20 July 2008
My overall impression of Brum, the local shorthand for Birmingham, is of a confidently reinvented post-industrial city. Someone's got it right here, at least as far as civic spaces goes, as Anthony voiced many times over the weekend. Aboard the Virgin Explorer (a train!), once Jay, Chris, Anthony and I settled in, I dug out Lonely Planet for some last minute boning up. Cadbury World, the Bull Ring and Bizarre Bazaar were on the agenda even before we arrived in the West Midlands.
Having seen Cadbury's Australian manufacturing operation in Tasmania, the Bournville original outside Birmingham held obvious appeal. The UK experience was very different, though. The Hobart tour was nuts & bolts, nitty gritty, with participants getting amongst it, guided through each stage of the production process.
The English tour, by contrast, focussed on engaging kids, dominated by clever interactive video presentations. The factory visit was limited to the packaging plant, at the end of the production process, at arms length behind perspex screens. Even so, the machinery and robotics were the highlight. That, and the nabbing of chocky bargains at the end!
Leaving the factory, we took the scenic route back to the station, through the village of Bournville, built to house Cadbury workers early last century and which also lends it's name to Cadbury cocoa.
Lonely Planet's Birmingham listing was dominated by shopping. While this wouldn't normally thrill me, Selfridge's Bull Ring store deserved to be there, with its quirkily original exterior even scoring its own colour plate. The interior was equally fresh and encouraged me to linger, a major retail achievement!
Looking for that bargain sex toy, whip, leather accessory or corset? Birmingham's Bizarre Bazaar is for you. On the third Sunday of the month, a gay club opens its doors to a swap meet or market for all things kinky. Waiting for the others to arrive, we amused ourselves people watching, trying to pick which of the passers by were sale bound. Except for two guys with a cot, pretty much all the foot traffic in this neck of the woods was bazaar. When the guys arrived and we went in, a few things needed explanation... And I'm not sure that sightseeing is encouraged!
Rounding out Sunday afternoon with a leisurely canalside stroll back to the hotel for our luggage, I was surprised to note the canal passing over the nondescript subway we'd walked by many times over the weekend. Birmingham boasts more canals than Venice.
Bussing to the coach station, we were soon London bound once more, no thanks to the crazy motorist who, trying to take on our coach, got more than he bargained for in a National Express driver with excellent reflexes. Disaster averted!*HUGZ*