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Foreign Correspondence

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Manchester puts you in the middle of U.K. fun

By John Bordsen

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Maureen Walker, 54, a partner in Big Deal Creative, a television consultancy in Manchester, England, has lived in South Manchester for 18 years. She is originally from Glasgow, Scotland.

Q. How would you describe Manchester to an American?

A. It’s an exciting city in northwest England and is a great base for exploring the United Kingdom, as it’s in the middle: 3 1/2 hours to Edinburgh/Glasgow, 2 1/2 to London, a short trip to Wales or Ireland. Not far away, in the countryside, Derbyshire’s Peak District and Beatrix Potter’s Lake District are world-famous.

Manchester is a city undergoing regeneration. A good mix of old and new architecture. It’s also a university city. The Salford Quays waterfront development has Media City, home to a television and creative industries community including seven BBC departments that moved from London to the northwest. From the city center, Media City is a 10-minute cab drive. There’s also a tram service. You can take a tour of the BBC or apply for free audience tickets.

BBC studio shows like talent show “The Voice” – with judges Tom Jones and Kylie Minogue – and “BBC Breakfast” (news) are just two key shows based at Media City.

Q. Over here, Manchester is known for soccer; when is that in season?

A. Mid-August to early May. Manchester United’s stadium is Old Trafford. The other major team is Manchester City. There is a great rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool FC. Liverpool is an hour away. There’s also the world-famous Old Trafford Cricket Ground to visit.

Q. How about suggesting a couple other places to go in Manchester?

A. Manchester’s Northern Quarter is quite hip and student-y. It’s a fantastic area for small and unusual bars around Thomas Street. The Northern Quarter, as a film location, recently doubled for 1950s New York in scenes for the film “Captain America.”

Bridgewater Hall is a wonderful state-of-the-art concert venue. The Royal Exchange Theatre hosts great plays and shows. Matt & Phreds Jazz Club and Band on the Wall offer small-venue live music experiences, MEN Arena (the former Manchester Evening News Arena, now called phones 4u Arena) for larger events. Cornerhouse offers art-house cinema.

Back on the Quays, there are The Lowry theater and the Lowry Outlet mall. Note, though, that they are a distance from each other.

The Free Trade Hall was built in the 1850s on the site of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre. Once a concert venue, the building is now the Radisson Edwardian hotel. You can take a tour – with posh tea – learning about the history of the area.

Manchester has terrific designer shopping: The Spinningfields area is great for luxury retail – Armani and the rest! And Manchester has its own “Harvey Nicks” (Harvey Nichols). The Trafford Centre offers one of the largest European shopping malls.

Q. What about restaurants and bars?

A. Rosso, in the center, is owned by famous footballer (soccer player) Rio Ferdinand. Inside, it’s very modern.

A new restaurant I adore is Neighbourhood. It’s a welcoming place in the Spinningfields area – modern-classic, and has comfortable booths. You can go in for a drink or dinner.

Koffee Pot – popular in the Northern Quarter – serves hearty breakfasts to local workers and anyone who likes a traditional, down-to-earth cafe. In addition to the “builder” breakfast, they serve up a nice haddock rarebit. You can get breakfast for two for around £10 ($16.45).

If you’re feeling more flush, Malmaison Hotel does a good breakfast. For around £15 (about $24.70) per person, you have the full breakfast or – my fave – their eggs Benedict. The Malmaison is a handy hotel if travelling by train. It’s opposite Piccadilly train station, as is the Doubletree by Hilton.

Manchester has its own Gay Village and its own Chinatown, quite close to each other so you can sample colorful nightlife and dine late, as well.

Sweet Mandarin, in the Northern Quarter, is a popular restaurant, run with brisk efficiency by sisters. They even offer cooking lessons.

Mr Thomas’s – or nearby Sam’s Chop House – offer traditional British fare in a Victorian building with a good choice of ales and wines.

Q. A top-notch hotel?

A. The Lowry – on the Salford/Manchester boundary and named after L.S. Lowry, the famous artist from Manchester known for painting industrial scenes in the mid-20th century. The hotel is five-star, as is the Radisson Edwardian. The Radisson is more walkable for the city.

And there’s the Hilton in Beetham Tower, one of the tallest buildings in Britain, with its famous sky bar’s views.

Staying Cool is an alternative boutique experience – in stylish serviced apartments that offer a more personal experience than hotels.

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