An October 2005 trip
to Birmingham by MichaelJM
Quote: Our trip to India started at the Birmingham Consulate with a day to sort out our visas. Here are some thoughts about Birmingham.
Birmingham, England’s second city, claims to have more miles of waterway than Venice, although it is clearly not as evident. There’s been some major work on these historic waterways and some of the old factories have been converted to prestigious city apartments overlooking renovated canals dredged and maintained to allow barges to journey on the waterway. A great sight on a summer’s day. The Birmingham Bullring is a fantastic inner city development shopper’s paradise under a beautifully unique glass dome. Outside of Birmingham is the NEC, a popular venue for concerts. My lasting memory will be seeing the double-headed bill of Dylan and Morrison – two music icons whose music is firmly placed in my top ten.
Birmingham has its own version of the London Eye, has a bucketload of theatres and museums, and is well sited for accessing Cadbury’s World (a must for all chocolate lovers), and the nearby towns of Warwick, Coventry, and Stratford-upon-Avon.
Other obvious tips are – get a decent town map, seek out the tourist information bureau and go prepared knowing what you want to view. Despite its size Birmingham is an easy City to get around and it really doesn’t give the impression of being England’s second largest.
Take in the museums - many are free and include the Gothic splendour of Aston Hall, the timber-framed Elizabethan Blakesley Hall, the almost unique Sarehole Watermill and the Georgian Soho House.
Like many urban areas, Birmingham has and is continuing to develop cycle lanes in and around the centre. We haven’t tried cycling around the city and I have to say we didn’t see much evidence of large numbers of pushbikes. Perhaps it hasn’t quite taken off yet!
Birmingham has made pedestrians a priority and there are many pedestrian zones which are either restricted to delivery vehicles or are exclusively for foot travellers.
There are plenty of taxis around – if you’re using these go for the black city cabs, which are full metred.
Birmingham has a limited tram service operating from Snow Hill to Wolverhampton - not something I’ve experienced but perhaps next time I visit I’ll give it a whirl.
Restaurant | "The Jeweller's Arms"
On initial viewing, the menu resembled that of a fast food establishment, but a closer study revealed that although it catered for the burger lovers, it also accommodated the more discerning pub-grub frequenter. A board listed the “food of the day” and a clean, crisp kitchen was on open view through a serving hatch. Local keg ale is served from the bar – tasty and well kept, but your food must be ordered from the serving hatch next to the kitchen.
I opted for a chicken curry – a speciality of Birmingham – and was offered rice or chips or both. I was starving, so opted for both. I could see preparation in the back, and when the meal arrived, it was certainly sufficient to sate my voracious appetite. The chicken was beautifully cooked and was prime cuts of meat, and the whole dish had a bit of kick. I have to say that there was nothing subtle about the flavours in this dish, they were raw and direct and resulted in an aggressive curry that ensured the beads of perspiration found a place on your forehead. I’m ashamed to say that I enjoyed it thoroughly and left not a single morsel!
My wife opted for the vegetable lasagne with a fresh salad. It came made up in an ovenware dish – obviously heated up in the microwave - and she proceeded to devour it with ease. Neither of us had room for puddings, although I did manage to sink another of their local brews!
Although this pub is nothing special to look at, it’s got a good atmosphere and has retained many of its original features. Imagining the craftsmen piling in here after a long, hard day in the jewellery section is not too difficult, but nowadays I suspect it's mainly frequented by tourists and those kindred spirits who’ve spent an inordinate amount of time hanging around the Indian Embassy for their visas. The Jewellers Arms is unassuming and welcoming and offers reasonable food at competitive prices. It will never be cordon bleu, but it serves good, wholesome food in ample quantities. I reckon it has a lot to commend it.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on November 19, 2005
Attraction | "The Jewellery Quarter"
After a pleasant lunch, we picked our way round more of the Jewellery Quarter. This historic centre is a mix of stylish Victorian and Edwardian properties, with modern shop fronts that unfortunately detract from the grandeur of the original buildings. It's evident that over the last few years major efforts have been made to "smarten up the area," but parts are still rundown and uninspiring. Perhaps the most significant building is the Chamberlain Clock, built in 1903 in honour of Joseph Chamberlain, a much-respected local member of Parliament. It’s an impressive piece of architecture that survived two world wars, but just before it was due to be restored to its former glory was hit by a speeding juggernaut! Now it stands in pride of place, fully operational, on a small traffic island on the junctions of Vyse Street, Warstone Lane, and Frederick Street. It heralds the start of the prestigious Jewellery Quarter, and its four clock faces are directed to the main point of the compass. Just opposite the clock is Warstone Cemetery Lodge, built in 1848. It's a listed building which competently compliments the clock and offers a protective front piece for the cemetery itself.
We saw the Birmingham mint, established in the late 1700s to provide copper coinage and the Birmingham Assay Company (responsible for hallmarking silver and gold over many generations). We noticed as we sauntered through the streets that at infrequent distances there were pavement plaques – they seemed somewhat cryptic in their messages, but we presumed that the local heritage centre would have some explanation of their purpose. We didn’t find a tourist centre to confirm that theory! Sad to say, many of the wall plaques (erected by the Jewellery Quarter as guides for tourists) no longer had the messages intact, mindless vandalism we suspected.
The streets were remarkably quiet considering this was a Monday in Birmingham, but I guess the jewellery quarter comes alive at the weekend when shoppers will be out in force seeking that elusive bargain. From our cursory glance I’m not sure that you’ll find bargains here, but if you want a nice bit of exclusive jewellery, I’m sure you’ll find a piece here.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on November 13, 2005
Birmingham, England B18
+44 (121) 554-3598
Attraction | "A trip to Stratford"
Stratford is one of those places that is fairly compact and most of the attractions can be accessed very easily on foot. There’s a recommended walk that you can get from the tourist board and this gives a good framework for a tour of the town.
A jolly jester beams out at you from Henley Street with Shakespearean quotes around its baseAnd then as you walk down the street you’ll see William Shakespeare’s birthplace on your left. This is a half-timbered house and it’s furnished with period pieces and a great exhibition of the playwright’s life. There are some original manuscripts and historic books and the visit concludes in the house’s garden. On a sunny day it’s well worth pausing here. On the opposite side of the road are other period houses.
Meer Street is unusual, as it’s not straight and followed the a route of a stream which ran into the mighty Avon.
Chapel Street has a fine three-storey black and white building known as Nash’s House (Thomas Nash married Shakespeare’s granddaughter), the Guild Chapel, parts of which date back to the 13th century, the Grammar School which Shakespeare is said to have attended and 16th century almshouses.
As you enter “the old town” look up at the carved timber at the top of the red brick houses and make sure you call in the Church of the Holy Trinity – it has an angled set of choir stalls and although the church is free to enter there is a nominal charge to see Shakespeare’s grave.
For a fiver you can spend an hour or so looking around the Falstaff Museum in Shrieves House – allegedly one of the most haunted houses in the country and a point that the museum staff like to emphasise. The house has been around since 1196 and so there’s loads of history attached to it – all of which is shown and explained as you progress round the house. It survived through two major town fires, the Plague and Civil War and there are hidden priest-holes and secret chambers, plus some fun items (fact or fiction – sometimes we couldn’t be sure but it makes for a balanced museum with a high entertainment factor).
Of course theatre is what Stratford is all about and a gentle walk (or a punt down the river if you’ve got the time and inclination) offers a pleasant insight into the works of Shakespeare and I’m sure you’ll recognise many of the characters depicted in statue form around the riverside park. The park was awash with colourful flowers when we visited (although I guess it’s as attractive as Autumn approaches) and a large number of swans were afloat on the river. A very picturesque scene.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 20, 2005
Stratford-upon-Avon Sights & Attractions
We encountered significant delays en route and then missed turnoffs as we weaved our way through the maze of streets in the approach to Augusta Street. Parking was a nightmare, and on our second turn around, we fell lucky, as a car vacated a meter spot just ahead of us. We scurried from the car to the embassy - a drab, unimpressive building – and were greeted with a sign indicating that only the first 200 applications would be accepted on any one day. This limit was subject to the vagaries of the consulate staff and may change without notification. We were, however, optimistic as we climbed the staircase to the first floor, as it was only 9:30am and we could not envisage that there were more than 200 people at this hour. Wrong!
The reception room was crammed with applicants, and we were just grateful when issued with a ticket (numbered 427). We found two chairs tucked in the corner of this cavernous room and settled to wait. We’d put 3 hours on the meter and had been convinced that this was plenty of time. However, conversations with near neighbours would soon question that judgement. One woman was a regular visitor to the consulate, and she was about to regale us with non-reassuring statements about the efficiency of the visa-issuing operation. She started by telling us that we would need to wait (if we missed the call of our number, then our place would be lost for that day), and if we were lucky, our application would be taken by lunchtime. However, the visa would not be issued until late afternoon, and she "knew of people" who had returned to collect their visa stamped passports, only to be told that they would not be ready until the following day. This sounded like the beginnings of a long, hard day, and our worst fears were realised when we noticed the speed that the numbers were being processed. It took until 12:30pm for our application to be accepted, with a collection time of 4:30pm.
Returning earlier than our appointed time, a large queue had already formed outside the locked consulate. Thankfully it was a pleasant day, and when we finally entered at 3pm, we were reassured that the visas were issued speedily. By 3:30pm, both of ours were ready and 5 minutes later we were heading back home.
What a long day – longer than the flight time to our chosen destination of Kerela!