Apologies for this tardy update on last weekend’s trip to Warwick.
On Saturday morning, we jumped on a train to Warwick and 25 minutes later we were exploring the streets of a little castle town. The River Avon runs through the heart of the city and past Warwick Castle, and if we go ever go back with visitors, we definitely want to rent a canoe or a giant swan paddle boat!
Warwick Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 and later fortified with stone and restored in the 12th century. A local described the castle as “Disney-ified” and recommended making the 2 mile trek outside town to Kenilworth Castle, too. Add it to the list! I don’t know if I’ll ever grow tired of castles!
Warwick Castle had sword fighting, archery, jousting, random minstrel and bird shows… it was packed with little girls in princess dresses and boys wielding wooden swords. Can you imagine having a season pass to a castle instead of the local zoo? So cool. We climbed one of the towers and checked out the view, ate lunch in the peacock garden in front of a beautiful conservatory, and roamed the gardens and castle grounds.
Later, we went inside the Church of St. Mary which was partially destroyed in a 1694 fire and we also checked out St. John’s Museum. This building was seriously cool from the outside but I found the inside a bit dull. Some 900 years ago it was originally used as a hospital and over the years would become a private residence, a school, an office building for war efforts, and is now a museum dedicated to said war efforts. I sort of zoned out when I discovered it barely touched on WWII. The interior has been renovated so many times that few original features remained. So no pics of the inside.
Brief recap of this week:
We had “Sunday lunch” with a couple friends in our new neighborhood. We can’t wait to move!!!!!!
Connor rented a car yesterday and had a little driving adventure. He survived.
We still don’t have access to pounds because bank security measures in the UK are INSANE. Total overkill.
Penny dragged a used teabag out of the garbage and onto the bed, spreading cranberry bits all over the place.
We have an appointment with “Mr. Bob” on Saturday to check out a car he is selling. If we can buy a car this weekend, we are heading to the Peak District for some hiking!
Our first trip to London is in the works and yes, I plan to get in line at the ass crack (sorry Mom) to score tickets to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet. OMG HOW AMAZING WOULD THAT BE!? I can’t even.
On Saturday morning we decided to flee our tiny hotel room and the cigarette-filled city and head to the country. Sutton Park is the 7th largest park in Europe and only a 30-minute bus ride from Birmingham’s City Centre. We spent the afternoon wandering on and off the trails, eating wild blackberries, and tiring out the dog. Wild ponies and cattle are loose in the park, and while we didn’t see any ponies, we certainly saw plenty of poop.
1 of 7 lakes in the park
Penny is curious about the cows
Somewhere in the middle of the park
Millions of these little petals
Some kind of flowering pine
Wild blackberries! These were everywhere!
We couldn’t stop eating them.
The sun always comes out later in the day.
…and very few people.
The park covers more than 2,000 acres and we barely made a dent.
Penny fell asleep as soon as I picked her up 🙂
I’m using Flickr to back up our photos while we’re abroad, so head to my account if you want to see more and read less!
In other news, we think we are moving into our apartment on September 2! We haven’t signed anything or paid anyone, which makes me nervous, but our “relocation consultant” is handling the details. The place is in a fabulous location, with a backyard and an updated interior, but the downside is that it’s unfurnished. Yes, that’s right. It’s a completely empty house. And all we brought with us were clothes and dog food. We’re considering ordering a truckload of stuff from Ikea and dooming ourselves to hours upon hours of Swiss-pictogram assembly instructions. Kill me now.
5 things about our new home that have left me baffled, laughing, and entertained:
Chicagoans walk purposefully and often briskly, adhering to The Sidewalk Code of Etiquette: stay to the right, pass on the left; don’t clog up the curb area, stop suddenly, or make unnecessary eye contact; respect personal space when at all possible. As far as I can tell, Brummies do not have a code. They tend to stroll like a man with his hands behind his back, whistling, staring at the sky. I am constantly jumping out of the way, being walked into, zig-zagging all over the sidewalk… I considered staying to the left – they drive on the left after all – but this wasn’t the solution. For a paranoid minute I thought people could tell I was American and they were veering into me on purpose.
There are very few dogs in Birmingham. Maybe this will change when we move into an actual neighborhood.
While generally very friendly, Chicagoans rarely strike up conversation with strangers. If someone spoke to me on the red line about anything other than a shared train experience, I was immediately suspicious and considered changing cars. Walking around with Penny in Birmingham has brought out the chatty in the Brummies. I think I’ve had conversations with 20 people already, which far surpasses the number of times I’ve spoken with strangers in Chicago. Two little ten year old boys kept coming over to see the dog when I was reading in a park and after drilling me with questions, asked for a hug. I told them they could hug the dog. (WHAT? I’m still a little disturbed). Another guy thought we cared to hear his thoughts on American politics. The pleasant experiences are never as fun to talk about as the weird ones, but Chatty Kathys abound.
Brummies use the word beware instead of caution. “BEWARE: Construction Zone.” The kitchen knives in our hotel room are labeled “BEWARE: Sharp Knives.” It sounds overly dramatic.
In Brum, “orange squash” is a drink, not a vegetable. Connor politely fetched beverages for some of his colleagues and didn’t know that the orange juice lookalike was a highly concentrated concoction of God-knows-what. Innocently, he filled a glass, topped it off with a splash of water, and presented it to his colleague. Who did not drink any of it.
Happy Friday everyone! It’s raining here today for the first time since we arrived, so I’m having a mini staycation. I’m sort of relieved to have an excuse to stay put.
People. Chips and Salsa are officially MIA over here. Connor searched both known grocery stores: Sainsbury’s and Poundland. (Yes, Poundland = British Dollar Store. Expiration date on all items: next week) He even checked the “ethnic section,” which we imagined would be quite extensive given the diversity of this city. Apparently we are too far from Mexico. Maybe I’ll start a taco food truck while I’m here, but first I better learn how to make salsa. If you have a good recipe, send it to me!
Lest you doubt the gravity of this situation please remember that the Doyle fridge usually looks like this.
In other news, we visited Victoria Square, home to Birmingham’s local government buildings and some of the coolest architecture we’ve seen so far. We didn’t have a chance to go inside the Museum and Art Gallery but plan to some other time. Also, there’s a fountain in the middle of the square affectionately referred to as the “floozie in the jacuzzi.” Ha!
The weather changes very quickly here – here’s the Council House when the sun came out.
On Thursday we checked out the famous Rag Market and Bull Ring Market hoping to buy some “fruit and veg.” EVERYTHING IS SO CHEAP! WHY??? Really hoping this stuff isn’t farmed by children or something because I just can’t figure it out. Kiwi are 10 pence each?? Mangoes are 25p? What? We picked up some amazing cherry tomatoes, cheddar cheese, carrots, garlic, and a “pine”(apple) for under 5 pounds. So far we haven’t been poisoned and everything is delicious. NOTE: The second picture below is horrifying. View at your own risk.
If anyone has a clue what those are used for, do enlighten me in the comments below. This is one thing I do not care to google. I think I’ll be sending Connor into the meat market from now on. PS. WHOSE HEADS ARE THOSE? They look like dinosaurs or something. They’re certainly not pig heads because those were hanging from the ceiling.
Still waiting to hear about the apartment, so in the meantime we’re hanging out in Birmingham City University’s beautiful gardens and visiting more pubs!
We’ll spare you the details of our very very long travel day, but here are the things to note:
Taxi drivers at Heathrow do not appreciate foreigners with credit cards.
The customs booth wasn’t open at 8am London time, so we shamelessly smuggled in a salami. Connor “declared” the salami to anyone who cared to listen, but that was the extent of it. (See this video).
Despite an error in Penny’s paperwork, she arrived safe and sound, and maybe a bit traumatized. Showers of blessings upon the man at the Animal Reception Centre who “honestly couldn’t be bothered to fail the dog.” (Funny how these strict animal import rules don’t really matter when someone doesn’t feel like doing their job…) But I’m not complaining!
We explored the area around our hotel and love Birmingham so far (also known as the Brum, and the people are Brummies). We found the big market in the city centre, the Cathedral, a few parks, and the canal area. The priest at St. Chad’s Cathedral was thrilled to meet a couple Americans, and he turned us over to Jeanne who took us down for some cake. She and her husband are in their late 60s and he attended Yale back in the day. Jeanne gave me her address and phone number, suggested a few places where I could volunteer (all dealing with the Calais refugees), and asked me to tea once I get settled.
Pubs here are so cute! And the bartenders are excited to talk to Americans. Last night I asked a kid who couldn’t have been more than 20 to tell me about a certain beer, and he responded, “Do you know what I mean when I say it’s very hoppy?” Cue excitement followed by bitter disappointment. I don’t think the British have truly met a hop. But that’s ok – the beer wasn’t bad! Local tip: traditional pubs should have flowers out front. The one pictured below was so cute we had to stop in. It didn’t fit more than 2 or 3 tables so we sat outside by the canal.
We submitted an offer for an apartment lease yesterday and hope to hear back tomorrow. We’ll share details when we have them! This one is located in Harborne just off the high street, which is extremely convenient. Everyone cross your fingers!