I enjoy penning my thoughts down (what, really, what a shocker!) especially when planning a trip, and yes I’m slightly abashed to say that I like details – so if our bus is supposed to reach Manchester at 2:30 pm I’m going to be optimistic and hope that it ends up getting there earlier and since our budget inn with its sweet purple moon is just a 16-minute walk away, we should be all checked in by 3…
Listen, time is short and there’s a lot to see in Manchester! So ideally I’d like us to be sharp about it and march on straight to one museum, then maybe sneak in the art gallery before the city shuts down all museums and galleries and churches and switches on its orange streetlights to guide the way to nightlife (except, what nightlife starts at 5pm?).
Of course, sometimes, alright, often, the best-(detai)laid plans go awry.
So the bus we were on left at exactly the right time but then sort of just slowed down and instead of the motorway/highway we seemed to be on a sightseeing tour bus that was languidly lolling down town roads and outside the clouds hung low, like sulky teenagers, silent and gloomy, threatening but not saying anything, kind of just following us, giving dark looks. And we arrived in industrial Manchester half an hour late. By the time we picked through the luggage pile and found our bag (which reminds me, can someone tell Fahad how lucky he is to have a wife who can pack all our two-adults-surviving-British/Scottish-winter luggage for five days in one small trolley bag?) it had started to drizzle. We weren’t too bummed out because it has been three months in this country and a gloomy persistent drizzle is to the UK what cloudy windy evenings are to Karachi.
“Should we take the bus or walk? It’s a short walk but it is raining and we have our bags,” I asked Fahad who chose walking.
So I punched in the address on my phone, and with my backpack clinging around my fat-winter-jacket arms and shoulders, and a furry hood providing a tunnel vision, we set off. Just as we rounded the first corner, it started to rain. And I mean, really rain, the kind of rain that is being chased by the wind and it comes hurrying scurrying at you with a whiplash wind on its tail, sweeping over you like the many folds of a wet curtain.
The beautiful architecture of old hotels and offices interspersed with cheap eateries and quirky cafes was completely lost on me as I struggled to navigate the way while being whipped by the cold rain. I could actually see the rain because the wind was creating mini-waves in the pools of water that had already accumulated in the middle of the sidewalks – so I’d see the wave just before it would smack into me. I was drenched and not amused.
Fahad, on the other, was sheepishly grinning – “you should’ve seen your face,” he told me later on and I guess it might’ve been comical because I was quite pissed off, and really, you can’t justifiably get angry at the weather, can you?
And so by the time we got to our motel, it was almost 4 pm, but man did it feel good to be dry and warm. When we came down to reception the lady told us we should get a cab because there was a forecast for a crazy storm. Outside the rain had become more like a forgetful drip of a tap rather than a full-pressure shower and the taxi would take 10 minutes to get here, which was almost the same time it would take us to walk to the Science & Industry museum. So we decided to walk it.
The city was glittering wet, its street lights and shop lights reflected in puddles and on shiny windscreens, the sky was clearing out, with a beautiful gray-blue visible through the heavy suffused rainclouds finally on their way home. Twilight in Manchester was beautiful when the sky wasn’t at war with us.
We settled for a casual stroll through the museum (4:15 pm – 45 minutes before it closed!) which was quiet save for a few small children toddling through the exhibits, and we got to know that Manchester was the first industrial city in the UK and had a thriving textile industry (also how they got lots of ideas – paisleys and block prints – for textiles from India & Africa, then incorporated the ideas and designs into material here and sold it back to the same people from whom they got the actual ideas…). The city has also made tremendous contributions to science (discovered how to split an atom! And something about the first computer program … and the computer was called Baby. Ha!) and engineering, and hey, don’t forget music (Oasis is from Manchester!).
Later we walked around the city center, which had just the right amount of people walking around to make it seem lively but not enough that you’re bumping into one shoulder after another and would cause a 10-person traffic accident if you paused on the pavement to take a picture of the clock tower that glowed purple and green and pink. We stopped at a makeshift café bar right in the middle of a square near the John Rylands library (which is ranked number 1 on the list of things to see in Manchester – imagine! A library! How cool and nerdy.). The German inspired bar had giant barrels as tables with stools around them, large gas-fire heaters to warm you up if you wanted to sit outside, cute little cabins in which drunken people drunkenly sang karaoke songs and twinkling warm yellow fairylights strung up above us. And I finally got to drink hot chocolate. It’s rare for me to be sitting outside in the cold yet feel happy and warm, and it was definitely a point in Manchester’s favour.
Just as we stepped out of the open-air mini-square, it started to rain again, with short bursts of wind that are excellent at upturning small umbrellas (which you then struggle to fix and proceed to get quite wet in the process).
At least I had finished my hot chocolate.
And it was just about time to head to the theater to watch a musical – thank god for indoor entertainment.
I had envisioned going back to dress up for the play but that had not quite happened – and so it was with frizzy hair, almost-smeared kohl, definitely no lipstick and my damp jacket and wet boots, we went to the very cool theater. Oh and we actually followed one of the ‘explore nearby restaurants’ options with Google maps and ended up having some scrumptious Vietnamese food.
The theater was very cool, dim, and lit up as it was a perpetual twilight zone, with a photograph exhibition, open-design café and restaurant, and the actual auditorium was a spaceship/beehive in the middle with a 360° stage and two floors of seats all around it.
It was an excellent musical and when we finally came out of the theater, the sky was clear with some twinkling stars, all shiny and shimmery, beautifully serene and quiet. We walked back to our motel (Fahad was sure he saw Russell Peters but his exclamation came way too late for me to verify), having passed the demented Santa wishing Manchester a Merry Christmas while city hall glowed red (why red, I mean I know it’s a Christmas colour but it’s also quite familiar to horror films) behind it.
It wasn’t according to plan but it was definitely a fun evening in mad Manchester.