Editor’s note: this is a corner of England I haven’t yet seen, but hope to one day. For now, it’s nice to have a small glimpse into Manchester from Mandy. For more of Mandy’s writing, click here to visit her index page.
Do you have one of those places where you’ve passed through many times yet you’ve never actually visited? For me, that place is Manchester, one of the UK’s largest cities. There seems to be some debate whether Birmingham or Manchester is larger and which ranks as Britain’s second city. The answer will vary depending on who you ask and how you define a city. What is certain is that Manchester has the UK’s busiest airport outside of London, which is how I’ve ended up passing through so many times (not to mention the fact that I have family nearby in Liverpool). The last time I sat in that airport, I vowed to myself that I would actually make an effort to see some of the city. This summer, my opportunity finally came when I went to nearby Liverpool to do some petsitting. Even though I had to keep the journey to a half day because of the pets, I wasn’t going to let that stop me from going on my Manchester adventure.
My petsit was in a suburb east of Liverpool called Woolton, which I happen to know quite well. It’s also conveniently located for traveling to Manchester, though it’s just as easy for anybody who is staying in Liverpool’s city center. It’s a about an hour long ride via Northern Rail from Liverpool Lime Street station and alighting at Manchester Oxford Road. Ticket prices can vary widely based on a number of variables. Advanced booking, avoiding peak hours and deciding on a time to return will help bring that ticket price down to as low as £5.80 for a return (round) trip. If you want more flexibility, an open return starts at around £17 and prices go up from there. Getting tickets ahead of time can easily be done online directly through the Northern Rail website or better yet, via Trainline. If you’ve never used Trainline before, I highly recommend giving it a chance because it can help save a lot of time and money. I grew up in the US so booking train travel has always been a pretty straightforward task because Amtrak runs the majority of passenger trains. This is very different from Europe where many train companies can service one route. This can get complicated when planning longer journeys that have multiple legs because you then have to sift through many train company websites to find the best price for a trip. This can sometimes take several hours, but thankfully some very clever people created a website and app that can do that work within a few seconds and can also do the booking, hold your tickets, and even provide live tracking on a lot of routes. Additionally, the app will show if there are any buses or coaches and their prices. In this particular case, it is generally cheaper and faster to take the train.
One of the best things about England is that it has some of the best museums I have ever visited. They are usually well curated and thoughtfully laid out with signs that contain the right amount of detail – and a good portion of them do not charge an entry fee. Given my time limitation, I decided to keep it simple and only visit one of the city’s many museums. I chose the Manchester Art Gallery due to its proximity to the train station (a nine minute walk). I didn’t know much about Manchester’s history other than a vague idea that it was connected to the Industrial Revolution. I discovered the city has a long history with textiles, going all the way back to the Middle Ages when it was known for manufacturing and trading wool, which was later replaced by cotton-dominant fabric. This history with cloth was key to Manchester’s rapid population growth which helped make it the city we see today.
The building that houses the gallery was built as a refuge from the toxic effects of an industrial society and opened its doors in 1883. It was interesting to see how the building has been repurposed to house such a fantastic collection of artwork from all over the world. The museum also had a big section dedicated to Laurence Stephen Lowry, a British painter known for his unique style of painting that captured the urban landscape of Manchester and Salford. He lived and worked in Manchester for most of his life, and his paintings of the city’s industrial scenes have become iconic representations of the working-class life in the region. One of the things that caught my eye in the gallery (and indeed all around the city) was the bee emblem that was featured everywhere. I later found out that the bee is a symbol of Manchester and is said to represent the city’s hard-working past, as well as its thriving present.
The art gallery took up the bulk of my time, and another big portion was taken up by canal walking because it happened to be a really lovely sunny day (the cliché is true, it is often grey and rainy in the UK, and more so in the northern half of the country). I ended the day with a late lunch at the Indian Tiffin Room. The food was incredible and the staff were so lovely; I will definitely try to eat there again. To summarize, my six-ish hour stop in Manchester was a great experience, and I wish I could have stayed longer to explore more of the city. From its rich textile history to its thriving contemporary art scene, this city has a lot to offer visitors. I would highly recommend a visit to Manchester, even if it’s just for a few hours.
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