Monday, 7 April 2014

Colourful Birmingham seen on a grey spring day

I have recently discovered the miracle called Megabus. A good friend of mine suggested we should visit another British city asap, and subtly implied that she knows how we can find a very cheap way of doing that. Megabus.
So, for under a tenner, specifically £ 8.50 we managed to book a return ticket to Birmingham. I wasn't sure if that was the best choice mainly because the city itself hasn't got a very good touristic reputation. Without to much research on what it's to be seen there nor to much planning done we embarked on the 10:45 Megabus :) to Birmingham which had a considerable delay of one hour.
We even managed to get the upper deck seats just in front of the big window, and together with a few newspapers and some great snacks we've made our three hour journey to Birmingham a very pleasant one.

Once arrived there, we faced the cruel realisation that we have less than five hours to explore the city so there was no time for hanging around or ( to much ) shopping. Maybe we could squeeze in a Mac or a Starbucks break in the evening.

We started our tour from the train Station, so the first stop was the Bullring Shopping Centre off course the famous Bull, surrounded by lots of tourists making funny faces to the cameras and grabbing the bull from the horns or the tail, depending on their mood.


One of the biggest surprises I had visiting Birmingham was the spectacular range and size of shopping malls, galleries and  markets. From the elegant Western's Arcade and the luxurious The Mailbox to the world famous Bullring, all that you may need in this situation is a thick wallet or a grand pay- check. And then there are a few more to explore, if your patience and shoes are supportive enough: The Piccadilly Arcade, The Pallasades and the Pavilions, all packed with top names in fashion, high street brands, local shops and a great variety of restaurants. 

With a stunning mix of gifts, food, electrical, sports, fashion and beauty, you have the chance to dress yourself from head to toes, check out the best computer games or the latest mobile phones. If you have time to do all of these of course. And as we had already spent a quarter of our strolling time we had to discover something else beside shopping malls in this interesting looking place in Britain.

But why so interesting suddenly? Well because it's not so British after all. It doesn't look like London,or like Cambridge or Brighton or any other city in England. It has a very interesting mix of architecture, people and bad tempered character. You can be in a extraordinary place at a given moment but within a few streets it becomes a rough and unsafe area and getting out of there feels the best thing to do.

Our second stop, not far away from the city centre was the famous China Town of Birmingham. Nothing compared to its brother from London, we found it empty and deserted. The buildings were the only reminders of a genuine vibrant China Town, with a great colour mix of red, green and yellow cheering up a grey glooming day.

Looking for a nice place to have some lunch we headed towards the New Street, where we discovered the great Waterstones shop, the magnificent Burlington Hotel with its great interior arcade and my favourite clothing shop, one next to each other. Inside the little shopping arcade you can find also Uber, an exclusive fashion retailer, Bad Apple Hair ( isn't this a great name for the most cutting-edge stylist in the city?) and the nicest surprise is  underneath all this and it's called The Bacchus Bar, one of the city's best kept secrets for good food and wine.

Very close to New Street we stumble upon the Birmingham Cathedral, a very quiet and peaceful place to escape from the buzzing city centre. I most definitely fell in love with the green gardens that surround the church, like an isle in the middle of a stormy ocean.
My favourite place in Birmingham was the next to be discovered. Surrounded by stunning buildings and statues lies the The Victoria Square, home to both the Town Hall and the Council House and adjacent to the Chamberlain Square and the University of Birmingham. 


Town Hall and Symphony Hall are two iconic concert halls that bring some of the best musicians and performers in the world to the heart of Birmingham. In search for my next target destination, the grand Mailbox, we found one of the greatest pride of the city, the Library of Birmingham, the largest public library in Europe spread over ten levels and in my opinion one of the most enchanting buildings. 

Tired and hungry, our feet carried us towards the Mailbox through a very nice short-cut on the shore of the Birmingham canals, a little Little Venice in Birmingham, nicer than the London one. 

The area is filled with cosmopolitan restaurants and coffee shops, and stunning views across the canal, plus the magnificent building called The Cube which prides itself with a 25th floor restaurant by Marco Pierre White, overlooking the city.

The Mailbox, one of the most exclusive shopping destinations in Birmingham hosts an indulgent combination of designer label fashions, aspirational home design and zuper restaurants.

But we were deeply disappointed by their public acces facilities and their confusing elevators that carried us from the underground parking to another parking.After we had to cross by foot the whole parking area, together with few another frustrated visitors we decided we should just have a good glance from outside and leave the big Mailbox behind and look for some more pedestrian friendly shopping places. 

And so, after a few tiring hours we ended up with a coffee and some snacks in front of us in the Bullring with plans to head towards the eternal and much loved TK Maxx for some well deserved souvenirs.

Back to London then and close to midnight we are back where we left from - Victoria Station and planning our next escape.