If you’ve been on a backpacking trip, or even just a really busy conference trip, it’s really hard to find time for yourself and to do the things you love. Which is why I so ridiculously booked off two weeks in the middle of the semester, right before final paper season, during my last year of my Masters.
Manchester is a place of refuge for me. It’s where a good chunk of my family lives, and it has become almost in a way, my second home. Or at least, my home away from home. Walking into my Great Aunt’s house is both refreshing, exhilarating, and like a piece of Newfoundland in the third largest city in the United Kingdom.
When I lived in England with Andrew, you’d often find me catching a last-minute train from London Euston station to go visit my family at all hours of the day and night – once even, for two weeks in the middle of the semester. When will I ever learn?
This year, has been particularly hard for my family. Without giving too much away, a family member of mine was caught in the Manchester arena attacks, and since then, it’s really shown me the importance of staying connected even when 3,000 km away. So now, I always make it a point to come to Manchester for at least two days on these whirlwind tours.
A typical trip to Manchester includes my Great Uncle cussing to the high heavens about how the city of Manchester always changes its roads rules, and how he can never figure it out – for context, he’s lived here for 55 years and almost has a British accent; though I’d be crucified for saying that if he knew.
Uncle Tommy & Me, making silly faces because no one can be serious in my family for more than two seconds flat.
Once I arrive in the smaller community outside of Manchester, I have a great big Irish/English breakfast, eat enough for the rest of the year, and then we gossip. About everything and nothing all at the same time. Once the first day of gossip is over, we usually go to my favourite store ever – PRIMARK. It’s got everything a girl would want, for about ten times less than I’d purchase it in Canada.
It was so cold in Manchester this time, that I dressed properly for the weather – which if you know me at all, is quite shocking.
I was especially grateful to go to Manchester this time, because it’s uncertain when I’ll be able to afford to come back again; when I start working full time in May, I’m not sure I’d be able to do things like gallivanting across a few countries and a continent or two when I’m in the middle of a busy work season.
I sincerely believe that no trip to Manchester to visit my family is complete without eating like absolute “rubbish”. But, I swear the calories don’t count here. I don’t even feel guilty about eating so much here. It’s always such a blessing to have a place like this to return to.
What’s even more phenomenal about Manchester is the history of my family here. My great uncle tommy left Newfoundland when he was 19, after confederation to Canada, in search of a better life. He settled in the UK, bouncing back and forth between Manchester and London for years. He eventually met a girl, my Aunt Helen, so I guess the story’s a little spoiled – though worth telling anyhow.
Of course, her family was petrified about the idea of her dating a Canadian man. Thinking he’d lived in Igloos, I was even told that her family believed he could’ve been a serial killer, “FROM CANADA!!” Who knew? He had no ties to this country, and certainly no one to vouch for him.
Sadly, they even broke up for a few years and he returned to London to paint houses. It always makes me wonder why or how each great love story has a tragic period of separateness. My Aunt Helen is a true believer, in love and romance. It is refreshing in a time of ghosting, tinder, bumble, the two-night stand, and god knows how many dating apps I’ve not kept up on to see someone believe so deeply in my goals and in the potential for finding my soul mate – but not even just my own; in everyone’s.
Manchester is far more than a city for me – it is an almost life; a life I dream of, long for, and wish for. And it’s always my back up plan. Spending time here feels like I’m in a time warp or another realm, like I am who I’ve wanted to be or who I could be in the future – but this only exists in Manchester. It’s unique to my identity, I believe everyone has a city like this.
This isn’t my first time to Manchester by far, so this isn’t your typical “top ten things to do in Manchester” type of blog post. Though, if I were to give you a conglomerate of the things you must do, here’s a few:
Carribean District – there’s this amazing bar and restaurant here that has 2 for 1 cocktails, and when I went here in August after spending hundreds of pounds on drinks in London it was both reasonably priced and as good (if not better) than the cocktails you’d get in London for twice the price. Plus, there was a super handsome and friendly bartender to that I sincerely regretted not giving my business card to.
The Traford Centre – while it’s a mall, it is more of a work of art. It’s beautifully decorated with European-esk art; of course, the vast choice in shops isn’t horrible either.
China/Asia-town – I’ve not actually been here, but it’s always crowded with people and looks like a great place to gorg oneself with dim sum and other delacacies I can’t access in my hometown in Canada.
Manchester United Stadium– okay, so many would say that you’ve not even been to Manchester if you’ve not gone here. Hate to inform you all that I’ve never been, nor do I intend on going; BUT, I do recognize the importance of this for cultural value of Manchonians.
Since the attacks in the Arena, there’s been an increase in the Bee symbol around Manchester and it would do a tourist well to pay attention to those little Bee’s. Manchester has an interesting history of being the alternative to London, but in a better more whole-some way. People are friendlier, though I’d argue that Londoners are amazingly friendly when in need or trouble, the accents are more understandable (mostly) and people are generally more approachable. Further, if you’re a student, or if you’re on any sort of budget, Manchester is much nicer on the wallet than London. Transit is slightly more expensive here, and less developed of course, but food, shops, and activities are all less expensive than London.
I’d never suggest that you go to Manchester over London, and if I had to choose between the two, I’d choose Manchester for the reasons I’ve explained earlier in the article. If the two existed in a silo and my family could easily be imported to either, I’d always choose London.
London – in itself – is a hundred cities in one, and something worth exploring for at least a few weeks at a time if it’s your first time in the city.
Manchester is like home, London, well…that’s something different.
Me in a huge Christmas bulb in Bury.
Follow along on snapchat: emilybonia, Instagram @emilybonia, and of course, Andrews travel blog to hear about the Christmas markets, curries, conferences, fabric, and clubbing with my favourite aussie’s this week.