We went to Manchester, and it was being rebuilt.
Seriously, though, Manchester is going places, and is undergoing extensive redevelopment in order to get there.
Why Manchester? I went there a few years ago for business, and was very impressed with the city. Plenty of things to see and do, plenty of places to eat and relax. So when we were looking for places to go visit on the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, it was high on the list.
We went up by train. I didn't particularly want to tire myself out driving, we would have had to pay for parking, and we weren't planning on using the car to get around. We have this Two Together Railcard, which helps keep the cost down, and going up the West Coast main line is pretty quick.
Leaving Manchester Piccadilly, the first thing we see is that there's a free bus service. This is a very progressive city, so it gets extra points for that. The slightly worrying thing was that all that development and associated road works means that the route was nothing like the one printed on the map, but we got a free bus tour of the city thrown in.
We stayed at the Hotel Gotham. It's fairly new, it's only been open a few months, so everything still feels pretty new. It's pretty up-market, stylish, boutique, think American Prohibition (or the Disney Tower of Terror also came to mind). While the address is on King Street, the front of the building is actually a Jamie's Italian, the hotel entrance is just a side door that gets you to the elevator which will whisk you up to reception on the 6th floor.
First afternoon we walked over to the Museum of Science and Industry. After a quick cake in the cafe, we had a gentle browse round all 5 halls. Free entry, a sunny sunday, and the place was pretty busy, without being overcrowded. I especially liked the computer history and the planes in the aviation hall.
Back to the hotel, and we went up to Club Brass which has a small open rooftop area. Given Manchester's reputation for weather, having a look around while it was a beautiful sunny afternoon seemed like a good opportunity.
Dinner was booked at Veeno. I stumbled across the company while in York, just had some meat and wine there and got talking to the staff. So for Manchester we went for the tasting menu, which was excellent.
On the way back we stopped off for a cocktail (or two...) at The Alchemist. In this case, the New York Street location, which was nice and close to the hotel. Highlight here was the Passion Fruit Meringue Martini. Then back for a nightcap on the roof at Club Brass - fortunately the hotel supplies blankets for those who want to sit outside.
Monday morning and we joined a walking tour. The Discover Manchester tour runs every day, and gives you a good grounding on what's in the city. From the imposing Central Library, to the Manchester Central Convention Centre and the Bridgewater Hall, up to the Town Hall and Albert Square, into the John Rylands Library, past the Exchange building, through the modern shopping area, finishing by the National Football Museum. As we were up by the Football Museum, we went in (free entry again - spot the trend here?) to have a look around. If you're a football fan, definitely worth a visit.
It was past lunchtime, and we were feeling a bit peckish. We went along to the Richmond Tea Rooms - very quirky, definitely Alice in Wonderland. Unfortunately we were looking at an hour wait, so nipped down the street for a delicious cake at The Molly House.
In the evening we had tickets for Return to the Forbidden Planet at the Palace Theatre. So time to get ready and take in the pre-theatre menu at the hotel before walking down to the show. The performance was excellent, although the audience wasn't that large (maybe half full). Popped into Gorilla after the show, then round to Cloud 23 for a nightcap. Walking back to the hotel, we got the more expected weather - just a bit of light rain.
On the final morning there was quite heavy rain, and very blustery at times. Fortunately the hotel has umbrellas to borrow for just such an occasion. We wanted to go back to some of the places we had passed on the walking tour, starting with the spectacular John Rylands Library. The tour had taken us in, so we had had a brief look around but, as a lover of old books, I wanted to go back to look at the exhibits.
Then out the back to the People's History Museum - very topical with the general election only a couple of days away.
A quick lunch at Dutton's on Albert Square, and we had a quick look inside Manchester Town Hall and the Royal Exchange Theatre before having to head back to get the train home.
We feel we've hardly scratched the surface of Manchester. The place is chock full of interesting bars and restaurants, so we'll be back for another visit.