The stories of a couchsurfer

Manchester: Doing its own thing

Manchester Town Hall

Without trying to rub salt into the wound, Birmingham proved to be a large disappointment considering it’s status as the UK’s second largest city. While the other visited cities – Bristol and Cardiff – were admirable, they didn’t really rank in the same vicinity (tourist-wise) as similarly sized towns of other European countries.

The impression started to form that England, Britain and indeed even the UK were one dimensional. Was London’s reputation in part built upon the fact that it merely has no peers within Britain to steer the focus away from it?

Every great champion needs a fierce rivalry to prove itself. As Federer had Nadal and Ali had Frazier, how did London prove it’s champion status against a legitimate challenger? Perhaps there was none domestically, and it had to look abroad for contenders.

The journey throughout the UK was still young but each city since began to confirm this suspicion. The latest hope in proving otherwise was a strong one. A city well renowned on an international level but not so much for the city itself, but the sporting products that it provides – Manchester, a powerhouse of world football.

The interest in visiting Manchester were twofold. One was to see if it could break the UK free from it’s apparent reliance on it’s grand capital. The other was to see if the city was more than just an abode for two highly successful football clubs.

Arriving by bus, Manchester immediately got points ahead of Birmingham with the station being more central. On top of this, the centre seemed to be more active and dense, with a more consistent array of tall buildings on offer.

The bus station itself was considerably small and inactive, although this was a trend that was starting to become expected of bus stations around the UK and indeed Europe as trains are clearly the primary form of intercity travel.

Manchester was constructed with a pretty clear distinction between it’s city area and it’s suburban areas – as most other British cities seem to have been also. It’s city area was the part that was experienced the most, but the opportunity was taken to experience a bit of it’s suburban side too.

The city has a sense of history about it. Not the kind of history that you would feel walking through the streets of Salamanca or Montpellier, but a modern kind of history. There seem to be a lot of red brick buildings here and although one certainly wouldn’t describe them as modern, neither would they be described as historic.

It’s an indication of Manchester’s heyday in the 19th and early 20th centuries as industry led a rapid expansion of the city. Today, without knowing the exact figures, it still seems to be going quite strong economically and it reflects in the cleanliness and quality of the cities infrastructure. Renovation of the city continues and Manchester follows its British counterparts by balancing their historic past with a move into the future extremely well.

Manchester is also a hive of activity as the streets of the city centre were swarming with people getting out and socialising. Whether it was shopping, visiting one of the many parks on offer or the even more common pubs on offer, the Mancunians were providing a buzz not felt in the UK since the departure from London.

It was a stark contrast to the stale activity of cities such as Bristol and Birmingham, whose residents possessed a seemingly pessimistic attitude toward exploring and supporting their hometowns. It’s a complex economic world and there are many factors that can affect the rise or decline of a city but the optimism and support of it’s townsfolk surely must have an impact.

Perhaps it was a unique weekend to be there. Not only was it on the weekend, benefiting the situation, but it also coincided with the beginning of the new English Premier League season – something that seemed to be creating a buzz in a city so proud of it’s chances to take out the title each season.

Yet the fanfare wasn’t as large as you would expect it to be. No doubt that the Mancunians are rabid football fans proud of their clubs – and rightly so, but there wasn’t a lot of propaganda floating around to mark the event. Perhaps it was just such common sense to these natives that it didn’t require extra advertisement.

One little pleasure of traveling around the world is seeing the genuineness of something so often violated everywhere else in the world. Drinking a Heineken beer in The Netherlands and realising it’s local, etc. In Australia, it’s easy to see a bloke walking the streets sporting a Manchester United shirt or cap that probably has barely seen a half of football in his life. Here is the one place in the world where you see a kid walking the streets with their Manchester United top and it’s just another case of supporting the local club.

No, the football didn’t really steal the stage – at least not to the outside observer. If anything did, it was the Manchester Pride festival happening that weekend also. The annual event is held to celebrate the LGBT community of Manchester, which is considerably large and proud – hence the name of the festival I suppose.

The city of Manchester seemed to really support the event as well – it’s marvellous town hall in Albert Square (a must to visit and enter to experience the best of Mancunian architecture) flew the rainbow flags high above proudly, and the people of the city really embraced the event. It was a great gesture by the city council and a pleasure to see such support.

It’s said that when in Rome, do as the Romans do, and it was therefore almost inevitable that some football experience had to be had. This came in the form of the National Football Museum. This museum kept up the great British concept of free museums everywhere and only asked for donations. It was a modern museum that encouraged a lot of interaction and did a good job at presenting the history and passion of the sport, specific to England. It’s a sure sign of an effective museum when it can even manage to keep interested and entertain a guy that has barely seen ten matches of football in his life. To such extent was the museum fascinating that it actually closed before there was the chance to explore it all.

And so the few days visiting Manchester expired and soon enough the realisation hit that the premier attraction of the city hadn’t even been visited. That of Old Trafford. But this only goes to answer the second question of mine upon arriving in the city. Manchester is much more than just a home of two great football clubs – it’s a vibrant city with a thriving economy and arts community also.

Manchester is a multidimensional city and through this it manages to add another dimension to Britain also. No longer will the UK voyage be remembered only as London-and-the-rest but of the UK itself.

It would be a naive fool to suggest that Manchester is better than London. This blog made it pretty clear that London didn’t live up to the lofty expectation set of it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was the pit of the earth. One only has to look at the facts and compare the sights between the two to realise which is more entertaining.

Yet Manchester isn’t bothered with this. Just as Barcelona seemed impervious to any “challenge” from Madrid, Manchester was happy to do it’s own thing, brushing aside any comparisons to London.

Manchester is not the Smokin’ Joe to London’s self-proclaimed Greatest. London would still have to look afar for this.

Still, Manchester did reinstill the hope of experiencing other exciting cities and people throughout Britain and the UK, and it did it without a care in the world.

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