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Discovering the unexpected in
Manchester, England

Manchester, an English city set some 35 miles from the Irish Sea is a city of surprises.

The first surprise is that Manchester is a beautiful city. The mental image one has of Manchester is an industrial town with smoke stacks dominating the skyline and filling the air with brownish-black pollution. After all, Manchester gained prominence in the 1800s as a huge industrial center. Cotton mills were the predominant industry, producing 85% of the world’s finished cotton goods. Big, grimy factories lined the Irwell River and horrible slums surrounded the factories. But this was also Manchester’s financial heyday, and many grand buildings were built to store, showcase, and trade cotton. These old buildings had lots of character. They have been cleaned up and turned into beautiful office buildings, hotels, and such.

Another surprise was that Manchester has much lovely new architecture. Manchester has been called an outdoor architectural museum, with styles ranging from classical Greek to modern steel-and-glass structures. Older buildings of particular note are the Victorian Gothic-style Town Hall, the Greek-revival Royal Exchange, now home to a theater, and Manchester Cathedral, built in the 1400’s.

Even though Manchester is an inland city, it is a major seaport. Surprise! Manchester is connected to the sea via the Manchester Ship Canal, which open in 1894.

Manchester is a city of culture—numerous theaters and art galleries, the famous Halle Orchestra, and several public and private libraries. I visited one private library open to the public that has one of the few bibles with a typographical error. It lists one of the Ten Commandments as "Thou shall commit adultery." Manchester is also home to the world’s oldest operating public library.

Gay friendly Manchester

Manchester is making a real effort to encourage GLBT folks to come and visit. But that is just part of the city's nature Manchester is proud of its reputation for nurturing liberal causes. It was the birth place of Britain’s Labour party, the suffragette movement, and now has a thriving GLBT community.

The city has a gay Village, centered on Canal Street. It starts at Princess Street (Yes!) and runs for three blocks, with bars and restaurants on one side of the street and a narrow canal on the other side. Village establishments spill over onto side streets. The neighborhood has also become trendy. You’ll see lots of straight couples strolling there.

Manchester is home to Queer Up North, an arts group that produces theater, dance, music, film, live arts, film, cabaret, and exhibitions that you should check out. (One of the benefits of traveling to an English speaking country is you can go to the theater and understand what's going on, usually.)

Other neighborhoods

On the edge of the downtown is a funky neighborhood called the Northern Quarter where music and clothing stores reign. The centerpiece of the Northern Quarter is a tall brick building called Afflecks Palace. Huge metal flowers decorate its exterior. Afflecks Palace is filled with vendors selling clothes, condoms, and vinyl records. This neighborhood is also home for several clubs that feature live music.

Another area to check out is the Millennium Quarter, a mix of very old and very new. You can see the reflections of pubs dating from the 1600s in the windows of a dramatic glass shopping center and museum across the street. Close by is Printworks, a huge old warehouse that has been converted into an entertainment center with bars, dance clubs, and movie theaters.

Manchester even has a thriving Chinatown with many fine restaurants. It’s good for a gastronomic change of place. By the way, the food I had in Manchester was great. So much for the idea that English food is bland.

Outside Manchester

If you want to see some more of Britain, you are not far from lots of distractions. You can take an Orient Express train excursion that includes a great dinner and gets you back to your hotel before midnight.

If you are a Beatles fan, you can visit Liverpool, just 30 miles down the road. Liverpool, naturally, has Beatles sights everywhere. If you are looking for more to see, visit Snowdonia, the largest national park in Wales is just an hour away, or Edinburgh, Scotland, about 3 1/2 hours away.

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