Sunday, October 21, 2012

Birmingham, Baby

Ahh Birmingham, England's "second city".  I just looked up the statistics, and while it is true that Birmingham is the 2nd most populated city in the UK, it's a distant second at less than one-third the size of London, and in close competition with 3rd place Manchester.

In addition to the Poland trip we just took, this month we've paid lodging for 3 upcoming trips (Nov, Dec, and Feb).  Then, United Cargo FINALLY decided to charge me for the cats flights.  I'll admit I kind of forgot about it in the midst of all the other expenses as part of the move.  Point is, we need to reign in the travel spending for our shorter day trip weekends until we get back on track.

The clear choice to save money was a trip to Birmingham, only 50 miles away with plenty to see.  I've been hanging on to all my coins to be prepared with exact change for pay-and-display parking, and I'm glad I did.  I found a carpark just outside of the Bullring mall that covered me for 6 hours for £6.50.  Not cheap by any means, in Indy that same amount (about $10) would cover you for 24 hours at the downtown mall garage.  It was however a good deal relative to the cost of parking in the Bullring garage.

OK, enough obsessing about parking.  As you might guess, I don't have a lot of material to work with this week.

The futuristic Selfridges at Bullring Shopping Center from a distance
Up close
The Selfridges in London is 2nd only to Harrods, and here in Birmingham it just dominates.  We had fun walking around the food and drink areas.  I even found an upscale beef jerky display featuring about 15 different kinds, including the African version "biltong", which is popular out here.

Don't break eye contact!
So you might wonder why the hell I'd bother to blog about a trip to the mall -  it's really not about shopping for us.  These massive shopping centers in the heart of the bigger cities are where everyone is hanging out.  It's not "just the mall" in a big field like back at home; there are numerous shops and attractions around the mall that all benefit from the concentration of shoppers.

The usual architecture juxtaposition of very old with very new
It's fun to get caught up in the crowds, and walk around and watch people.  You're bound to find street performers and artists, some folks in costume collecting donations, and some folks that look like they're in costume but not.  Not to mention plenty of cafes, pubs, and sausage stands to refuel as needed.  It's all very pedestrian friendly, and all stages of life were well represented.  One in 10 people are in a pram (stroller) or a wheelchair, and all were having a good time.

The "American food" display, probably the only place to buy Lucky Charms in a 100 mile radius.  Hilarious.

Christmas displays were in full force at the massive department store Selfridges.  Yeah its too early to really care about Christmas yet, but it was fun to see what British folks will be buying this year.   I will say that the prearraged gift boxes are much classier out here; but we were at a pretty classy department store, not WalMart.

We wandered away from the mall and crowds slowly, following pedestrian signs to the Jewelry Quarter.  I later read that 40% of all jewelry in the UK is made here.  We walked around the block and it was literally one shop after the next;  I was surprised the storefronts were not more, shall we say, inviting.  I didn't feel that the stores really cared to compete with each other for business either.  I really don't understand why so many jewelry shops need to exist in such close proximity - if they were pubs I'd understand.

Like many things here, the reason most things exist as they are is because that's how it always was, and no one really remembers before that, so why bother changing it.  That's my impression anyway, but I'd love to hear some other explanations.

A clocktower in the Jewelry Quarter

After grabbing some street food (kangaroo burgers!), the final stop was the market.  I always find myself surrounded by beautiful cuts of mammals and fish when I have no means to transport them home in a reasonable amount of time.  And then I never return "just to buy food" because I have to consider the pain of the parking situation.  These markets are designed for the locals who can walk home, and I get depressed that I can't join them.  Next time I'll walk around all day with a cooler if there's a slight chance I can fill it somewhere.   The seafood selection was more than impressive considering  our inland location; and not in bad shape for it getting later in the afternoon.

We walked past the protein and toward the produce, where end-of-the-day bargains were beginning.  We found ourselves in a very fortuitous situation; yes we couldn't spend much, but at 4:30, the produce stands wanted to close up in the next 30 minutes, and I had my extra coins meant for parking weighing heavy in my pocket.

I didn't even have to haggle (I'm terrible at this anyway), they were selling large bowls of fruit and veg at £1.50 a pop.  I tried to grab bowls of things I knew were pricier at Sainsburys, like mangoes.   I also got a load of limes, peppers, okra, and some cauliflower and cabbage to round it off.

£4.50 later

I made roasted cauliflower with a chili, lime, and garlic.  One fun thing about limes is that when you roast the rind, they get chewy and slightly sweet, in addition to sour.  They taste like sour patch kids, and go well with the heat from the chilis.

So we had a fun day on a budget.  Being a bit worn out, we stayed in Saturday night and watched a Netflix movie - the first one we've seen since we've been here!

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