My perception of Manchester has always been that of a tired 19th-century industrial city where young children still work in the cotton mills. Okay, I was a little behind the times.
However, Manchester isn’t. In the 19th century, it was the world’s first modern city and supposedly the birthplace of capitalism (and the slums that were its by-product), as well as the petri dish for communism, feminism, and the computer revolution. Not a shabby history. After a post-war slump that lasted into the 90’s, the city found its new focus and has just kept moving ever since then.
There is construction everywhere. A new tram system is being installed, and buildings are going up as though there is a race on. The Victorian stone piles are reflected in glass and chrome towers of every description. Lots of energy here, and while it takes some practice to understand the natives, they are quite friendly and helpful.
Loved the huge Midland Hotel, where Mr. Rolls and Mr. Royce decided to join forces and inked the deal.
We focused our one day here on art and a bit of history.
The Manchester Art Gallery was designed by the man who designed the Houses of Parliament. It has a number of Turners and a large Pre-Raphaelite collection. Unfortunately, the Turners just rotated back to the attic, but we did see the P-R lovelies and a few other exhibits, including vintage/mod clothing. It’s not the V&A, but it’s a very good museum.
We bumped into some noteworthy fellows on our walk around town. There was Prince Albert, Gladstone, Abraham Lincoln, and Chopin.
The first two are understandable. Lincoln? Remember the embargo on cotton during the Civil War, and think of the impact it must have had on Manchester. But there was support for the Union cause here, and as a result, Lincoln wrote:
“I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the working-men of Manchester, and in all Europe, are called to endure in this crisis. It has been often and studiously represented that the attempt to overthrow this government, which was built upon the foundation of human rights, and to substitute for it one which should rest exclusively on the basis of human slavery, was likely to obtain the favor of Europe. Through the action of our disloyal citizens, the working-men of Europe have been subjected to severe trials, for the purpose of forcing their sanction to that attempt. Under the circumstances, I cannot but regard your decisive utterances upon the question as an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country… I do not doubt that the sentiments you have expressed will be sustained by your great nation; and…I hail this interchange of sentiment, therefore, as an augury that whatever else may happen, whatever misfortune may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exist between the two nations will be, as it shall be my desire to make them, perpetual.”
They don’t make them like that any more.
Chopin was a hero here too, and as a result of his plaque, I now know to refer to the inhabitants of this great city as Mancunians, which I would have never gotten right on my own. Sounds like an endangered species, which they certainly are not.
Our last official stop was the John Rylands Library, a nice melding of the old and new. John’s widow had it built as a memorial to her husband in 1880, and it is one classy way to remember someone. A cathedral to knowledge and learning, it did have a holy feeling and that lovely smell of old books.
We should have given Manchester an extra day, but friends are waiting for us in Liverpool, so we are on our way tomorrow. It will be a busy fun day in another city that is blossoming after some hard times. How lucky we are to be here now.
Don’s Food Corner
The biggest mistake when choosing a meal while traveling is to go too far away from the indigenous dishes. Have pasta in Italy, not fish and chips. Have an avocado sandwich in Malibu, not Edinburgh. Go for the beef burgundy in Dijon, France, not Dayton. And, as those who have followed our food adventures in Italy know, you can’t really get veal Milanese except in Milan.
Despite that proven advice, we didn’t follow it today ourselves. We had too little time to search out something and made the mistake of popping into a pub with a menu that was a little too large, offering too many things. Jo ordered — are you ready? — a Philly cheese steak. It bore absolutely no resemblance to anything ever served anywhere in Philadelphia or, well, anywhere else. It kind of looked like burned meat shoved in a long bun with a little tub of cheez-whiz on the side. She actually liked it, and had really only expected meat on a baguette, which it was.
My mistake was going for the Indian food special of the day. While the Brits might have invented many of the dishes that pass for Indian food — chicken tikka — these are not dishes that should be attempted in a run-of-the-mill pub. I had lamb rogan josh. It was, in a word, yuk. I think it was just lumps of meat simmered in ketchup with a little cayenne thrown in.
Next time we stick to the fish and chips.