The Second City

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
Trip End Aug 21, 2011

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Saturday, December 11, 2010

Spur of the moment, I decided to take a short trip to England's second city, Birmingham, not to be confused with the major city of Birmingham in Alabama (which has seen the sun set quite awhile ago). The "real" Birmingham has always been a major player since the industrial revolution, and continues to be a major manufacturing center for the UK.  However, I had ulterior motives for visiting Birmingham, namely that it houses a little factory known as Cadbury (which I now jokingly refer to as delicious American chocolate since the Kraft takeover).  But first, Birmingham (which the British would pronounce like “Ber-min-gum”).

All of my classmates had either not been to Birmingham or did not think of it favorably (thought they probably think “favourably“); however, that is a real shame because Birmingham turned out to be quite the place.  When I stepped out into the streets, the first think I noticed about Birmingham is that is it significantly more car-friendly than London.  The coach dropped me off near the city center which is known as the “Bull Ring.” The area that is the Bull Ring has been a trading center since the middle ages.  The area was developed into a shopping center in the 1960s, but soon the architecture and layout of the area became out-of-date and disliked by the public. Just recently, in 2003, this area underwent a major facelift and houses several malls and shopping areas including Selfridges which is housed in a very modern building in the center of the city.  Today, the Bull Ring is much more attractive than the old version.

Just outside the Bull Ring is a very large open market selling everything under the sun.  I took this opportunity to be a reflective vest for 2 rather than the 45 they sell them for in London.  Actually, everything costs a bit less in Birmingham than in London for some reason.

What I didn’t know about Birmingham was that is apparently also hosts one of the largest German Christmas markets in England which turned out to be a nice surprise.  There were stands for frankfurters, wooden toys, hot ciders, and desserts.  The market went on and on and it seemed to draw every single one of the 3 million residents of the Birmingham area.  The markets stretched along the public spaces of the city center from Centerary Square, Chamberlain Square, and Victoria Square.

From here, I made my way down to the Canal Street Basin, a large body of water where a few of the canals meet.  Birmingham reminded me several times that it has more canals than Venice, which may or may actually be true.  Many canals were built to fuel transportation of good during the industrial revolution, and today they are mainly areas which are being beautified by the city and helping the make the city a bit more picturesque.   I personally didn’t see all that many canals, but the Canal Street Basin area was nice.  They had tour boats and boats for personal travel; however, most of them were closed because of the chilly weather than had turned much of the canals to ice.

The Canal Street Basin moves on to the Mailbox and some luxury apartments downtown.  The Mailbox, in fact, does not have anything to do with mail and houses many luxury fashion boutiques and restaurants.

There are two things that I did notice about Birmingham.  The first one was the accent which was, well, “strong” we’ll say.  They speak a distinct dialect of English that generally spits out most of the words and skips most of the letters in the words.  Seconds, Brummies (as they are known) are fat.  So fat that it’s noticeable and so much more than any American city I’ve been in. The U.S. gets a bad rap for being overweight, but little does everyone know that England hides all their fat people in Birmingham because Londoners are generally quite in shape.

Birmingham is a rapidly changing city.  The redevelopment of the Bull Ring was just the beginning.  There were signs all over the city showing off the “Big City Plan” to transform Birmingham into a glow metropolis.  First on the list is a new public library building, followed by many new modern high rises and apartments, extensions of the public transportation system (which currently only has one line that connects Birmingham to neighboring towns), and an upgraded train station.

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