hello, birmingham!

Exactly a week after we were in Manchester for the brain exhibition, we were off for a day trip to Birmingham. Lucas was interviewing a referee there for one of his studies and Raspberry and I were tagging along. Since we were travelling so far, I would’ve like to have spent more than just a day there, but Lucas had to be back at school the following day (Raspberry and I could’ve probably stayed longer — something I’d like to think about for future trips). In the weeks leading up to our trip, Raspberry was terribly excited and couldn’t stop talking about it. I think it ultimately overshadowed our trip to the science museum, which could explain why she wasn’t as excited about the brain exhibition as she might’ve otherwise been. I suppose if I were in her shoes, and having already been to Manchester and not Birmingham, I would’ve been just as excited too.

The train trip was just under two hours and based on recent experience on the train, I was a little worried Raspberry would get horribly bored and restless on the trip. But despite the train running late, I think she was so excited that she never really sank to that bored state during the ride. She seat-hopped tons (as did I, but that was so I could take pictures out the window), ate the raisins she got at the Finnish school Christmas party, and drew pictures inspired by signs on the train. We took a London Midlands train, a service we’ve never taken before, and there was ample space for Raspberry to get around and explore the train, which is beyond useful on longer trips. I think she really liked travelling through train stops she’d never been to before and seeing what each station was like. I found it interesting that each station was dominated by a different service — for instance, at Lime Street, Northern Rail seems to be the predominant service but at Crewe, it’s Virgin Rail. Why that’s the case is beyond me.

I’ve actually been to Birmingham once before — back in the summer of 2004, when I was on vacation here in the UK with my parents and siblings. It was a really short trip though, lasting all of a rainy afternoon. I believe we visited the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and window-shopped a little. I don’t remember what exactly I saw at the museum, but I do remember we were there near closing time and there was a bit of a rush to see whatever it was. I took one of my then-favourite pictures just outside the museum — a statue of Queen Victoria against a backdrop of Absolut vodka ads. I also remember going into a very brightly lit David and Goliath store and looking at the cutesy stuff. Back then, I was just starting to get into art, visiting museums and trying to understand art but not getting very far. Also, I hadn’t become more conscious of my consumption yet, so shopping in a new place was sort of a must.

Fast forward almost ten years and of course, my ideals and values have changed. I’ve since narrowed down my taste in art, I appreciate experiences much more, and I couldn’t care less about shopping in a new city any more. So this time, we went to Birmingham with a loose plan of places to visit — the Bull Ring Markets and the newly refurbished Library of Birmingham (the latter, because one of my Facebook friends had posted a picture taken there a few weeks before, and upon further investigation, I thought it’d be a place we’d all enjoy checking out). I think Lucas was a bit surprised that I didn’t plan more, but I figured that we were only there for a day, and with a kid, there’s only so much you can cram into a certain amount of time before they start protesting and the shit starts hitting the fan. Of course, things come up along the way and without rigid plans, it’d be easier to be spontaneous if the opportunity arises.

The Bull Ring Markets, which we located after navigating a long winding tunnel from New Street station through the mall, were a disappointment. We’d been expecting interesting stalls selling various eclectic produce and products, in the vein of Toronto’s St Lawrence Market. Instead, we were met with take-out food stalls, stalls selling cheap made-in-China paraphernalia and a few produce ones. We briefly went into stall selling southeast Asian food products, but nothing quite piqued our interest, but I think by that point, we were just disappointment and unenthused about the whole place.

Disenchanted, we walked through part of Chinatown on our way toward the library (with a map-wielding Lucas leading the way, because I know I’m very likely to direct us the wrong way). From what we saw, it was quite a number of restaurants and interestingly, casinos. We chanced upon a huge, really busy Christmas market right outside the art gallery. I was surprised by the crowds, which included school groups, especially since it was a Tuesday. Naturally, everything looked interesting to Raspberry and she kept wanting this, that or the other. I saw the Queen Victoria statue I recalled from ten years earlier, although sans Absolut ads since those were posted on some wooden construction boards and it’d be crazy if they were still up after all this time.

The library was amazing and to say I was impressed would be a gross understatement. Let me tell you, the central library in Liverpool has nothing on the Library of Birmingham! Perhaps I say this after visiting the central library almost weekly, but really, with nine storeys, art installations, garden terraces and lookout points, the Birmingham library is quite an attraction unto itself. As we had lunch, I told Lucas that just from seeing the library, I actually wanted to live in Birmingham. But then, I think I’d say that about every large city we visit. Ha.

We went to see the Discovery Terrace and Secret Garden and Raspberry really enjoyed looking at the herbs and other plants. She found part of a flower on the ground and brought it home as a souvenir. My kid, the nature lover. While Raspberry busied herself in the garden and while I was admiring the various views of the city, Lucas looked around the actual library itself. He came across the BFI Mediatheque, which has two thousand films accessible. Raspberry seemed impressed by the sheer number and wanted to check that out, but have a feeling she imagined seeing a huge wall of films rather than screens by which you can access them digitally. We checked out the Shakespeare Memorial Room too, right at the top of the library, just off a little, wonderfully warm, skylit space overlooking the city. It was full of old tomes, the obligatory bust of Shakespeare himself and curious tourists (like us!) nosing around and taking pictures.

Lucas had to take the train to Birmingham Airport for his interview partway through the afternoon, so we wanted to figure out what we’d pick up for dinner so we wouldn’t be rushing after he returned. We spent what felt like a sizeable amount of time wandering the Bull Ring (the mall, not the market) and surrounding areas, trying to find food that appealed to all three of us. I was getting increasingly frustrated by our inability to locate anything decent, and also the walking in circles while heavily pregnant was making me grumpy too. Lucas was likely similarly frustrated too (not by the heavily pregnant part though) and it didn’t help matters when I stopped to take pictures; he said something to the effect of “why are you taking pictures when we’re trying to find food?! And you just cut that person off when you stopped!” After the fact, when I was helping Raspberry write down some of her favourite memories of the trip, she mentioned that she enjoyed the search for dinner. Hmm, okay then. Anyway, we finally located Urban Pie, a shop with gourmet pies that were a bit on the pricey side. At five to six p.m. each day however, the pies are half price, so we decided that’s what we were going for. With that sorted, I think we all breathed easier and weren’t as on edge.

While Lucas went off to his interview, Raspberry and I thought we might go to the Ikon Gallery before we came back to pick dinner up. Except we never quite made it there. We walked there via the Gas Street Basin, where the canals were. Actually to be honest, I wasn’t really that into going to the gallery and had really wanted to see the canal instead. It worked out well, because Raspberry really enjoyed being there. Just before reaching the canal, there was a slightly elevated paved mound and she pretended to be lava spurting out of a volcano. It was hard to tear her away from her game, but I really wanted us to check out the canal before it got too dark. She enjoyed seeing the houseboats, and crossing the bridges, and jumping off the side of the bridge. I think we could’ve probably stayed there for hours, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was getting cold (yay sunset) and we had to go get our dinner. She says that the next time we go to Birmingham, she’d really like to visit the canal again. As would I, Raspberry, as would I.

With dinner safely in hand, we still had an hour to kill before meeting Lucas. I think by this point, we were too exhausted to actually go anywhere (well, I was anyway), so we rested our weary feet at a bench in the mall. It’s certainly not how I’d like to spend my time in a new city, but often I’m so anxious and excited to pack a ton of stuff into a day that I forget to make time to take a break. You certainly don’t forget that when you’re eight months pregnant though. I think I wouldn’t have minded sitting on the bench for longer, but Raspberry had to go to the bathroom and I knew with the evening pre-Christmas rush, we were going to lose our spots, so we spent some time nosing around Mamas and Papas, a baby store (not that we actually really needed any brand new baby stuff). It was mostly just a place to kill time and for Raspberry to look around at things she may not typically see. She definitely enjoyed getting into a toddler-sized bed and pretending to sleep.

We met Lucas back at the train station and he suggested maybe getting some fries to go with dinner. Just as it was quite a challenge locating our dinner, it was a similar challenge trying to find a place near the train station that sold fries. So there was a little bit more of walking in circles and more frustration (but to a lesser degree). We finally did find a place but given the frequency of fast food in a large city, it really makes you wonder how it can so hard to just find (non-McDonald’s) fries. Hmm.

Dinner was wolfed down right when we got on the train and ohhh, how delicious it was, and that’s not just the hunger talking. Lucas and I were surprised by how dense the pies actually were, especially compared to the ones we’re used to. I thought that with the long, exciting day, Raspberry might fall asleep on the train home but she was so far from that. Rather, she was almost hyper (perhaps a result of having now had food in her) and gleefully walked all over the train. She wanted to see what first class looked like, so I went with her and to me, it didn’t look much different from the seats we were in, except they were less worn and had paper napkins on the headrests. Oh, and it was significantly quieter too. With a typically boisterous kid who was talking quietly (by her standards), I still felt terribly out of place so I quickly ushered her out. Needless to say, Lucas and I were both exhausted, but thankful that the train had the space for Raspberry to wander around so she wouldn’t get restless.

The trip to Birmingham turned out so well that I’d definitely like to return some other time, likely during warmer weather, and I’d like to spend more than a mere day there so we don’t have to cram everything we’d like to do into a short period of time. Well, I’m sure we’ll be able to fit another trip there somewhere among all the other places we’d like to visit too. In time…

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4 responses

  1. Wonderful photos!!!

    January 19, 2014 at 4:17 am

    • Thanks, Kristen! :)

      January 19, 2014 at 11:21 am

  2. Your sister added me in Instagram and I am happily perplexed! (I’m fusis on there.) Sean Marc Lee connection maybe?

    January 19, 2014 at 4:18 am

    • Hmm, oh yeah, that could be it! I sooo want to follow you and other people on Instagram, but I don’t have a cellphone (well, I do, but it’s one of those that if it got stolen by a thief, they’d just toss it as soon as they see it!).

      January 19, 2014 at 11:23 am

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