Monday, 27 May 2013

Chatenet, France: Cœur De La Campagne Français

I'm a city boy but now and again I love to being in the countryside, making the most of the greener pastures. South-west France has some beautiful countryside, I have been to this region of France three times to be a part of the countryside vibe! Birmingham's noise and the grind of university assignments had got me all in a stress after my year in NJ. FR was calling me!

Chatenet is a small French hamlet that is tucked away in South-west of France. Chatenet stands by itself as a pocket of calm, away from the city of Bordeaux that is only a 90 minute drive away. I have been to Chatenet twice before on family visits as my paternal grandparents have lived in this picturesque area of France for a number of years. This last semester at University has been quite trying so I thought about taking a short trip to this serene and uncomplicated part of France to recharge my batteries before my dreaded Human Resources Management exam on the 30th of May 2013. Sacrificing the chance to have a constant internet connection was tough but being in the middle of nowhere for few days was the perfect tonic, city life can become to concrete sometimes! It didn't take long until I could see the rolling hills of Chatenet after leaving the motorway from Bordeaux Airport! Yes, I had finally arrived in Chatenet!

There’s just something about this part of France, because both times before I have visited this area it has always been peacefully quiet! Chatenet is part of the ‘La Charente Maritime’ commune, which is a part of the wider ‘Poitou-Charentes’ region. This charming hamlet doesn't have any public transport or even street lights, so if the country-life is for you then you’ll be very happy! Close to Chatenet are a number of small villages which go by the names of Cheveanceaux, Montguyon and Baignes. In Montguyon you can find a small supermarket which serves basic food shopping needs. If you want to take the train to discover Bordeaux then a 20 minute car journey to the nearby market town of Montendre has to be considered. Reconnecting with family gave me the opportunity to visit France for the again in 2010, I have since been to Chatenet three times over the last four years to enjoy the calm. I admit that the green hills and fields start to look the same after a while! 

France does things differently, so I listened carefully! Business and community matters are dealt with differently by our French counterparts, but when you live in the middle of the countryside daily duties go through the Mairie. Captured to the right is the ‘Chatenet Mairie’ the office of the mayor of the district. People can air their grievances, get married and deal with all things they usually would at any other governing body. The building of the ‘Chatenet Mairie used to be a school as the carving about the front door reads ‘Ecole Communiale’ there’s a brief history lesson for you. Even though the location was très rural I felt a sense of community and cohesion between the local neighbours within the immediate area, many expats from Britain had made their homes in that wine rich region near Bordeaux, France. Family reunions? Yes, me and my paternal family have strange communication. 

I've been staying at the local ‘old school’ for the past five days as my paternal grandparents are currently living in the converted buildings. The views from my room are idyllic, it’s a welcome change compared to seeing the ‘Student’s Union’ from my window at halls. France is a very beautiful country, but life could become a little challenging if you wanted to have a walk to Tesco’s for some bits! I love the French countryside so I don't really mind being in the middle of nowhere for a few days, I just need the internet to keep up with my blogging! I'm looking to publish at least four French blogs over the week, so watch this space! The converted school oozed French country charm with its different quirks from it former school days. The large kitchen is the best to eat breakfast around and I managed to spend some family time around the table at dinner time to catch up, my family is strange because we don't speak for prolonged periods of time but we reunite. Oui, l'école est cool! Go!

When I think about France, the first thing that springs to my mind is red wine! Chatenet and the surrounding areas have an abundance of vineyards, which produce a healthy crop year on year. I do love a glass of Bordeaux red wine, mind you it must be at room temperature! The vineyards of Chatenet, France evidently produce the well known red, wine and rose wines that we are familiar with. No, its not just wine that's cultivated from these juicy crops. Locally produced from the vines of Chatenet is 'Pineau des Charentes' a sweet fortified wine which is a local favourite, something which I tried during my first visit to the region. Pineau is like a cheeky Ribena with a twist! I left the converted school when the rain stopped to see the neighbouring vineyard, seeing for myself what the good stuff starts off as! The saying goes 'you can have too much of a good thing!' Vous savez que le vin est la boisson de la vie! 

If you prefer something a bit stronger then try a shot of 'Eau de Vie' its a high volume alcoholic spirit that's produced from the vine, some batches can be up to 90% proof so this after dinner drink definitely packs a punch! The water of life is sort of like a French moonshine! I never said that! Little did I know that 'Brandy' originates from the vines of Chatenet, especially from the town of Cognac which is a one hour drive away from the fields of Chatenet. As I have said before things operate differently in Chatenet, so local farmers give their friends wine and other grape based products within the community for their own consumption. It's certainly a different way of life that I'm now used to, but for a short holiday every now and again I appreciate the beverages that I can drink to enjoy. Spending time in the French countryside got me ready for the stress of my future exam so that's cool! From the rolling hills and vineyards to the urban craze of Birmingham! Merci de bien vouloir! Bye! 

J'adore Le Vin Rouge! 

Joseph Harrison

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Cognac: Maison De Brandy Français!

I had definitely heard of Hennessy, Remy Martin and Courvoisier? The next stage of my French holiday took me through the rolling hills and vineyards of South-west France to a small town that's home to lots of industry. Cognac, a small historic town in the South-West of France happened to be my next port of call. I raised a toast to the history of French Brandy! Oui, Cognac!

Cognac is a town that has exceptional beauty and a great depth of history. I'm all about seeing something new, so my day in Cognac showed me just that! I saw countless buildings that dated back to the 17th century. Judging by things the town of Cognac was very quiet for a Saturday, but everything closes for a few hours in the early afternoon for lunch in France, a rule we should adopt in England! Cognac is sandwiched between the sprawling French countryside that lasts for absolute miles, but when in the town you must visit the winding cobbled streets because they really are worth the journey. Cognac had an air of savoir faire but in an understated sense that impressed me much! I should have packed my trainers! Regardless of my choice of footwear, the aged feeling of Cognac's older buildings impressed me much, they oozed character and charm with their own French flare! I had made my holiday week count!

Cognac boasts an outdoor market, not like Bilston's outdoor market but its unique to this town of Brandy. Serving French town realness with the aged buildings in every direction! Shopping could be a good idea if you don't have a budget, but I just wasn't interested in that. The drive to Cognac was filled with an everlasting view of vineyards, because that's where the 'Henny' comes from! I was transported to another moment in time, the architecture of Cognac posed to be very rustic. I did think for a moment, how do all these farmers make their money? But it was so easy to see that the demand remains so high for wine and brandy in the wider Cognac area, its actually a no-brainer! From looking closer at the town I suppose Cognac isn't just about the Brandy? Who am I kidding? This small French town represents Brandy to the fullest with all of the houses serving taste! Scoring tens across the board, Cognac's old town realness stole all the trophies, bring on the Brandy! Chérie légendaire!

Are you familiar with the phrase 'haute?' It translates from French to English as the word 'high' when talking about things like food and fashion. I would say that my visit to Cognac brought a whole new meaning to the word 'haute'. Cognac is home to 'Haute Brandy' because some of the world's most famous Brandy's originate from this small French town! Captured to the left is the 'Hennessy' distillery, overlooking the banks of the 'Charante' river, this world recognisable French Brandy attracts visitors to its 'Maison de Hennessy' which translates to 'House of Hennessy'. I had to snap a photo of this distillery as soon as I saw it. One person who I know will appreciate this scoop will be my friend Sharoya! It's a true fact, Roya loves her 'Henny!' Had I been fooled by the small winding cobbled streets? Cognac serves body and flavour with its production of Brandy, she knows how to work! Why didn't I buy a bottle?

Cognac isn't just famous for 'Hennessy' because this town is home to a whole host of other 'Haute' Brandy's. The distilleries of 'Martell' and 'Remy Martin' are situated close to Cognac's wholesomely French centre-ville. My favourite brand has to be 'Courvoisier' as their distillery is located in Cognac also. Why Courvoisier? I joked with my friend Fiorella that if I ever have a daughter she will be called after that liquor because it would be extra to shout in the street if she had been naughty! Who knew that so many high class variations of Brandy are made in Cognac? It's not just the big brands that make their beverages in Cognac, smaller farmers make their own brews of the good stuff, I wonder what Brandy reigns supreme? From the 'House of Hennessy' to the smallest producer its all great for the region! Looking at the ways of this small town Brandy mecca its a powerhouse, creating 'haute' for the world to enjoy! France is just one big producer of alcoholic beverages! Champange too?!

Having a coffee in Cognac should never be done! I should have had a word with the locals that I saw sipping hot coffee instead of Brandy! I simply couldn't leave Cognac without having a small glass of the good stuff! As you can see by the photo on the right I enjoyed a glass of 'Martell' Brandy as I did not specify what label of Brandy I wanted because the price fared to be the same. It was safe to say that I enjoyed my small measure of 'Martell' Brandy. I warned myself that having a coffee in Cognac is cheating! Brandy is the best! Cognac enjoyed its selection of cafes during my short visit but I couldn't help thinking about the dreary weather that threw shade! Shopping for the good stuff wasn't on my list, it wasn't an option that day! Brandy wouldn't really be my first choice of spirit but when in Cognac I just couldn't say no! No, I didn't buy a bottle of Brandy from Cognac but I had visited the home of 'Hennessy!'

I took my time because Cognac's only a small town, I needed to make the best of my time whilst I was in Cognac. Getting to Cognac wasn't difficult for me because I had access to a car, well it wasn't mine and I can't drive! Nevertheless, I used my less than ideal situation to the best of my ability, lets just say I used a certain family members skill of driving to afford me the chance to see places like Cognac. I put up with that pain for the sake of this blog, it was worth the debt I was left in once I checked my account after I landed at Birmingham Airport a few days later. Paying less attention to the driver, in that moment I loved discovering the winding streets of Cognac and the waters of the Charente River. Paying my way, I was very charitable to a source that never even said thank you to me! Bitterness aside, I'm here to recount my visit to Cognac, I wanted to see that town and succeeded! Knowing in my heart I enjoyed every sip of that 'Martell' Brandy even if it cost me my student loan! 

Brandy aussi haute que la mode!

Joseph Harrison

Friday, 24 May 2013

Bordeaux, France: Ville Sur La Rivière

Bonjour! It's Bordeaux calling! I've gone all French recently. I decided to desperately seek an adventure in the South-west of France, boarding a flight to Bordeaux’s Mérignac Airport to be a part of the French life. I have been to the nearby Poitou-Charentes region in the South-west of France before on family visits but I hadn’t seen the city of Bordeaux until this visit. Go!

I took the train to Gare de Bordeaux St. Jean to be at the centre of the art and sophistication of this southern French city. Bordeaux's St. Jean Station is managed by SNCF which is the equivalent of Britain’s Network Rail. Boasting high speed rail connections to Paris, Toulouse and other stations along vast train network. Travelling by train in France didn't break my student budget, ticket prices are relatively the same compared to prices in England. Enough of that rail commentary it's time to discover the delights of Bordeaux for it's been frustrating to fly into the city's Mérignac Airport and not be able to see the city! I'm a city boy at heart, I hadn't got the chance to see Bordeaux on my previous two visits to the region so I wasn't taking no for an answer! There's just something to love about French cities, my first impressions of the Gare de Bordeaux St. Jean were great! It was time for a break! Bien sûr, c'est les vacances BX!

Bordeaux has many means of connecting people from the outer regions of the wider Poitou-Charentes area by train. Staying within the rolling fields and vineyards of the French countryside the train posed to be the easiest solution to get to Bordeaux’s centre ville from the hamlet station of Montendre. It’s for sure a learning experience seeing the unknown train stations pass by as my train made its way closer to Bordeaux, coupled with the busy chattering of the local French people who were on the train early that morning. It was great to be a foreigner in a typically French setting because variety is the spice of life! My school boy French was challenged but I noticed that the use of French sounded like another foreign form of the language compared with the voices that I heard in Montreal, Canada! I would have conducted the day by myself if there was public transport running from Chevanceaux to Montendre station, I couldn't have it all! Les villes sont le moteur d'une nation! Allez!

When in France being able to speak the local language is a good idea because like most places in France people don’t speak English. I can thankfully understand a lot of French, so if things turned out for the worse I was to communicate accordingly. To the left stood the ‘L'eglise du Sacré-Cœur' which translates to ‘The Church of the Sacred Heart’. Something told me that this church has been modified in the middle because the brickwork looked a lot lighter than the rest of the building appeared to be. I will be honest that the sites I saw in Bordeaux were very different from what I have been used to in Birmingham. No Bullring here, I know that Bordeaux should keep doing what it continues to do! I was loving the feel of Bordeaux's city feeling, things didn't seem rushed, people just went about their business. Stopping at a coffee allowed me to see some realness, Bordeaux realness! Continuer à servir de Bordeaux!

Bordeaux itself has been given UNESCO World Heritage status, proclaiming that this city has architecture that’s worth preserving. Bordeaux's ‘Quartier Nansouty’ had a number of very old buildings consisting of houses, schools and general buildings, all dating back to the 1700’s! Along with the protected status of this city it begs the question whether additional work is continually carried out in-order to maintain these buildings? Because some buildings did look like they were in a state of disarray. Who honestly has the answer to this question? Inspired by the city feeling where the old blending with the new, I knew in that moment that I needed to get myself to Paris right away! Hearing French spoken in the streets gave me my own challenge, I felt as if I was back in my secondary school French class. I didn't get the chance to fully check the church out, the outside looked good though! Bordeaux's 'Quartier Nansouty' impressed me! Comme une prière, Bordeaux m'a emmené là-bas!

Bordeaux served some serious culture and history because there wasn't any shortage of historical and palatial points of interest. Starting with one of the city’s most formidable sites has to be the ‘Place de la Bourse’ standing strong with an air of realness. Within this quarter of Bordeaux the architecture has a sense of royalty about it. I did wonder whether these buildings of the past once housed people who could have been called dignitaries. I could definitely imagine myself living in a kitsch and quintessentially royal setting for we all need to embrace our lives in a more fabulous fashion! I know the 'La Place de la Bourse' is fit for a queen! How about you? Finding 'La Place de la Bourse' was such a relief because I had researched Bordeaux's main sights before flying to France in May 2013! Talking about the metro, it trailed around the city and even followed me on my path through the day. Oui, j'avais fait mes devoirs B!

Taking one day to discover the delights of this French city was fine for me. Describing this city’s status took a lot of thought for me as Bordeaux had a feeling of a large town. Getting around Bordeaux can be executed in two ways, ditching public transport I discovered the city by foot. I definitely saw more sights that were off the beaten track without the tramway being needed. Better still this city has an extensive Metro system, that passes through the streets of the quite regularly. Word on the street is that the Bordeaux metro network will eventually be developed to reach the city’s airport. I didn't take the Metro, I believe that I saw some quirky sides of the city that incorporated an African vibe. I suppose influences of the Francophone are visible in Bordeaux? I took a wrong turn somewhere along the way, noticing the feel of the spice I loved the variety and flavour of the l'afrique savoir faire! Attention aux fruits et légumes sur le marché de la ville! Bien sûr! All those bright colours!

Moving through to the final chapter of my day in the city of Bordeaux, things concluded with a visit to see ‘La Garonne’ riverside. This part of town was very picturesque, I for one fell in love this city when I saw the river capture the vista of the city. This city did have that ‘Je Ne Sais Quoi’ feeling because it’s difficult to limit this city within a phrase or comparison against other European cities I have previously visited. I loved my walk along the banks of ‘La Garonne’, the rolling waters gave me the perfect chance to marvel at the typically French buildings, it was crazy to think that the Garonne River made its way into the Atlantic Ocean! Bordeaux served small town realness by the river within a city of its own! Whatever the cost fell to me that day I pushed that unnecessary business aside, it was my day and I wasn't going to let any negativity reach my path. Je vous l'avais dit! Allez de l'avant BOD! Roulant sur la rivière! Vite!

Fulfilled by the days sightseeing, it was time to find the train back to Montendre. Being in the back of beyond, it was a mad dash for the next train that had a limited service towards the hamlet station that I needed. Packed with Bordeaux commuters, the train suddenly stopped and with the help of a friendly passenger the issue was translated. Having to get off the train for some reason left me on the platform for a little while. After waiting for a little bit, another train came to the rescue that was thankfully bound for Montendre. When all was said and done, Bordeaux was well worth the complicated train ride. The river and the overall French feel gave me life, the day was successfully in the end! Returning to my paternal grandparents house felt good, the train had been thrown some complications into the mix. Honestly, I don't know when my next visit will be to France, I do know that Paris will be the next big city visited! Next time I'll leave that negative energy far behind! Affaire classée! 

 J'adore Bordeaux!

Joseph Harrison

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Birmingham: Business, Jewels & Gun Quarters...

Birmingham has most of its city centre areas designated into 'sides' but business is done differently north of New Street Station. Comprised of Colmore Row, the Jewellery and Gun Quarters there something individual this Northern side of Birmingham's city centre offers. Times are changing, so meet me at Birmingham's Snow Hill Station to stay connected! OK B?!

Diamonds are Forever! I have only just ventured into Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, what a sparkling addition to this city it is! I had only seen the Jewellery Quarter on Central News and as I have passed through on the Metro to Birmingham Snow Hill. Wedding bells are a ringing with all those happy couples! I did see several young couples frequenting the many jewellers that make up the Jewellery Quarter upon my visit, purchasing rings for their wedding ceremonies I could only guess? I suppose everyone loves a good celebration?! Education is the key because the Jewellery Quarter is home to its very university campus, part of the 'University of Birmingham' this learning centre trains and educates future jewellers and fashion designers. Gold!

The old workshops and jewellers of the Jewellery Quarter is conveniently just a few minutes walk from Birmingham's National Indoor Arena, the streets are really paved with gold within this North side of Birmingham's city quarter! This Northern Quarter of Birmingham has been an integral part of Birmingham's industry, fortunately this industry has lasted against the test of time and the struggles British industry has faced over recent years. I've heard that the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter educates the children about the glittering history? Jewellery shops old and new stand by each other, but it's easy to see that time hasn't been easy to this side of town. If I ever get a ring put on my finger, it I will outshine the competition! Mark my words because no one bedazzles better than me! Let's see!

Birmingham has a growing business district that's just keeps on getting stonger! Each time I pass through this part of Birmingham's inner city I am amazed at the changing surroundings, for the Colmore Row area of town has been transformed into a hype of activity. Businesses and corporations are choosing Birmingham to set up base. Snowhill, a new development has changed the vista of the Northside, bringing investment and commerce to this side of the city. One Snowhill, a further development has become the newest part of the Colmore Row Business District. It's not exactly Canary Wharf, but who needs to be as good as London? Birmingham's business boom-town will be better than London's financial hub! I'm not really affected by this growing part of Birmingham but I know that its going to impact my life one way or another! I hope more businesses leave London for Brum's Colmore Row! Glow up, Birmz! 

The future is looking bright for the Colmore Row Business District, for the developments that Birmingham's Northside have received within this sector are amazing! A possible new hotel and spa could be built within the business district, hailing from the United States of America is the hotel brand Westin/Starwood Resorts. This new luxury hotel would be able to accommodate business delegates from all over the world, giving them a high standard of hotel in the Northside of Birmingham, I reckon the nearby Hotel Du Vin could have a few words to say about that?! It's going to happen regardless of the drama and competition! Regenerating is the key for some aspects of the Northside, Birmingham but within this instance the prospect of new build projects seems more exciting! The Midland Metro extension to New Street has sped up the expansion of One and Two Snow Hill, breathing new corporate opportunities for the city of Birmingham! You better work it, Birmingham!

Welcome to the Gun Quarter, another historic addition to Birmingham's wider North Quarter. I only visited this side of the Birmingham's Northside yesterday so my knowledge of this corner of town is still quite fresh, but saying that I don't ever use a guidebook so my facts might not be 100% precise but my account will be authentic for sure! Captured to the right is The Bull, a tavern that played a large part in the operating of the Gun Quarter. This corner of Birmingham's Northside was a powerhouse for the production of guns, a taboo subject in today's world. Gun's made Birmingham rich, that's a fact. I found the Gun Quarter to be charming in one respect, it was full of stories of the past and I only walked down Price Street. Bang, bang B4! 

Gunsmiths were paid their wages from this tavern, well circa 1800 that was. Birmingham surpassed London in the gun-making stakes, now we all like to hear that the second city was riding high compared to London. In today's fragile outlook on guns its quite something that Birmingham played a detrimental part of the gun trade, but I suppose these weapons weren't used with the same stereotype that we associate this weapon with? Nowadays, the laws to do with guns and gun-making has changed significantly intern affecting the lifeblood of this area. It has been said that Birmingham's Northside will benefit from investment, with funding and development from Birmingham's Big City Plan. Let's hope the Gun Quarter will be brought back to life! After all Brum, business is business! 

Snow Hill Station connects Birmingham with the wider West Midlands region and London. Birmingham Snow Hill Station first opened back in 1852, whilst the grandeur of steam rail boomed with the Great Western Railway franchise. The glory days lasted for some time until 1967 saw the closure of Birmingham's secondary transportation gateway. Services slowly started to begin from this station again in 1987 leading the rebirth of Birmingham's northern quarter's. Did I mention that Jewellery Quarter could shine even brighter than before? Trains could now stop at Jewellery Quarter's very own train station! I use Birmingham Snow Hill Station quite a lot, it connects with Bilston Central and gets be back to the city in thirty minutes! Birmingham's answer to Canary Wharf, the Colmore Row Business District has its own train station in theory, this city is changing! Keep the trains moving, keep this city develop further! Track by track!

Times are changing for Birmingham Snow Hill Station, 1995 brought the announcement that the all new Midland Metro would be making the station it's terminus for Birmingham. As we go about our business now a new dawn is breaking for the Midland Metro network which will soon span from Wolverhampton St.Georges to Birmingham New Street Station, the new extension will take the metros through the streets of Birmingham to its new terminus. 2015 will be the time-frame for the new extension, I do hope that Snow Hill Station is ready for this movement. I do think its great to see this train station flourish and keep transporting people around the region. Maybe a rebuild could be on the cards for Snow Hill's future development? I sincerely hope so because New Street Station is going places! The northern quarter's might well look and function very differently but its a testament to the history, growth and future of this growing West Midlands city! It's business as usual B!

Birmingham's Own 'Northern Quarter!' 

Joseph Harrison

Monday, 20 May 2013

We Are One... Eurovision Song Contest: Sweden 2013

So in Malmö, Sweden had won the right to host the 58th edition of the contest due to Loreen winning the previous year with 'Euphoria'. It's no secret that we the United Kingdom doesn't fair well in this competition, but this year we had 80's diva 'Bonnie Tyler' on our side! Ireland looked smoking hot with first time entrant 'Ryan Dolan' with his song 'Only Love Survives!'

The campery could only begun when the 26 contenders were ready to take to the stage. Would I be ready for the competition that I unfortunately missed last year? Moldova was fierce! She brought the party, along with her dress rising to end the perfect performance. Finland, she was a girl after my own heart! 'Krista Siegfrids' sang her song 'Marry Me' and kissed one of her female dancers at the end of the performance, looks like someones used 'Eurovision' to push Finland's efforts to make Gay Marriage legal! I loved it! Belarus brought a slice of eastern spice to the contest with their song 'Solayoh!' Bringing some cuteness to the contest had to be Malta, 'Gianluca Bezzina' oozed the right amount of innocence without being too cute! I had missed Eurovision in 2012 due to living in New Jersey, USA, those Americans don't understand our European tradition of song! Yes, I'm ready Sweden!

Things got downright bizarre with 'Cezar' who represented Romania, if I'm not mistaken he shared some similarities with reality star 'Rylan Clark!?' Romania used the 'Eurovision' gimmick perfectly by styling 'Cezar' as a joke 'Dracula' character. Ukraine brought a sensual extravaganza, which had elements of the film 'Avatar'. Whilst, one country that didn't impress me much with their vocal had to be Lithuania, either sing in your own language or not at all! One country that didn't make the final was Slovenia, I won't lie I was looking forward to 'Hannah Mancini's' work! Slovenia didn't get to sing their single 'Straight Into Love' but I loved it still. 'Margeret Berger' of Norway brought the arena down with her rendition of 'Feed You My Love' she sang in English perfectly and didn't look too shabby in her flowing white dress, she was a very sophisticated rock chick! Are you ready for more Eurovision? Would a fellow Scandinavian country take the title? I hate tactical voting of Eurovision! No M!

Ireland's sweetheart was 'Ryan Dolan', my personal favourite of the whole competition. His song 'Only Love Survives' raised the roof at the Malmö Arena last Saturday, so why was Ireland's score so bad? This year definitely wasn't a singing competition because 'Ryan' deserved more points! Our 'love for you will survive' because his three minutes on the stage were filled with charm, camp and courage. Ireland's dance 'Eurovision' tune didn't just benefit from 'Ryan's' good looks and fantastic vocal ability there was also the addition of his hot male dancers, who weren't wearing very much clothing! I'm not going to complain! Ireland had a credible formula this year with a relatively unknown artist compared to the abilities of Jedward. Those twins might be making big bucks but they will never have 'Dolan's' talent! I reckon the future will be bright for 'Ryan' as his debut album 'Frequency' has just been released.

I realised why I missed Eurovision so much whilst I was living in America, so thanks Ireland for bringing the Eurovision gold back! After the competition aired I went back over the semi-final performances to see the Eastern block member states still don't have a clue, as far as the Spanish I couldn't possible comment! Ireland had the man candy on stage for sure, I wanted 'Dolan' to take the crown but I suppose there's always next year?! It's sad that Turkey pulled out because of the actions of countries who have seen the light about Gay marriage, its not the dark ages so get your rebel on European because need to make a stand! I would still like to know why Israel is allowed to be a part of the European song competition I love!? I've never been one for Eurovision parties so I keep it simple by getting a bottle of my favourite non-alcoholic fizz to enjoy the annual Eurovision Song Contest! Maybe one day I'll make it to the real thing, shouting my chosen country in the crowd! Let's hope!

As the voting period began the interval took full force, it was certainly a sterling effort made my Malmö indeed! Host Petra Mede broke into song as she was part of an all singing and all dancing Swedish show. Referencing about ABBA, Ikea and their love for meatballs this interlude was simple yet funny. A direct push for marriage equality was visible as two gorgeous men shared a kiss centre stage! Go Sweden! In true 'Eurovision' style last years winner 'Loreen' took to the stage to perform a medley of her new single 'We Got The Power' and her winning 'Eurovision' hit 'Euphoria'. 'Loreen' turned the party in her own special way, she's a testament that 'Eurovision' can showcase a credible pop artist. I have every confidence that 'Loreen' shall remain the star that she is within the music business. I bought 'Loreen's' debut album whilst I was in NJ so I always had something to cling onto! What on earth is a Smörgåsbord?!

The votes were in and the winner had been decided, Denmark won the contest with a favourable 281 points. 'Emmelie de Forest' sang her song 'Only Teardrops' which put her and Denmark in first place. I wish Denmark well but know in my heart that a country closer to my home should have won! I would have been happy even if 'Cascada' took the trophy! Something tells me somewhere that if things don't change with the political voting certain countries will withdraw for good. I just hope that Turkey's absence from the Eurovision Song Contest isn't too long for I want another Sertab Erener to steal the points from the other states! I'm going to keep my favourites and not dwell on the poor scoring of the better acts, until next year Europe? The voting was downright wrong, its unfair when blocks of countries all vote for each other! I wanted to say 'Thank You for the Music' to Sweden for they had a true winner in 2012 and hosted a fantastic competition! Oh really Denmark? 2014, come on! 

We Are One!  

Joseph Harrison

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Eastside, Birmingham

Birmingham's Eastside stands to be a catalyst for change. With the Eastside boasting the former Bird's Custard Factory and the origins of Birmingham's Irish Quarter which, today stands to flourish because of the St.Patrick's Day Parade. Will Curzon Street Station be brought back from its demise to become the possible terminus of HS2. Sure, Digbeth has got a brand new groove!

Did any mention Bird's Custard? Yes, I did! Has a new legacy has been created from the demise of the original Custard Factory? Today, the Custard Factory stands as a vintage clothing hot-spot, which attracts Birmingham's hip and young residents looking for a groovy outfit to rock. Fair does but it's not my scene. There are some former buildings standing of the existing factory that stands today, pleasing the lively scene of ravers ins the main warehouse. I enjoyed an immense night at the custard Factory in September 2010 at the end of my first year's freshers event. I've got love for the Custard Factory! I've not been back to the Custard Factory for a night out since I saw Alex Zane and Jaguar Skills tearing up their sounds but I never know what the future holds, well sometimes I can see it! 2010? Yes, that much time has really past since that Fresher night-out! Keep it going strong, Eastside needs this new life!

Seeing the Custard Factory from a whole new perspective the other day when I visited was refreshing. The eateries were busy with lunchtime business people getting a bite to eat and residents from the neighbouring apartments all going about their business. I would say that Digbeth has a very retro feel with its cool art galleries and vintage kitsch fashion shops, I admired the products on offer but with my student budget I didn't look all that close. Birmingham has impressed me since I moved back from the United States of America! It's all about taking pride in the place that we live in for what else do we have? Yes! Will Digbeth become the new post-industrial hipster centre of Birmingham? Maybe, just maybe. Anyway, looking to the future of the Custard Factory I can see that the legacy of Bird's Custard will live on through the cutting edge facility that has revolutionised Digbeth. Like I mentioned before, Eastside has kick started a new old new groove! Now I want to eat custard!

Birmingham's Irish Quarter is centred around Eastside. Pictured to the left is The Dubliner pub, this public house stands on Digbeth High Street. This pub has bounced back against all odds after it was subjected to a terrible fire, destroying this Irish focal point in Birmingham's Eastside. The Dubliner reopened its doors to the public in a very short space of time after the fire. On the last St.Patrick's Day I saw the revellers enjoying themselves and I heard the chimes of The Irish Rover song by The Pogues being played. I missed the parade but got to grips with the post-parade shenanigans alright! Let's just say that some rather shady things happened to Digbeth's Irish establishments in the 1980's but the future remains to the bright, leave the shade for another day! I don't usually drink in Digbeth, its never been my scene but I could be persuaded to change that! Keep it lucky in the Irish Quarter I said Brum!

Digbeth is home to various other Irish pubs within the quarter which are The Kerryman and The Irish Centre. The Irish Quarter brings a certain flare to Eastside because each of Birmingham's inner city regions has its own persona. The Irish community have been part of Birmingham's rich blend of cultures and communities from as far back as the 1820's leaving a legacy and building a strong link with Digbeth and the wider region of Birmingham's Eastside I hope that next year's St.Patrick's Day goes as smoothly this years festivities did! I have every confidence that Digbeth holds its Irish Quarter close and keeps its customs and festivities alive for future generations to love. No matter what happens it clear to see that Birmingham as a city has an ethnically and culturally diverse make-up, instilling a colourful existence in Digbeth. I went to Dublin and Belfast in March 2013, seeing another side of Irish culture! I know that Brum will carry on celebrating St. Patrick! Watch this Emerald space!

Eastside has gained better transport facilities as the years have past me during my University College Birmingham. Birmingham has gained a new coach station. This new amenity is home to National Express coaches from the all new Birmingham Coach Station. The new facility has been praised because of its efficiency and proximity to Birmingham city centre. I have used this transport hub on two select occasions to Huddersfield and Northampton. I was once sceptical about taking the coach in general as I always favoured the train, but my experience from Birmingham Coach Station has been positive. I will look forward to my next National Express coach journey in the future as I was very impressed considering I haven't yet taken a Megabus from Hill Street! I will inevitably take a Megabus but hands down its much better to wait inside  the station. National Express, keep Eastside moving forwards! Go, go NX!

I would say that Birmingham is ready for another reliable transport gateway, Digbeth happened to be the chosen quarter to benefit from this development as I believe the original Coach Station had seen its day! Whilst New Street Station is being redeveloped we do need a gateway that brings tourism and business to the UK's second city. Digbeth is close to Birmingham Airport, another major gateway for the city which benefits from regular coach-loads of passengers alike. I have every confidence that I shall continue to utilise Birmingham's Coach Station as Eastside deserves everyone's support, Digbeth brings people to Birmingham without knowing it because of its the retro capital of the city. I want to see the Midland Metro in Eastside next, go ahead West Midlands Transport Authority get that extension built because London and Manchester can't win all the time! Keeping my day trips going I know that I'll be using the coach station for a National Express journey in the future.

Eastside has been transformed by the Millenium Point, bringing a futuristic day out for all of the family. Captured to the left is Eastside City Park which has been only been visible to me since I have returned to Birmingham after my placement in America. This is a testament that Digbeth has been progressing and moving forward compared to the other parts of the city of Birmingham. The first time I came into contact with Eastside's City Park it was quite cold, dismal and empty but just the other day the weather was very nice so the activity I saw was quite positive. I love a good cup of tea so I'm hoping the rumours about a possible redevelopment of the once Typhoo Tea factory is considered to make way for the Typhoo Wharf complex that shall affirm that Digbeth is rising from the shadows to be better than that Bullring! Can't let that Bull have all the phrase! I look further than the predictable attraction! Go!

High Speed Two is poised to be steaming its way to Birmingham's historic railway station, Birmingham Curzon Street Station. Reports have been rife whether the milestone project will take place, transforming the way high speed rail will be making its way to the West Midlands from London. It's been a rocky road and there's no sign of any final drawings but Curzon Street Station will most likely be the Midlands terminus of the slated High Speed 2 project. I see a decision being made about the high speed train line, but it's a big step for Birmingham and Eastside's future. Only time will tell whether Curzon Street Station will welcome the High Speed Two train in the near future. Eastside could be expanding before everyone's eyes to reinvigorate that standing station that could return to greatness?! New Street Station is getting a rebuild so what's the problem with making High Speed 2 a reality? Anyway, let's get on with it Birmingham because Eastside is the future! Make it happen, Birmz!

Eastside... The Future?

Joseph Harrison

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Back To Birmingham... My University Life!

My university life has changed quite drastically since I embarked on my Hallmark Aviation placement, I landed back into Heathrow Airport with a bucket full of dreams to go back to Birmingham with! I wasn't completely prepared for the looming barrage of deadlines, student loan living and exams compared to my pre-conceived plan! Hi, University College Birmingham! 

February brought the beginning of my second semester of my third year at University College Birmingham. It was time to continue my studies on my BA Hons Hospitality and Tourism Management degree, the very reason that took me to Newark, NJ for one year. Completing my Industrial Placement professional file became my first task, the assignment deadlines loomed two weeks after our first lecture! This semester would bring changes that I completely welcomed into my life, as much as I did not want to be back here I couldn't help feeling like I had never gone away. I didn't need to wait for the mountain of assignments to be delivered and the drone of three hour lectures! Virgin Atlantic Airways, just take me back! This semester began with a bang! Back to studies and normality, I needed to dedicate myself to my studies as I failed my Financial module from the second year. Oh my life! Things got very real!

Walking to university reminds me that I'm one step closer to graduating and making my first steps in the world of work, well for more than a year so I can pursue a career. This semester has been interesting and I wouldn't have changed it one bit, well not even my 'French' option but I shall mention that later on. University College Birmingham has been a good choice for me, I can say that my degree is currently on track and I have every confidence that the effort that I had put into my work this semester has been worthwhile. From working from week to week for my pay-check I had a shock to my system when the deadlines started coming in, I didn't want to comply but now I realise that shouldn't have been so keen to return from Newark, NJ! With this new blog I didn't know where to look at first, I just want to blog about everything and anything but I know that I'll be refining the operation soon enough. Birmingham is my current state of mind, let's just say I'm getting on with it! Yes B!

Like every other student across the country and beyond, we don't really like having mountains of work to complete in a short time. This semester I have had three modules to complete and hopefully pass! Starting with International Travel Operations which has not been too tedious, the photo on the right is what my work desk looked like whilst I worked my way through the 2,500 word essay that wasn't actually that bad to write. One thing I must admit that getting back to grips of writing in the third person has taken some to get used to, I'm getting the hang of it again! Rounding up the troops we've enjoyed a few boozy afternoons at Wetherspoons, so that's been good. It's been a learning curb this semester because I have had to teach myself certain aspects of the academic side of things due to forgetting bits over the placement year. Practice makes perfect, I have another year to get my teeth into! B, let's get on with it! 

Managing Human Resources has been my core module, I'm not too fond of this module for many reasons! It's a bore because I do not see myself using any of the techniques and practices in my future, to add insult to injury I have to sit a two hour exam based on Performance Management someone please help me! I'm off to France the week before the exam so I'm going to need all the luck! From seminars and assignments I have got my option module, whilst out on placement me and my class chose our option module for the semester that we are currently finishing now. I chose Nature Tourism as it appeared to one of the only tourism modules up for grabs, for my second choice I chose Lower Intermediate French on the pretence I enjoyed French at secondary school. To my dismay my first choice fell through like many of my fellow students who had picked other modules that were on offer. I won't lie it's been very stressful at times but I achieved a B+ on my speaking test, not bad! Vite, vite, B! 

Being back in Birmingham has been an experience in itself, I can't deny its been great to be back! Living at the Maltings again has been challenging because my flat has had issues with the cleanliness of the kitchen, people weren't ready for the return of the 'Britney Bitch! I have made a new friend since living in Vulcan House, Lydnsey has become a good friend who I want to stay in contact with after the semester ends. Let's just see how things pan out because BB's getting crazy! Life has been a crazy ride as of recent, getting back into the swing of studying and even revision has been challenging. Having the Mailbox standing on my doorstep is great, it's no Ironbound, but it's how things have to be! This semester has shown me that I've got to chill out. I'm embracing a very different 'new normal', the realness of the kitchen certainly makes the Newark Downtown look like Disneyland! It's business, no mistakes, B! 

This time around I opted to blog about Birmingham, noticing things about this city that I never noticed from first and second years of my time at University College Birmingham. I have been acquainted with Birmingham's Westside and Southside, finding both areas to hold a new meaning because I know understand more about the areas that just existed before I embarked on placement. I'm looking to create a blog about Birmingham's Eastside and Digbeth as both districts have been brought to my attention this semester. For June I have booked tickets to see the ballet Coppelia at the Hippodrome Theatre. Birmingham is proving me wrong, I'm now seeing a developing and cosmopolitan city. Getting with the program, I'm no longer a fresher, the book needs rewriting! I'm ready to take my nights into a direction, I know where I want to party at and won't be seen dead in those 'predictable' parties. I'm grown, I am not going compromise any night out! I dictate my own schedule! Times a changed! 

To ease the headache of assignments and seminars I have tried my best to travel whilst being back at university. I made my way to Birmingham Airport on March 25th for my Ryanair flight to Dublin, Ireland. I went to Ireland during my semester break to do a bit of exploring, also getting to squeeze in a day trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland. This semester has seen me take the National Express for the first time from Birmingham to Huddersfield, then later on to Northampton. I shall be back at Birmingham Airport in 12 days for my Monarch flight to Bordeaux, France. I shall be visiting family for one week to return to my lovely Managing Human Resources exam! I'm going to enjoy summer and get back to university to plan for my future. Do I teach English in China or do I interview for an airline? Having the income to travel freely in America was great, now that I have to rely on my student loan! I'm trying harder! 

This semester is coming to an end, I just have one seminar and a presentation to accomplish! Oh, I must not forget my final French exam and the dreaded Managing Human Resources final examination! I have every confidence that I shall pass this semester with flying colours! I can't think about resits because I have to get to final year so I can tackle my dissertation and finally graduate in September '14! It's been one heck of a journey since I returned back to university after my American year, I wouldn't have had it any other way! Birmingham is my current state of mind, I'm getting to know my student city on a more personal level and branching out to further places with my Newark State of Mind. The grind of the airport seems like a million miles away, assignments have taken my life up and I've created this blog that I want to carry on. I'm missing my Newark girls but I know I'm in no hurry to return, when I do its going to be major! University will get better I know Birmingham has got me!

UCB... I'm Back!

Joseph Harrison

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

London: Boys About Town!

Boys, Boys, Boys! I was looking for a good time! I received a rather random text message from Paolo suggesting a day out to London. I couldn't refuse this offer as life has not been the same since our Newark days and of course London is a place that I love! All in agreement for our day out it was set that the Las Vegas 3 would reunite, making our comeback day out in London!

London Town was calling us back, there wasn't a minute to lose I booked my train tickets within a few days of this fantastic revelation. Setting off to the capital city on a super early train I wanted to do a bit of sightseeing before my two amigos arrived in London, the home of the beautiful people! Trusting the London Underground I made it from Euston to Camden Town in search of a slice of something different. I'm better at getting the tube independently, its a crazy part of London so being in-control of my journey helped a lot! The sun was shining, there were a few clouds in the skies but I wasn't going to complain, I was back in London! Camden served its retro and hip part of London life! The bohemian feel with the range of diverse market stalls and shops made Birmingham feel a million miles away! Was I really back in London? London was looking lovely in that moment! London stole my heart again!

I didn't need Sloane Square because I loved what I was looking at. I initially made it to Camden at around 9:45am I don't think I was doing too badly? I just wanted to have a mooch around to get back to where I spent the day with my friends Joe, Jordan, Ursula and Rebecca back in late 2011. I do love the Camden Lock area where the canal meets the variety of market stalls where you can taste delicious food from the four corners of the world. I think you need to get yourself to Camden! Oh, I also made a quick visit to Covent Garden, I love that place! Bargains don't get any better when your train down to London only costs £6.00! London Midland got me my sweet deal only a matter of days before I was summoned to London by Paolo and then Thomas! The heat had been turned up at university with exams and the final deadlines for the remaining assignments, that London getaway was very much needed! No Bang Bang chicken for me that day, I was busy, no way! Love you, London! I do L! 

Where were Paolo and Tom? I was finally reunited with my Hallmark brothers! We started off at London's Transport Museum, we were all like a bunch of excited little boys! We made sure we had a great time. It was an educational visit from one perspective because we learned about how Londoners of the past used to make their way around this brilliant city. Paolo had to be Paolo by going crazy when he saw the interactive Tube driving games, ah well its a good job we are friends because you certainly looked the part! Before ending our rampage of London's Transport Museum we saw how the first London Underground tunnels were actually dug from street level, how the times have changed because those Tube trains are well and truly underground. The past, present and future of all things transport for London opened my eyes, let's just say the London Underground will be looking unrecognisable in the future, L! 

Moving through our quick paced pursuit I took in the views of Covent Garden and the Piazza for the second time that day while the other two decided our next move. We decided to make our way to the Strand to reach a post office because Tom and Paolo had a transaction to complete. I was back in the city where I was born, I know that London will always have a place in my heart. Spontaneity can be good, I really need to embrace that notion more!  Tom and Paolo had planned to return to Newark, NJ for their second time after placement but I wasn't on that hype because I'm off to Spain and Turkey in the next few months, I will return to Newark in the future but it has to be on my terms. No West End show was on our radar, acting as the perfect tonic because that's always on my to-do list when I'm back in London! I was able to bring back a side of my Britney persona for the afternoon but I'll always be the fabulous on out of this three! Londinium, can I ask why are your buses so red? 

The sun was shining and the tourists were out in their thousands, let me just add we weren't tourists at all! I'll show you my passport because that will prove it 100%! Looking down over Trafalgar Square was absolutely immense! The day was turning out be an amazing state of affairs, it was only going to get better! I hadn't been to Trafalgar Square for a long while, so getting back there was amazing! The boys were all back in town, I would not have had it any other way! All of a sudden I felt like I was at a film premiere! It's got to be Leicester Square, because that's where the film premieres are held in England. Making McDonald's our choice for lunch I said that I wanted to see the River Thames that afternoon. Who honestly knew what the rest of our day would bring for us? I wanted to see the River Thames, but would that happen? Yes! Birmingham was a world away, the warm weather held out for me! Sure! 

Making our way through London's Piccadilly Circus we found ourselves going to Regents Street for a look around Hamley's, London's premium department store for toys. It was so amusing because we were like excited children in a sweet shop, well we were really young men in a toy store! One part of Hamley's that I loved the best was finding the Virgin Atlantic Airways airport set, yes they did have an Emirates plane which did impress me much. Yes, serving some 'airport realness' during our day got me thinking about our crazy year working at the airport in Newark, NJ! Britney Bitch had her boys to hit the bright lights of Las Vegas and a whole lot more of shenanigans! Northampton was good but London allowed us to get back to a near New York City vibe like the old days that wasn't that long ago! Embracing my inner Disney Kid at London's biggest toy shop, you already know that I loved the Disney Princesses! That's will never be a secret of mine because Brit's a ratchet princess B!

Taking the Tube from Oxford Circus to Embankment in the middle of the 5pm rush hour was a tad stressful but we made it to the River Thames nonetheless. I captured the photo on the right as we made our way across the Golden Jubilee Bridge, don't you just adore London? Well minus all the busybodies that pushed through the crowds its amazing! The weather was still great, a minor miracle compared to the previous weather we had experienced the previous month. My wish to be close to the River Thames was granted, grabbing an ice cream all three of us found a place to relax on the grass overlooking the London Eye, it was bliss. Our spontaneous day in London was nearly over but so far I had enjoyed everything that we had experienced. Let us just take a little while to relax and take in the sights, shall we? The banter was back, I had forgotten that I was the one that got all the jokes aimed at me! Brit! 

The sun was setting on London Town, we saw some great things that day for certain! From the beginnings of the London Underground at London's Transport Museum to my impromptu visit to Camden Town I loved every moment! I obviously was not ready for the final phase of our London adventure, because we were off to no other than G-A-Y for a few drinks! Meeting one of Paolo's friends from university we made our way to the popular London gay club for a few early evening drinks, why did I have a train booked back to Birmingham so soon? The drinks were super cheap and when I mean cheap, £1.70 for a pint of Cider! The drinks were going down, down a little too easy! No night out for us, it was time to say our goodbyes and part once again. G-A-Y, I'll be back! When will be the next reunion be boys? So, my weekend in Huddersfield was unique, Northampton was OK but London certainly gave me life! Until I receive another random text message! London, don't let us be strangers! No!

Birmingham Soon?

Joseph Harrison