I’m doing the A to Z Challenge in April, using the theme of the UK & Ireland. Today is the letter B, so let me tell you about Birmingham, the second largest city in the UK (after London) located in the Midlands region, at the heart of the Industrial Revolution.
On our first day in England in 2014, a couple of people asked about our itinerary. When we mentioned that we were going to Birmingham, both of them said, “why?” It was funny and a bit discouraging. I worried that I’d made a big mistake in planning to stay in Birmingham for a week. But, it turned out, we loved that part of our trip. Here’s why:
1. The Rotunda. We felt at home in our serviced apartment in the center of all the activity in Birmingham. We saved money with the one-week rate and by eating breakfasts and suppers in our kitchen. And, we loved the view!
2. The diversity. The entire former British Empire gathered in the pedestrianized streets around our hotel. We saw skin tones in every shade that human beings come in, costumes of many lands, and heard music and street preachers reflecting lots of tastes and cultures.
3. Thinktank. Birmingham’s science museum was one of our primary reasons for visiting. They have a large collection of steam engines and they’ve rigged many of them up to small electric motors so that you can see all the parts moving — very helpful for figuring out how they work.
4. The Library. This colorful cake of a building houses everything from modern computers to the re-built Shakespeare Memorial Room, with Elizabethan-style woodwork.
5. The Canals. We enjoyed our boat tour but, even more, we liked spending time walking around the modern development around the canal and enjoying the restaurants and people watching.
6. The Back to Backs. A museum and a tour gave us a good picture of what it was like to live as a working class person in industrialized Birmingham. The Back to Backs were high-density housing units for the ever-increasing numbers of workers required for Birmingham’s factories.
7. Day Trips. The Rotunda is a block away from two railway stations and less than half a mile from a third. You can tour all over the Midlands from Birmingham. We took a day trip to the Black Country Living Museum and one to Bletchley Park.
8. The food. All of that diversity meant that we had a world of cuisine to choose from in Birmingham. Our favorite meal was from a pan-Asian restaurant overlooking a canal, but we also enjoyed carry-out from Chinese Town and an unusual take on fish and chips with a curry dipping sauce on the side.
9. The bells at St. Martin in the Bullring. This church is famous for being the first to have sixteen bells installed. I got to hear them twice — once during their rehearsal on Tuesday evening and, for an hour, on Sunday morning.
10. And, more. We need to go back because we missed seeing several things:
- The Coffin Works. A Victorian factory that made fittings for coffins. It opened as a museum a month after we visited Birmingham.
- Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. Tells the story of Birmingham’s metalworking.
- Soho House. The home of Matthew Boulton, business partner of James Watt, the steam engine developer.
Have you been to Birmingham? Have I convinced you to add it to your itinerary when you’re in that part of the world?