Birmingham Stories and Tips

A Brief Visit of Birmingham

German Christmas Market Photo, Birmingham, England

Looked forward to meeting my girlfriend in Minneapolis to catch our flight to Amsterdam with a connection to our final destination, Birmingham, England. Going to a reunion to meet up with some of the people I had traveled to Africa with earlier this year. Got through security to find the plane was delayed by 1 ½ hours. My friends plane from Montana was also delayed but we met up in Minneapolis to catch our flight into Amsterdam 15 minutes before the flight took off.

Flew all night and just could not get comfortable so didn’t get much sleep. Spent two hours in the Amsterdam airport before our last flight connection to Birmingham. Our host picked us up and it was a 45 minute drive to his house. The country side is green and dotted with charming English style cottages. Reminds me of parts of Wisconsin but instead of cows, there are sheep. His house is surrounded by a wonderful garden with trees and plants along the walk to his front door. There is a stream that runs through his backyard where he has built a brick wall around. We talked and he made us a great dinner of salmon, asparagus and fried potatoes with oregano and lemon.

The following day we were dropped off in the central part of Birmingham. We walked through the German Christmas market in Victoria Square. It is the largest German market outside of Germany & Austria. There were over 90 stalls set up with pastries, German handicraft and the smell of traditional German food cooking. Booths served hot wine to take away the days chill. Candies and toys for the holidays were being sold. The plaza and the streets were crowded. We walked to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Birmingham became a center for the visual arts and crafts in the late nineteenth century. A hall was dedicated to a collection of paintings, watercolors and stained glass designs made during the Golden Age. The industrial gallery displayed ceramics, jewelry and silver and metal work. Gas Hall had an exhibit on Equiano…a black slave transported from Africa who eventually became a free man, educated himself and became an author and campaigner against the Transatlantic Slave Trade. He served in the Royal Navy in the Seven Years War against France & later became a respected world traveler until his death in 1797. I was so impressed at this mans life, I bought his book, “The Interesting Narrative.”

We walked across the square to St. Martins Church, located next to the Bull Ring. The ring was an area once used to sell and buy cattle…it is now a round structure with many upscale shops. St. Martins is the oldest monument in Birmingham and was originally built in 1290. Most of that church was demolished and the current church was constructed in 1873. Restorations to the interior came in 2003 and a health and healing center was added. The east stained glass window in the church was installed after the Second World War and depicts the healing work of Christ. The central figure of Christ in the pulpit is carved out of sandstone and gargoyles on the outside of the church are of Shakespeare and Sir Winston Churchill, complete with cigar!

My friend & I met up with our English host and we visited the shops in The Bullring. Stopped for lunch and a small sandwich place where they specialized in pizza and panini. Walked to the Birmingham Cathedral, dedicated to St. Phillip in 1715. The famous Burne-Jones windows were added in the 1880s and represent four themes within the Christian faith…The Nativity, the Ascension, the Crucifixion and the Last Judgment. The cross above the alter has a piece of crystal quartz that radiates light in all directions. The west tower contains 12 bells, one of which weighs 1.5 tons.

We drove to a grocery store to pick something up for dinner before returning to his house. The driving makes me nervous, not only because the driving is done on the opposite side of the street than in the U.S. but also because the streets are very narrow and they seem to drive at a speed I have been taught to be dangerous. The three of us helped to prepare dinner. He was cooking steaks, my friend made the salad and I cooked the potatoes. Desert was mince pie with tiramisu ice cream and topped off with heavy cream.

The next morning the three of us walked around the neighborhood. Some of the homes had names on them like “Nailers Cottage” which at one time was the home of a man that made nails. We walked passed three pubs in his village, a small church and a spooky house. Our host said that the house was empty when he moved to the area 20 years ago. We looked in the windows and there was a butter dish on the table along with newspapers and letters. There were clothes hung on a hook like someone was living there. He said the only thing that has changed over the years was the cob webs that have been added.

We drove to Birmingham to take a tour of The Back to Back Houses. The homes are part of the National Trust where over 500 families had lived from the 1840s to the 1970s. We toured four individual homes representing the families life in 1840, 1870, 1930 and 1970. The lives of the former residents were brought to life through viewing of their homes, furniture and listening to stories on tapes of their lives in this area. It was a very hard life where each family had minimal room and shared facilities for washing. The people that lived here were all tradesmen, working as clock makers, tailors and other trades right form their homes. It was impressive to see the changes that came about through the years from buckets used as a toilet to flushing systems and candle light to gas lit lights. We finished off our tour with lunch in the Chinese Quarter nearby and ice cream at The Bull Ring.

The following morning the three of us started working on preparing the food for our big reunion dinner. Our host is a gourmet cook so everything was made by hand. He picked apples from his tree and my friend & I went to work coring, peeling and slicing them to go into the planned desert. We chopped up vegetables for his main entrée and helped with the sauce. Everyone arrived and we had a great time talking about our trip and sharing things that were going on in our lives at the present time. Photos and picture albums came out along with videos of the different areas we all lived in. Dinner was served. He started us off with smoked mackerel and avocado slices covered with a mustard dill sauce. Next he served up lemon sorbet in silver dishes to cleanse our pallets. The main course was a chicken casserole baked with fresh vegetables and wine, new potatoes with parsley and rosemary, steamed asparagus and a wheat and sesame bread. He served an apple crusted desert with a homemade brown sugar candy topping…to this we added a thick custard. The meal was finished off with a cheese plate and crackers, coffee & tea. We played a game called Table Talk which was a great game of asking questions of other people their lives, dreams and opinions.

We all started off the day with breakfast together before driving to Chaddesley Corbett. We parked at the Fox Inn and walked from there. Walked the narrow streets and to St. Cassians Church, a Norman Church built around the middle of the 13th century. Light streamed in through the stained glass windows which seemed lavish for a country parish church. Only a few fragments of ancient glass remain in the church. The organ was originally built in 1817 and adorned with Gothic decoration. It was enlarged in 1884 and the organ rebuilt in the early 1970s.

We returned to The Fox Inn, also known as a Carvery. They served a buffet style dinner with two carved meats, vegetables, rolls, potatoes and wonderful cooked onions. The English covered their whole meal in gravy but I thought it was good as it was. Of course, I was asked a number of times, “Where’s your gravy?” We said our good-byes to the rest of the group and the three of us headed back to his house. We watched movies and snacked on cheese, crackers and a shared bottle of wine.

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