Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Trip Report: Birmingham

We went to Birmingham with no expectation of it being an interesting place, but we were pleasantly surprised to find a rather neat city -- and extremely Christmasy. The event that took us there was the annual Christmas Market. It's more of a German tradition, but the fact that Birmingham's sister city is Frankfurt means that Birmingham's Christmas market is pretty good. They put up some 90 little wooden chalets in the main square of the city and down one of the main pedestrian walkways for vendors who sell everything from painted German houses to wooden toys to knit hats and scarves.

Oh, and there's food. On the left there, you've got a kebab of gouda and salami -- battered and deep fried. On the right, a giant grill of German sausages. There were also fresh baked pretzels with the bottom sliced open and stuffed with yummy things (I had one stuffed with camenbert and cranberry sauce), Berliners, hot chocolate and German beer. Mmm. I might even say we'll go back next year, but perhaps we'll actually try to go to Germany for a German Christmas market.

Birmingham itself has a long history of being an industrial center. It was an important manufacturing center during WWII, producing cars, ammunition, helmets, etc. As such, it was also a major target during the war, and some 12,000 buildings were bombed. A couple of the city's buildings were spared, though, and there was a massive effort to rebuild after the war. Now it's a major cultural center and has a great music/club scene. One of the most striking buildings is the space-agey Selfridge's building (left), which opened in 2003.

To woo JT on this trip, I got us tickets to see a Birmingham City soccer game. They're in the top league in the country, unlike our Cambridge United, which is nearly-bottom-of-the-rung farm team. The game was fun! Our long walk back from the stadium (well, only 2 miles or so, but did I mention it was 30 degrees?) was what made us feel virtuous enough to eat the deep-fried cheese.

We came home on Sunday via Warwick Castle, which has been there in one form or another for 1000 years. It's now owned by Toussauds (wax museum folks) who poured a ton of money into it and have made it a really amazing attraction. They restored a lot of the rooms to what they would have been like in 1898, and there's a cool display in the sub-ground level where the castle's working class would have been, preparing armor, building things, cooking, etc. They also have an ice rink that's an ice path -- it winds its way through one of the formal gardens. Very cool!

If you're keeping score on the various car upgrades we've gotten because there aren't many automatics, we did get upgraded to a VW Golf. A manual VW Golf. So, this meant I got plenty of practice shifting with my left hand and JT got some practice navigating. I think we both need practice on these respective tasks.

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