Wednesday, 9 July 2014

England - A tale of two cities

England – A tale of two cities

July 7-9

Hello everyone!

We’ve spent the last week visiting two cities in England: Manchester and Birmingham. Two places which will rarely be seen by tourists, be them domestic or from more exotic destinations. Two places which, unless you have an affinity to them for a particular reason, you wouldn't generally put in your must-see list when talking about the delights of the United Kingdom. Yet one has hidden gems which are indeed worth your time. As you read on I'll sure you'll discover which of these northern lights is worth your time.

Both cities (and others, especially if you live in Yorkshire) claim to be England’s ‘second city’. Both have been historically important in their own ways. Both are now large, ethnically diverse cities with large shopping complexes full of generic and global brands dominating their centres.

Whilst Birmingham was a new experience for me, I already have plenty of affection and time for Manchester. The simple reasons for that are that I went to university in Manchester and spent three fantastic years living in its vibrant and colourful locale. One of my chosen football teams also hail from the region. This is not the time to get into the age-old debate of whether Manchester United are from Manchester; the team are certainly closer to Manchester than Birmingham.

The reason for returning to the land which, according to t-shirts, God Himself created on the sixth day was the same as my previous visit three years ago: to see my little sister. She was graduating, you see. Clever girl. The grandeur of Whitworth Hall (which I had been in twice before: once to enrol and once to graduate, and not a single time in between) was the setting for her entry into the real world.

To celebrate, we half-scaled Manchester’s tallest building: the Hilton hotel. Halfway up, on floor 23, is a bar from which you can take in all of the city’s…umm…splendour. Whilst not the most stunning view you’ll ever gaze upon, it is nonetheless a nice place in which to toast a job well done. Just don’t do this with a bizarre cocktail called a Black Berry Smog, which was inexplicably recommended to me by the waiter. It smelt of a burning chimney. The worst thing is that it was supposed to. Whether it was supposed to resemble that in your mouth is another question entirely.

Partly due to my increasing irritation with seeing the same shops on remarkably similar high streets across the UK, one of my favourite places in Manchester is a building called Affleck’s Palace. It is an old four-floor structure bursting with strange, eclectic shops at every turn. You even have to walk through some shops to get to others, yet they seem to work in perfect harmony to one another. It is the world of the alternative: T-shirts with messages so explicit that even Primark wouldn't dare allow their Bangladeshi army to make them; tattoo parlours displaying magical, intricate artworks. It is a breath of fresh air compared to central Manchester’s main shopping district, the Arndale.

Manchester is also home to the Museum of Science and Industry. This place is a child’s dream. Wonderfully interactive and informative, the top floor hosts a variety of experiments which bamboozle schools and adults alike. We were particularly fond of the challenge demonstrated so woefully below, which affects your movement with mirrors.

As for Birmingham…even after visiting, I don’t have much to say about the place. It may be due to the fact that most of its attractions are art museums, a topic which struggles to interest me even in my rare, culture-hungry moments. We enjoyed a curry (south Birmingham is apparently home to the ‘balti’ dish) with an enormous jug of mango lassi, and spent time relaxing in a park near the Edgbaston cricket ground. Yet in the centre of Birmingham itself, there seemed to be little to occupy a visitor which couldn't be done elsewhere. Namely, Manchester.

In sum, two major cities north of the M25. One of them is worth your time. The other one is Birmingham.

Love you all


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