Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Manchester Diary, Day 2: A city built to last

It was a long work day today; so interesting to meet many bright minds and learn about cutting-edge research, but at 6:30 pm, I was mentally beat. My body, on the other hand, was restless, and I was raring to explore the city. Fortunately, Manchester is very compact and easy to navigate on foot.  So, I walked, walked and walked some more, making my Fitbit a very happy accessory. 

I headed south of the conference center first and explored the Castlefield Urban Heritage Park.  As soon as I saw the Roman fort, I knew this area was aptly named. Actually, the fort itself was named “Mancunium”, the birthplace of “Manchester”.  Castlefield is a very quaint, but distinctive area – consisting of a hodgepodge of Roman ruins, waterways, old houses, new pubs, gardens, and bridges, bridges, bridges!...all in a fairly tiny land area.
In the first garden, I passed youngsters and families having picnics enjoying the (unusual?) sunny day.  Walking past the fort, I was greeted by the Bridgewater canal (overkill name?) and a family of bridges made of wood, concrete and metal, intermingling, shuttling pedestrian on first tier, cars on 2nd, and the Manchester tram on 3rd. And under them, the boats passed quietly. After crossing the nth bridge, a contrasting scene greeted me – lots of movements – the people on the greens lounging, cafes are filled with excited chats, kids are feeding the pigeons and ducks, kayakers are gingerly getting on the inflatable kayaks (yikes!), and a lone fisherman was ignoring all of it. I sat on the bench and watched for a bit, taking it all in. I realized how very few places in the US do I see such interesting scene. Central Park in NY is the only one that comes to mind right now. And Castlefield is Central Park’s pinky in size.
This wasn't what Newton meant. Nevertheless...

"We build too many walls, and not enough bridges." - Isaac Newton

After I looped back to my towering hotel, I headed north to the historic center, the Civic quarter, admiring the unique buildings of the Central Library, the Town Hall, and St. Peter’s Square. Like in Lisbon, I observed the seeming struggle of Manchester to hold on to its historic past but also usher the new and modern. I’m glad that a lot of the structures are preserved or restored, but I fear that if they keep building tall buildings like the shiny-as-a-penny Hilton, these will diminish the city’s charm. 
Midland Hotel - would have been the wiser choice
My beacon - and I don't say that lovingly.
I can't remember where I read this, so I'm sure I'm going to butcher the thought, but here goes - I read somewhere that when we build something we ought to build with the goal of it lasting forever, and make something that our children's grandchildren would be proud of.  I guess that's the difference between the glass and steel buildings we've built in modern times, and the pyramids and forts that were built stone by stone by wrinkled hands and bent backs. The latter have lasted for so long and will outlive us still. 

Battle of old vs. new

Town Hall

I went past Chinatown and onto Picadilly Gardens.  Within these (maybe) 10 blocks, the scenery rapidly changed from historic to Asian to a big and loud gathering plaza, and a left turn brought me to the shopping district – at some point my Fitbit buzzed in delight, and I still continued on. Most stores were closed or closing as dusk was descending, and the Pubs were starting to liven up.  I ended my trek at the grand Manchester Cathedral, sadly closed at that hour too, and for fear of blisters, I conceded to taking a taxi back to my hotel.
Manchester Cathedral

 Other notable sightings:
Hey now. I'm offended.
Waiting for Superman
Would you go down the rabbit hole in these?

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