So as daunting as this task seems, I might as well just plunge right in and start blogging about my trip, beginning with the very first day. It’s going to be split up into lots of posts because there’s no way I can write one post from beginning to end….So here it goes!
I had spent so many long hours planning this trip and talking to people and finding information that I swear I thought it would never happen! And then finally, early one morning, a plane flew into Manchester bearing none other than my Delta Gamma twin sister. I don’t even think I can convey in one blog post how excited I was to see her! I must say that when we started planning this trip almost a year ago, I didn’t believe that she would actually make it here because I mean honestly what college student would spend such a ridiculous amount of money just to visit a friend? And yet on March 24th, she stepped off a plane in the cold, wet Manchester with a giant backpack ready for an adventure.
I know full well how much jet lag sucks, so our first day together in England was pretty relaxed. I took her on her first double decker bus ride, brought her to see my dorm and my university here, and then I made my twin try her first (well, second) cup of British tea (except for the fact that I still don’t put milk in my tea) and I made sure to put in an extra spoonful of sugar just for her. It’s hard to wean a Southerner off of their sweet tea.
After brunch we went into the centre of Manchester and I showed her around the place that has become like home to me. We visited John Rylands Library, rode one of the free buses around the city centre, and ended at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. It’s a rather important museum if you’re talking about the history of the city, because Manchester was really the heart (or should I say the engine) of the Industrial Revolution. We saw all sorts of displays on scientific developments that took place in Manchester, and we were able to watch a really cool demonstration on the garment factories and what life would have been like. The demonstration went through the process of how a piece of cotton was ultimately turned into a wearable article of clothing, but it also touched on the working conditions of factories and the lives of the workers. It was really fascinating, especially because the two of us are from the South where almost all of the cotton was produced at the time. We, who of course have seen the cotton fields of the South, suddenly got to see the flip side of the industry. It was really cool. We then went to dinner at a local fish & chip place that was voted as one of the top 10 in the entire UK (which is quite a feat! Do you have any idea how many places sell fish & chips?), and it definitely lived up to its reputation. It was a good introduction to England for our trip.
The next day, however, was when the real journey began! We just barely caught our train out of the city (what a way to begin!) and headed towards our first stop: Birmingham.
Lots of people who know anything about England have asked the same question: why Birmingham? (And no, not Birmingham, AL.) It’s not your typical tourist destination. It’s not about what we were going to see, however, but who. Several months ago I posted on a national Delta Gamma forum that I was studying abroad and would love to meet other sisters doing the same. Two girls from New Mexico responded that they would be in Birmingham. Long story short, my twin and I headed off to meet some sisters.
Now, it was really, really cold in England that week. Unseasonably cold. It was consistently below freezing, which almost never happens even in the dead of winter in Manchester, let alone the end of March. When we arrived in Birmingham there was at least 6 inches of snow on the ground. It was absolutely insane. I’m surprised the trains weren’t delayed due to ice on the tracks or anything, but that’s the efficiency of British trains for you. But this is what we saw:
This isn’t even the worst of it! This picture was taken in the centre of town, where much of the snow had been cleared or melted by walking feet, but there were other areas where we trudged through snow and left rather deep footprints. This Southern girl has seen enough snow to last her a lifetime. Get me back to the sun!!
But after a nice hot drink at Cafe Nero (one of my favorite coffee chains in the UK), Twin and I headed out to Bournville. If you’re not British (and even if you are) you might not be familiar with Bournville, but it’s the name of a certain area of Birmingham where Cadbury Chocolates has its chocolate factory! It’s also the name of a particular line of chocolate produced by them, which is how many people know the name. Anyway, Cadbury Chocolates is in England what Hershey’s is in the States. It’s a big deal. Probably like two thirds of the chocolates on the shelves of supermarkets come from Cadbury. (Ok, that might be an exaggeration….but you get the idea.) So of course being obsessed with chocolate myself, I thought this was a necessary stop on our backpacking tour, especially because it is so quintessentially British!
The Cadbury Factory is where we finally met our two Delta Gamma sisters (and one of their friends as well), and the five of us went for our tour. The tour felt a little like going into Willy Wonka’s factory at first because they make you walk through this rainforest display all about the history of chocolate and who found it and decided to eat it, and how it got from the rainforest to Europe, and so on. It was rather comical. But we got quite a few bars of free chocolate along the way, so this girl is totally not complaining.
The best part about the outing wasn’t the chocolate, however. It was the fact that something as simple as two Greek letters brought four previous strangers together from completely different parts of the world. I would like to throw a huge thank you out to these wonderful women. The girls shared not only their city with us, but their flat, their food, and their friendship. We exchanged stories of our sisters back home, bragged about our littles, and found that the bonds of sisterhood truly extend far beyond our own chapters.
If there’s one thing I learned about this trip, it’s the fact that it doesn’t matter what you see. It’s who you see it with. 🙂