Saturday 10 May 2014

A Trip to Manchester: Salford Quays, MOSI & the People's History Museum

Time for the last part of my trip to Manchester (you can find part one here, and part two here).

It was tricky to decide what to do with my last full day in the city - so many places to visit, and just one day left! Eventually I settled on visiting Salford Quays, not least because that meant I had an excuse to take the tram which is something I'd not done before and which I was nerdishly excited about (I am easily amused, I know).


So, I got the tram out to Salford Quays station in the morning... and immediately realised that I should have gone one step further along the line! Luckily it wasn't raining, so I had a (slightly breezy) morning walk along the Quays...


... enjoying the water and the peace and quiet...



... and arriving at the Imperial War Museum North just after it opened for the day.
They were in the process of installing their new exhibition when I visited, so I just looked round the main exhibition space. It's one large room, with displays around the irregular-shaped walls covering different periods in history and assorted war-related themes, and a few large items in the middle, like a tank and a piece from the World Trade Center (which I found very moving).

Once an hour all the lights go down and a 360 degree "Big Picture Show" is projected on the walls, so you have to stop and watch that for ten minutes or so before you can carry on looking at the exhibits. To be honest I found this a little frustrating so when the second show came on I decided to skip the final few displays and go have a cuppa instead. The museum was jam-packed with visiting school groups but the cafe was almost empty, it was great to sit and have a quiet cuppa and to look out over the Quays.

Then I walked over the bridge to see the Lowry paintings at The Lowry. It was interesting to learn more about Lowry and his work and I was delighted to also find an expanded version of the excellent Jonathan Yeo Portraits exhibition I saw at the National Gallery in the autumn.


After looking at the art I caught the tram back to Manchester city centre and headed to MOSI for a proper look round after my brief earlier visit. The Museum of Science and Industry is huge, taking up several former warehouses and transport sheds spread across one large site.

There are galleries dedicated to communication, to sewers, to gas and electricity, to trains and to planes, and more. After my trip to the school-children-packed War Museum that morning it was surprising to see MOSI so quiet - in several of the galleries I walked around the entire place without encountering another person, almost like I'd snuck in after hours.

The big spaces are perfect for housing huge turbines, large pieces of industrial machinery, steam engines, helicopters etc... but some of the displays felt like filler (the perils of having such a huge space to fill!) and there was a lot of distance to cover to see everything.

After a while I felt a bit like I was just walking around looking at "stuff" ("oh yes, there's another big engine of some kind, that's nice") rather than really taking any of it in so I thought it was probably a good time to leave! My non-science-loving brain definitely wanted a cuppa and a sit down instead of more science-y stuff.

I think if I lived closer to Manchester I'd love to explore this place slowly, one hall at a time, but trying to see it all in one go meant that the ratio of my interest in the subject to the amount of stuff there was to see didn't work out well.

I walked back to the hotel via Manchester Art Gallery, taking advantage of the Thursday late opening to look round the Time Machine exhibition - revisiting some of my favourite pieces from the in-gallery installation and using my Art Pass to visit the ticketed exhibition. As well as some large (and rather fabulous) sculptures, there was a video interview with Joana about the exhibition, and lots of books about her work that I enjoyed flicking through as I'd never encountered her work before seeing it in Manchester. 

Finally, the next day I squeezed in a quick visit to the People's History Museum. Of course, the weather decided to turn gloriously sunny just as I was about to go home! Typical.

I'd not read anything about the museum before my trip so I didn't really know what to expect. It turned out to be one of my favourite museums of the week, covering lots of different social and political movements in an interesting way and with a wonderful collection of banners (apparently they have the largest collection of historic trade union and political banners in the world).

The museum (and it's lovely-looking cafe) is definitely on my list of places to come back to if (or rather, when) I come back to Manchester for another visit... I was very annoyed to have to rush away to check out of my hotel and catch my train home!

Planning your own Manchester trip? I've mapped all the places I visited on this Pinterest board