So often when people travel, they speak about falling in love with a city. That love-at-first-sight feeling, that moment where everything clicks and you think, this is where I am meant to be. This is home.
It’s never happened to me.
I’ve enjoyed places I’ve traveled to, certainly. I love Paris and I try to go there yearly, renting an apartment in my favorite district and visiting the coffee shops and bistros that have become familiar over my many visits. I studied in Vienna, Austria and Kuopio, Finland, both cities I have incredibly fond memories of. I adored Krakow and Prague and Budapest and Dubrovnik. But I’ve never been in love with a city, including the one I’ve lived in for almost 30 years.
But I fell utterly, ridiculously, head-over-heels in love with Manchester.
I mean, just look at it!
Manchester is where my husband G was born, though he spent the first thirteen years of his life in a smaller town to the north, which he does not love. Most of his family is still scattered across Northern England and Northern Ireland, and moving to the UK has been on our 5- to 10-year plan for a while, so we decided a two week trip to catch up with his relatives and scope out the place was in order.
Here are some highlights of our trip, which I hope can work as a starting point for any of you plotting future travels.
We stayed in a fantastic little AirBnB in the Northern Quarter which was a quick jaunt from Chetham’s Library, one of the places I really wanted to visit during our stay. Chetham’s is the oldest free public reference library in the UK and has been in continuous use since 1653. It was the meeting place of Marx and Engels, houses one of the 70 remaining wooden printing presses in the world, and is where John Dee once accidentally summoned the devil.
During our tour of the library, our guide asked if anyone was familiar with John Dee. G and I raised our hands; we were the only ones! Apparently, the “devil’s hoofmark” is not generally shown on tours, but we were lucky. In a private room, under a protective cloth covering, was the circular depression below.
“I’m not convinced, but there you go,” said the tour guide.
We didn’t have time on this trip, but the John Rylands Library came heavily recommended by our very own Zoetica, who also recently traveled to Manchester. Some breathtaking photos of that library can be found in one of her photo flurries.
Another highlight of the trip was Manchester Museum, which took us across the city from our lodging. Something I loved about Manchester was how small and walkable it is, while still feeling ancient and urban and timeworn and so, so alive.
Manchester Museum is primarily a natural history museum; I spent several hours wandering the alcoves, reading inscriptions and gawking at specimens, taxidermy, and replicas. There is also a vivarium where sightseers can glimpse live lizards, frogs, and other small creatures.
Faces of natural history museum critters are truly second to none; their only competition is animal depictions in medieval manuscripts.
A different day was dedicated to tours of all sorts. Prior to a walking food tour of Manchester — which was delightful, by the way! — we spent five hours on a little bus, traveling the countryside with Manchester Music Tours.
The music tour focused primarily on Joy Division, but Manchester has such a rich music history that we also saw places historically important to The Stone Roses, Oasis, and The Smiths — including the famous cemetery gates.
Though The Haçienda is now an apartment building, its backside faces a canal and plays host to a timeline of important events, like these shenanigans by Blixa Bargeld and Co.
Further from the city was Macclesfield Cemetery, which is the location of Ian Curtis’ grave. I’m delighted by old cemeteries, generally, more than I’m delighted by the final resting place of Ian Curtis, specifically, so I snuck away from the group to take a few photos of the beautiful church. And then I almost missed the bus.
When I travel, my main aim is usually to wander around, cafe to cafe and bar to bar, books in tow. I’m not big on “touristy” things, not because I’m particularly cool but because I’m a lazy introvert. But three things always get me excited: old cemeteries, goth clubs, and food.
Our trip itinerary was probably 80% food, and that’s fine by me. One of the most exciting things was my first Beef Wellington, a dish I have wanted to try for years after watching far too many Gordon Ramsay shows. This Wellington, from a restaurant called Mamucium, did not disappoint.
We also ate our weight in clotted cream, feasted on divine sushi at Umezushi (thanks, Zo, for the recommendation!), attended afternoon tea at Alice-In-Wonderland-themed Richmond Tea Rooms and fancy-hotel-themed The Midland, and drank a lot of elderflower cider.
We also met this lovely creature, who took us on a tour of a cemetery in Northern Ireland.
It was a wondrous trip, and I can’t wait to come back — perhaps even sooner than anticipated.
The fragrances I wore for this trip are two recent favorites that scream spring — Heeley’s L’Amandière (green almond trees in blossom, bluebells, hyacinths, spring flowers, rose, green grass, jasmine, and linden blossom) and Ex Nihilo’s Fleur Narcotique (bergamot, lychee, peach, jasmine, orange blossom, transparent wood, moss, and musk).
The books I read, which I’ll review in the next Stacked, were J-F. Dubeau’s A God in the Shed, Araminta Hall’s Our Kind of Cruelty, Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart, Kristen Roupenian’s You Know You Want This: “Cat Person” and Other Stories, A. S. Byatt’s Possession, Claire Messud’s The Burning Girl, and Abbey Mei Otis’ Alien Virus Love Disaster.