One day in Manchester
I saw her under the arrivals board. A flurry of blond, pink and purple comes hurrying towards me. I hadn’t seen this girl in two years and was very happy to see her!
I met Rachael at University in 2012 and today we were meeting up in the capital of the North; Manchester. We had planned a nice catch-up and some site-seeing. It was my first time in the city of Manchester and Rachael was excited to show me around. We sat in a coffee shop, as we chatted away and planned a course of action. Armed with an old-fashioned map, Rachael planned a logical route to show me all the different quarters of this northern city.
“I probably came to Manchester for the first time in Primary school.” She recalls. “I remember going to the theatre with my mum. In high school, I would come here to go shopping with friends. Once I had turned 18 I would come for a night out on Canal Street. Now I work here and have started my professional life in this city.” It’s safe to say Rachael knows Manchester very well.
After our teas and hot chocolates and lots of storytelling, we ventured out to explore the city. First quarter on our list was the colourful Gay village.
The Gay Village is full of rainbow flags, vibrant street art and pretty mosaics on the floor.
This part of Manchester was practically willed into existence according to Ian Wilmott, a gay liberation activist who is now a Labour MP. Long associated as a red-light district, perfectly located due to its location next to a dark canal and close to rail transport links, the LGBT community declared that in the 90ies it was time to say ‘We are here. We are queer. Get used to it’.
It is now one of the most successful gay villages across Europe. In an area measuring just a quarter of a square mile, 70 licensed premises are crammed in. Rachael tells me that she loves nights out on Canal Street. “The music is great, lots of pop music and the atmosphere is good too.” She excitedly tells me.
We heard no pop music during our visit. It was quiet as we were visiting on a Sunday morning. Waiters could be spotted clearing up from last nights partygoers. It was very quiet, and I tried to imagine what it would look like at night or on a sunny afternoon.
I suddenly spotted some pink petals in a park and asked Rachael if we could venture in that direction. Rachael exclaimed that she had never been in that park before and we decided to explore together.
Amongst the pink and white petals of spring, there was a steel column. A steel column dotted with hearts upon a pink mosaic base. This is the Beacon of Hope. It is the only permanent memorial in the UK dedicated to people who have died of or who are living with HIV or AIDs. The sculpture was erected in 2000 and around its base are key events that have happened from the 80ies to 2016.
There was a certain air of melancholy in this park, known as the Sackville Gardens, probably due to its memorials and delicate pink petals scattered on the ground. We left this peaceful place and moved to the next quarter on our list: China town!
Our next stop was Manchester Chinatown. As I currently live in Birmingham which has a fantastic Chinatown and having lived in China I was slightly sceptical of this quarter. Surely it would not live up to my high expectations? I can report though that I was pleasantly surprised.
Manchester’s Chinatown has a simply stunning arch. Incredibly decorative and imposing. I later discovered that Manchester’s Chinatown is the second biggest in the UK and the 3rd largest in Europe. Manchester’s first Chinese restaurant opened in 1948 and has since been followed by many others.
The air was full of oriental spices. Rachael pointed out her gym which she visits at lunchtime. “It’s hard going past all these restaurants and nice smells after the gym!”
Even the car park is enclosed in a decorative red fence surrounded by lush trees and red flower buds. There was even a pagoda and a dragon hiding in a tree!
Our tour continued as we left the ethnic enclave behind us and ventured into the administrative heart of the city; the Town Hall. I had seen the clock tower whilst we had been walking around but seeing it up close was a delight. The building looked as if it belonged in the world of Harry Potter. The building was designed in 1877 and incorporates the gothic revival of the Victorian era perfectly. The building is simply stunning.
Rachael notes that in December a wonderful Christmas market takes place just outside the Town Hall. I imagine it must be very atmospheric in the shadow of this colossal building.
Our tummies were beginning to rumble rather loudly, and we thus ventured into the Northern Quarter. Rachael had researched a vegan restaurant for lunch. She had never been to a vegan place for lunch. I was nervous as I hoped it was good and if it wasn’t it wouldn’t put her off vegan food!
The place was packed, and we only just managed to get a seat. The restaurant interior was decorated in blue and yellow. The toilets were genderless, and Rachael commented on how progressive that was.
We ordered burgers, ‘chicken’ and loaded fries. The burgers were incredible. ‘Cheese’, sauce and relish were oozing out of the bun that struggled to stand as it was so tall. The patties were meaty and the ‘bacon’ was a nice addition. I really liked the burgers. The ‘chicken’ was less impressive and very dense. The loaded fries covered in gravy and crispy onions were amazing and who can visit the north without having one dish covered in gravy! I think Rachael enjoyed it. After a great lunch, it was time to continue exploring.
The Northern Quarter is very hip. There are plenty of places for brunch. Lots of vibrant street art and interesting boutique stores are also situated in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. This area has always been quirky and a popular area for young adults. In the early part of the 20th century, a street dancing culture emerged with “dozens of young people performing polkas, waltzes and schottisches to music provided by Italian organ-grinders”. There are no organ-grinders anymore, but it is still a haven for musicians and a mecca for DJs.
We left the Bohemian quarter after taking many photos and walked down to Jennyfields. This area was full of modern architecture and dramatic bridges across the canal. Rachael said many businessmen come here for lunch.
Rachael consulted the map and we walked towards the oldest part of the city. I had no idea that Manchester had several old tudoresque buildings! We saw a beautiful brown and white building.
This became my second favourite building in Manchester, my favourite is the town hall. The lovely brown and white building we saw is called the Wellington pub. This old pub is one of the oldest buildings in the city and was full of character. We sat outside enjoying a couple of fresh ciders.
We sat amidst our surroundings until it started to rain slightly then we ventured inside. Inside was full of period features. Lovely wooden beams could be seen and old iron chandeliers transported us back in time. One beam in particular, was so low the waitress had to practically limbo under it whilst balancing a tray of pints! Rachael and I wondered whether that skill was tested as part of the interview process.
Well refreshed, we wondered over to the cathedral. Rachael and I could not venture inside as a service was taking place. Still it is another spectacular sandstone building to see in Manchester. There were many blossom trees outside showing that spring has finally arrived in the UK!
We then walked through the corn exchange. The corn exchange is very bright and modern. This contrasted greatly to the old cathedral and Tudor buildings we had just seen.
We walked past the national football museum and the beautiful old John Rylands Library. Sadly this historic library is not open to visitors at the weekend so we could not go inside.
The Unoffical Manchester 2017 Bombing Memorial
Nearing the end of our tour we popped into the historic Victoria train station. I took a few photos of the interior but what really interested me was a pile of flowers and photos. There is a touching memorial to those who lost their lives in the 2017 bombing at the arena next to Victoria train station. In May 2017, a handmade bomb was detonated as people were leaving the Arena after an Ariana Grande concert. Over 500 people were injured and twenty-three people were killed. There was a truly beautiful poem on a column above photos of the victims about the resilience of the people of Manchester.
Saddened we left and carried on walking to our final destination.
Our final stop was the Printworks. You enter inside a dark warehouse only to discover bright lights and music inside. It is an entertainment venue full of restaurants and a cinema. I didn’t manage to get a photo as photos are forbidden inside.
We had just over an hour before my train was due to leave. I am currently hunting down the UK’s best vegan cakes and wanted to see if I could add a Mancunian cake to my list. We headed back towards the Northern quarter to see if we could find a tasty afternoon snack.
We tried many quirky cafes, but they had all sold out of their vegan options. Guess that is a good thing I suppose. As we walked around we were conscious that my train was now in less than an hour. Should we just give up on our vegan cake quest?
Then out of the corner of my eye I spied a cute little coffee shop down a side street. As we had almost given up and were just going to use one of the chain coffee shops at the station we stumbled upon a lovely independent café. Sparrow & Fig was its name.
We entered into this busy little café. The interior was warm and cosy due to the wooden panelling covering the walls. Yet the most important thing is that they did not just have one vegan cake but 3! There was a brownie with blueberries, a brownie with cherries and a brownie with pecans. There was only one pecan brownie left. A tall, lanky gentleman wearing a red and white checked shirt, was being served and was slowly debating which cake to try. Rachael and I shared a glance which was ‘could-he please-just-hurry-up-as-we-do-have-a-train/bus-to-catch’. A lady from behind us chipped in that the pecan brownie was good. I impulsively yelped ‘No please don’t. I would like to try the pecan brownie!’ Or something slightly less eloquent than that. The waitress smiled and said there was still another box full of the pecan brownies. Relieved and the gentlemen finally choose a cake, which was not a brownie, Rachael and I could finally sit down with our cakes and tea. Would this Mancunian vegan delicacy make my top 10 vegan cakes in the UK?
It was good. Not too stodgy but not too fluffy. Nutty and chocolatey. Perfect. This cake makes the cut and you can see the top 10 in this blog post here.
The little café and the tasty brownie was a perfect end to a perfect day in Manchester.
I would like to thank Rachael for showing me around and for her tour guide services.
Would you like to visit Manchester? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.