1 October 2017

Historic York

So, York had been on my list for time, being attracted to its historical charm I wanted to see if it was really just a Shambles! Before there was a New York it started with York, representing that former Viking and Roman settlement had to be done before I returned to China. York's Minster had me looking for the Madonna and those Adventures had searching for their hall!

Literally jumping off at York as my Leeds train pulled into the station, I had my game face on to get those key photos I wanted before the masses of tourists would crawl out of the woodwork, I was on a mission for true! Wasting not a second I made my way to the Shambles without haste, I wasn't about to be getting crazy over a good photo, I had that covered! Rewinding the clock back to York's Anglo-Saxon days I was transfixed by that winding street that looked even better in person, securing my snaps I relaxed into that moment before the masses had even arrived. The architecture impressed ten fold and then some more, it had been an English dream of mine to see that former meat street! Comprised with tourist appropriate haunts that supplied the usual UK souvenirs, looking closer I saw a lovely looking tea room, Betty's could keep their brew thank you very much for I wasn't entertaining any queues! O, I was ready!

Those timber-framed buildings were serving 14th century realness without a shadow of a doubt, planting a scene from some medieval time way back when York could well have been called Jorvik? I was content with my find, moving onwards to another part of that exclusive showcase city I vowed to myself that I would return to the Shambles to take a closer look when more of the businesses had opened. The Earl Grey Tea Room didn't have a queue, it was quaint and very inviting so I had nothing to loose, giving it a try I dined inside the front room with a pot of English Breakfast tea and ate two toasted tea cakes because the lady on the next table had some, they looked so good I had to try some for myself. The overall experience was really good but one of the guys tone wasn't very complimentary, that shade was noted but did nothing to dent my time along the Shambles. My timing had been perfect, from those first glimpses to leaving after my spot of tea it was an absolute pleasure Y!

So, York became like a beating heart, growing busier with more tourists making their way to the grand York Minster. I didn't have any songs of praise in my head but I was intrigued to see inside the vast cathedral that had been causing a commotion since 4th century. I wasn't in a rush, taking my time to walk around York's main focal point. It was a definite hit with the Chinese market as many tourists were talking that Mandarin language with some hailing from Hong Kong also, but they spoke Cantonese. The intricate stained glass shone in the autumn sun during that mid morning time, I'm not a religious soul but it was pleasing to see such a sight. Casting my mind back to my Qingdao church experience I could see why such a house of god like York Minster was a big hit with those Middle Kingdom visitors. I was looking for the Madonna, not the 'Like A Prayer' singer, no the Virgin Mary because the statues are lovely!

York Minster might have not been part of the Roman Catholic church but before the days that York Minster stood there was a Roman palace. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the statue of Constantine The Great, hearing about a former Roman palace I was schooled about a former religious fortress. One excavated Roman column still stands, causing quite a stir I didn't get crazy but from that point of view I appreciated the rich history York presented to me. Contrary to belief Constantine The Great didn't stay in York for long but he must have left something quite remarkable? From that modern day view a clash cultures and times definitely stood before me. York Minster had shown me what I had wanted, standing strong as one of York's main sights for all to see and with a vast intertwining history with the Romans it impressed me much! York had been drastically different compared to Leeds but the difference was giving me life for certain! Actually, I saw tones of Cambridge!

Before New York there was York, I tried to delve further into that moment in time as I had the privilege to live just over the Hudson River from the Big Apple during my airport days. Nevertheless, not letting that chestnut go I knew that NY's origins started in York so I was cool with that point. My final point of interest discovered during my day in York was the Merchants Adventurers' Hall. Dating back to 1357 this period building had seen some tough times throughout the years, from the rule of Queen Elizabeth I during those medieval days. Specifically comprised of an influential group of powerful men and women, their ventures contributed to many good deeds and noble things for the community. Housing a chapel and a hospital this Adventurers' Hall had many functions for different purposes. Did this institution have anything with the Mayflower or any of the pilgrims that set sail for a New kind of York? Y, I was tired!

This country persists to have pricey rail prices and the coach timetable saw me staying in a hostel overnight before my Megabus the next day back to the West Midlands. The hostel was basic but surprisingly comfortable, I was able to practice some of my Chinese language skills because I had a sneaking suspicion that the guy in the same bunk as me was from the Middle Kingdom. We had the usual conversation about our reasons of being in each others countries and the grave state of high speed rail in the United Kingdom or the serious lack of it! York had shown me everything that I had set out to see, I felt very contented to have seen the Shambles from a less crazy view first time around, the lofty ceiling of the grand York Minster followed by the Merchant Adventurers' Hall for good measure. The north of England had been something I wasn't expecting, for that reason it felt good by seeing the three sights in did in the city of York! Sorry Jorvik I wasn't paying for you! No, no Y!

Yes, York!

Joseph Harrison

7 September 2017

Next Stop... Leeds, England!

Beating my post Scotland blues I looked towards Yorkshire to serve something industrial and then historical. With the astronomical train fares I chose the Megabus to Leeds before checking out York, going up north had to be the one! Choosing the alternative, Leeds had something to show me, from darkness there comes light and Leeds shone brightly! Don't hold back!

Getting down from my Birmingham Megabus at Leeds Bus Station allowed me to begin my northern trip. Looking for the markets I didn't have to go far, clocking Kirkgate Market I viewed a normal looking set of market stalls that didn't exude the 19th century architecture that I had researched! Seeing the period market stalls with the fresh fruit and the famous Marks & Spencer Penny Bazaar I was snatching the views that I had wanted to! Giving me everything that a traditional English market should do, adorned with colourful beams and a legendary glass roof that oozed period features I was loving that Yorkshire market without a doubt! Ranging from a unique foods stall that served a slice of what London's Borough Market does I was thrilled the majority of the stalls embodied independence, not paying no mind to chains or the shady business a certain Corn Exchange did to eradicate the talent! Kirkgate tell the truth!

Was I looking to bag a bargain from those humble stalls at Leeds's Kirkgate Market? I did stop for a coffee at an ordinary looking cafe, personally for me it was all about appreciating the look of the market. The Marks & Spencer Penny Bazaar stood proud, representing the original store that began the empire of quality products. Taking note of the history I was extremely impressed by the story of Kirkgate Market, a powerhouse of enterprise within a city that went above and beyond within its many industries. Did M&S shade Kirkgate Market? Returning to the market during 2012 with a dedicated Penny Bazaar brought that Leeds born business back to its roots, telling the time wasn't an issue as a timely green clock was presented to the market in 1984 to celebrate the centenary of M&S setting up shop way back at Kirkgate in 1884. Kirkgate Market kept it real, honest and from my view it looked like things were independent, finding out about a certain ousting within Leeds was so cold!

Leeds presented itself as a Victorian showcase city with all of its period features I loved it, obviously Victoria is my favourite queen! Leaving Kirkgate Market behind me I was curious what was worth to see next. Millennium Square was littered with a funfair, not impressed by that sight I noticed Leeds Town Hall was just over the road from the Mandela Gardens, lets just say that Victorian civic hall had me transfixed by it's ruling queen! Walking away from Millennium Square towards Leeds Town Hall I captured a top vista, encapsulating Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds War Memorial and the Town Hall for good measure. Challenging this alternative northern city had me looking for something ordinary that in my minds eye gave me everything and even more! I could only imagine what life was like during that Victorian hey day after the opening of the Town Hall? Leeds looked victorious with all of its Victorian overness! Yass!

Why Leeds? I had three north west cities to choose from, between Sheffield and Bradford I chose Leeds for its close to proximity and cheap train fares to York, my next port of call during that northern trip. I always look for somewhere that's not on the tourist map, any of those cities sounded like the perfect place for that business. Not wasting any time I was off my Megabus that morning to see what hidden gems I could find, as I profess that I hate shopping I did not pay attention to the pedestrianised shopping streets for something else. The rain may have poured a bit in the morning but the early afternoon was blessed with some lovely sunny weather, perfect for moving onto the next phase of my Leeds day. Being proud of it's working class flex, Leeds presented itself as a modernising city with bucket loads of character. I saw that it was fashioning its factories into spaces for the future. Talking about a working class flex, I was about to see a place that allowed Leeds to soar! 

Leeds displayed its fashion lines proudly thanks to its industrious ways, crafting the cotton brought by the barges the working people of the Armley Mills hustled hard during those challenging days during Britain's Industrial Revolution. Stepping into the Leeds Industrial Museum schooled me back to those days and beyond, linked to the port of Liverpool by a vital canal link brought the raw materials to the former mill. Leeds's premier fashion houses would have well been stocked with the finest garments but the workers of Armley Mill and many others of its time worked immensely hard in conditions that brought the name 'sweat shop' to light. Witnessing the 'spinning mule' I could not begin to imagine how the work conditions were for those desperate workers, some of them I read were children who were working to support their families. I was proud of the history of the mill but for the treatment of the workers, no!

Not just famous for its cloth making but in the here and now Leeds is known for a popular ITV soap opera, going by the name of Emmerdale. Before making my self guided trip to Leeds and then York I had looked at tours that were packaged for that area with a visit to the Emmerdale filming set. Deciding the Armley Mills at the Leeds Industrial Museum would show me a real part of Leeds's history I didn't pay the Emmerdale Experience much attention, but believe me I'm not being shady. Leeds looked like it had a great set of bars but I was so whacked out from seeing all I did in that day, choosing to take it easy I missed the opportunity to see any of the bars during their best hours. Dealing with that nighttime factor I know that I will make up for taking it easy in one of my upcoming trips. Leeds served several things that I really loved, its past and Victorian charm impressed me much! I'll never underestimate the draw of a city that's not a London, Manchester or Birmingham! Yes L!

Legendary Leeds! 

Joseph Harrison

2 September 2017

Back To Birmingham

Birmingham hasn't been part of my life for some time due to being in Wuhan, China. Time away from my student city has always been good for me, the longer time passes since my university days the more I feel immensely appreciative for the journey. With some time on my hands I wanted to hop back to my past student home. Of course I had Southside in my sights!

Chinese food and culture has been part of my life for the last two years, before I moved to the Middle Kingdom I was eased into things during my students days within Birmingham's Chinese Quarter with the help of my dear friend Kelly. Fresh off the Midland Metro I bypassed Grand Central for the moment because I had China Town set in my sights, I was hungry for a late dinnertime treat at Peach Garden. It didn't take me long for some Oriental talent to cross my path as I grew closer to Birmingham's Chinese Quarter, those East Asian brothers were looking finer than fine! Over the years Birmingham has brought me back together with myself, since finishing university it was bitter pill to swallow not living in Birmingham full time but as the years have past and I've been living my real life Chinese life it was humbling to be back for that one time. One thing I couldn't deny was the view, pure gorgeousness from every angle!

The late summer sun in the Arcadian shone, the atmosphere of that Friday was great as I made my way to Day In Oriental Supermarket. Transported back to my Oolong Tea hunting time I wasn't looking for that brew, no it was all about the curry paste I swore by during my China days first time around. The air may have felt fresh but it was filled with the familiar tones of the Cantonese language, that Hong Kong and Guangdong chat took me back to my time in Hong Kong and also in Guangzhou. Content with my curry mix, I was hungry for some sweet and sour from Peach Garden on Ladywell Walk. Ready with my chopsticks I loved my late dinnertime treat, accompanied by some mixed chow mian with a cup of hot water for good measure. I knew my return to China wouldn't be too long away so that brief Oriental moment gave me some life. Did I want some post-dinner Bubble Tea? Yes, please! Ordering my milky tea in pure Mandarin Chinese was life! 珍珠奶茶? 是的, 大而冷!

Rewinding slightly I did things differently as my Metro tram passed by the all new Snow Hill development, staying on past the new 'St. Chads' and 'Bull Street' stops, passing the shops along Corporation Street before pulling into the all new and finally open Grand Central terminus. After checking into my hotel and having my Cantonese dinner I took a walk through the new Grand Central and New Street Station complex that amazed me, the wind and airy environment oozed modernity and light. The smaller parts of the new station were so cramped during my final term at University College Birmingham and the Metro extension took such a long time the whole project seemed more like a hindrance rather than a help during that concluding part of my Birmingham living. Redeeming itself in the present day I saw a streamlined view for Birmingham's main railway interchange. It resembled 武汉站 but without the shops! Oh BHM!

In a strange way I felt a slight detachment from Birmingham but in a healthy way, casting my mind back to the last full day I spent in Birmingham I felt gutted to leave the city because essentially I wasn't happy with life before China, working in a place in the West Midlands that didn't give me life had me running to Birmingham to seek some solace. I remember my first 'Back To Birmingham' post from August 2015 it was a time when I craved the city that took me away from Bilston and that gave me independence. 2017s Birmingham had me looking at a whole new city that still had the same quirks as before but my life has evolved so much from that point of leaving the Maltings for the final time before summer 2014. All in all the progress that I and Birmingham have made is remarkable if I don't mind saying so! In that moment Birmingham's New Station looked just right from my view. Going back to the hotel I decided it was time to relax and get ready before the night started. Let's go BR!

Even before I came back from China, me and my younger brother had already decided we would hit the town after I came back from Wuhan, China. Keeping to our word we met at Grand Central along with his lovely girlfriend, Alice. Beginning the night with our first drink at Grand Central's very own All Bar One set the pace for the night. We decided a bar crawl would be the perfect thing to do, moving onto Lost & Found along Bennett's Hill for a mixed gin cocktail. We rambled on about anything and everything, I've met Alice a few times since coming back from China, so the night out gave me a chance to get to know her better. Leaving that gin infused lounge for the Wetherspoon's at the Briar Rose shocked us as two double mixed drinks and a pint of Strongbow Dark Fruit only cost us £9.99! Winning with that price we stayed for three rounds or so at the Rose to take advantage of those prices! It was turning out great!

I had only found two cities in China during my two years that served me with fabulous venues, holding onto those experiences in Chengdu and Jinan I waited patiently for my chance to slay at the Village Inn within Southside, Birmingham. Making our way to the Village for the midnight Friday night cabaret was our plan, Sandra London's performance was one of the reasons I had called the night out on the 25th of August 2017! Being on the dance floor felt truly freeing, with the music right and Sandra slightly behind schedule I lost myself in the music, they played some RuPaul and after being starved of that type of music had me crazy! Sandra was amazing as per usual, the drinks free flowed and the night just felt so lovely, we don't always see eye to eye but as we get older as brothers we will always have each others back no matter what! Bidding a rather drunken farewell to Lewis and Alice I carried on the party at the Village Inn. After that episode I can close that Birmingham chapter! Getting back that Chinese flavour felt ace, seeing Grand Central's completion pleased me but the night out ruined me the next day!

Birmingham, I Can't!

Joseph Harrison 

Helensburgh & Loch Lomond, Scotland

So, I hadn't made any reservations in Glasgow, I was told that I needed to book my flights to Scotland and my friend would sort me out. Running for the train at Glasgow's Queen Street Station, we eventually arrived at Helensburgh Central after going via Dunbarton! Those ticket machines! Well, Luss and Loch Lomond were waiting for us and a bottle of Buckfast was all mine! So?

Helensburgh had been a place that Fiona had told me about during our time in Wuhan, China. To be very honest it sounded quite like a Bilston by the sea! After our introductions I made myself comfortable at the Dade-McPhee household, after a lovely lasagna tea with a few pink gins for good measure it was time to rest, the next day was going to be eventful! I want more pink gin! Waking up uncharacteristically early for me during my post-China routine it was a chilled morning for us before the crazy commenced. It only took a hot minute before Helensburgh turned into a distant thought, the lush green hills of the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park grew closer. No, I'm not a tourist neither is Fiona so I tried to keep my cool as the hoards of tourists made their way into the picture postcard streets of Luss, I wasn't going to go out of mind! The chocolate box holiday cottages desensitised me as modernity beckoned so near. Go!

Chauffeur driven by Norman, Fiona's stepdad got us to where we wanted to be that morning. The weather was as changeable as life was in Wuhan for myself and Fiona, those clouds brought the rain down in annoying spots. Gifts aren't usually my thing I usually like to use photos as my only memento of a place but my grandparents deserved a gift or two for being fantastic and then some. Wading through the groups of stationary tourists tested my patience's, but I exercised impeccable manners throughout that brief shopping period. Content with my Scottish purchases it was back to finding the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. Luss had something special, going from the sandstone looks of Glasgow's city centre to the rolling hills of Luss gave me life for true! I'm not usually about travelling within the United Kingdom but after spending two years in China, detoxing from the utter pandemonium of Wuhan with such views has been the perfect tonic. Yes, Loch Lomond was hiding somewhere!

The boundless beauty of Loch Lomond treated my eyes to a sight so beautiful I wasn't bothered by the thick layers of clouds and sporadic showers. My nan would always sing the song 'The Bonnie Banks 'o' Loch Lomond' to us and to my younger cousins when we were babies so that idyllic vista was amazing to finally see in real life. Relocating Joanne and Norman was a relief as me and Fiona had briefly lost them, they had chosen to have a look at local art display whilst we were in the gift shop. I took my time to get a good photo of the fresh waters of Loch Lomond with a few boats in the background, the Loch was lively yet sedate, it seemed the off weather had kept people away from the waters edge and that completely fine with me. Had I seen a sight as beautiful as Loch Lomond before? I'd have to say the Erhai Lake in Dali, China closely matched Scotland's beautiful Loch Lomond. I paid those tourists no mind!

The Loch Lomond Arms had me thirsty for a pre pre-party drink but it was rammed with families, leaving that business behind us we drove for a little bit around passing the Gare Loch that showed me a glimpse of HMND Clyde before ending up at 'The Cafe' in Kilcreggan that overlooked Kilcreggan Bay on Roseneath Road. Unknowingly we were just over the water from Greenock Port where the majority of the cruise liners dock for Glasgow and Loch Lomond. Our light lunch was nice, it gave me and Fiona the permission to speak about our crazy lives in China and if anyone felt jealous they knew that they could have an experience like we did, we don't have time for negativity because thats so basic! The morning and afternoon out had been really nice, Loch Lomond and Luss served views and then some! Going back to Fiona's after our lovely outing to Luss, Loch Lomond and Kilcreggan gave us the chance to take a disco nap before the carnage would begin. Everybody let's say Scotland!

With our looks on-point it was down to Helensburgh town centre to begin the night ahead. I had promised to pre-drink a bottle of Buckfast, known as 'tramp tipple' I bravely bought a bottle of fortified wine for the win! Getting our night started at Charlotte's flat was the key for us! We were later joined by Fiona's sister Caroline after she got herself ready for the night. As we sipped on our pre-drinks I felt the Buckfast kick in, being my first night out after getting disorderly in China I was on my best behaviour. Leaving Charlotte's place we headed for the Logie Baird, but the locals just called it 'The Logie'. The Clyde had lost its buzz so I had already heard a lot about Helensburgh's top late night venue. Hitting the Logie just before 11pm allowed me to survey the locals, mostly from the forces it was going to be an interesting night to say the least! Getting our drink on and then some it was a scandalous night! We got mad with it HB!

With the lights almost up it was time for something to eat, Chinese had to be the one and I was so excited to eat properly with chopsticks again. Back to Charlotte's we went with our food, unbeknownst to the others I baffled them with my crafty chopstick game, I was too hungry to notice and essentially it felt normal for me to eat without a knife and fork. Feeling rather 'not well' the next morning we took a walk down the seafront close to the town centre, it definitely took the edge of our hangovers but I needed a bottle of Iron Bru to settle that score. Dropping into Caroline's we reminisced on the previous nights antics, we honestly had a great time and there was no drama! Sunday Dinner came to the rescue, chilling for the rest of the day had to be the one, we were both not well. All in all the two days spent in Helensburgh was lovely, Loch Lomond and Less were beautiful and the Logie was mad! Fiona and I may be on different paths but we're shared such an experience. Bye Fiona!

Get Mad With It!

Joseph Harrison