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Jul 2017

Manchester Coat of Arms

No, the Capital of the North[1] hasn't been deliberately avoided but it was dark and damp and drizzly 30 years ago and there's been no real reason or a rush to return.

With just a total of 10 hours available daylight, there's some catching up to be done and, besides, it's a chance to see where music was invented by Manches-tor in the '70s[2] but more on that in a minute.

[1] The good folk of Leeds might have something to say about that.
[2] Been staying up way too late of a weekend with BBC4 lately.

There's been some heavy borrowing from Rome around St Peter's Square and not just the name. The  Pantheon-inspired Central Library might be nearly 2,000 years younger but it's just one of the architectural eye-poppers in this, quite frankly, visually cracking city.

The traffic situation's just as scary as Rome although trams are the main danger and you'll be watching your  Green Cross Code™s as they come at you from all sides.

Those warning whistles will have you feeling like an extra in  Steamboat Willie and it'll be a while before you switch from a hesitant visitor to having the local, swagger of a  Gallagher.

  Manchester Art Gallery (Mosley Street)

Fabulous and free art gallery with a handful of mandatory Lowrys hanging with his mentor and tutor  Pierre Adolphe Valette getting deservedly, equal billing.

No, reservations hadn't been made at the Midland Hotel, a granite gem just behind, the actual lodgings were much less Premier-like.

It's rumoured that you-know-who wanted to start calling this place home had he won the penalty shootout at the end of you-know-when.

Luftwaffe bombers were told to turn their attentions elsewhere in order to keep any potential redecoration down to a minimum, they say.

He'd have stayed here for free overnight although it's now, not too an exorbitant, just over a GBP-ton for a room. The pair of you can expect to pay at least twice that in their Michelin™ star-chasing  restaurant and that's without a nine-course wine 'flight', which could be what Hitler's instructions to his pilots sounded a bit like, possibly.

  Premier Inn City Centre (Portland Street)

You know where you are with a Premier Inn™ at least you will when you've figured which one of the six here, if you include Salford, you've happened to book in a hurry.

The library leads to Manchester Town Hall, which still fulfils its original function and is your average Mancunians'  favourite building.

Meanwhile, back on Peter Street, they've revamped the Victorian with the Great Northern Railway Company's Goods Warehouse now given over to the  retail and the recreational.

Once a rail, road and watery distribution point, the underground canal's long since been filled in, which is a handy sequitur to fill you in on how Manchester invented music in the '70s like you didn't know already?

  Asha's Manchester (Peter Street)

What looked to be your bog-standard Indian Restaurant complete with touting waiter outside. Not so, this global chain was astonished that no reservation had been made but was the food any good?

Couldn't possibly comment since they couldn't accommodate until 9:30 PM and our own legs would have been eaten by then.

Just next door to the old warehouse, the Free Trade Hall was Manchester's main music venue until well into the 90s.

 Dylan, Genesis, Floyd, T-Rex etc all performed here but in 1976, the  Sex Pistols would play a gig that revolutionised the music scene in Manchester, scratch that the UK, scratch that the world!

10,000 people attended, some of them not born yet, and every single one of them would go out and form an influential band the very next day. Well, not quite...

The Pistols actually played the Lesser Free Trade Hall, a small room upstairs and it's thought that  40 people were there. They would play again six weeks later and that's when the other 9960 turned up on the band's wagon, some of them still not born yet.

It was 50p to gain entrance that first night but the  Radisson Blu will now charge just shy of two GBP-tons for a room. Yes, it's a hotel now with five stars, which is something the reviews in 1976 definitely didn't get, maybe.

No, here wasn't stayed at, neither, and pretending to have had of done would create nowhere near as big a kerfuffle.

Spinningfields? Doesn't that conjure up an image of disused, converted cotton mills now made amenable to Manchester's metropolitans? The developers clearly thought so but the only mills were the millions spent on the identikit, glassed gentrification that's generic and not particularly engaging.

Named from an old lane that once linked  Deansgate with the River Irwell, it didn't catch on initially with the high-end shopping shunned.

They're getting the footfall now, mainly due to the post-work crowd since the Canary Wharf of the North is home to 35% of Manchester's total office space.

It's also a trendy-dining destination, if Zizzi™s is your benchmark, and sat outside with artificial heating and whatever current cocktail du jour, you could, sorry Manchester, just about be anywhere.

  Crazy Pedro's (Bridge Street)

Or Crazy Pedro's Part-Time Pizza Parlour to give it its full title. It was originally a pop-up but the customers kept coming and they're here permanently now with another outlet called Cane & Grain in the Northern Quarter. They're quite crazy but won't be receiving a pic of this one in the nuddy anytime soon.

The River Irwell marks the western edge of Manchester and you can barge to Liverpool along here via the Manchester Ship Canal.

The Scouse reputation for cheek is mirrored here by the  Lowry Hotel who charge upwards of a GBP-ton triplet for a room making a week's stay here only slightly cheaper than one of  his original, oily doodlings, probably.

It's over the river and into Salford, a separate city, you see. Well known as home to BBC's  MediaCity, thousands of employees were reluctantly relocated north from London in 2011 having to switch their homes to  Hulme and thereabouts.

Back at the Town Hall, Albert Square definitely wasn't renamed to make them feel less homesick and many can be found there at weekends, arguing loudly and publicly over family matters of a normally private nature.

Either that there or back here at the river fishing for eels.

A couple of quick exchanges on the way North up Deansgate. You might be tempted by the Royal Exchange Theatre's invitation to take a look inside at what was formerly the largest trading hall in England.

Cotton and textiles mainly although they're no longer trading in cords, rather treading the boards in a purpose-built capsule that provides the stage and the seating.

Next up, the old Corn Exchange on Exchange Square, obviously. They're no longer tendering rye, rather rendering Thai with all your mid-range dining chains in here.

Brazilian, Italian, Indian, Mexican, Pan Asian and Vietnamese, which is an exotic line up that you're unlikely to see even at  Cit-eh, these days.

Or  Uni-tord depending on your preference.

  National Football Museum (Cathedral Gardens)

A free, kiddies attraction, really, with no real flow to it.

Still, nice to know that Pelé appeared in the 1979 Brazilian film Os Trombadinhas, himself having picked a few full-backs' pockets in his time, eh?

Before continuing, you might want to get some ink done and sprout a foot-long beard because the  Northern Quarter is about to be ventured into, the home of the hipster and all things bohemian in Manchester.

Invented in the '90s but unlike Spinningfields, they didn't rebuild they simply rebranded and the formerly shabby shop fronts are now home to sourdough pizzas, booze and tattoos.

Not that you'd know on your way in from Exchange Square, the dining chains in the Printworks and an Irish theme pub aren't particularly 'creative'.

The area accounts for a fair share of the city centre but soon runs out into  parts of Ancoats where the gentrification definitely hasn't happened. The big chains are noticeably absent and the naming by committee is nearly as good, or as bad, as  NOMA or Spinningfields now you mention it.

With that in mind, and with that daylight dimming, it's time to head off now to COPICU and no, that's not a tropical-themed joint where you sip Pina Coladas from a copper cup, or something.

Just a couple of pints and a curry.

  Blue Pig (High Street)

Hazy beer - tick! Gin - tick! Burgers outside - tick! tick!. Yup, looks like this is in the Northern Quarter or at least they were in July 2017. They've since shut the doors and IPA now stands for Into Permanent Administration but it's bound to have reopened as something else equally 'on-trend', probably.