Jenny and I just spent the weekend in Manchester, England. She’s still there, actually, as her conference doesn’t finish until tomorrow. However, I came back last night to return to my normal life: the newly-minted expat.
Manchester is a nice city. The funny thing about Manchester for me is that I had been there before, but I often forgot that when talking to people about our visit. In 1997 on my three-month trip across Eurasia with my friend Eugene, we spent a night in Manchester visiting one of his friends. We didn’t sightsee at all while I was there (Gene stayed an extra day and actually saw stuff), so I recognized absolutely nothing. It was somewhat spooky knowing that I had been to the place before but had no distinct memories of it. I felt like a Manchurian Tourist.
This time, though, I was enough of a tourist that I’ll be able to remember it well.
It’s interesting reading about Manchester’s history at its many free museums, because it was the home of the Industrial Revolution. With access to the sea and to coal, Manchester was the initial center of the world’s textile industry. This phase of Mancunian (yeah, that’s the adjective) history saw enormous growth and immense wealth for the upper classes, but grinding, Dickensian existence for the lower classes. Mark Twain said it best, “I would like to live in Manchester, England. The transition between Manchester and death would be unnoticeable.” It’s not a suprise that Friedrich Engels came to believe Karl Marx was on the right track after having lived there.
Manchester has recovered greatly since those years. It’s still not the most fascinating place to visit (I’d much rather go to Edinburgh or York or London), but there’s enough for a good weekend there.
Among the better museums were the Imperial War Museum North, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Manchester United Museum and Trophy Room. The Museum of Science and Industry had a lot of information about cotton and textiles, which makes a lot of sense given Manchester’s history. Unfortunately, the museum itself seemed very poorly laid out. There were several times I walked through the door at the end of one exhibit to find myself in the middle of another exhibit. There were no signs indicating what exhibit I had just joined or where the start was. Oh well. I shouldn’t complain too much for going to a free museum.
The Manchester United Museum in Old Trafford Stadium was an experience, but one that was partially lost on me. I like soccer. I really do. During the 2002 World Cup finals, I had friends over at 5:30 am several times to watch USA matches. However, I just don’t like soccer enough to fully appreciate Manchester United the way I’m apparently intended to appreciate it. The museum is a true religious shrine to the boys who are good at kicking a ball around. It was a bit too much for this Yank.
The nicest thing for me in Manchester was being back in a real English pub. One of Manchester’s best pubs, The Briton’s Protection, was right next to our hotel. I loved slipping off there for a pint of English Bitter Ale and enjoying the comfortable surroundings. I really enjoy that lifestyle. English and Irish pubs in America and around the world get close to the feeling, but there’s something authentic about an old British pub that just can’t be duplicated anywhere else. I don’t know if it’s the furniture, the food, the beer, the smells, or the company. Maybe it’s all of them.
Of course, there are new and quirky pubs in Manchester, too. The most interesting pub I visited was The Temple of Convenience, an underground pub actually converted from a former public toilet. Tiny place, but decent beer and a nice bartender when I stopped by.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures for sharing at the moment. Jenny still has the camera. I actually should have brought the camera back with me, because it broke yesterday and will be of no use to her. I expect to be able to get the pictures off it still, but doubt we’ll ever use the camera again. Frustratingly, this is the second time a digital camera has died on us during a European trip. At least this time we’re in Hamburg and not in Romania.