Ahhh England, oh how I’ve missed you! A country where as long as the left feels right you know you won’t get hit by a double decker bus as you cross the street. So where exactly in the isle of Ello mate did my plane touchdown? None other than Manchester!
Why Manchester? Well in my 270 months of being alive I’ve spent 267 of them living in the southeastern United States. In my three months of studying abroad I lived in Brighton, a town in, wait for it, southeast England. To further the irony, the only places I visited in England happened to be in the southeast. I figured it was finally time to step out of my comfort zone and confront some northerners. (The fact that by far the cheapest flight I found was to Manchester may have played a small role in the decision making process.)
Upon arriving in a foreign land, the first noticeable difference that will have you signing this is not America (shalalalala) is that airport security personnel and custom agents are much friendlier than their US counterparts. We are talking teddybears to schizophrenic bears. Before this rambling renegade could be let loose, naturally I had to pass through customs. On the card it had a space for a contact address which I left blank because, well y’all know I’m going through my “traditional life rebellion” phase and rebuking the concept of staying in a location long enough to remember the address. *Rita Serra fun fact, I actually skipped the teen rebellion phase, but I have a sneaking suspicion my parents are wishing I had done a bit of that at 16 rather than leave the country at 22.* Surprise, surprise my forward charge was quickly halted, but with a SMILE the gate agent handed me a pen, pointed to a rather comfortable sofa, and politely asked me to write down a contact address. Like a magician you’d never want to hire for a kids party, I was somehow able to pull my old school address out of my arse, thus the second attempt at storming the gate went much smoother. The man even said, “I really like this yes sir no sir thing.” Ayyyye score one for the southerners.
I’m in. Now what?
I hopped a train from the airport to the city centre and it was off to my youth hostel. I stayed in Hatters on Newton street which is about a five minute walk from the train station and located in the Norther Quarter of the city. Hatters was clean, secure, the staff friendly, and all the guests quite youthful. That last note may seem repetitive and redundant considering I stayed in a youth hostel, but ~teaser~ in a later post y’all will learn this is not always the case. The wifi could be a bit dodgy at times and showers stingy. Instead of having a tradition handle these had a push button that cruelly offered 30 seconds of water before cutting off leaving you soapy and shivering. I realize if these are my only woes in the world, than life is still pretty wonderful, thus I would recommend Hatters to the budget traveler.
I would not describe Manchester as the sticks, but you are by no means in an urban jungle either. Everything in the city centre was in walking distance. To any one site I went to see I’d say (try saying that 5 times fast) it was no more than a 10 minute walk. I spent a total of three days in Manchester and by day two I all but ditched the map because I was already recognizing some familiar sites. Major plot twist I never got lost once! Despite my success, if anyone suffers the unfortunate fate of being less directionally inclined than I, the city makes it quite easy to help you get where you are going with signs such as these posted all over the city.
Day one, hour two and I already found myself at the People’s History Museum… (For the love of Foothills People’s Porter, I’m not sure if it was actually my predisposition to dad beers that brought me to this museum’s doors.) Just kidding y’all know I’m a helpless moth drawn to the possibility of enlightenment from a history museum. The People’s History museum documents the various struggles for democracy in Britain within the past 200 years. From the Peterloo Massacre, to women’s suffrage, to the social struggles of the 1960’s, and everything in between, this museum is teeming with artifacts such as banners, buttons, and posters that should keep even a non-history aficionado entertained.
The rest of day one I chose to aimlessly meander the city where I eventually found myself back in the northern quarter. With colorful and thought provoking street art around many a corner, this section adds a colorful pop to Britain’s first industrial city. Along with a Buddhist Meditation center and a craft center this is certainly the artsy, funky-fun district of the city. Not too surprising this is where I gravitated to… it’s as if I returned to my mothership if you will. Although I loved the personality of the Norther Quarter, it still has nothing on my Brighton.
Day two and I’m off to the library… see guys I’m not just gallivanting around the world, ducking responsibilities. In fact, I’d dare to I’ve been to a library more often this semester than some students still in college… John Rylands Library, “less of a library and more of a cathedral to books.”
Lonely planet’s description certainly did not disappoint. As the third largest academic library in the U.K. The stunning Victorian gothic architecture holds rare manuscripts, over 250,000 volumes, millions of archival items, and my heart.
Always hosting a temporary exhibit, it just so happened the current one was, “Off Beat. Jeff Nuttall and the International Underground.” Nuttall, along side the likes of Allen Ginsburg and Bob Dylan, was a quintessential member of the counter culture movement. His 1968 book, Bomb Culture, as well as his independently published underground magazine, My Own Mag, stand as some of his most important contributions to the London Underground movement. I let the inspiration of Nuttall and his social justice hungry cohorts lead me to the 4th floor reading room where I did a little writing of my own. In fact, I found myself back at Rylands on my third day in Manchester to do some more writing. It was here where I found out Bob Dylan was the recipient of the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature. As someone who considers the crowing achievement of their academic existence as receiving an A on a 10 page paper writen about Dylan’s 1964 classic, “With God on our Side,” I am not ashamed to say I shed a tear or two upon learning the news. It was one of those, “I feel like all the pieces of my life are coming together and this is meant to be moments.”
If you want to learn more about my boy Jeff: http://jeff-nuttall.co.uk/
On my third day I decided to visit the Museum of science and industry. Truth time: when I first stumbled upon this museum I thought, “ehh skip.” Science and math savvy I am not. In fact, I like to blame my lack of balance and coordination on the fact that I am so utterly right-brained my center of gravity is misaligned.
However, I quickly reminded myself that Manchester was the heart of the industrial revolution, thus if I did not check out this museum I would be doing a disservice to my all of my history educators. Result: I found the museum to be less than gripping, yet I will give it credit as being a wonderful Museum for children. It has a slew of interactive learning activities as well as some airplanes and locomotives to check out.
Down to brass tax. Manchester is uber affordable, and thanks to the free public buses you won’t even have to take uber. I opted to eat on the super cheap, and whenever I was hungry I popped into a Tesco, Sansburrys, or another grocery chain and picked up a bite to eat. Although if you don’t feel like channeling your inner college student by surviving on ramen and tangerines, many of the restaurants I passed by displayed menus with quite reasonable prices. As for the attractions I saw, People’s museum, free. Rylands library, free. Science & innovation museum, free. Realizing you are living your dreams at the low, low cost of practically nothing, priceless.
Overall recommendation: Jumping into nomadicy can be quite maddening at first, but beginning in a city such as Manchester is a great city to get you travelers footing… wait that sounds like something you should probably see your podiatrist for, let me try that again. Manchester is a brilliant city to start any sort of solo traveling or international adventuring because it is not overwhelming. It’s relatively small size comes with many perks; easy to navigate, affordable, not crowded, and not a particularly touristy city. In fact, it was a bit difficult for me to find a shop that sold postcards. Lastly Manchester offers a lot of free public wifi hotspots.