April 22, 2019

The Manchester Expedition

I reached Kings Cross station in London in the morning of Saturday, April 13th, and took a cab to my friend Shyam's house. He was in London for six weeks to collaborate with the folks at the London office of his company. We learned that our friend Nishanth (I'll call him "Nat" henceforth. The story of his name is for another day) was going to be a couple of hours late because of long immigration queues in the Heathrow Airport in London. He was in Frankfurt for two weeks and was visiting London for the weekend.

Shyam and I grabbed something quick to eat and headed to the London Euston Station on the Underground train. There were trains every 20 minutes to Manchester, but Nat was still nowhere to be found. Shyam was wearing a Berbatov United jersey, and one old man walked past us screaming.

"It's our City you f***ing red c****!", He shouted. He supported Manchester City, the rival team of Manchester United, the team we were going to watch.

Neither of us could control our laughter. By now we had learned that Nat had reached Euston station. Almost an hour behind schedule, but at least he arrived. Our game was at 5 pm. We had our tickets checked and sprinted to the train. To our dismay, all the seats on the train were reserved.

We walked and walked, and finally decided to sit in some open seats we found and see if anyone claims them. Nat and I met up in New York City a couple of weeks earlier, so we were both excited to catch up with Shyam and figure out how he was doing in London. Our train stopped at Milton Keynes Central, and Stoke-on-Trent. Shyam and Nat both cracked up looking at the Milton Keynes station. Manchester United had lost to them 4-0 a few years ago.

Our friend Nat at Milton Keynes Central.

We reached Manchester. It was my second time here. Shyam had visited Manchester a few times before to watch Manchester United games. We both were excited to try this place called "Bundobast." I had been there in the past. I looked over the menu and didn't find a drink I tried last time I was there --- Cucumber Raita Whiskey.

"I was here a while ago, and I loved this drink here --- Cucumber Raita Whiskey. Is there any way you could make that for us?", I asked.

"You must be hardcore! We loved it too, but it didn't sell so much, so we got rid of it. We'll bring it to your table.", the bartender said.

Cucumber Raita Whiskey at Bundobast, Manchester.

Nat and Shyam loved their drinks, and the food was excellent. We ordered the Okra Fries, Ragada Pattis, Paneer and Mushroom Tikka, and the Pav Bhaji. We left the place with their tasty Kulfis on a stick.

Manchester has a convenient tram system. We had to take one to get to Old Trafford, where Manchester United was playing West Ham United. We crossed a bridge, and suddenly the dome of Old Trafford was now visible clearly. It was Nat's first game, and he was getting more and more pumped as we got closer to the stadium. We paid a visit to the Manchester United store to pick up some scarves and click pictures with trophy replicas.

Nat, Shyam and I with Premier League and FA Cup trophy replicas.

Nat and I were on adjacent stands. Shyam, on the other hand, was on the stand right below us. To get to our seats, we had to climb ten flights of stairs. We had a sumptuous lunch, so it was time to burn some calories. The pitch was soon visible. Thirty minutes before kickoff, the crowds started singing songs to cheer for their team.

"Ole's at the wheel. Tell me how good does it feel. We've got Sanchez, Paul Pogba, and Fred. Marcus Rashford he's Manc born and bred. The greatest of English football, we've won it all!"

Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.

This song would stick to my mind for the next few days. It is running through my mind as I write this post too. The ambiance was brilliant. Fans were cheering for their team passionately, and they were also screaming at some of their players not performing well.

The game ended at 7:15 pm. The last train back to London was at 8:35 pm. It was already 7:45 pm by the time we stepped out of the stadium and met up at the Bobby Charlton Statue. We were running out of time. The traffic was worsening. Without panicking, we got a taxi and asked him to rush. He started replying in Hindi. Shyam, Nat, and I primarily speak in English amongst us, and the taxi driver chose to respond to our questions in Hindi. He continued to use Hindi swear words to abuse other taxi drivers. We went on to tell him we spoke Tamil and not Hindi. A common theme across my cab rides in the UK was that they all had an opinion about who was going to win the English Premier League.

We got us into the station right on time, at 8:30 pm and we were able to make the train back.

Bobby Charlton Statue at Old Trafford.

We returned to Shyam's home in the middle of the night and ordered food from a Mediterranean place and played FIFA. The next day, my last day in the UK, we drove to Stonehenge and went around London.