30 October 2014

Next Stop... Oxford, England!

Sign me up for a day in Oxford! I wanted to see how the other half study, I was quite starstruck because it was a regal university city. Home to the oldest university in the English speaking world the University of Oxford surely stands above the competition! Unknowingly, Oxford's grand libraries and institutions showed me a few Harry Potter filming locations. Yes, OXD!

Like my usual pre-trip routine I didn't do much research for my day in Oxford but I found the Bodleian Library to check out. Rocking down to Oxford from Wolverhampton didn't take too long so I made it to the library within enough time to book up a tour. Might I say Oxford, you look amazing for a medieval city! I prefer to visit places that have an element of danger but Oxford's regal flare impressed me much! A students paradise? Only if you have the money for it honey! Back to Bodleian, returning for my tour that afternoon I was ready to catch a glimpse at the bookshelves of yesterday. First opened to scholars in 1602 this vintage house of books could only be accessed if one had a masters degree! I was astounded because I've only got a undergraduate degree but that was in the 1600's. Religion affected this aged library, precious materials were destroyed by King Edward VI in 1550. The shade of it all!

Photography was strictly prohibited in the upper library to my dismay but I took knowledge from the tour, we have a history to be immensely proud of in England so let us teach and prosper from it. Every cloud has a silver lining, investing financially was Sir Thomas Bodley who had been an informant for Queen Elizabeth I. Mr. T wanted so badly to help the library recover from its trouble. Replenishing the books and materials and working towards a larger extended space of learning. Under new rules the books weren't permitted to leave the library, even royalty were denied to take books from the Bodleian Library. I didn't do much academic reading whilst at university but the stature of the Bodleian Library would put the pride back into the books. Do, I need that masters degree? Housing sculptures, manuscripts and much more this Oxford library is a wealth of knowledge. Talk's cheap but the oldest relic, an Egyptian marriage certificate dates back 2,000 years! Big up the Bodleian house of books! 

Who said Harry Potter? From the Bodleian Library I checked out Christ Church College and Cathedral to find myself in the Great Hall that was featured in the Harry Potter films. Opened in 1546 this college has been teaching Oxford's elite since the break of light, something told me that you would need some serious student funds to pay the tuition fees at Christ Church. To have your own Cathedral at uni? That's crazy Oxford! Without a shadow of a doubt the feel of the Great Hall and main courtyard had a feeling that wouldn't have suited me whilst I was a university student. Don't get me wrong it was out of this world but I was born with no silver spoon! Essentially, Christ Church sets the tone for Oxford due to its remarkable architecture but give me back the Maltings. Take what you want from Christ Church, it is quite bizarre to think I've seen the Great Hall from Harry Potter up close and personal. Yes Oxford!

Making my way around Oxford I felt a quintessentially English feeling with the bicycles passing through the city centre roads it really didn't feel like a conventional city. Famous for its university and colleges this South-Eastern city of education has taught some of the greats including Oscar Wilde and JRR Tolkien. I suppose great people deserve exceptional universities? Away from the universities and colleges of Oxford I couldn't helped loving the open green spaces of the Christ Church Meadow as it merged with the winding streets of the city. Choosing to have a pub lunch for my dinner I didn't waste any time for I only had a few hours in Oxford to see as much as possible. An international honey pot? Yes, like London and Cambridge I saw hundreds of tourists who had a foreign nationality so that could off explained the appeal of this middle class study mecca? Correction, I haven't been to Cambridge yet but in the stakes of the original university cities I had to use it as a prime example.Yes, OXD! 

Did some mention punting? I didn't think so! I stumbled across the quieter side of the River Thames quite soon after my train arrived in Oxford. Being on a budget I wasn't looking to spend a whole lot because I just don't have it right now. Anyhow, I returned to the canal towpath to round off my day of discovery and historical education to be met with a serene setting that felt faraway from the tourists. After stumbling upon a sign that I saw by one the main canal bridges I learnt that Oxford benefited from the canals, being located close to the beginnings of the River Thames may have helped trade be navigated to London easier. Weather wise Oxford had served some warm temperatures with no rain, a rare sight for the October weather we've experienced so far in the West Midlands. Canal or no canal it was lovely to take a quiet stroll past the narrow-boats, if truth be told it was a nice way to end the day. Bye, OXD!

If you are ever short for somewhere to visit, I suggest you trust in Oxford because no one wants to be stuck in a bad circumstance. I have expressed my allegiance to my working class upbringing due to the feel of Oxford's exclusive student price tag and visual being but I'm not a hater one bit. I didn't marry the night but the afternoon I spent in Oxford showed me the wonder of a library and the lengths people would go to educate themselves. The shear passion for a place that Sir Thomas Bodley had for Oxford to invest and empower the aptly named Bodleian Library. I am no longer a university student but I saw how the other half study within the confines of Christ Church, yes you would need more than mommy and daddy's allowance to fund that champagne lifestyle! Oh the shade! I have been saved a visit to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter tour because I saw two filming locations that day in Oxford. So, it goes without saying, thank you very much for educating Mr. Oscar Wilde! 

No Shade Oxford! 

Joseph Harrison

19 October 2014

England: Coventry & Warwickshire

England is full of wonder, let's celebrate some more shall we? People have very different opinions about three places in Warwickshire for many reasons but one of those places brings us some serious paper! Don't be a snob because that style doesn't stick with me, I said we need to see the wonder! Coventry, Stratford-Upon-Avon and Warwick you best be ready!?

Coventry is a city that is seriously misunderstood, I kept my opinions to myself and trusted the city of Lady Godiva. Once the manufacturing powerhouse during WWII this Warwickshire city took a battering by the Nazi German Army, leaving the 14th century cathedral in ruins. Upon visiting the remains of Coventry's original cathedral I had respect for the city of Coventry during that bleak time of destruction, if truth be told the new cathedral didn't impress me much! From rags to races, I paid a visit to the Coventry Transport Museum to be enlightened about Coventry's rich past, present and future contributions to the automotive trade and manufacturing. Since 1896 Coventry has been working in the motor car industry like many other central regions in England. I noticed that Muriel Hind was the first woman to own and ride a motorcycle, she must of been Coventry's 19th century female boss? Start your engines!

Talking about female role models, Lady Godiva rode her horse naked through Coventry's city centre in the 11th century because she didn't agree with a tax charge her husband had introduced to the county. In my book Lady Godiva is another female boss! Get out of the city limits! I had been to Coventry once or twice before so I had a place in mind that I wanted to explore. I chose to visit the Foleshill area of Coventry for some Indian food, I tell you the Foleshill Road showed me a variety of grocers and interesting looking eateries. Doing my research before my visit I had the Panjab Sweet Centre & Curry Hut in mind. I left my comfort zone! Above is Broadgate, Coventry's main shopping realm where you can see the statue of Lady Godiva, I loved the concrete appeal that Broadgate served to me but its a controversial topic. Could regeneration be the key to Cov's future? I reckon the concrete facades will be replaced with a futuristic plan! You should all be 'Sent To Coventry!'.

Stratford-Upon-Avon must be the most famous place to visit in the county?! Being the birthplace of playwright William Shakespeare its a clear winner for foreign tourists who are seeking some culture, let's face it we have some great people and places to thank for bringing some serious cash money to us. Tourism may be the biggest draw for Stratford-Upon-Avon but I was just looking for an alternative day out, yes to take in the Shakespearean tones of the town but to laze beside the River Avon had to be done. Have you seen the birthplace of William Shakespeare? I have! Chill your beans because we all can do that! Like Coventry its easy to reach Stratford-Upon-Avon due to convenient and fairly priced day return tickets from Birmingham Moor Street and Snow Hill Stations. Yes, we live in a very celebrity orientated world but was Shakespeare himself ever hounded by medieval paparazzi in the 1500's?

There's Anne Hathaway's Cottage & Gardens, which is a fair walk from the centre of Stratford-Upon-Avon's town centre but its worth the trip because its really quite something special. I didn't play the fool by purchasing the Shakespeare pass because I was only there for the afternoon, plus it didn't agree with my student loan either. Me and a friend rented a rowing boat but it looked easier than it actually fared to be! Pay your respects at the Church of the Holy Trinity for its the resting place of William Shakespeare, he many have been buried there on the 25th of April 1616 but its still a place of  great significance today. I took one day in the town of Shakespeare's birthplace but you could easily spend two days there nonetheless I was impressed! There's also New Place & Noah's House but I didn't get to that Shakespearean house because I wanted to capture the essence of the town rather than just 100% Shakespeare, you can't judge me! Get your life, visit Stratford-Upon-Avon!

Who's got that castle? That must be Warwick?! Take a chance on Warwickshire's most famous castle because there's more to know! Managed my Merlin Entertainment the modern day castle acts as a wannabe Disneyland but I was more interested in Ethelfelda's mound because that Anglo Saxon princess slayed here corner! Check out Warwick Castle for yourself to find that invasions didn't really happen so that explains why the castle walls still look in good condition. I appreciated the castle for I had been there twice before but just wanted a simple day out in Warwick. The main castle buildings have been preserved and the showcase staterooms make it look like Downton Abbey! Yes, I could live in a house like that! Get to the castle early because those tourists do drag their feet, plus nobody likes to wait in line! What else is there to be done in Warwick? Lord Jesus is that a fire?

Aside from Warwick Castle the town of Warwick deserves a look in, I took some knowledge from the Market Hall Museum in the centre of Warwick to learn about the Great Fire of Warwick. The 1694 blaze started from one spark, hurtling through the town at a great pace destroying a large part of the town centre. The Sheldon Tapestry showed me the expanse of the four counties aside from Warwickshire. I also learn that the city of Coventry was once spelt 'Coventrie' and was walled city that was protected by the River Sherbourne, which has down been paved over by the modern layout of Coventry. The Lord Leycester Hospital showed me something different, once a military hotel that was best known during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I to house certain injured military to aid their recovery. To learn something different about Warwick I suggest a visit to this unconventional hospital, visit than just the castle! Coventry and Warwickshire never looked so good?! OK you?!

Who Said 'Royal Leamington Spa?'

Joseph Harrison 

15 October 2014

Europe... My First Love!

London, Paris or Milan? I'm not going to serve those destinations any attention, let's save those pennies and enjoy four destinations within the European continent for a lot less money. I'm a city boy at heart so if you share that state of mind then stick with me! Will you let me show you the way? Newcastle, Amsterdam, Istanbul and Hamburg are all waiting for you! 

Newcastle, some call it the Geordie Shore but I won't allow that chat! As a city Newcastle keeps it quiet throughout the day so the city can party all night long, she knows how to throw a party for sure! Resting your head in this North Eastern city will not bankrupt you, just choose the Backpackers Newcastle to make the best of a cheap bed in a spotlessly clean dorm that's has the location factor fulfilled. I stayed in Newcastle in August 2014 for two nights to really enjoy the whole atmosphere of the city. Get on that Hostelworld hype to find your dorm with ease, I even got a cup of tea made for me on arrival! Newcastle is accessible by coach, rail and air so getting to the Toon doesn't have to be a chore, I took the Megabus from Birmingham city centre to Newcastle within six hours because I wanted that £6.00 bargain. Trains take the biscuit so don't bother with that business if you class yourself as a backpacker! 

Take what you want from Newcastle! Grey's Monument demands your attention for the Tyne Bridge thinks it better than the rest! Take the city in at your own pace because the Geordie vibe isn't of a rushed nature, I had put off my visit to Newcastle for so long I just had to break free! Sydney might well have the same bridge but Newcastle's Tyne Bridge came first, it still stands strong as the prototype for the once growing Australian continent. Built from cast-iron is the Angel of the North, she stands strong like a glamazon over the peaks of Newcastle and Gateshead. Take the 21 bus from Newcastle city centre to bow down to the North East's female phenomenon? Newcastle has a compact Chinatown but you can grab a tasty meal for a few pounds to save your paper for the nighttime. Dress to impress B, the Pink Triangle brings the beat when the sun sets. Promise this, Newcastle's a keeper! Yes, London might have the Queen but you can see Beauty Killer at Eazy Street pet! 

Hallo Amsterdam! Spend a day or two in the liberal city of Amsterdam where the grass is greener on the other side. Tulips might not be the native plant because they are Turkish but this Dutch city has enough canals to last a lifetime! If your travelling from the United States or further afield then trust in Amsterdam's Schiphol International Airport to get you to the Dam! My September weekend in 2013 served me and my brother a glorious sunny weekend. The Red Light District really deserves more respect so show it some appreciation because those working girls command their windows like a businessman would run his office. I must say it was really quite something to see some of the women wave at me and my brother, trying to suggestively coax us to their windows but that's not my cup of tea. To the left the canals along Oudezijds Achterburgwal looked every inch the Amsterdam scene I wanted to see. 

The sale and consumption of Cannabis may be legal in The Netherlands but stringent rules must be abided by otherwise its curtains for you! Me and my brother favoured GOA, it had a young and current feel with a low drone of hip hop music playing whilst the customers blazed throughout the day. It's no joke in Amsterdam you can legally buy an abundance of kooky looking drug paraphernalia but we left the habits of Coffee Shops in the Dam. Nieumarkt and its square is cute and hispter at the same time, lined with lovely cafes and restaurants its not difficult to find a tasty Full English Breakfast in a fully Dutch environment. Take a canal boat trip to experience the life blood of Amsterdam's famous canal ways, its best when the weather plays ball because its a sight to treasure. Get Dam Square to go, morning time serves this Dutch focal point because people flock to that Amsterdam sight. Take a deep breath, Amsterdam doesn't do stress so blaze the day away! Dankuwel! 

Istanbul, Turkey is where east meets west with its inter-continental connections its a sure winner! Take Istanbul on, embrace the craziness of the Grand Bazaar because nothing else really matters. I'm not a shopper but you can try for yourselves. Be greeted by a former Catholic Church that also served as a Mosque, the Hagia Sophia puts the cat amongst the pigeons when places of worship are concerned. Sultanahmet takes you back to the days of the Ottoman Empire where the Blue Mosque rubs shoulders with the Top Kapi Saray, words don't do it justice but I'll do my best! During my two visits to Istanbul I managed to capture the same amount of craziness, Istanbul doesn't waste time! Are you intrigued by this Turkish mega-city? 

Taksim Square calms the crazy down, its a modern yet authentic hangout for the young Turks of today with the usual Turkish tea shops and Topman fashion stores. Istiklal Caddesi is the international infused streets that I'm introducing, its completely bizarre if I do say so myself. My hostel was located in Taksim Square on a side street that oozed Istanbul city realness not for the faint hearted but life is all about drama. Going hungry in Istanbul is a lie because the International pallet can be satisfied with the small Kebab cafes on one corner next to a KFC restaurant, so all parties can be happy. The Bosporus Strait defines the European and Asian borders, separating the two continents. Take a stroll along the Galata Bridge over to Beyoglu, barter the best price for a fish supper!?

I don't do Hipster but Hamburg, Germany sold that sub-culture to me good and proper. Hamburg stands as Berlin's little sister close to the North Sea, take a detour from the next one to spend some time in this Hipster like dwelling that plays Industrial regeneration just right. Embrace the Rathaus, Hamburg's council house serves face in all respects with its grand chandeliers and onyx bathrooms. Getting around Hamburg can be done by the city's Underground system that has links with Hamburg Airport so from beginning to end you can ride on time! HafenCity stands strong, breaking the dawn with its changing dockyards that are being transformed into trendy dwellings. Don't be a hot potato in Hamburg just have one for lunch, dine out on a hot Kumpir for a few Euros to fuel your sightseeing quest. You can rely on Deutsche Bahn to get you to Hamburg on-time for a great price. Germany, I'm so jealous! 

Even though Hamburg's city centre had be at 'Guten Tag' I wanted some down time, choosing the St. Pauli Backpackers Hostel I made the best of my time in a trendy and historically rich part of Hamburg. Located close enough to a Underground station I was still connected to the action, anyway I embraced the Hispter charm of the outdoor bar/cafes and restored clothes stores during my early evening discovery. Lamachun anyone? Germany is the second Turkey so that boded well for my search for Turkish food on the run. Dining alfresco with a ice cold jug of Ayran suited me just fine. I can endorse Turkish Hipster life completely! Whether it be England, The Netherlands, Turkey or Germany I love my continent and then some B! Travelling on a budget in Europe is number one, you know it's my first love! Hostels hold the key to a comfortable, compact and affordable stay wherever in Europe, don't be a hater! Don't just think about London, Paris or Milan! Let us love Europe! 

Europe Shows You More! 

Joseph Harrison 

6 October 2014

Pride: The Best Of Three?

Somewhere over the rainbow? With the skies becoming blue I dare say we can dream further than we first thought that we could. Before my lifetime it wasn't a bunch of roses to be a friend of Dorothy but now we celebrate what equality has been achieved with Pride. So, here goes my best of three! New York City, Birmingham and Wolverhampton are you ready? Yes!

NYC Pride 2012 turned up in May for me to experience my first Pride celebration. I had never been to a March before that beautiful sunshine afternoon. Meeting up with friends in New Jersey, we made our way over to Christopher Street in New York City to wait for the NYC Pride March. Pop icon Cyndi Lauper acted as Grand Pride Marshal for the 2012 Pride event, yes girl she was out to have some fun! I had turned up two chances to see Birmingham Pride for myself before I embarked on my Industrial Placement in 2012 so I wasn't going to let any work schedule stop me from seeing that Pride parade in Greenwich Village, NYC! I am telling you that I wasn't going anywhere, I stood in my space before the barriers waiting for the parade to begin! Honestly, I really did not know what to expect but I knew it would be worth the wait in the heat! New York City Pride 2012 was ready to come out in all of its glory! Love it!

Cydni Lauper opened the parade as we could see her car bring here closer to Christopher Street, she was looking good but her rainbow flag was dreadfully plastic! Drag Queens of all colour and style graced the parade, commanding the pride goers with their beauty I tell you no woman could look better! The lavish Pride floats that made floated down Christopher Street possessed colour and creativity, each blasting a iconic Pride anthem for the crowd to practically Vogue to! Flaming Saddles bar made their way through, serving Cowboy realness in a fashion I loved! Could this really be?! I was amongst the beautiful people of NYC for Pride is just like a Gay Christmas falling only once per year. Puerto Rico did it so much better! The Enchanted Island served Boricua realness with their booming music and Transgendered ladies all curvy and beautiful! I didn't go to 'Dance On The Pier' but the March itself served enough sass and excitement! I saw Manila Luzon and her Drag daughter! 

I didn't celebrate Pride in 2013 but I vowed to attend at least one Birmingham Pride before I concluded my studies in Birmingham. Through the rain we danced on, being a part of UCB's LGBT Society enabled me to walk in the Parade during the 2014 event. We celebrated and then some but we remembered the true cause of the day, to understand that not everyone in this world has the freedom of being true to who they are. Big name acts performed throughout the two day Bank Holiday May weekend, I viewed the event from a critical point of view. My Dissertation topic lies close to LGBT tourism and the attitudes of Pride. Stooshe and Fuse ODG both played blinding sets, I left my judgement there. I didn't appreciate the Monsoon weather!

Drag means a lot to me, it makes Pride that little bit more camp! The Village Inn Cabaret Marquee turned it up with a top billing line up of class Drag acts. Sandra worked the crowd with her cut throat comedy and side splitting gags that I belly laughed to! 90's pop icon Angie Brown made a comeback with her chart topping single 'I'm Gonna Get You', she was amazing! Security was at the forefront of Birmingham Pride 2014, I had no problem because yes I behaved myself. Manchester duo 'Queens Of Pop' performed their 'Atomic Kitten' themed set at Eden, I especially loved their Girls Aloud tribute to Cheryl and Nadine. My Birmingham chapter has finished now but I'm really happy that I experienced one amazing Pride celebration in Birmingham! Keep on celebrating Southside! Yes B!

Wolves Pride 2014 came around in late September, I had to know was going on in my home city! No, I'm not going to throw shade on Wolverhampton because she's rising like a phoenix! Pride celebrations raise funds for worthy causes so a £5.00 donation was more than OK with me, don't be shady because that's ugly! Wolves Pride served a favourable March with several supporters showing their rainbow Pride, I tell you for Wolverhampton that was inspiring for me to see. In its third year Wolves Pride had the voices of Gay activist Peter Tatchell and Wolverhampton City Council so kudos to you WV! The ethos of the event screamed 'community' and for a modern day Pride I was thrilled to see that one event hasn't sold out to the big name acts and Disney like commercialism, let's remember those activists who sparked a Gay Pride Liberation in the 1980's! Wolverhampton, I'm a supporter for sure! Yes B!

Entertainment was served upon the Main Stage for all to enjoy, I've been missing Birmingham's Gay scene so I couldn't wait for Sandra grace the stage with her scandalous sense of humour along with Drag duo Glitter Lips. Headlining the event was X Factor finalist Lucy Spraggan, she arrived on stage to a rapture of applause and adoration from the audience. Aside from the big names a range of upcoming artists and groups showcased their talent, Little Jack and Vois impressed me much! Drag performer Baga Chipz made an appearance, singing a few tracks with a certain swagger she wasn't too far from her hometown of Wednesbury. The Voice finalist Jenny Jones performed her heart out, she was amazing on that Wolves Pride 2014 stage! Pride in Wolverhampton was crafted by the hard work of LGBT Network Wolverhampton, in its third year I know that with continued power of support the event shall prosper ever more! That's my Pride best of three, where will the next Pride be?!

Let's Have Some Pride! 

Joseph Harrison