Sunday, 24 November 2013

Sud-Ouest France: Culture, Vins et Campagne...

Bonjour! Comment ça va? France is a country that's ripe for the picking and that's just the vineyards! I've been to France a few times, but its always to the country's Southwest to the Charente-Maritime region that's close to the city of Bordeaux. During my last visit I saw three places, getting to grips with the countryside, wine and culture during my French holiday. Oh, Jonzac!

Getting to France was really quick and inexpensive from England, my flight from Birmingham to Bordeaux took only one hour and twenty minutes! Located on the banks of 'La Garonne' river that's distantly connected to Bordeaux's 'Dordogne' river. I spent the day in Bordeaux where I was amazed by vast amount of historic buildings such as the 'Place de la Bourse', a point of interest that I was hoping to see. I really liked what I saw in Bordeaux, it was lovely! Bordeaux served beauty, that French city surprised me with its different personalities. Having visited many cities in many different European countries, I found that 'Je ne sais pas' feeling as Bordeaux was just darling with its cutesy French sophistication! How I loved 'Rue Sainte-Catherine', after my visit I learned that it is the longest pedestrianised street in France! Everything in B'deaux seemed like perfect sense to me! Bordeaux était charmant! Oui!

For many Bordeaux stands as a gateway city, with its airport being modest but nothing to shout about, I was very happy to be seeing more than just the airport! Who would want that? I don't! I've not been to Paris but can only imagine that Bordeaux could be classed a little sister for I imagine Paris is just a huge version of this endearing French city. From the quaint side streets to the grand squares, I loved the 'Place de la Comédie' for this regal setting is a great place to people watch as the holidaying Parisians can be spotted a mile off! Like many other provincial French city's Bordeaux is speeding ahead with its developments of high-speed rail but I reached Bordeaux by a local SNCF train from Montendre to Bordeaux St. Jean Station, a station that has a whole personality of its own. Never say never but I saw all the best bits during my time in the city of the river 'Garonne'. My day in Bordeaux consisted of a lot of walking but that was fine. Croyez-moi, Bordeaux en valait la peine! 

Stepping back into Jonzac during May 2013 had me feeling like I was 'Belle' from Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast'. Catching the quaint bakery and butchers cemented that I was well away from the buzz of Bordeaux's city centre. I first visited Jonzac during January 2011, would I see anything new? Keeping my eyes peeled, I definitely recognised the 'Hôtel de Ville'. The town hall had one fabulous former purpose as the 'Château de Jonzac', meaning in the 'Castle of Jonzac!' Half feeling like a Disney princess, the grandeur of Jonzac's town hall looked like a mini castle. Did I have any treats from the pâtisserie because my student finance loan wouldn't cover any small luxuries, I don't feel bitter about that because that small town bakery looked beautiful from the outside. In that moment I knew that my future visit to Paris would be filled with rich baked treats! Jonzac still looked fine, one burning question remained!

Walking away from the castle like town hall along 'Rue des Carmes', my paternal Grandfather informed me that the river below us was called the Seugne River. Having recently returned from North America, the architecture remained me of Montreal's old town. Made up of French Canadian charm, I was transported back to those Vieux Montreal moments in Jonzac, France. Their was a certain feeling that I felt during that day in Jonzac, I wouldn't be returning to France under the same circumstances! Let's just say that family doesn't always need to come first, I made the best of my location for that week. Even though Jonzac looked lovely, I knew in that moment that other parts of France deserved to be discovered. Marseille and Nice both look charming, I need to some time in the future to visit them! With all this sightseeing I was in need of some more liquid refreshment, I had a little town with a big Brandy secret on my radar! Jonzac, stay pretty because I need to visit new places!

I never realised that one small French town held so many famous brands of Cognac! I made my way to the medieval town of Cognac to find the 'Maison du Hennessy' translated into English to the House of Hennessy. There may be many fashion houses in cities like Paris, New York and London but Cognac is home to Courvoisier, Remy Martin and Martell. Each brand of Cognac has their own 'Maison' of Brandy. I saw it was only right to try a small measure of the good stuff! It wasn't just the Cognac Brandy that brought me to that charming town, the many winding street corners that amazed me. Captured to the right the 'Maison du Hennessy' sits peacefully on the flowing 'Charente' river. I was certain that every town within that region had its own river? Forget Haute Couture it was all about Haute Brandy! I won't lie, if money wasn't at the centre of everything I would have had a few more glasses of Remy Martin Cognac! 

The town of Cognac is part of the Poitou Charentes region within Southwest of France, it is part of the many towns that recreate a fairy tale nature. Cognac's small market square resembled a classy version of a British open air market, it looked a little bit more French. Back to the Brandy vibe, I found a lovely cafe that faced a regal looking hotel for at that time it was undergoing renovation work for the up-coming summer season. I ordered a small measure of Remy Martin Cognac, I won't lie it was a lovely drop! Let's just that certain factors during that day had me less than amused but I wasn't going to let that negativity get me down, I used every factor to my advantage! Savouring my Remy Martin serving, I don't regret anything about my reasons for wanting to visit Cognac! Set aside the river that I mentioned just now, I was at one with the nature of Cognac that May 2013 day in Cognac. Bordeaux and Cognac have been flashed back, I know there's one more place to remember! Oui!

During my French holiday I spent most of my time in the hamlet of Chatenet, a serene and peaceful part of the Charente Maritime commune that's mostly made up of countryside and vineyards. Getting away from it all was great, now we're in November I would love some sun! Christmas is on the way so I can't complain! I spent one afternoon away from everything to walk down the country lanes that are relatively quiet, with the odd tractor or passing car for its only form of traffic. I loved the pure and organic feeling of the fields and the vineyards that make up most of this area. Holidaying in Chatenet has to be planned with meticulous precision for there is no public transport for miles and hotels are sparsely located in this region, choose a Gîte, which is a holiday cottage that are managed and some owners offer transfers from the nearby Bordeaux airport. Chatenet took those student stress away completely! Merci, FR! 

Above is one of the many vineyards that produce one of France's most famous exports of Wine. Red and white Wine is produced from the grape in this region amongst other grape based beverages that are used within the local community. There's obviously Wine that is the most recognisable product, but there's 'Pineau des Charantes' which is fortified wine and Brandy that's famously known as Cognac, along with the nearby town that's been previously mentioned. Chatenet's best kept secret is 'Eau de Vie' meaning 'Water of Life' its the strongest grape based beverage which acts as a cooking spirit but can also be savoured as a liquor to drink with caution due to its 90% volume. I had a little taste, no word of a lie that 'Eau de Vie' was strong! I live in the centre of Birmingham's city centre so when I had my French holiday I loved the serenity that Chatenet offered me, a welcome change from the hubbub of city life. I'll be back, France hasn't seen the last of me! A bientôt France! 

CultureWines and Countryside!

Joseph Harrison 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Birmingham's Frankfurt Christmas Market

Birmingham has decked the city with its Christmas lights once again, bringing the city streets back to its sparkling festive glory. New York City looked after me last year, I missed the last Christmas so I wanted to get the best of this years festivities! Even though the crowds get maddening at the weekends, I was up for the market! Let's enjoy the Frankfurt Christmas Market! 

It's that time of year when the Frankfurt Christmas Market sets up shop along Birmingham's Victoria Square and New Street! From the 14th November to 22nd December, dates vary annually. the market would trade. Marry the night and let Birmingham's Frankfurt Christmas Market make all of your holiday dreams come true! I was in New York City last year so I have been looking forward to this event! Indulge in some rich picking because the gifts and crafts that are on offer are out of this world. Birmingham brings it big during this time of year, I love it! I know that you will as well! Be dazzled by the glittering lights in the winters evening sky. Birmingham has been serving some chilling winter weather recently and we don't want to let that be our excuse for not visiting this German Christmas Market! Navigate the sparkling and winding paths that are laden with possible purchases, we should all enjoy this! B, I'm back! 

Above is the Birmingham craft market that over looks Paradise Forum and Birmingham's Town Hall, don't be fooled because this is an extension of the German Market as it all merges together, well it all looks so good there's really nothing to worry about. I have fallen in love with Birmingham all over again, each time when I see the vista captured in the photo above. This city has got to have one of the best Christmas markets and I'm not just say that to make this blog sound perfect. I'm being truthful because at the end of the day, who likes a liar?! Last year I spent the festive period in New York City and funnily enough I never saw one Christmas market, I guess Birmingham's 'Got Talent?' From gourmet snacks to mulled cider and the hippest stocking fillers this market pleases the whole family, now that is genius! So put your hands up and make them talk to give your applause to Birmingham for serving us with such a fab festive treat! Birmingham will always be my student city! Go!

Happy Christmas Birmingham! Well almost! Victoria Square is alight with the joys of Christmas, the festive season is definitely upon us! Me and a friend broke away from our hectic university lives, looking for something festive to do. People come from far and wide for this vibrant addition to Birmingham and I don't blame them! I have been to many places across Europe and North America over the last two years but know that Birmingham holds the key to my student heart. The month of November is special to me for it's my birthday day month and the Frankfurt Christmas Market opened on the 14th November, a nice coincidence! Now that's what I call immaculate timing Birmingham! I'm not a fairground person but the merry-go-round impressed me much. I cleverly chose to visit the Frankfurt Christmas Market in the week, I wanted to take my time to experience the market stress-free. Brum is my shining star! Yes!

I like to do things at my pace, I would definitely say I have a mature mind for my young 23 years spent alive! I have recently been quite anti-Christmas but as soon as I saw the bright lights and heard the singing of Christmas songs, my 'Bah Humbug' Scrooge attitude melted away like an ice cream on a boiling hot summer's day! Variety is the spice of life because a bit of cold weather is welcome once in a while, I'm going to make the most of the market and the city as I only have one semester left. Let's keep this simple, Birmingham is becoming a well known tourist destination so with the longevity of the market being in Birmingham its no secret that the market gets super busy. Timing is crucial when going about town during the peak times, I made it my mission to enjoy the festive season in Birmingham without dodging the crowds at the weekend. After the stress I should say a big thank you to Birmingham for bringing back my Christmas spirit! Don't be a scrooge! It is my last Brum Xmas! 

Birmingham's Frankfurt Christmas Market is all about the food, choose between one of the many stalls that sell delicious German snacks and treats. From Frankfurters to handmade chocolates there's a rich and delicious treat to suit every taste. I went crazy by having two German hot-dogs because they tasted so good! Save those pennies because they are worth it for a delicious bite to eat at Birmingham's Frankfurt Christmas Market. Christmas is only once a year so it doesn't matter if you have one or two many treats from the market during this festive season! Enjoy a Bavarian Beer or some Mulled Wine, when choosing to indulge in one of these beverages you will be able to keep the themed glass for the Bavarian Beer or the decorated cup for the Mulled Wine. Things get packed at the weekend so I visited on a quiet Monday evening. Birmingham, you served me some treats! I want more! This student life! 

I've not been to Frankfurt yet but I felt closer to what some of the qualities would be like for the Frankfurt Market always seems to be very authentic. Talking of Germany, I wouldn't mind visiting a market compare with Birmingham. I shall be back before the 22nd December for I have to enjoy some Mulled Cider because it's the perfect winter warmer, also what else is a student supposed to do after lectures for my final year is shaping up to be very hectic! All work and no play, now that's a grim thought! What would be your favourite treat to enjoy at Birmingham's Frankfurt Christmas Market? Birmingham's New Street comes alive during the late afternoon into the evening for the glittering Christmas lights dazzle in the cold winter skies over Birmingham's premier shopping street, being at the German Market only accentuates the feeling of Christmas season. Mix things up with a spot of shopping in the Bullring because the German Market is located close to the stores. B, you be stylish! 

Are you on the hunt for a collectors item or something to impress one of your nearest and dearest? Yes! Well, you have abundance of choice at Birmingham's Frankfurt Christmas Market it's like being a child in a sweet shop there's just so much choice! Captured to the right is one of the stalls that sits in the middle of New Street that sells a wide range of beautifully crafted Russian dolls and many other Christmas themed collector items that could make the perfect stocking filler for this Christmas. I loved the Russian dolls, I suppose buying one of these would be lot more cost effective compared to travelling to Moscow, Russia to buy one? But we can all dream! By the time I walked past the stall captured to the right my hands full with food purchased from other stalls along New Street so it wasn't the best time to think about handling ornaments! Remember, go shopping and then grab some drinks! I saved my money for the food! Go!

I couldn't spend freely with my paper but I made the most of what I purchased at the market. I took more from the experience and atmosphere of the market itself rather than the delights that were on offer. I will be revisiting the market in the coming days for its located practically on my doorstep so that's cool with me. If you plan to extend your stay in Birmingham because of the Frankfurt Christmas Market then I salute you! Let's get on with this festive season already, I'm not waiting one second longer! This time of year brings Birmingham's best features to life, along with the colourful and inviting market its the perfect time to experience England's second city. I'm really glad to be spending my final year at University College Birmingham in this city because it allows me to get back to what is great about this place. Birmingham is where my life is right now, I'm just going to embrace it! I feel blessed to have the Christmas Market back in Birmingham for this final student winter celebration! 

Holidays Are Coming! 

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Chester: Rivers, Cathedrals & Clock Towers

I never knew that Merseyrail's Wirral line terminated at Chester, making my way from Liverpool to Chester effortless because James Street station offered me a direct route from Liverpool's city centre! I was ready to be amazed by Chester and to see the unmarked border with Wales. For sure Chester 's city centre shared striking resemblance with Stratford-Upon-Avon! Yes!

I reached Chester early on, after my short walk from the city's train station I was greeted by the Eastgate Clock Tower, I instantly loved it! Dating back to 1897 had I walked into a Medieval settlement, going back in time was the theme of the day! Yes, I had stepped back in time during my Liverpudlian experience but Chester took me further back into history, I was in a completely different age, more like the 1800's! Needless to say I had just left the bustling city of Liverpool behind me to find an equally lively Chester going about its business, the build up to Christmas was in full swing for sure! I had already been to other parts of Cheshire before but I had never heard of Chester until my latest Liverpudlian trip. Was I on time? I was bang on time but if truth be told, I didn't have the foggiest what significance the clock tower had bestowed upon Chester? Informing myself, the arch dated back to Georgian times! 

Leaving Eastgate and its clock behind, I stumbled upon Westgate Street, where I saw quite a lot of quirky medieval sights! Westgate Street offers some of Chester's best shopping hot-spots, my whistle stop trip didn't allow for any purchases I did see many top brands such as The White Company and Barbour. Independent shops were plentiful with a wide range of price brackets carefully considered. Going hungry in this part of town would have been impossible for the wide range of cafes and restaurants broke away from the usual high street chains that shall not be named. Chester's city centre core looked so beautiful, I had only ever seen such a history before in William Shakespeare's hometown, Stratford-Upon-Avon. Yes, there was hearty serving of Shakespearean-like charm in Chester that effortlessly serves medieval-like realness! I'm not into shopping, leaving the stores to the streets folk I carried on with my Chester tracks. Yes, the speedy Merseyrail made that day possible! 

Chester had a vibe that took me back to my days as a Walt Disney World Cast Member, I saw some striking similarities that stood before me. As I stood on the corner of Chester's Abbey Square, I felt as if I was standing within EPCOT's UK Pavilion around the World Showcase in Orlando, Florida! The Rose and Crown themed part of Disney's World Showcase screamed back at me, the architecture looked just the same! Aside from the magical exteriors I loved the personality and class that Chester's side streets served, there was a rich and tasteful chocolate box feeling for sure! Chester's Medieval charm goes further than being a replica of Disney's Epcot, simply painting the perfect picture of this city's past. That November afternoon in Chester wasn't too cold, I was on hot pursuit of all the delights that this city had to offer me. I wasn't in any rush, Chester isn't a large city so I set own pace. I won't forget Chester in a hurry! No!

Armed with a sense of adventure I got an idea of what Chester possessed. I generally have high standards when it comes to capturing a photo but I had to rely on my iPhone to produce the perfect photo. I'm pleased to say that the atmosphere of Chester's Abbey Square vibe has hopefully been encapsulated within my photos because the streets were filled with eager shoppers and tourists, who were going about their business in quite a hurried fashion! I won't be bitter about my hectic photographic task because Chester was proving a charming and chocolate box like city, if its even possible to brand a city with that term? I wanted to see as much as possible within the short time I gave myself. Stopping for lunch didn't happen but Chester has an abundance of cutesy cafes that sit within the city walls. American's would fall over yourselves to find a city like Chester. A border now separates England and Wales within the proximity of the city, Chester was once a part of Powys?

I make allowances for cathedrals because each place I visit they all have different quirks and stories to tell. Chester Cathedral stood opposite the quaint chocolate box shops overlooking Abbey Square so I was in my element snapping away with my mobile camera. I'm not a religious soul but I love visiting places of worship because they also have many stories to tell about the place they have stood in since its construction, yes bricks and mortar really have their own personalities! I did see street guides passing by the cathedral informing eager tourists about the delights of Chester's yesteryear's, I'm an independent traveler so I made my own way around the cathedral grounds. On another note, I love Christmas but when decorations and market get in the way of a place, that business really annoys. Chester's Christmas cheer didn't interfere with my photos, everything was quite subtly done. I appreciated that!  

I wanted to see as much of Chester in that one afternoon before taking my train back to Birmingham, My train would be departing from Liverpool's Lime Street Station in only a matter of hours. I had already seen quite a lot of Chester, that race commenced right from the very moment my Merseyrail train service terminated at Chester's train station. I had a feeling that this city would show me something special. I found out pretty quickly that I wasn't going to need public transport during my time exploring in Chester. From the Eastgate clock tower to the chocolate box Victorian architecture I was very impressed at what sort of city Chester prevailed itself to be. The cathedral was nice and the streets that surrounded it were very pretty, leaving that cosy corner of Chester behind me, it was time to search for the Welsh border. I wanted to break the record, two cities and two countries in one day! To find the Welsh border, all that I needed to do was to find the River Dee! Sure, the UK! 

My final port of call was a stroll along the banks of the River Dee. Up until this point I had only looked at a map of Chester to see its close proximity to the red Welsh border, I wanted to walk over the border but ended having the footpath disappear before me, so I decided to turn around to admire the views of the Welsh border closer to the city walls. Technically, I could have already been in Wales because the buses were all heading for Wrexham (Wrescam) and Chester were spelt (Caer). Even though I crossed the wrong side of the river I experienced two countries in one afternoon! The River Dee had a chilled effect as it made its way through the city of Chester, if only the sun had made an appearance that would have been a fine thing! I must back up my previous statement that the weather wasn't a negative reflection towards Chester, merely a declaration of England's sublime November weather.

Walking back to Chester's city centre was a period discovery for I had simply walked outside of the Roman city walls, now that's what I call a history lesson! I wouldn't want to compare Chester with Liverpool for the two cities have very different histories and city-spaces, those differences made them both very individual places to visit. I missed the Mersey River but the River Dee gave me something calmer, I appreciated those two waterways all the same. Chester will always have a place in my heart, it's one Great British town that exudes nothing but the best Victorian, Medieval and Roman architecture in the same place!  Keep those city walls strong Chester stood as a great city to take a chance on, with the cathedral, city walls and chocolate box medieval style. Yes, another member of the United Kingdom lies across the River Dee, Wales only stood a heartbeat away from Chester's centre! If time permitted I would have extended my trip with some time spent in Wrexham. 

Yes, Chester!

Joseph Harrison   

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Who's Calling? ... It's Liverpool, England!

Venturing back to the city of the Mersey River had to be done! Liverpool holds the connection to a distant family port arrival! I allowed the Port of Liverpool and the Albert Docks, I knew that Scouse city had many hidden treasures to show me second time around. Revealing Liverpool's Chinese secret and the RopeWalks had me ready to learn. Cilla, Liverpool's the boss! 是的! 

Liverpool had called me back for a second time, alluring me to recapture the true maritime city of England! Sorry, not sorry London! I had seen the Port of Liverpool and Albert Docks during my first visit, so I wanted to experience a part of the city that I never knew existed! Choosing the RopeWalks as the new discovery, I was transported back to pure maritime Liverpool that dated back to the days of Thomas Seel! I chose Duke Street for a slice of true Liverpool because this side of the city centre served standard Liverpudlian grit! I identified with the working-class vibe because that's my background, that corner of Liverpool satisfied my expectations for certain! Liverpool will always be a mint city, from Scottie Road to the Liver Birds it will always be one of my favourite English city's! I don't return to places unless they capture my heart, Liverpool had done that and so much more! L'Pool, I wanted much more! 

Liverpool's RopeWalks served an abundance of restaurants, bars and shops that were right up my street! Choosing Bold Street for the best buy for the independent boutiques exuded kitsch and cool! Cutting to the chase, I was looking for more history from Liverpool's industrious past, I had to look closer! The RopeWalks got its name from the use of the narrow streets that were used to make the rope for the ships that docked in Liverpool's bustling port, serving ships that sailed to the four corners of the globe! I was impressed by the lanes where those tight ropes were walked! Rewinding the clock back some more to the 1800's, that's when Liverpool walked those ropes the house down! Yes, I mentioned those ropes twice! Liverpool wasn't about come for me, she had my back completely, showing me the sights I trusted that Northern city implicitly! London knew to take several seats during my day of learning that was spent in Liverpool, the empire wouldn't have anything without Liverpool! No!

Liverpool has two iconic cathedrals but I chose the Anglican Cathedral around the Chinese Quarter. If I'm honest I would have to say that Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral gave me a sense of warmth with its deep crimson stone structure, even though I'm not a religious soul I loved this place of worship. I took a stroll down to the cemetery to get a different view of the cathedral to find a place that exuded a quiet and calm aura surrounding the gardens of remembrance. Now, come to think about it I haven't been to Birmingham's cathedral so I must put that on my list to do. But one thing that made sense was that I felt a connection to this grand cathedral for it sits on a slope, looking over the city of Liverpool protecting the city of the Liver Birds! I blog for the love of it, its very rare if I get paid for it so I hold its blog with a special place for the memories made. Of course Liverpool's a priceless city for me! Yes, LPL!

Keeping close to the Anglican Cathedral stands Liverpool's Chinatown, I learnt that the first vessel sailed form Shanghai to Liverpool in 1834, carrying silk and cotton wool. Unlike other Chinatown's Liverpool grew in popularity with the Chinese sailors who chose to settle in Liverpool, a demand for the comforts of home signified the beginning of Liverpool's Chinatown in 1866. Come to think of it Liverpool must have set the trend in the terms of multiculturalism because it wasn't just the Oriental folk that decided to call Liverpool home. I didn't dine at one of the restaurants in the Scouse Chinatown but I will next time! Liverpool's Chinese Quarter had an understated feel that I liked. Don't get me started because I've being looking for that Shanghai Lil! Liverpool has a vintage Chinatown if I never saw one before!? Liverpool will always have a lasting legacy to its booming port days, things haven't stopped because the ships keep on trading! 我的上海百合...? Shanghai lil, where were you?

Liverpool One is a postcode that I remembered well, its really quite simple! I was not in the mood to shop, wanting to do some window shopping I saved my pennies! Upon my initial 2011 visit to Liverpool, I was pleasantly surprised to see such an abundance of gleaming developments considering the recession had beaten the country's spending capabilities. I didn't feel an immediate need to eat as mentioned before, saving myself for later on that day I returned to Liverpool One for a cheeky McDonalds. I already knew during that early afternoon phase that I wouldn't be drinking anything alcoholic that night! I had had enough of that dancing juice in Birmingham, I didn't want my Liverpool birthday weekend to have any mishaps. Liverpool One still impressed me much even though I didn't spend any money, being a student I really have to watch my pennies if I wanted to keep travelling! 

I wondered what the area around Liverpool One looked like when my family stepped off from their boat from Eastern Europe? Nevertheless, I suppose regeneration is the key? Yes! I chose Days Inn  Liverpool, getting to Liverpool One from my hotel meant I could take advantage of this complex once the sun had set. For food! I chose Days Inn Liverpool because of its convenient location, which placed me close to the world famous waterfront and James Street station connecting to the rest of the city! I saw my independent trip to Liverpool as something that was meant to be, that's just life. Who needs people to get in the way of your plans? I won't apologise for not visiting the Docks, because I wanted to see a more of LPL! Friends, I won't make another allowance for those who attract drama to every situation. Liverpool knew that category had been firmly closed! Retracing my steps, I made my way closer to my next destination for the day, only the Merseyrail could help there! Southport!

Liverpool wasn't the only place that I visited during my birthday trip, I took the Merseyrail up to Southport to catch up with my Disney pal Kat. Luck was right on my side because Kat had won two tickets to a comedy show in Liverpool's city centre! I grabbed something to eat from the chippy and jumped on the next train to Liverpool Lime Street. The comedy show was hosted by Hot Water Comedy Club, a comedy company I hadn't heard of before that evening! I loved the jokes told by the three comedians, it made a change to my usual going out routine. Is comedy your thing? I loved it! The comedians brought their banter and jokes to the audience, most of it was very tongue and check but hilarious in the same breath. I became familiar with Scouse words like 'Boss' and  'Lad' so I learnt some of the quirks from the Scouse accent. This comedy lark might have to become a regular thing!? Hot Water Comedy Club is Boss! 

I don't revisit places but Liverpool was an exception, I'm glad I chose not to see the Port of Liverpool building or the Albert Docks because I knew that something else was waiting for me. I never knew I would be seeing a comedy show or learning about the date of the first Chinese settlers in Liverpool! I'm not one for spontaneity but Liverpool brought that hidden trait out of me for sure. Where's the Hot Water now?! I have to say that learning new things about Liverpool was great upon my second visit to this regal Liverpudlian city! So, whether maritime history is your thing or shopping till you drop suits you, I suggest you book that coach, train or plane to Liverpool! I loved the RopeWalks, Cathedral and the comedy served by Hot Water! The Cavern Club looks good to serve some Beatles realness?! You best get that Flyover sorted Liverpool! Other cities are cool but Liverpool serves up realness and shows the Wirral how to do things! Liverpool, this isn't goodbye! See you later!

Lad, I Love Liverpool! 

Joseph Harrison 

Friday, 8 November 2013

Birmingham: Retro Cool, Fierce Fashion and Street Realness!

Birmingham has been my base for the remainder of this year, I have seen this city change over the last eleven months! This year is flying past me, it doesn't seem like two seconds since I returned from America! I'm thrilled to say that Birmingham has never looked better, mind the current phase of construction because its a 'new start' for 'new street' and that's not everything!

Taking my attention away from the redevelopment of New Street Station I have seen places within this great city centre that haven't changed too much, these parts of the city still look current as a part of modern Birmingham. I finished my afternoon's lectures at UCB's Summer Row campus and took to the streets of Birmingham's inner city centre to see places in Birmingham that stand out for all the right reasons. My first stop was Birmingham's Paradise Forum, formerly the home of Birmingham's once Central Library. Controversial as this may sound I think Birmingham's recently closed Central Library building looks very retro, a key piece of Birmingham's architectural stage of development as a major city in England. The concrete structure might look a tad dated or even some say 'an eyesore' but I see no problem with it, time may only tell what's going to happen to the original library! Birmingham, step up!

The bookshelves of the previous Birmingham Central Library are now sitting in the newly opened Library of Birmingham but the original Central Library acts as a key gateway to New Street and the Bullring, providing a whole host of dining options for the passing commuters, tourists and locals alike. Paradise Forum serves its purpose as a go-through with a difference, I must admit that with a bit of love this piece of modern history could well be a iconic talking point and place to be seen! This building has been a part of my University journey in Birmingham, I hope that even after my graduation and departure from this city there will still be something left of my kind of Birmingham. Being an ultra modern city is cool but Birmingham serves up lots of realness, I know that I would miss this iconic piece of 1970's Birmingham. But who knows what the future will bring for this Birmingham feature? Who honestly knows if this forum will be part of Birmingham's Big City Plan? Let's see, like now!

Let's skip a few years ahead from the opening of the original Bullring that was before my time! The Bullring has become the pinnacle of Birmingham's evolution as a prime shopping destination, showcasing the city's first Selfridges department store that's something quite extraordinary! Meeting in the middle this retail paradise brings it big for Birmingham, creating a shopping experience for each and every person that visits the epicentre of Birmingham's main focal point! The Rotunda stands to the left, promoting a modern and seamless impression over Birmingham's shopping magnets, this once tired office building now stands proud as a modern marvel due to Urban Splash's efforts now its a mix use of apartments. Are you 'Staying Cool?' Really?

What in the world did Birmingham's original Bullring looked like? I'm a child of the new generation, I need to consult the internet. The Selfridges department is fierce with its space-age design and facade, which really puts the cat amongst the pigeons! I truly love that Birmingham has risen up over the years and as a student living in this great West Midlands city I really notice this city soar due to press attention due to the new developments that have been pioneered for this city! The Mailbox is a great addition to Birmingham's future fashion crusade for shopping world domination, I'm just spoiled for choice! Birmingham is awaiting its biggest reveal in the next year or so. Birmingham's now a fully fledged fashion phenomenon! Birmingham you're a Glamazon! You've got to sissy that walk Brum!

Birmingham's streets serve realness, you might think what on earth 'realness' stands for? But 'realness' is my definition for serving attitude and looking real without trying too hard! So, I know that Birmingham's Smallbrook Queensway serves true street realness! I remember my fresher year where most Monday nights turned into Tuesday mornings for me and my fresher friends would await our fast food orders as Smallbrook Queensway stayed awake right through the early hours. This part of town has a long parade of a building that houses a range of shops and amenities at street level but above seem to be used for office purposes. I love the 1950's inspired look of the buildings that make up Birmingham's Smallbrook Queensway because they're a piece of retro cool! Southside lies between the Queensway so my favourite part of the city lies within easy reach of my student digs. Let's love retro Brum! BHM, you're serious?

Upon my post-lecture walk around Birmingham I made sure I crossed tracks with this side of Birmingham as its a place that I usually see when I'm on my way to Birmingham's Gay Village, another place that holds close to my heart as its lively bars and tolerant vibe. I could really go on for days explaining all the places that I have become accustomed to in Birmingham. There are many places in Birmingham that possess qualities that resonate from the 70's right through to present day Birmingham, we shouldn't look down on these places that supposedly don't fit in with the changing face of this modern Birmingham! Wherever I go in the world after my studies finish in Birmingham I shall remain faithful by visiting from time to time, big things are on the way for this understated city! Love Birmingham's unique features, I believe that there is not another city in England or even Europe that serves up the same amount of retro cool, fierce fashion or street realness! Who's that London? Brum is ready! OK?

Birmingham, I Love You That Much!

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 4 November 2013

Southside: Birmingham's Oriental Heart!

Birmingham has been blessed with a front of heavy rain, which has made doing anything pleasant somewhat challenging! But our West Midlands metropolis is well used to this glorious weather, we just get on with things! The Saturday just gone showed me a great afternoon in Birmingham's Chinatown. My HK bestie came along for the ride to show me a few things! Kelly's great!

Taking a well earned break from our final year degree studies myself and my friend Kelly made our way to Birmingham's Chinatown, a dynamic corner of Birmingham's Southside city centre district. To the left is Cathay Street, the gateway to a wide range of Oriental delights including restaurants, hairdressers and cake shops. Move over London, Birmingham has a Chinatown to be proud of! I absolutely love this part of town because it's an infusion of Mainland and Hong Kong culture and customs that funnily enough perfectly compliment Birmingham's compact and diverse city-scape. This part of Southside is within a minutes walk to the Bullring that connects with New Street Station. For a cash-strapped student its easy to find something to do in Birmingham when the weekend makes an appearance. Cathay Street has everything like I previously mentioned so if you're visiting for the first time its ace! Yes K!

Me and Kelly usually have a Chinese cake and a cold Bubble Tea in this part of town. We always choose Caffe Chino, a cute bakery and cafe that serves the best Hong Kong Black-forest cake in Birmingham! The atmosphere at Caffe Chino makes me feel closer to my days spent within the streets of New York City's Chinatown, there's nothing better than a cold HK style Bubble Tea to set the scene perfectly. Our time at Caffe Chino gave me and Kelly the chance to catch-up because the last few weeks of university have been crazy busy! Birmingham's Chinese Quarter has a cool vibe, its an authentic space that I really love because its close to all the nightspots in Southside that I love so walking to the club is always colourful. Back in February I published a blog highlighting the delights of Caffe Chino, I had never seen something so endearing before in Brum! Could China be an option after uni? I need to try the restaurant close to Chino for the barbecued duck looks mighty fine! I'm ready! 

Just forget Tesco because a large proportion of Birmingham's Chinese population choose to shop at one of the many Oriental supermarkets. These stores sell everything from the Far East. Me and Kelly went to Day In Supermarket, I love it here because everything just looks so colourful and there's a rich aroma that always greets me each time I walk through the entrance. Choose something different! Kelly usually shops at this Oriental supermarket because certain foods can't be bought in the western style supermarkets. I was shown what frozen tofu looks like and the different varieties of soy milk, which by the way soy milk is really tasty! Just looking at the fresh Pak Choi was a great education for me because I wouldn't know my life will go eastwards, so I have some way to go yet! I had previously bought some Po-nee Tea, recommended by Kelly as its one her Grandad's favourite teas. Variety is sure the spice of life K!

If you've never been to an Oriental supermarket, I suggest you switch up your mundane plans by paying a visit one day? ASDA and TESCO aren't the ones! Day In Supermarket is also located on Cathay Street, a stones through from the vibrant Arcadian complex that really puts this international area into perspective. I must admit that the amount of tourists looking around Day In Supermarket on Saturday afternoon was crazy, let's just say that there's no shortage of eastern promise in and around Birmingham's Chinese Quarter. I'm in the final year of my university course so I get the craziness of Birmingham at the weekend completely, its all about going with it. The staff behind main tills have a certain way with the customers, its almost like a race to process each payment something like a supermarket sweep! Kelly informed that in supermarkets in Hong Kong usually get quite hectic like how it was then. Birmingham's so multicultural! The Oriental Overness was on fire! Oh it was, B5!

Fresh from our Oriental food shopping experience we took a few steps from the Day In Supermarket to Ladywell Walk, an alley way that had some very delicious smells where I was greeted by Peach Garden Restaurant and Take Away. This back to basics Cantonese cafe kitchen oozed the charm of an Asian street market in Birmingham's city centre. Always stray away from the bright lights to find something different, something the locals approve of. I peered through the open to door to see a packed dining area made up of mainly Oriental customers, that's the sign of a top quality restaurant! I would have loved to have ordering lunch here but I've not go a lot money at the moment, maybe a pre-birthday treat next week? Kelly ordered the roast pork with boiled rice, As I peered into the window I saw the delicious hanging roasted ducks! I'll get back there soon, Kelly recommends it! No stress, need in Southside! 

I have dined at two Cantonese restaurants in Birmingham's Chinatown, firstly at Chung Ying where I tried chicken's feet for the very first time! Funnily enough, I enjoyed very them much! More recently Kelly introduced me to the concept of Dim Sum, the China Court Cantonese Restaurant served us a colourful and tasty platter of Dim Sum dishes that didn't cost the earth, I need some more Dim Sum back in my life! I can't quite remember what the dishes were called but menu looked more like a bingo card! With all these new Oriental tastes and flavours I'm glad I have an adventourous palette! For certain, I will take a trip to Hong Kong to meet Kelly for a sumptuous Dim Sum breakfast! All in good time for that Far Eastern trip, I need to get some Hong Kong Dollar in my life first! I will get back to Birmingham's Chinatown soon to enjoy some tasty Cantonese food from Peach Garden. If I had the money I would eat out all the time. Oolong Tea came back into my life! I love being international! 

Serving Chinatown Overness! 

Joseph Harrison