Manchester: 18 – 20 September 2009

This is somewhat of a mega post, covering three days in Manchester. I was debating whether to do one post or a few smaller ones, but meh, everyone has broadband these days so it should be ok.

I didn’t really know what to expect from Manchester and came away very impressed. The fact that, apart from a small part of the trip, I got to experience Manchester with bright sun and clear blue skies was helpful!

The city actually reminded me a lot of Melbourne. Given that both Manchester and Melbourne experienced big periods of growth around the same time, this is not completely surprising. A lot of old factories and warehouses that have been converted into apartments, mixed in with lots of new, exciting architecture and a very different vibe to London. Unfortunately, Manchester does not share Melbourne’s food culture and the selection of exciting food was minimal to say the least. I did get an excellent Lebanese meal in the Northern Quarter and a great sweet pineapple bun and bubble tea from Chinatown though – and much cheaper than in London. Overall, Manchester is definitely a city I would go back to.

First, we start at Old Trafford. I am a huge Manchester United fan, and this was the first thing that I had to do. The stadium tour was brilliant, and we were pretty much shown all the areas of the stadium, rooms etc. that were of any relevance to anyone. Very thorough, and utterly impressive.

Salford Quays is an area basically across the river from where Old Trafford is. This area was run-down for ages, but in recent years has undergone a massive transformation. There are shops and apartment towers going up everywhere. There are photos of this later on.

St Peter’s square is one of the main squares in Manchester. The tram network in the inner city is being extensively upgraded, so this was the end of the line and my starting and end point when going to the city centre.

Down Cross Street, through King Street and onto Deansgate. A lot of shopping in this part of town.

Just off Deansgate is Market Street and the Arndale, a massive, modern shopping development. This area is very new and shiny and is very, very vibrant. Next to the Arndale is the Wheel of Manchester.

Urbis is a centre which has art and fashion displays, exhibitions on scenes in Manchester, stuff about the city and other interesting bits and pieces. It is basically a centre designed to show off what’s happening ”creative” Manchester. It is very obvious by walking around this city that it is trying to position itself as a creative and media hub. Edit: Urbis has since shut down and the building now houses the National Football Museum. Cool, yes. Creative and media-like not quite.

This is a sort of entertainment mega-centre across the road from the Wheel of Manchester and Urbis. It was cool, and had a very generic United States, Vegas kind of vibe (not that I have been to the US or Vegas, but it was the impression that I got). After this, I headed into the Northern Quarter, which is the ”cool, alternative” part of Manchester. I liked this part of town, and it did have a unique vibe to it. There were lots of independent clothing shops and artist spaces in little slots down random alleys.

From St. Anne’s square, we head back down Deansgate, but away from the shopping area. The big tower is the Beetham Tower, which in Manchester’s tallest building.

FAC 51. Just off the end of Deansgate are the Hacienda Apartments. For anyone who is into the Manchester music scene, this needs to explanation. Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays, a host of other bands and the whole Madchester scene were all driven by Tony Wilson, who had founded Factory Records in the late 1970s. The Hacienda was the club that epitomised all of this, and was open for 15 years between 1982 to 1997. It was known as the best club in the world. In the early 1990s the centre of the music world was in Manchester, and at the centre of this world was the Hacienda. It is perhaps ironic, given what Factory Records stood for, that the site is now home to expensive apartments but such is progress. I was very disappointed that the original sign for the club was strategically placed in an architect’s office on the ground floor so that it barely possible to get a glimpse of it.

Heading towards and down Oxford Road, we get to the University of Manchester.

FAC251. This was where Factory records was run out of from 1990 until they went bankrupt. Perhaps Tony Wilson shouldn’t have bought that obscenely large and expensive boardroom table? It seems that the building was later home to a small bar which has since shut down. I looks to be unoccupied at present. There was a very indie rock vibe about this area, different to the Northern Quarter – less artsy and more rock.

FYI the original Factory Records office was in a suburban house near the university but we couldn’t find it.

Next, we walk along Whitworth Street and Piccadilly Station, before moving up Piccadilly and Portland Streets and into Chinatown.

Manchester’s Chinatown was small but had a few interesting places, most specifically a great little Asian bakery that sells sweet Chinese breads and great Bubble Tea. Also, the prices of everything in Chinatown were noticeably less than in London. The Bubble Tea was actually affordable! There are lots of East Asian students in Manchester so that probably goes a long way towards explaining it.

Backtracking to the Arndale, Canon Street, Corporation Street and Portland Street. The “Dry Bar”, in the foreground of the picture after the bridge is FAC201, and was the Factory Records bar. It still looked surprisingly cool and independent which was nice to see.

Manchester Town Hall is quite an impressive building. Further down is the Manchester Central conference centre and across the street from that is Bridgewater Hall (a concert hall). Bridgewater Hall is a great example of modern, exciting Manchester architecture.

Back to Salford Quays and the pictures that I promised at the start of this post. There is a LOT of high rise construction going on around here!

I was lucky enough to go to the Man Utd v Man City derby as my first football match in the UK. Who would have thought that it would end up being an absolute thriller and one of the matches of the season. A win for Man Utd and the perfect way to end an excellent long weekend.



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