We lived in Manchester for a while. It wasn't a greatest time I ever had, but there were some interesting trips.
by MagdaDH_AlexH on July 24, 2012
We lived in Manchester in the late 1990s for close to a year and although I wouldn't say I was actively miserable most of the time, it certainly was one of least favourite periods in my life. Hey, I really didn't like Manchester. Yes, it had the big-city buzz, a thriving Gay Village, clubs, restaurants and high culture of quality at prices much lower than London's, but in all honesty, none of it made up for the fact that the place was grim and grey in more than one way. If you are a local with a Mancunian connection, or if you develop one through your university years (Manchester has a huge student population), you will likely grow to like it, as the social factor is pretty good. As a married incomer in my late 20s I found that the minuses outweighed the pluses by miles. Manchester shares the weather conditions with much of the west coast of Britain - which means it rains a lot and it's cloudy even more - without any of the redeeming features coastal or rural locations have. It is a little like that city in Blade Runner - or maybe we were unlucky - but I felt that as you pass Leeds on M62 driving west you enter a permanent cloud that is simply always there, Manchester sitting under it like a soggy puffball. One of the reasons cotton industry took off in Manchester is the moisture levels in the air!Now, I cannot comment on the massive urban regeneration project in Salford (technically a separate city north of Manchester but for all purposes part of the same place, with a continuing urban fabric in between) which resulted in the Salford Quays development, notable for its modern architecture, the Lowry centre and Imperial War Museum North as I have not visited that complex. From what I can gather this alone makes Manchester (or Salford, rather) a place that should be placed on any itinerary that covers the North of England. My (not particularly ancient) memories of Salford are of depopulated streets of redbrick terraces, going to seed, and rows of newer council houses, burned out and boarded up, as seen from the bus I took daily to work from where we lived towards Bury to the centre of Manchester.The huge urban regeneration project that followed the IRA bombing of the Arandale centre in 1997 has been universally hailed as a success, but I don't really like ''urban regeneration projects'' (unless grand public buildings are created, then it doesn't matter) and often find such areas soulless and rather fake. And thus with the re-glazed an re-built Exchange Square and, by extension, Mancunian celebrated ''Northern Quarter'' (originally a rag-trade district). But as time progresses, reality tends to colonise such spaces and I have a feeling that twenty-thirty years hence it will be what it was envisaged as: a post-industrial, urban area full of varied human life (but with perhaps less hype). The old centre of the city has some interest, and a little beauty. Manchester's cathedral is nothing spectacular but not bad either, while the massive edifice of the Victorian Town Hall is a true testament to the mindset of the Victorian capitalists, the same ones who owned mills described so devastatingly in Engels' ''Conditions of the Working Classes in England''. Call me a spoilsport, but for me the Mancunian pavements, alleyways and walls still oozed the sweat, tears and misery of those who toiled here at the height of the Empire, the powerhouse of the world which barely gave its own people crumbs from the table. The Library is an expression of a more edifying Victorian sentiment, and still a handsome building, with a domed reading room and round galleries. Castlefield is another gentrified-by-design location with fake cobbles and fake cast iron, but the Museum of Science and Industry there located is a definite must see for anybody with even a smidgen of interest in the social history or industrial development. Overall, Manchester is a city for doing things ore than for just ''being in' and its in its entertainment (and to some extent food) options that its attraction lies.
Overall, Manchester is a city for doing things ore than for just ''being in' and its in its entertainment (and to some extent food) options that its attraction lies.The Bridgewater Hall, home of the Halle, the North's best orchestra, and if you have a chance and inclination, do go and see them at their home ground. And of course the clubbing/pop scene in Manchester, even if lacking the heady qualities of the Hacienda days, is still second to only London's. Football fans will want to see the hallowed ground of Old Trafford (to either worship or sneer depending on their attitude to the biggest of the football brands, Manchester United). This is a tram ride away, and has a museum and tours (but no chance to see a game). Mancunians themselves are inordinately proud of the monstrous, shopping mall called Trafford Centre, located on the outskirts of the city. You can even marry there - and some people apparently do!Manchester's Chinatown is the biggest in the UK, and very central, with some good affordable oriental food on offer (not just Chinese but Malaysian, Thai and Indonesian too). The ethnic food to eat in Manchester is curry - although not as famous and fabled for its Indian restaurants as Bradford, Manchester easily stand its own ground here. Rusholme is the curry Mecca (out in the southern area of the city) though there are curry options all over the city. The cafes and pubs of the Gay Village by the Rochdale canal are perhaps the best place for a lunch/brunch in self-consciously funky but enjoyable location. Northern Quarter is big on pubs and cafes too. Local foods of note include the famous Bury black puddings (go to Bury market for this - and pop into a fantastic sausage shop there if it's still operational) as well as the Eccles cake, a delectable round flaky pastry filled with spicy currant and raisin mixture. Harry Ramsden, now the UK-wide chain of fish and chip shops, originated in Manchester and still has its flagship store there (??? check).
Whatever one feels about Manchester as a place to live or even visit, it's undoubtedly a great base for visiting quite a few other attractive - or at least interesting - destinations in the region. Road links are plentiful and public transport - including rail - quite surprisingly good in this populated and industrialised region of England.Among the most obvious destinations for day trips from Manchester are:-- Liverpool. This is the other great city of the North West and although it has as much of a dark side as Manchester does, it has, perhaps, more redeeming features of which the greatest is it's location nearer to the sea. Even if you don't want to partake in the Beatles heritage industry, Liverpool's maritime heritage and handsomely regenerated areas are worth a look. -- Chester. An ancient town (technically a city, I think, but not a big one) on the Welsh border going back to Roman times, it has a charming if twee centre full of half-timbered buildings, a fantastic circle of medieval walls surrounding the city centre - the best walk in town, Roman remains including a hypocaust (central heating system), one of those brilliantly impressive English cathedrals, a hymn soaring into the sky and an ornate, ugly and very popular Victorian Jubilee clock to take a picture of yourself under. -- The Peak District. Astonishingly close to the sprawl of Manchester, the expanses of the Peaks (there are two, the Dark one and the White one, and quite different they are too) give a fantastic opportunity for some good hill walking, taking in the landscapes of ancient hills, moody moors and weathered rock formations. The popular long-distance path of the Pennine Way starts in the small hamlet of Edale (which can be reached from Manchester by train) but there are plenty other attractive walks in the area. Further out, but doable if you have a car at your disposal, are the Welsh mountains of Snowdonia (we did Snowdon from Manchester as a day trip), the Forest of Bowland and even the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales.
Blackpool. The biggest, the baddest, the tackiest and the most popular of all English sea-side resorts, Blackpool goes from strength to strength despite epitomising what for many is an idea of Holiday Hell. Cheap, cheerful, unashamedly down market and happy with that, Blackpool is a must-see even if you don't like your holidays drunken fairgroundy. It started as a relatively genteel watering place but boomed when the railways started to bring the mill workers on their annual holiday: now there is not only a regular and frequent train service to Blackpool but even a motorway link - with the town bucking the trend of decreasing popularity of English holidays and a Mecca for a certain style of holiday making. But not just the young, drunken and libidinous. Blackpool is a traditional Labour Party conference venue and uses its massive stock of cheap accommodation in all kinds of unexpected ways: it's for example one of the most popular locations for residential, fast and more or less guaranteed driving licence courses. We visited one December and it was fairly empty, the rides of the massive fairground called the Pleasure Beach quiet with only a few teenagers screeching about, the pavements clean. The tide was out, showing a huge expanse of muddy sand - seemed like miles to the sea. We walked on the pier in blowing wind, bought some inedible traditional sweets and had our fortunes told. The tower loomed in the distance and the air was filled with squeals of seagulls. It was a bit ugly, a bit sad, and yet quite compelling. I am glad I have been but I doubt I will ever be back. ----Picture via flickr, by Metaltax with a Creative Commons licence. Thanks.
by MagdaDH_AlexH on December 8, 2009
Rhyl combines with Prestatyn to create a vast summer resort area on the north coast of Wales, barely out of the River Clwyd estuary, in the Liverpool bay. Originally a fairly elegant Victorian resort, brought to prominence when railways started taking people for holidays from the English industrial hinterland. Still, the holidaying habits change and Rhyl has been in the continuous decline since the end of the WW2, although some improvements have been brought by a series of regeneration projects. Rhyl now is a quintessential British working-class seaside resort: the low coast lined with caravan parks, the town centre full of shabby(is) B&Bs, amusement arcades and shops selling ice-cream, fish and chips and tacky souvenirs. It's near to major cities of Manchester and Liverpool, easily accessible via major motorways and on a train route: altogether a handy destination, although this is really where its genuine appeal ends. The beach is good, in its own way - between Rhyl and Prestatyn there are six miles of sand, safe and shallow (if often murky due to wave movement) sea. It's surrounded by all kinds of "attractions" and "facilities", from donkey rides to fun fairs, water sports equipment hire places and the like. There is a Victorian promenade, though the old five-domed Pavilion is gone; modern amusements include an aquarium and a theme park with miniature buildings called Children's VillageIn the summer, places like that can be great fun for a day or two - if you are in a mood for such things; or hell - if you aren't. Out of season, they are often quiet, almost deserted and unbearably sad, the threadbare fabric showing as the tacky decorations get blown away by the wind. Did I enjoy our half-day in Rhyl one autumn Sunday? Perversly, yes - I have a penchant for somehow desolate coastal locations of all kinds, including shabby resorts in the winter, ghostly ex-fishing villages, snow-covered quays of container ports derelict beaches. The beach at Rhyl wasn't derelict, in fact, it was rather lovely in a low-key, grey-skies and silver sand way, stretching far and wide at low tide, and almost empty.Would I come here for a summer holiday? No, but if you are apssing by and want to see what a typical low-grade British seaside place looks like, Rhyl and Prestatyn are ideal. Have an ice cream, take a mini-train ride, eat fish and chips, and then go on, to the much better areas further west and north.
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