Category Archives: manchester

Manchester Weekend: Days 3-4

I’ll wrap up my weekend jaunt to Manchester to visit my friend Helen during my trip to England with a few highlights. One of course being this delightful bird paste-up that I spotted under a bridge near a street bookseller. Weirdly, this bookseller turned out to be a guy from New York. Because I suppose where you came from is always closer than you think.

There is a lot of odd public art in Manchester, with my favorite being a silver, freestanding broom. However, the most decadent was definitely this homage to Vimto, a cordial soda from Manchester. The monument was carved from an oak tree, with all the various Vimto ingredients included. Cheers!

One evening we went out to a club, which had me worried until we got there and I found that it was nothing like the dens of pounding music and sweltering heat in New York, but instead a rather indie-cool dance party. There were even some skulls on the wall, so of course I felt at home. Also, weirdly, there was Brooklyn Brewery beer on tap.

Although Manchester isn’t what I’d call beautiful, with most things block shaped and brick, but there are some touches of elegance. The dome of the Palace Hotel is particularly gorgeous, looking more like an old train station than a hotel.

On Easter Sunday, we had high tea with Helen’s mom and grandmom, and it was an abundance of delicious food. I wish I could find good scones in New York! Surely people must be taking tea in some secret, glamorous corner of this city.

We visited the Manchester Art Gallery on my last day, which had casts of the Elgin Marbles all around its lobby. It is a small, public gallery, with a strong collection of English art.

I did notice something strange about one of the old, regal statues. Were those… smiley faces on his eyes?? It seems some sneaky museum visitor was causing mischief. Or some 19th century nobleman had an odd sense of humor.

I was glad to have spent a decent amount of time visiting a friend I hadn’t seen in ages, and loved exploring a city that was completely new. However, it came time for me to board the train back to London for more adventures there!

Manchester Weekend Day 2: Manchester Museum

There was still no sun on my second day in Manchester, but we continued to explore anyway. And what better place to go in dreary weather but a Victorian museum? So we spent the afternoon in the Manchester Museum, which dates back to 1867 and is housed in some neo-Gothic buildings at the University of Manchester. It has a little bit of everything, including exhibits of the natural and human history of Manchester, science, live reptiles, archaeology, dinosaurs, and lots of taxidermy animals.

Hanging in the museum’s atrium is this whale skeleton, one of its over 600,000 zoological objects, although most are unfortunately not on display. Those exhibited ranged from the beautiful to the grotesque, both in terms of animal and condition. It was really a curious museum, with some very modern presentations along with the old glass cabinets. Some was very scientific, and then you would come across a taxidermy goat wearing a sweater or something.

I thought this flamingo had some sad elegance. It really is strange to look at a flamingo’s neck for a long time without feeling totally confused that it can be a real creature.

While much of the taxidermy exhibited was birds, it was hard to miss this particularly terrifying tiger. At least he got to be scary in death and he probably causes a few nightmares in young visitors. I always feel bad for the tough carnivores who are put permanently in docile poses.

Here is where the modern and the Victorian met most sharply at the lower level of the atrium. I’ve never seen neon signs used like this in an old natural history museum. The “Disasters” exhibit on the right had replicas of charred Pompeii bodies and the “Peace” exhibit behind it was full of folded paper cranes.

Unfortunately pushed off to the side was my favorite item in the museum: the skull of Old Billy, the oldest horse on record at 62 years old. He was born in 1760 and lived in Warrington (my Manchester guide Helen’s hometown!), working as a barge horse, pulling barges in the canal from the shore. Here is a lithograph of Old Billy in his living years. Oddly, the skin from his head seems to be exhibited as a taxidermy in Bedford, England. RIP Billy.

In addition to Old Billy and the whale (new Brooklyn band name right there), were whole cabinets of skeletons. With the shiny black surfaces and artistic lighting, they looked quite striking.

One of the centerpieces of the Manchester Museum is Stan the T-rex, a cast of a dinosaur discovered in South Dakota. I love the ceilings of this gallery contrasting with the bones.

I greatly enjoyed the walk around the small museum and all the strange specimens it held. I love that it still has some of its 19th century stateliness even while it attempts to modernize and keep people’s interest.

Manchester Weekend: Day 1

My trip to England was the first time I’d returned to Europe since I left France in 2009, so I was thrilled that I would be able to meet up with some friends who I hadn’t seen in over two years. After two days in London, I boarded a train for Manchester to see Helen. It was my first visit Northwest England, and I must say you have to be a tough person to live in these parts. There is a chilling rain that never stops, but luckily I brought my wool coat. We also drank plenty of tea. More tea than I have ever consumed in my life. But I think this was a good habit to pick up.

The train ran along a canal where old, narrow boats were slowly pushing through the morning air. When I arrived in Manchester, Helen met me at the platform and that afternoon we got coffee at a cafe called Oklahoma. The place itself had little resemblance to my homestate, although there was a lot of random junk for sale in the back and an old America feel coming from the looping Bessie Smith album. After we were necessarily caffeinated, Helen showed me some of the Manchester sites.

We first stopped in Afflecks, which is basically a shopping maze of vintage clothes, designers of the edge any teenager would appreciate, hair stylists, tattoos… I imagine it would be a rabbit hole if you were in the fashionable mood. I loved this wolf mascot shown above, who as you explored the space was depicted getting more and more stylish, with a trip to the salon and a change of clothes, finally emerging as this top hat-sporting fellow.

Being that it was Easter weekend, many things were closed, which unfortunately including the gorgeous-looking John Rylands Library. However, we were able to view the gargoyles and grotesques that creeped along its façade. The building was completed in 1900 and has a cathedral-like reading room, built at a time when Manchester was a city dense with industrial fog from cotton manufacturing and other industry, and the library offered an escape from the grimy streets. The 19th century manufacturing boom that greatly expanded the city is still evident in Manchester’s architecture, with broad warehouses and brick streets, although much of the old city center was lost during heavy bombings in World War II.

Like every major European city (I exaggerate, of course), Manchester has a ferris wheel. I find it interesting that it is operated by something called Great City Attractions, that has a whole business of observation wheels. I love the idea of being able to acquire a “great city attraction.” History and natural wonders are so time consuming, after all.

We ended our walk at a genuine great city attraction: the Manchester Cathedral. The medieval church with its Gothic architecture has construction stretching from 1421 to 1882, and, surprise, had extensive damage in World War II that has since been repaired.

As most of the cathedral’s stained glass was shattered in the Manchester Blitz, much of it has been replaced in recent decades. Although it is obviously modern, it definitely has a gothic feel, and the heavy lines are an interesting contrast to the ornate framing around it.

The wood carvings in the cathedral are especially amazing, and I read that the cathedral has the finest 16th century misericords in Europe, which are wooden shelves beneath the wooden folding seats, offering a place to lean while standing in prayer. There was even some graffiti from hundreds of years ago carved on some of the benches.

We noticed that on the bishop’s chair were two carved kangaroos, looking sort of tired and uncomfortable. The cathedral has only been a cathedral (made so by having a bishop) since 1847, and before that was a collegiate church.

There were some rather odd paintings in one section of the cathedral. I’m not sure if “Hunger After Righteousness” or “They That Mourn” are meant to be warnings or calls for pity or what, but I did enjoy them…  On further internet research, they seem to be references to the beatitudes.

That evening we got drinks at a pub, where I discovered that the mixing of cider and beer is a common drink to order in England. It could be in New York as well and that I am just out of the loop, like when I discovered that flat whites are widely served. More Manchester adventures soon!