Manchester is a unique city existing in several times. It is simultaneously in this current world, the future world as envisioned by the media, and still in centuries past. The different times are intermixed and entwined perfectly.
Old buildings of brick — cold, gray and grimy with the ashes from industry of a bygone era — are mixed among steel skyscrapers of the “Madchester” era, an era of revitalization and a new face of British “cool”. And, among the old bricks and ‘80’s steel, is a new architects’ dreamscape, a world of modernistic buildings of glass and random designs, colors and styles. If you picture the city of the future, it may be located in the Far East, in the steaming jungles of a tropical region perhaps, but its look may be based on the experiments of Manchester’s cityscape. Giant glassy domes, belonging to a co-op mixed with the tallest building in the UK outside of London. (This last one is the Beetham Tower, an ugly glass box with legs, but it gives an unparalleled view.)
The city has more restaurants than they know what to do with, so they just leave it to chance for the tourist (lost amid confusing half-streets, back alleys and winding ways), to wander into them — be they kebab, Korean, or fine Italian dining.
There are great museums — one promoting the struggle of the working man, and that gave a balanced view of communism, and made it look all right. Another museum, of science, and another of art, with no admission charge and extended hours so that the poor, the working, and the student can get to experience culture without sacrificing their schedule.
This city mixes cultures and races together into a cosmopolitan flavor. And yet, the whole time, you know you’re in England. There is the wet grey weather, the crumbly streets, the wrong-sided driving. The smell of tobacco, the music, the pub signs.
Manchester is possibly the last true English city. London is more than half foreign-born, and Leeds is thoroughly modernized, it’s historic roots mostly lost beneath myriad mazes of glass and steel, though present if you know where to look. Hull is like Bucharest, a nice place once you get over the initial ugliness and bad reputation. But Manchester, there is something special there. It is English in its mix of history, culture, and night life, its blend of old and new. Foreign and native blend together but remain decisively English, and it feels Old World in a way the vibrant London does not, but it doesn’t feel ancient in the way York does, a city that is now a living museum.
Manchester to me, while not the most immediately interesting compared to some other places, is the most real. It has the English realness, the directness, the honesty. You can see its story written on its walls, not holding back, and yet not telling it to your face either.