A recent discussion about whereabouts in Manchester the Red Light District is - and being given friendly advice to avoid said areas during the Manchester Meet in February - brought to mind memories of my first ever visit to London.
It took place over a weekend when I was 19 years old and studying business English at The English Language Centre in Brighton as part of my secretarial education.
Our English class went on a guided tour, which included a visit to Tate Modern, I think it was - it was after that portrait of Charles and Diana had recently been vandalised, and the museum guards checked everyone's bags. Even mine, which was the first time I had had any piece of luggage checked.
Had I known it, I wouldn't have folded my night gown and placed it on top in my over-night bag I don't know who was more embarrassed, the guard or I, because he didn't bother digging beneath it, just waved me through.
Afterwards, we had tea in the museum café, and I was bitterly disappointed that there wasn't 'real' tea in the tea pot placed on our table, but tea bags. Hmph.
Afterwards, my class mates wanted to go shopping, but at that time, I was completely uninterested in shopping, so went exploring for a bit on my own.
When dusk started falling, I thought it better to make my way back to our hotel, which I had marked on a small tourist map. Studying the map, I figured out the shortest way from my current point and memorised street names and which corners to turn at.
And completely missed the name of the area I would be walking through: Soho. Which turned out to be a quite sleezy neighbourhood (bear in mind this was almost three decades ago) with hookers on every street corner and fights in the streets.
By the time I realised what kind of area I had wandered into, I didn't want to back and around, since it was getting darker. Despite being only 19, I was already quite used to feeling invisible and harmless looking, so I just kept walking with confident steps (which tends to make me look like a local - I don't know in how many countries by now I've been stopped by tourists asking for directions) while avoiding eye contact.
And nobody paid me any attention what so ever. No one talked to me, no one came even close (I made sure to stick to the least fighty sides of the streets). And arrived safe and sound at the hotel.
During my rather intense InterRailing years, I would now and then find myself walking through similar areas in various cities (never planned, just trying to find the shortest way back to the hostel or railway station), always with the same lack of attention from the locals.
But I'll do my best not to wander astray while in Manchester, promise - but with my poor sense of diretion, I can rarely tell east from west if it's a cloudy day, so I've been known to walk in the completely opposite direction as planned - at least as far as the next street corner. Which is way I always get maps.
Although getting lost has led to some pretty unique experiences during my travels, none of them harmful nor threatening, but all of them highly interesting. Like that double gypsie wedding in Skopje in what was way back then Yugoslavia. But that's another story.
Tate Modern was a Millennium project, so it wasn't there 3 decades ago. The Tate (now Tate Britain) is on the north bank of the Thames a short walk from the Houses of Parliament. The National Gallery is on Trafalgar Square - this is closer to Soho.
The only time I've felt uneasy was in Amsterdam - Seedijk, I think the road was. It was full of guys on hard drugs, one of whom thumped me as I passed.
I tried googling for the portrait vandalism to get the gallery name, but couldn't find it, for some reason. There seems to be a lot of Dianas in London galleries though...
*waits patiently for the "other story" about the Gypsy wedding*
The vandalised portrait of Diana occurred at the National Portrait Gallery in 1981. The painting was by Bryan Organ and showed Diana in trousers.
This one, I think:
Organ went on to become godparent of Prince Harry in 1984.
Ah, thanks Icy!
See, this is the kinda thing I mean by "safe" as it pertains to your personality. You give off an air of confidence, you seem to blend in with the locals, and you inevitably end up where you wanted to be.
|Subject: Soho, London, 1983|
Posted Jan 11, 2012 by Phil
This is a reply to this Posting.
Manchester is safe compared to other places. Where the various bits of the meet are aren't that close to anywhere where something untoward may happen. Even most of the dodgy looking parts have been cleaned up a lot over the last 10 years.
I hope all those that come to the city where I call home have an enjoyable and safe stay and that it doesn't put anyone off visiting again at another time
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