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!