Nothing worth experiencing is easy to say goodbye to, but knowing I will be back in Manchester eventually didn’t make it any easier. I picked up the trip two days prior to departure and fangirled for the full 48hrs until I was aboard the UK bound bird we call a plane. My crew was phenomenal and before I could blink, spin and spit, we had already landed. That gloomy, chilly August morning marked a year since my tango with Big Ben and I mistakenly thought Manchester would be nearly the same considering they share an island. That was childishly presumptuous of me and once we left the airport and waited on the curb for our hotel van I could tell I’d be incredibly wrong. For starters Manchester isn’t nearly as updated and by the looks of it their roads were far more confusing. There were so many one ways that you could mistakenly forget what side of the street they should be driving on.
Our hotel, Jury’s Inn, sat just a few blocks away from the Palace Theatre and less than a skip from John Ryland’s Library. Nearly everyone suggested I go to Primart, a European version of Forever 21, and being the shopaholic I am, it was my first stop. The walk itself was about fifteen minutes and though I could have taken a taxi, the entire point of exploring somewhere so vastly unfamiliar is to enjoy and engage with the scenery around you.
Not surprisingly, half of the buildings are older and well kept with their Victorian style architecture. These same buildings sit staggered in between the updated and stainless steal modern sky scrapers you’d see in Chicago or New York. Upon entering Primart the first thing I noticed, once I put down my umbrella, was everyone’s accent. Having grown up watching the Spice Girls and Harry Potter, then visiting London, I’d assumed I knew what most British accents sounded like. Yea, no. For starters they sound a little rougher than Posh Spice and much more choppy with a hint of Irish. I could be talking out of my elbow here but in laymen terms, they weren’t as gentle. In the nicest way possible if they spoke too fast I couldn’t understand what they were saying.
While shopping, and walking, and doing anything that required interacting with people I quickly noticed just how passive everyone is. If you go to New York, or even Chicago, everyone walks at a pretty swift pace and for the most part they have an idea about space. No matter how crowded no ones arm grazing you to grab the magazine you’re in front of without saying “excuse me” or “move”. Here it was quite the opposite.
Anytime I needed to get in something from a shelf and I politely said “excuse me”, they’d quickly say “Oh, I’m sorry” and hurriedly move out of the way as if I’d startled them. Then, while waiting in line if someone needed something I was standing by they would just squeeze in and grab it, and then stay there as if our arms touching were normal. I was pretty sure I could smell this old lady’s dinner last night with how closely she was standing behind me. It was awfully uncomfortable.
After roaming a couple stores and barely spending any money because our dollar is worth 65 cents over there, I went somewhere I would find myself immensely more comfortable; the library. The John Ryalnd’s Library, built in 1890, has since been merged with the University of Manchester but sits as a hidden beauty among the city. It is believed to hold some of the largest special collections in the UK such as the original copy of Ulysses, the earliest extant New Testament text and also the most extensive collection of editions of the Aldine Press of Venice.
Telling you all of this isn’t intended to make you jealous that I went to a library on my day off in Manchester but had you seen this place in person you would be. It consisted of narrow hallways, multistories littered with ancient books encased in glass, and dimly lit study halls as sculptures stared you down. The building itself wasn’t particularly large and it mostly served as a museum than an actual library but this didn’t halt me from going to the top floor and finding a quaint corner study room to begin writing this blog in.
After nerding out for what felt like 20 minutes but was actually a couple hours I retreated to my room, took an extensive nap and left yet again to find Chinatown, which was far closer than I’d anticipated. The entrance was slightly hard to miss considering it was a large awning over the street that read “Chinatown” but even if you were blind you’d smell the food from a mile away. There were several karaoke shops, and every building advertised Asian food alike. I found exactly what I had expected to find in Chinatown, names on buildings I couldn’t understand and the smell of food that I could.
Knowing my night and sleep pattern were nearing to an end I decided to walk around aimlessly until I found the best food and it worked out far better than I’d planned. First off I stumbled on a jazz festival that was only taking place that weekend. They’re set up right outside of the Town Hall building and had food trucks, a beer tent and live music all ready for me to enjoy and that’s exactly what I did. I ate, I drank and I listened. I ate my way through a delicious UK style twist on the American burger. I drank a couple local brews and I listened to local jazz bands as they sang their heart out. Slowly moving my way to fifty places wasn’t entirely my intention but it’s places and experiences like Manchester that remind me I can’t truly put a time limit on living.