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Christmas in Birmingham, UK

Monday, January 09, 2012

I wasn't abroad very long, but I have to break up my blogs about them separately, or it will be too long.

Unfortunately, I don't have too many pictures of me because my fiance has the worst unsteady hands. I think what happens is, he tries to take a picture quickly, and drops his hands before the shutter finishes. This is why there isn't usually a lot of pictures of us on vacation. I also tend to look annoyed in the pictures because it's usually the 100th attempt to get a non blurry picture - lol.

Most people who travel to the UK have London in mind, I imagine. My fiance's family is from the Black Country, so I get to see more of daily life in England. Birmingham, I am reminded by the locals, though, is NOT part of the Black Country. It is the closest nearby metropolitan city.

We met with the future in-laws and family for Christmas celebrations and evening meals. My fiance was trying to balance family time with some tourism, since we don't get to travel often with our meager 10 days a year American vacation time. We went to the Black Country museum on Christmas eve, which I really enjoyed. This was the heart of the industrial revolution. Coal mining, steam engines, industrial iron/steel work - it all started here.

It was a very hard life for those in the Black Country. Average lifespan was about 30 years. You either died in the coal mine, or from lung cancer from the coal soot. The Black Country was described as black by day from the coal soot, red by night from the iron forges. JRR Tolkien got his inspiration for Mordor from the Black Country.

It is not that way anymore, obviously, but the Black Country museum was a very interesting step back in time to the early 18th century. There was a small block of shops that were set up to approximate 1930's Wolverhampton. There was a fantastic fish and chips shop where I had lunch. They made the battered fish the old fashioned way - with beef tallow. It was simply marvelous. Probably the best fish and chips I've had yet in England.

It was very cold, and we stopped the Women Worker's Union Hall for a coffee. I had a traditional Christmas treat with my coffee - mince pie.

Warmed up, we explored more. Did you know Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice? Tis true. Transporting coal and iron works from the Midlands to the ports of Liverpool and London used to be the most efficient means. Canals were highways of the 18th-19th century.

Because it was winter, our day was cut short by the sun. The sun started to set around 4:00, and it was dusk by 4:30. We stopped into a small pub at the museum, where I warmed up with mulled wine.

The anchor for the Titanic was made in the Black Country. We drove by the replica.

With night setting in, we went into Birmingham town center for a wander, and last minute Christmas shopping. The streets were made up with Christmas decorations.

Inside the shopping mall, I found a jelly bean replica of the Bullring bull that is in the center of Birmingham square.

The next day we enjoyed Christmas meal with the fiance's family. After dinner, we went for a walk around a local pond and fed leftover Christmas bread to the ducks, geese, and swans.

The following day we took a trip way off the beaten track to Warrington, Lymm, and Chester. It wasn't entirely all for fun - since my fiance is there once a year, he often has to run a few errands. Once we got his details sorted, we went for lunch at a gastro pub in Lymm. It is Aiden Byrne's Michelin starred restaurant called "The Church Green". Those in the US might not be familiar with him, but he is basically a British "celebrity chef".

We started with a bread and olive tapenade that was simply amazing. I'm going to have to try and replicate it soon. It used a little orange zest/juice for a little sweetness/acid. The olive oil tasted like fresh olives.

I had a frois gras plate for my starter. My fiance had a salmon chowder. The chowder was so good. The grayish color might look a little odd, but believe me. It was fantastic. I should have taken notes on what I tasted. I wish I could make soup like that.

I had a braised lamb for my main meal. The lamb was sooo tender, it almost literally fell apart in the mouth. My fiance had a beef and onion pie with a split pea soup. He said it was the best beef and onion pie.

For dessert, we had coffee and split a chocolate mousse with poached pears.

I have to admit. Maybe because of Sparkfriend Ronna and her amazing talent as a pastry chef, I had very high expectations on presentation at a Michelin rated gastro pub. The dessert was delicious, but I was expecting more oomph on the plating. A little sliver of cake with pears on the side - ho hum. I'm certain Iron Chef judges would agree that the plating was not as inviting as the dessert tasted.

Dining at a celebrity chef, Michelin rated gastro pub sounds pretty expensive, eh? Not as much as you might think. If you don't have a Paris Hilton budget, but like fine dining, going at lunch is almost always the affordable option. We were in Lymm, which is an urban district of Cheshire, but it is not London. Before beer and wine, our bill came out to just under 50 pounds, or $65 for the two of us.

I was a big fan of Rachael Ray's travel show, "$40 a Day", and this is pretty much the way I travel. We ate light in the morning so we could eat at this pub for lunch. We were well under food budget for the day. Even though the portions were not oversized, they were quite satisfying, and we didn't end up eating dinner later because we weren't hungry.

Next up, Paris!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    *sigh* I miss England... I was only there for a couple of months, ages ago, but it's *home*. :)
    3243 days ago
    sounds like you had a great time.
    3288 days ago
  • no profile photo CD6097965
    Oh I am so glad you came to Birmingham - I live about 20ish miles from the city - not in the Black Country but in Worcestershire, which touches the Black Country. The Black Country is industrial and Worcestershire agricultural, so you couldn't get more different, (as Mordor is from The Shire!) but we Midlanders are all wonderful people, even if I say so myself!

    So glad you had a wonderful time!
    3299 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/10/2012 8:30:02 AM
    Thanks for sharing! It sounds like a wonderful time and the perfect balance between family and tourism. I've been to London and points south, but never that far north.
    3300 days ago
  • no profile photo CD8937156
    Thank you! Makes me want to visit the Black Country. Until my finances allow, this armchair version is pretty good. Can't wait to read what you got up to in Paris. :)
    3300 days ago
    3300 days ago
    Thanks for sharing your great trip with us. I have not been to Birmingham, but visited son who spent a year studying in Manchester.
    3300 days ago
  • KELPIE57
    Interesting for this Brit in France to read about an American's impression of the north of England!
    3300 days ago
    Looks like you had a lot of fun!
    3300 days ago
    What an awesome experience! And too true about the pitiful lack of vacation time for Americans. It doesn't make us any more productive, just grumpier and more stressed!
    3300 days ago
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