Now to Birmingham

Trip Start Aug 15, 2009
Trip End Sep 20, 2009

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday morning was an early start - Nel stayed at the hotel to pack up and Si went off to pick up the car from Marble Arch, a couple of Tube stations away. We had managed to book a cheap little car before we had left and ended up with a brand new black Ford Focus. It was a great little car and served us well. It's amazing how when you are so used to having a car when you go on holidays and how much you miss it when you don’t have it.

We ran into one little problem along the way, however, we didn’t know where we were going. Oops! So our first mission was to find a map book. With a little help from the locals we managed to find a United Kingdom map book and we were on our way.

We had decided to head south east to where Simon grew up, to a town/suburb called Sidcup (they all seem to blend from one into another around here). Fighting our way along the Ring Road, past names like Elephant and Castle, and down the Old Kent Road (yes there really is one, it’s not just on the monopoly board), we arrived in a surprisingly short time.

We saw the church where Si had been baptised, but couldn’t go in, then visited the two houses he had lived in and the school he had been to, before hitting the road down to the motorway.

From there it was a quick trip around the M25 and up to the M40, until we got to Oxford. We had decided that from Oxford up we would take the old route which was much more scenic. When we got to Oxford we were both falling asleep so we thought we would find a coffee, and as it was so hot we decided on an ice coffee. Now we have had some bad iced coffees before but this one was the worst. We walked into this little cafe and when we ordered the ice coffees the man looked a little confused but said he could do it, we weren’t too sure but we decided to trust him anyway.

I have never seen anyone try to make an ice coffee as badly as he did, he literally made a hot coffee (hot milk and all) and added 3 ice cubes and stirred, the only way we can describe it is to say it tasted like a coffee which had been made, sat on the bench for three days, and then served. YUK!!!. However we had paid for it and needed the caffeine, so we pinched our noses and downed it. L

Oxford is known for its university (obviously) and it is quite a pretty little town. The colleges of the university itself are old, steeped in tradition, and very spectacular in their own right.

Heading back to the car, we continued up towards Birmingham from there. It was really nice to see a bit of the English countryside, even if you are being overtaken by a Fiat Bambino (the old one, not the new one) doing about 75mph in a 50mph zone.  We passed through villages with thatched roofs, and roads that seemed to be far too narrow for the semis that travel them, all this amongst a patchwork of colours, green, brown, yellows, the true stuff of picture books.

Next stop was Stratford-on-Avon; it is a nice little town know mostly for its links to Shakespeare. We wanted to see the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, as Si had "trodden the boards" there years ago, however when we got there the whole thing was covered in scaffolding.  The River Avon (not where the cosmetics get there name from) flows through Stratford and we found a nice little park where actors were playing out a modern version of Romeo and Juliet, and canal boats and cruisers were moored alongside. Now when you think of the UK you don’t necessarily think canals but they are found throughout this area and all through Birmingham, and Stratford is found on a route called the Warwickshire Ring which takes about 7 days to navigate.

We were running late getting to Birmingham so we kept going, time for one last detour though and went off to the side to see Mary Arden’s Cottage. Mary Arden was the mother of Shakespeare, and although we didn’t have time to stop it was really nice to see an old cottage being looked after well and still in good condition.

As we got closer to Birmingham, we drove through a little town called Henley In Arden. This is a funny little town where roads are built around the houses as they didn’t want to knock down the houses to build the road. It is a really nice little town, with plenty of “olde worlde” character. Another one of those places that it would be good to spend a few days going through.

Coming into Birmingham from the south, we passed through Solihull and worked our way across the suburbs of semi-detached housing, and through a Council estate (the sort you see in UK television programmes).  Eventually we came to a wide but quiet street of three storey houses, called Selly Oak Road, where Si had first stayed in England.  A little further, and a right turn and we were where Si had wanted to come to, Franklin Road, where he had lived in a house of his own, literally a stone’s throw from the Cadbury factory – you could almost smell the chocolate in the air!

From here it was a short drive to our accommodation, the Apollo Hotel, on the Hagley Road. Despite being on a main road, you could not hear the traffic at all, and it was so nice to have a hotel room after a week in a hostel, and with a private bathroom, too!

The ladies on the desk, Lucy and Jenny, were awesome in their guidance and help, and soon got us connected to Wi-Fi, so we could do the basics like internet banking and paying bills.  As it had been a fairly long day, we decided to order takeaway Chinese, rather than going out to find food, and ate in the lounge of the hotel.  Even offering to wash up our dishes was pushed aside by the girls, who took them to the kitchen for us.

On Monday Si drove to Gas Street which used to be the hub of canal life in Birmingham, with the James Brindley Tavern perched above the canal moorings and lock.  What a change!  The place was now deserted, the pub closed, but at least we got to see a couple of working narrow boats being worked on. Clearly time had marched on everything had been moved.

Being a little later than planned, we headed to Solihull to meet up with Vicky and Sue Meldrum at Starbucks.  It had not been possible to get in contact with other members of Si’s family, as he hadn’t chased up phone numbers and addresses properly, however it meant a great deal to meet up with these two again.  For all the detractors of Facebook and other social networking websites, here was a classic tale of family being reunited by them.

With no real time restriction, it was time to meet Vicky’s daughter, Georgia who held court for most of the day.  She was an absolute delight, as most kids at the age of “almost 1” are.

Yet again we decided to head to Marks & Spencer only this time it was Si who picked up a couple of well needed polo shirts, having forgotten to pack any.  He also found a good deal on cheap work shirts, and got the thumbs up from all the girls on some new aftershave.

After a while, we headed to the Toby Carvery at Knowle, a smaller village on the outskirts of Solihull.  For those of you uninitiated, a carvery is an all you can eat meal with hot meats carved at request and vegetables, and in this case at the amazingly low cost of $7.95 a head.  Tammy and her husband Dan had joined us by now, and it was great to see them, while a little later Tammy’s partner Rick arrived from work.  It was just one happy family gathering in a local pub – who could wish for more?

All too soon it was time to head back to the hotel, and with us all not having had enough of each other, we quickly made arrangements for tenpin bowling for Tuesday night, but that’s another story..........
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