13 January 2008 (posted 20 January 2008)
I wasn’t particularly enthused about the prospect before we headed north at the weekend, but what a great city; At once boisterous and yet laid back, with cheeky and interesting architecture sitting happily alongside a rich architectural and general history. While much of the new construction is bold and dramatic, there’s an element of respect for what’s gone before, too. The laid back part comes from the city's size. Compared to London's fifteen million, the less than half-million inhabitants of Manchester leave space on the footpath, a welcome relief to this Perth boy.
In the mid nineties, IRA bombs tore through this city. Architecturally, this has spawned an interesting blend of the historic and the contemporary. And there’s some pretty stunning stuff amongst the contemporary, too. Buildings like the Lowry and the many shards of the Imperial War Museum North, to name just two stand-out examples.
It’s a seedy post-industrial town with its roots showing, certainly, but they lend it a funky character. Like the ex-railway bridge on the Metro line down to Salford Quays and the Lowry; Half of the bridge is now given over to the Metro, the other half has surrendered to vegetation. It's even home to a couple of fully fledged trees!
Saturday afternoon was devoted to exploring the aforementioned docks area, the Lowry and the stunning Imperial War Museum North. The Lowry is a centre for the performing arts with a namesake outlet mall across the way. We popped into the former and got waylaid in the latter, doing some damage at the Cadbury factory outlet.
Then later, as hinted, we were stunned by the Imperial War Museum. The central exhibition space is given over to an audiovisual show every hour, with full wall-size projected images and sounds of war filling the space. First we saw "The War At Home", telling the stories of the domestic impact of war including the blitz, very powerful. "The Weapons of war", following, had even more impact, dominated by machine gun fire. It took me back to the first time I saw the opening twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan.
Afterwards, we took in a movie before heading back into the central city via a Metro tram crowded with post-match Manchester United fans. From the tram stop, and with a light rain falling, it was a short walk across to Canal Street, made famous by the original (and best) “Queer as Folk”. It was Saturday night, but it was also cold and wet and January; These latter facts were endorsed by the deserted street.
Sunday began with a successful clothes shopping expedition which for me just lately is a miracle given my non-standard body shape. Afterwards, we toured the Town Hall, a lavishly ornate nineteenth century building with its own tale and that of the city to impart to anyone prepared to look.
The trip was rounded out with a visit to the Hard Rock Café. While I’ve been to the Sydney equivalent previously, I’d always thought it to be just another American franchise, albeit with a rock bent. It is, of sorts, but to leave it at that would be to ignore the interesting part of the story. It started in London, when Eric Clapton found a little café run by two young Americans. He liked it so much, he asked if they could put a little plaque or something over his favourite table. They went one better and asked instead for a guitar, which he duly provided. A week later, Pete Townshend’s guitar arrived with a note along the lines that if Clapton’s guitar was good enough for their walls, so was his. Apparently stuff’s been arriving ever since! So it’s now our mission to visit Hard Rock, London, where it all started.
Forthcoming travel plans include:
P.S: Don't miss the photos of the Piccadilly Gardens urinals that completely redefine the term "Public Toilet!"