Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Manchester Is My Heaven Pt I: Things We Saw

Fourteen years ago, my husband and I (in addition to LOTS of wedding planning!) were trying to decide where we wanted to venture for our honeymoon. His parents were springing for the trip as our wedding present, and basically let us pick (within reason) the destination of our choice. We both hemmed and hawed, each of us wanting to make sure the other one was happy with the decision. When my mother suggested the United Kingdom, our eyes lit up! He said, "I thought you wanted to go somewhere tropical!" and I said, "I thought YOU did!" An adventure overseas to see the famous sights versus just laying on the beach for a week? Well, we found another thing in common and another reason we were perfect for each other. We went to London for for the first time the day after our wedding, and our lives were never the same.

This trip to Manchester was our fifth trip to England. But it was our first trip to the north of England, so we were very much looking forward to exploring a new region of our adopted country.

Our first glimpse of Manchester.

Manchester itself is a cool city to visit. It's a very bustling, contemporary city with a lot of modern architecture...sleek clean lines, and chic glass and metal. For example, our hotel, the

Hilton DeansgateBut, then you would turn the corner and see buildings like this:

And you would remember you were definitely in England! London has the same mix of old and new, of course, but the contrast seemed sharper somehow in Manchester. I'm not sure if the locals feel this, but as an outsider looking in, it seemed a city with a great heritage, but that was bursting at the seams with new energy, fresh ideas, and inspired city identity. Not surprisingly, I loved it.

The City Centre of Manchester was full of fun shopping, cool restaurants, and lots to look at. We wandered around most of the afternoon on Friday, until it was time to meet some friends for dinner...more about the fabulous Luzhniki2008 and Sparkly_Devil1 in Part II of the series...

Saturday was the Manchester city derby...we saw Old Trafford. As I said, that in itself will be a whole different post. After the match, we met some amazing folks. Again, too much to say about that to include now...

Sunday was our trip to the city of York. Another new place to visit in England! And, being located just over an hour away from Manchester by train, it was an easy destination for a day trip. York was founded in the year 71 AD, and boasts a Roman, Saxon and Viking heritage. It is the kind of city we Americans think of when we think "British"... gorgeous, old architecture; castle walls and big, beautiful cathedrals. The Shambles is a beautiful, historic cobblestone street, voted "The Most Picturesque in Britain." We walked around, took in the sights, visited a few pubs. It was an amazing little town. By mid-afternoon, it was pouring down rain, though, so our visit didn't cover nearly enough for our liking. It's definitely a place we would love to visit again in the future.

Monday in Manchester: It was Valentine's Day. We got to spend our day in red, with our hearts filled with love. At Old Trafford, of course! After spending the majority of our Valentine's there, we had a lovely, romantic dinner at Wagamama's in the Manchester City Centre. A place we discovered in London in 2004 (our son's first trip across the pond!), we constantly wish this restaurant existed in the United States. (I believe there might be one in Massachusetts, but it's nowhere as ubiquitous as it is in the UK!) There is simply nothing comparable here. Someday, we will open a franchise here in the Mid-Atlantic USA!

Tuesday was our last full day in Manchester, so we spent it soaking up as much of the city as we could. The day began with our morning trip to Caffe Nero for our wake-up call...we visited this particular coffee place every day of our trip. The first day we visited we were surprised at how strong the coffee was! It was delicious, though. It wasn't until that last day that we read the sign: "All of our coffee is made with two shots of espresso. If you would like a milder version, please request your coffee with only one shot." Wow!! No wonder our hands were a little shaky the first few days!

The guidebook said our first destination was "tucked into an unfashionable corner of town" - The Greater Manchester Police Museum and Archives. As you enter, it has the look of a very small rowhome. But not only is there a large room with police motorcycles and a car, there is also a room showcasing vintage police uniforms and another that illustrated the typical detective's office in the 1950's. Everything was quite interesting, but as we turned to leave, one of the staff stopped us -- there was actually an entire police station once housed there! We got to see where criminals were booked, and even the cells that were used to hold prisoners. And upstairs was a courtroom. This museum exceeded our expectations by a far sight, and it's a really interesting place to visit.
Next, it was of to the Imperial War Museum North. We got on the Metrolink and rode it all the way out to the Media CityUK stop. This stop wasn't in any of the guidebooks, or on the tram map we had, so we figured it had to be new. What a great area! All of the big media outlets were in the process of building studios there, all on the waterfront. Along with the Lowry Hotel, the theatre and the War Museum, it was truly a beautiful area they are developing.

We had been to the War Museum in London a couple of times and really enjoyed it, so we were very much looking forward to visiting its Northern counterpart. It was just as amazing and enlightening. It was so interesting to peruse the exhibits and displays. Both my husband and I are fascinated in particular by World War II, and the way it affected British society. One feature the museum had that was especially compelling was the "Big Picture Show." On the hour, the entire museum goes dark, and large images are projected all around on the's a quite inspiring and moving feel you are right in the middle of things. It's a remarkable way to learn about history.

All too soon, it was Wednesday morning, and time to start our trek back to the States. Even though we have been to England many times before, this trip provided us with the opportunity to see parts of the country we hadn't seen before, and experience a whole new component to the nation we have come to love so much. Our journey to Manchester, in addition to the religious experience that is Old Trafford, and the making of lifelong friends, gave us a great perspective on what England means beyond just London.

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