A weekend in Sheffield, England/Un weekend à Sheffield, Angleterre

SheffieldU

This is the building where Ted has been working the past year.

(A mes amis français: je suis très en retard et je n’ai pas le temps de traduire cette histoire de voyage. Désolé!)

One of my sons, Ted, has been a French teaching assistant at the University of Sheffield since last September. He’ll be returning to France the middle of August so the Mrs. and I thought this would be a good time to visit him.

We booked our tickets on Jet2, a low cost airline. Low cost they say, if you buy that I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. They give what sounds like a low price but by the time they add on various ‘charges’ it’s not much different than the regular airlines. But they are the only airline to fly from Paris to the East Midlands Airport which is only about an hour from Sheffield.

So we got to Terminal 3 at the Paris airport which is not much more than a big, empty hangar. You know you’re flying low cost when you enter their ‘terminal’. We got to our gate and just after we sat down they announced that our flight would be 35 minutes late. That always makes me very nervous. I’ve seen a delay of 35 minutes become a delay on an hour or more. But we did leave 35 minutes later than scheduled.

They drove us out to our plane in a bus, another sign of low cost. It was raining and both boarding ramps were uncovered. But sitting a short distance away we could see covered ramps sitting there unused. Bravo for the customer service, Jet2! I won’t be flying with them again, unless they are the only airline going to my destination.

We finally arrived at EMA and there was Ted waiting for us. We got on the bus and took off to Derby, which is pronounced Darby. Besides the fact that they drive on the wrong side of the road, I noticed two things. 1) The English like red cars. A runaway bull wouldn’t know which way to go there. 2) The English, at least in the Derby area, seem to be doing a good job of keeping their industrial sites open and operating. We passed quite a few old industrial sites with full parking lots that would be closed and abandoned in France.

We got to Derby, got off at the train station and got our train to Sheffield. I must say that when Ted came home last year and said he was going to Sheffield, I felt bad for him. Sheffield? Never heard of it. He then told me that the University of Sheffield is highly considered in the UK.

OK, I thought, but who has ever heard of Sheffield. It turns out that Sheffield is the 5th biggest city in the United Kingdom. It became an industrial city centering on the steel industry which led to its population growth. With the rapid population growth, the poor housing that was constructed for that population and the pollution from the steel industry, George Orwell wrote in 1937, “Sheffield, I suppose, could justly claim to be called the ugliest town in the Old World.”

But it has changed a lot since that time. While still producing steel, the environment has become very green. It is supposedly the European city with the highest ratio of trees to inhabitants, with an estimated 2 million trees! This makes for a beautiful city with many parks. The city is built on a number of hills which allow very scenic views of the city and the surrounding areas.

But those hills make for some very tiring hiking or biking, as the riders of the Tour de France discovered last week as they finished the second stage of this year’s race in Sheffield.

When we arrived in Sheffield Ted took us back to his place on foot, with a break for dinner at a very good Indian restaurant, Maveli. After the restaurant we had some seriously steep streets to go up. By the time we got to his place all we wanted was to drink some water and catch our breath.

Once we had caught our breath, he invited us to the local pub and after hearing about English pubs all of my life, this was an invitation I couldn’t refuse. Fortunately it wasn’t far away so my weak legs could get me there and back. “The Hallamshire House” looked nice from the outside and we found ourselves in a narrow hallway as we entered. As we continued we saw rooms on the right and left with tables and chairs and we then came upon the bar. We continued past it and saw a pool table ahead and another room to the left which we entered. The bar was a large space that opened on the two rooms to the left and the hallway and the people working there looked quite busy. The pub was packed and there was even another room downstairs and an outdoor terrace for smokers. Pubs do seem to be an important place for social interaction.

the-hallamshire-house

As we were walking home from the pub, after night had fallen, we were passing in front of an apartment building when Ted said, “Look, there’s a fox.” And sure enough in front of the building near a small plant was a fox. It wasn’t more than five meters from us but it wasn’t afraid. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me.

On Saturday Ted took us on a walking tour of Sheffield. We started off visiting his university, seeing where his office was. It happened to be an academic open day for students considering going to Sheffield U. So there were parents and young people everywhere. It does seem to be a university that is attracting a lot of students.

He then took us down to the old industrial part of town. But we could see that it is being torn down and new housing is being built. In a few years the whole area will be totally transformed. As steel made Sheffield what it is, a museum tracing the industrial past has been opened on Kelham Island, a man made island more than 800 years old. The locals are so proud of their industrial past that they see Margaret Thatcher’s closing of the coal mines as the most evil thing that could have been done. When she died last year a lot of local people celebrated, opening champagne they had saved for that day.

From there we walked up to the city center where we ate a nice meal at Marmaduke’s Cafe Deli. All the outside tables were taken so we went inside and managed to sit a large table where only one couple was sitting. We had a good meal and it wasn’t very expensive. Their specialty is quiche and a blackboard on a wall near our table was covered with comments from customers like, all we can say is give quiche a chance, quiche me baby, frankly my dear I don’t give a quiche, keep calm eat quiche, etc. Nice atmosphere!

On the way home we did some shopping and then stopped at Nando’s (a chain selling Portuguese chicken) for tea time. In fact we stopped there for desert. Our other son was visiting London earlier this year and he really enjoyed the chocolate cheesecake at Nando’s and highly recommended it. So we tried it. And I wasn’t so impressed. After eating at the Cheesecake Factory in the US, Nando’s chocolate cheesecake was OK but nothing to get excited about. If I get a chance to eat at Nando’s again I’ll try their Choc-a-lot Cake, which looks really good.

When we got home we enjoyed a fun evening at home playing cards. We completely forgot about the Brazil-Holland match and only saw the result when the game was over. We were also looking at the weather forecast for Sunday as a picnic was planned with a family we know in Sheffield. The forecast was showing rain, we were in England so this wasn’t so surprising, and we were wondering if the picnic would happen.

We got up on Sunday to find very cloudy skies and I was still skeptical about picnicking. But at 11 Stuart showed up to take us and he seemed quite optimistic that the weather would be fine. We drove a certain distance and found ourselves entering the estate of Chatsworth. Wikipedia calls it “a stately home” which is typical British understatement. I think the word manor is much more fitting.

Chatsworth

It is the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549. Peregrine Cavendish, the current Duke, is the 12th Duke of Devonshire.

When we arrived the clouds were beginning to break up so our picnic seemed to be on the right track. We could see a tower sticking up through the trees on a hill to the left of the manor and, as no one was hungry, we decided to hike up that way to see it. We were feeling adventurous and didn’t want to stay on the paved road that wound its way up through the forest so we took a small path that was more direct. But more direct meant much steeper and after all the walking we had done the day before in Sheffield I regretted my choice but continued just the same.

We reached the top completely out of breath and found ourselves in front of a three-story hunting lodge which has a beautiful view of the estate. It can be rented and four people can have a nice holiday there. Going back down we let the young people take the steep path and we ‘less young’ walked the winding road through the beautiful forest.

ChatsworthHuntingLodge

We got back down, unloaded the picnic affairs and settled in a grassy field where those who wanted could be in the sun (Stuart was right, the clouds thinned out and the sun was quite strong when it broke through) and those who didn’t could be in the shade of a big tree.

Picnic

 

I tried to stay in the shade of the tree but as the sun continued its path I found myself appreciating its warmth and at the end of the day the left side of my head was sunburnt. Both days had been cloudy but warm with the sun breaking through, while back in the Paris area it had been cool and rainy. So much for the cliché about English weather.

We got home tired but very pleased with our day and turned on TV to see the end of Germany-Argentina game. I was for Germany as they had played well as a team while Argentina was too dependant on Messi and hadn’t seemed that good. As I watched the game I was disgusted by the Argentineans constantly falling down for no reason trying to get penalties and then being so aggressive toward the German players. I found the referee to be either totally incompetent or bought off. On several occasions he should have given yellow cards to the Argentineans but never did. I was so happy when Germany scored!!!

Then on Monday morning we had breakfast with Ted and then walked back to the train station where we began our trip home.  The trip went well except for the security check at the airport. Their metal detector seems to be set on super-sensitive which earned me a pat-down which was a bit too intimate. Then my check-on luggage was pushed aside to be examined and they confiscated my three jars of peanut butter. And too add insult to injury, my backpack was also pushed aside to be examined and they swabbed it and checked it for traces of explosives. Do I look like a terrorist???

Many thanks to Ted for making us feel at home and to Stuart and his family for a wonderful day in the English hills!

 

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