It’s something of a blasphemous comment to make whilst in the UK but I have to say that I was surprised at how small Manchester was. Landing in what seemed like a decently sized airport and then taking the noisy diesel train (that feels more like a bus on rails) in to the center, I was greeted by a sloshed crowd staggering their way the other direction at the early hour of 11PM. Continuing on, I found that the place I was staying was so close to the train station that I almost missed it. This would be a recurring theme during my short few days in Manchester as it takes literally no time to get anywhere in the center.
Naturally those who I mentioned this to were gobstopped to hear me say such a thing about England’s “second city” but to put it in to perspective, instead of France’s second city being Lyon, think of it instead as Nice. Or, instead of Barcelona as Spain’s second city (and a proper one at that) it would be Girona which is Catalonia’s second town.
Admittedly the town did have a great deal more life when strolling about during the week and as usual throughout Europe, I would recommend not passing through on a Sunday. But even with that, it felt like a small town, albeit one with a bit of charm and something of its own vibe to it, very much free of the influence of London. I mean Christ, the Manchurian accent sounds like its from another country altogether, especially when contrasted to the Lancashire countryside accent which is ironically easier to understand than that of Manchester proper.
But overall, it’s a decently charming town and as pretty much any travel article written about it states, it’s come a very long way in a very short time given that there were so many violent handgun deaths in it a scant 15 years ago, you very well could have been caught dead there if visiting. Now, there’s a vibrant hipster scene rooted in coffee (which the shop assistant at Whittard tea told me has cut in to their coffee sales a great deal) as well as some decent restaurants, a wider variety of foods from around that world than you’d find in Barcelona, and as mentioned before, the ability to traverse it rapidly and easily by foot.
While the center is officially bounded in by a ring road, it felt like it was really enclosed by the A665 just past the Northern Quarter, the River Irwell, and then the southern rail tracks. To get from Victoria Station at the top of it to Oxford Road Station near the bottom as I had to do as they closed Victoria for the day, took slightly less than 20 minutes and was quite easy. That all makes for a pretty accommodating place to visit. As to whether I’d go back again, probably not. Two full days walking around seemed more or less sufficient to see most everything there was to see. Again, maybe I’m speaking something blasphemous as it is true that the greater 2.5 million urban area feeds in to this smaller center a great deal.