the sun? Neither did we.

Grand Place completely transformed at nighttime. The only word I can think of to describe this light show is magical.

Grand Place completely transformed at nighttime. The only word I can think of to describe this light show is magical.

One thing that stood out to us about Brussels immediately was the international feel that it had, which makes sense: it's the headquarters of the European Union, and it has a large African immigrant population. We really appreciated this diversity when it came to food because, well, we are tiring of the Spanish cuisine. (If I see one more ham leg...) We had fish and chips at Bia Mara, right around the corner from the Grand Place, which we would highly recommend! They put a creative twist on your traditional English fare, throwing in some curry and various sauces and breading as well as different kinds of fish depending on what you order. One afternoon we tried Ethiopian food (a first for both of us) at KoKoB, and it was excellent. But then again, when would eating with your hands not be excellent? One evening, we took the advise of our Airbnb host and visited one of her favorite neighborhood restaurants to sample some Dutch fare, and we weren't disappointed. And of course, waffles, chocolate, and Belgian beer are easily accessible wherever you look. We stumbled upon the cutest little Belgian bar in a little alley downtown and sipped some Chimay and Westmalle, and also visited Delirium Cafe, a huge, old, and very busy establishment.

I think everything probably tastes better with some Nutella on it. At least waffles do.

I think everything probably tastes better with some Nutella on it. At least waffles do.

And just when you're worried you might not be able to find a waffle stand, there it is: the waffle BUS. Who needs the ice cream truck when you can have THIS?!

And just when you're worried you might not be able to find a waffle stand, there it is: the waffle BUS. Who needs the ice cream truck when you can have THIS?!

I wasn't really aware of the fact that Belgium is known for its comics. (I'm more of a novel girl myself.) We saw a lot of comic-related murals on walls around the city, and visited the Belgian Comic Strip Center which explained a lot more about the history of comics in the country. Did you know TinTin was created here? And the Smurfs? (Knowing that they are Belgian, I now I think the Smurfs are less weird. Win!) Comics really are an art form and seeing the process that a writer follows to create her craft from start to finish was informative. I'd recommend visiting the museum whether comics are your thing or not; you'll definitely learn something while you're there! And they have a great gift shop, too.

We also took a day trip to Bruges. There was a December promotion going on, and we managed to get 11 Euro round-trip train tickets to go from Brussels to Bruges! This medieval city of canals is lovely. We wandered the streets in awe of the architecture and walked in a very green park (we aren't used to that much green living in Madrid!); unfortunately, a lot was closed because it was Monday, but we still had a great time seeing another city in Belgium.

"Letters" in Dutch. What a cool language!

"Letters" in Dutch. What a cool language!

We'd recommend LiOLait if you're looking for a cozy breakfast, lunch, or afternoon coffee spot. Their food was delicious. And we were once again shocked by how well shop owners and workers speak English in Belgium.

We'd recommend LiOLait if you're looking for a cozy breakfast, lunch, or afternoon coffee spot. Their food was delicious. And we were once again shocked by how well shop owners and workers speak English in Belgium.

All roads lead to Spain... Apparently the Camino de Santiago departs from Belgium as well. We found this traditional symbol of the Camino in front of St. James' Church in Bruges, Belgium.

All roads lead to Spain... Apparently the Camino de Santiago departs from Belgium as well. We found this traditional symbol of the Camino in front of St. James' Church in Bruges, Belgium.

True to form, we stayed in an Airbnb in a neighborhood just outside of the city center and easily accessible by public transportation (we took every form of public available: taxi, train, metro, and tram during our time there!). A writer and her husband, also an artist, own this cozy book-lined apartment. It is the best Airbnb that we have stayed in to date! (And we have stayed in some good ones in the past.) Economical, I like staying in Airbnbs because I can make myself a cup of tea in the kitchen while I read at night, we often get local recommendations for where to eat, and I get a sense of what a typical [insert nationality] neighborhood is like. We would return here in a heartbeat.

It turns out the host is an author and has written at least 15 books! Impressive.

It turns out the host is an author and has written at least 15 books! Impressive.

We enjoyed our time up in northern Europe, but it was good to get back to sunny Spain. Even if there are too many ham legs.