Have bobbles, will travel. My friend Mel (right) and I get wrapped up for the Manchester Christmas experience.
When you grow up ( though arguably that hasn’t happened to me yet) it is far more difficult to capture that magical festive feeling.
The only thing for it is to apply bobble hats,and copious amounts of mulled wine and hot chocolate.
With that in mind and fully bobble-hatted friend Mel in attendance I headed off to get in touch with my Christmas spirit(s) at Manchester’s renowned Christmas markets.
Christmas markets have boomed over the past decade and Manchester’s – which started with a handful of stalls in 1998 – is quite eye opening, with wooden chalets crawling along multiple streets and across the city centre from its original base under the gaze of the giant santa on the town hall on Albert Square.
There are no stopping these markets, despite competing with ongoing work on a tram extension, and a retail offering second to none on the North West.
It is simply not Christmas without a visit and we decided to pack ours into a busy evening including a meal and a trip to the theatre to catch Alexandra Burke starring in The Bodyguard at Manchester Palace Theatre.
We headed out on a Wednesday, thus avoiding the very peak of crowds that flock to get their fix of German salami, hand knitted jumpers and wooden toys plus took the bus to ensure festive alcohol consumption at the many bars and stalls.
For me a trip to the markets is less about shopping, though there are many enticing goods on offer, and more about soaking up the atmosphere , the sights and smells of which there are many – think baked goods, steamy spiced drinks and fried meats. It literally smells of Christmas.
Manchester itself has a place in my heart, it is wound up so tightly in my family’s history in the cotton industry and has been the place I enjoyed my early cultural experiences, music gigs and many a shopping trip. At Christmas it is extra special.
A giant Santa looms off the town hall and gazes down on the festive markets.
I started my festive experience off with warming hot chocolate with Baileys in and cream on top. Not quite low calorie but I’m not a huge fan of the multiple mulled wines on offer ( though I love the spicy aroma.) It was, obviously, delicious.
We browsed the food stalls, trying out free testers (yum, salami) and communing with the giant reindeer head that nods off a a two-storey bar. This can be quite a surreal experience.
I struggled with temptation of the fudge stall and the chocolate stall and the muffin stall.. you get the picture… as we followed the meandering markets through street after street.
But dinner called and we had opted in favour of a sit-down meal rather than snacking at the markets and decided to explore Manchester’s Corn Exchange, now a dining hub.
As someone who remembers the Corn Exchange and its cornucopia of market madness pre-bomb, the glossy glass and shiny chrome and gold interior of this historic building is now something to behold. Old and new sit together as one and quite seamlessly.
It has recently undergone a renaissance, for years it sat feeling fairly empty with a selection of clothes stores (including Calvin Klein, Jigsaw,..) that never really grasped the footfall they deserved. Now a foodie destination, it boasts multiple restaurants.
We plumped, without a reservation, on a fairly quiet Wednesday, for Cabana – a Brazilian restaurant on several levels. We were not even slightly enticed in by the two for one cocktails (ahem) in the brightly coloured, party-style restaurant decorated by low hanging paper lanterns, exposed chrome air conditioning pipes and artistically-piled boxes of Sagres beer.
With the help of ever helpful Spanish server Juan, we opted for spicy chicken croquettes and cheese dough balls to start ( to share) and both plumped for the Malagueta chicken for mains, which was served to us by the chef from the skewer.
Needless to say it was delicious, accompanied by my chosen sides of black beans and fries ( Mel had spicy slaw) Helped along by two cocktails and a glass of wine, there were no complaints from us.
Cabana restaurant Pictures
From the bright restaurant it was a sparkly dash across Manchester to the Palace and a quite exemplary performance of The Bodyguard before hitting the bus stop for home.
But Manchester never ceases to surprise and on the way there we spotted some quite remarkable graffiti as we passed along Hilton Street.
And even the bus station was out to impress our Christmas elves-selves as we wound our way home on a school night.
Shude Hill bus station boasts a ‘Poem as landmark’ by Lemn Sissay, intended to be a poem for peace to bring calm. and seemed a fitting ending to our festive night out.
I love Manchester. Happy Christmas.
The interior of Shude Hill bus station, Manchester, including the ‘poem for peace’ by Lemn Sissay
As appeared in the Lancashire Evening Post