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.

Getting to France is really quick and inexpensive from England, my flight from Birmingham to Bordeaux took only one hour and twenty minutes, that's a nippy little flight! Bordeaux's located on the banks of 'La Garonne' river that's distantly connected to the famous '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 is beautiful, this city surprised me for it had many different personalities that I didn't expect to see, all good I promise! I've been to many cities in many different European countries but I found that 'Je ne sais pas' feeling because Bordeaux was just darling with its cutesy French sophistication. I loved 'Rue Sainte-Catherine' for I learnt that its the longest pedistrianised street in France! It all made perfect sense to me. 

For many Bordeaux is simply a gateway city, its airport is modest but nothing to shout about so I was very happy to be seeing more than just the airport, because who wants 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 it was all worth it! Croyez-moi, Bordeaux est beau! Oui!

I never realised 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 are many fashion houses in cities like Paris, New York and London but Cognac is home to Courvoisier, Remy Martin and Martell as they all have their 'Maisons' of Brandy. I had to try a small measure of the good stuff! It's not just the Cognac spirit that brings people to that charming town, there are many winding street corners that amazed me. Captured to the right is the 'Maison du Hennessy' that sits on the 'Charente' river, I'm sure every town within this region has its own river? Forget Couture its all about Brandy!

The town of Cognac is part of the Poitou Charentes region within Southwest of France, its part of the many towns that inhibit a fairy tale look. Cognac's small market square resembled a classy version of a British open air market, it just 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! It would of been a a sin to of missed out even if Brandy isn't my chosen tipple. If you're looking for a vintage bottle of Brandy, go on a liquor shopping spree? Where's my girl? Get back here Courvoisier! If I have a daughter that would be her name! Save some Brandy for me!

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 takes the stress away from all! 

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 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 to the quite and laid back pace of French country life. 'The Good Life' is what we all look for, I got a taste for one week! 

South-West France .... CultureWines and Countryside

Joseph Harrison 

19 November 2013

Birmingham's Frankfurt Christmas Market

Birmingham has donned its best Christmas lights once again, bringing the city streets back to its sparkling festive glory. New York City look after me last year so I missed last Christmas so I wanted to get the best of this years festivities, us Brits are renowned for decking out our streets during the festive season that's one thing for sure! 

It's that time of year for the Frankfurt Christmas Market to set up shop along Birmingham's Victoria Square and New Street from the 14th November to 22nd December, dates vary annually. 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 just 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 because we should all treat ourselves!

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 has 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! 

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 our starlet!

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 song 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, its pointless! 

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 hearty treats! I want more! 

I've not been to Frankfurt 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. You be stylish B! 

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 food!

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! 

Holidays Are Coming! 

Joseph Harrison 

18 November 2013

Chester: Rivers, Cathedrals and Clock Towers

I never knew that Merseyrail's Wirral line terminated at Chester, making my way from Liverpool to Chester effortless for 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 border with Wales. It's no secret that Chester's cool, it's quite like a North West version of Stratford-Upon-Avon, maybe?

I reached Chester early, after my short walk from the city's train station I was greeted by the Eastgate Clock Tower that I loved instantly! Dating back to 1897 had I walked in to a Medieval settlement rather than a 21st century city? I had stepped back in time during my Liverpudlian experience but Chester took me further back into history, I was in a completely different 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? Yes I was but I had no idea about the clock tower!

I stumbled upon Westgate Street where I saw so much! 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. Nonetheless, Chester's city centre core is beautiful for I had only ever seen such a history before in William Shakespeare's home, Stratford-Upon-Avon. Yes, there's a hearty serving of Shakespearean like charm in Chester that effortlessly serves Medieval-like realness!

Chester had a vibe that took me back to my days as a Walt Disney World Cast Member, I saw some striking similarities standing before me. If you have ever been to the UK Pavilion at Epcot's World Showcase then I think you should take a second look at Chester's Abbey Square! The photo captured on the right took me right back to the Rose and Crown themed part of Disney's World Showcase! 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 set your own pace. I won't forget you C!

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 picture perfect. I'm pleased to say that the atmosphere of Chester's Abbey Square has hopefully being encapsulated within my photos for 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? Nevertheless, 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 well 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 Chester, was Chester a part of Powys?

I make allowances for cathedral 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 personalities of their own! I did see street guides passing by the cathedral informing eager tourists about the delights of Chester's yesteryear's, but I'm an independent traveler so I made my own way around the cathedral grounds. You would of thought I might of been tired seeing such similar points of interest during this late stage of my North West English trip but I was merely getting started! Would you visit the city of Chester? Liverpool's got some competition!

I wanted to see as much of Chester in one afternoon for my train back to Birmingham would be departing from Liverpool's Lime Street Station in only a matter of hours. The early feelings of Christmas spirit could be felt on every street that I walked through during my afternoon in Chester, the shoppers were out in their hundreds to find the perfect gift so I could only imagine what the following weeks closer to Christmas will be like! I had already seen so much of Chester 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. From the Clock Tower to the chocolate box Victorian architecture I was very impressed at what sort of city Chester was prevailing to be. Did you know that the Welsh facing side of the Clock Tower didn't display a time? Had I really began my morning in the bustling port city of Liverpool? Wales might only been a minute but I still stood in England!

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 of already been in Wales for 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 into Chester's city centre was a period discovery for I had simply walked outside of the Roman city walls, no that's what I call a history lesson! I could never compare Chester to Liverpool for these cities have very different histories and city-spaces that make them both very individual places to visit. Chester will always have a place in my heart, I wholeheartedly loved what I saw and would urge anyone to choose Chester if they are looking for a Great British town that exudes nothing but the best Victorian, Medieval and Roman architecture, just keep this a secret please? Chester, your preview was just quite fantastic so I will do my best to sing your praise well that's if I could sing! Keep those city walls strong Chester, I'm glad I took a chance on you so I think others should do just that! With Wales only a heartbeat away its no secret that history has a lot to tell us. Let me tell you sister that rivers, cathedrals and clock towers are waiting for you in Chester!

Choose Chester. 

Joseph Harrison   

17 November 2013

It's Liverpool!

It's Liverpool! I ventured back to the city of the Mersey River, where a distant family connection began! I suggest Liverpool for a city break for its simply a dream! Leave the Port of Liverpool and the Albert Docks, this Scouse city has many hidden treasures that impressed me much! Revealing Liverpool's Chinese secret and the RopeWalks. Yes, Liverpool is definitely boss!

Liverpool called me back for a second time, alluring me to recapture the true maritime city of England. I had seen the Port of Liverpool and Albert Docks during my first visit so I wanted to experience a part of the city I never knew existed. Choosing the RopeWalks as my new discovery, I was transported back to maritime Liverpool dating back to the days of Thomas Seel. Choose Duke Street for a slice of true Liverpool because this side of the city centre serves true Liverpudlian grit! I identified with the working-class because that's my background, so this corner of Liverpool satisfied my expectations for sure. I loved this aspect of Liverpool for its a city that has maintained its historical features from its booming port years to today.

Liverpool's RopeWalks has an abundance of restaurants, bars and shops that are right up my street! Choose Bold Street for the best buy for the independent boutiques are kitsch and cool, also try one of the many eateries for a bite to eat for we all like to be different, do you? RopeWalks derives from the use of the narrow streets to make the rope for the ships that docked in Liverpool's bustling port, sailing to the four corners of the globe there was plenty of rope to walk! Let's rewind the clock back to the 1800's for that's when Liverpool walked those ropes! Where else in the country could you seen such a thing? I guess Liverpool has that good, good? Liverpool seems to be a city that chose me, rather than me choosing it! I'll be back again I know that, it must be that family connection? Yes!

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 a 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 completely come to a halt because the ships keep on trading! Where's Shanghai Lil!? 

Liverpool One is a postcode to be remembered, its really quite simple! Our cities are bouncing back from the recession so Liverpool's done something right. You can shop like a Material Girl during any visit at Liverpool One, the city's premier shopping and lifestyle complex that is only a heartbeat away from the waters of the Mersey River. I took a look in Urban Outfitters, American Apparel and River Island to find some fashion forward items that made my day! I would have indulged in a few too many purchases but being on the move means carrying to many things is a pain in the neck! Just look out for the mascots of Liverpool One, those Liver Birds are most certainly the best dressed! I wanted to use this trip to take a closer look at Liverpool One because my last visit fared to be quite rushed. People got crazy that afternoon at Liverpool One but the next day it was crazy mad! Oh yes, it was almost Christmas!

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. Choose Days Inn Liverpool for its convenient location, which places itself 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. Shopping is definitely one way for a city to market themselves to the world, so Liverpool's got its shopping priorities bang on the mark! It's not just shopping that brings people to Liverpool One, there's some great restaurants to enjoy and enjoy and that's exactly what I most certainly did! I wonder what the area where Liverpool One looked like when my family disembarked their boat from Eastern Europe? I suppose regeneration is the key? 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!

Liverpool wasn't the only place that I visited 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 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? 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 is 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, now I'm not one for spontaneity but Liverpool brought that one 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 

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 second since I returned from America! I'm thrilled to say that Birmingham has never looked better, mind the current phase of construction for its a 'new start' for 'new street' and that's not the half of it!

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! Hey Birmingham!

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, travelers 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!

Let's skip a few years 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 B?

I would have been very intrigued to see what Birmingham's original Bullring looked like but I'm a child of the new generation. 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 is now a fully fledged fashion phenomenon! Birmingham you're a glamazon! You've got to sissy that walk B!

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! 

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 for 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 50'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?

Birmingham, You Know I Love You That Much!

Joseph Harrison 

4 November 2013

Chinatown - 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 Midland's metropolis is used to this glorious weather so we just get on with things, but this November Saturday just gone showed me a great afternoon in Birmingham's Chinatown. Leave the shade, now serve Chinatown Overness I say! 

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 Chinese and Cantonese 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!

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!

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 conventional 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 great for me because I wouldn't know what to cook it with, 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 to drink. Variety is sure the spice of life!

If you've never been to a Oriental supermarket I suggest you change your mundane plans by paying a visit one day you have Tesco's or ASDA on your shopping list. 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 at Day In. Multiculturalism is alive and well in Birmingham! The overness!

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 a 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 thrown caution to the wind by 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, If you look closely into the window of Peach Garden you will see the hanging meats that looked delicious!

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, it was a taste experience that I enjoyed very much. But 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. Eventually I know a trip to Hong Kong is in order to experience another interpretation of Dim Sum. All in good time for that Far Eastern trip, I need to get some Hong Kong Dollar in my life first! I really need to get back to Birmingham's Chinatown soon to enjoy some wholesome Cantonese food from Peach Garden. If I had the money I would eat out all the time. Oh life!

I was reunited with one of my favourite Chinese tea! Captured to the right are the boxes of loose leaf Fujian Oolong tea that I purchased from Day In Supermarket. I first bought Oolong tea when I was at college in Wolverhampton back in 2008-2010, I saw the bright red boxes and decided to start my own Oolong tea hype! Apparently, the natural properties that are in Oolong tea make it a good choice for weight loss, but when I drink this tea I notice that my face looks fresher and clear of imperfections. I would recommend anyone to drink Oolong tea on a regular basis, but be warned the taste of this tea can be quite bitter. I choose to have a refreshing hot cup of Oolong tea after each evening meal because that's the secret. Maybe this tea could be a stocking filler for Christmas to help detox after our gluttonous ways? I would say that a visit to Birmingham's Chinatown is the true answer to perfect skin!

Apart from Chinese and Cantonese delights its easy to find Malaysian and Thai food within Birmingham's city core, so other flares from the Oriental hype can be found.  Birmingham is blessed with many different cultural gems, I honestly say that Chinatown town is a testament to Birmingham being a international metropolis. I plan to remain faithful to Birmingham's Chinatown to enjoy a sweet treat, buy some Oriental groceries or eat a succulent and flavoursome meal that doesn't cost a whole lot of money! Do yourselves a favour by leaving Soho's Chinatown and give Birmingham's Southside a chance! I always take a chance on Birmingham's Chinatown and never regret it! So I'll get on with my Oolong hype, I'm going to drink myself skinny but that's another story. It's Chinese New Year in February of next so I'm going to keep those dates free because its quite possible me and Kelly will be making a comeback to Birmingham's Chinatown. Birmingham has got an Oriental Heart!

Serving Chinatown Overness! 

Joseph Harrison