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Published: August 2nd 2015
English Bridge, Shrewsbury
With a gothic church spire in the background the picture is quintessentially English, indeed.
After five months away, I was back in my adopted home country of the United Kingdom. Except, that it didn't really feel like my home any more. Shorn of my old flat in West Hampstead, in which I lived for six years, being back in London just didn't feel the same. With a job and a flat, I felt part of the fabric of the city - now I felt like an outsider trying to weave myself back into the cloth without a needle.
There were many things that made me remember why I love the city so much - the iconic sights, the transport system (yes, I you read that correctly - Londoners often don't realise how lucky they are), the bars and pubs, and the different neighbourhoods - but mostly because of the familiarity I have with London and there was more than a few nostalgic, sentimental moments visiting a few of my old haunts. I had it good in London.
I also remembered however, why I left. Having got used to the slow pace of life in New Zealand and South Africa, I was almost taken aback by the way commuters were charging about the place, the impersonality
Birmingham's eye-catching shopping mall in the city centre.
of it all. The world moves on and London had moved on without me and now I wasn't sure if it was a place I wanted to come back to on a permanent basis. Too many of my friends had moved away and yet more are indeed moving away - it is not the same place. I certainly feel that I have been there, done that and got the t-shirt - my time in London is done.
Which was partly why I decided to leave the city for a couple of days.
Ever since I met a guy from the place some fourteen years ago, I had always had Shrewsbury on my list of places to go, having heard how nice and medieval the place was.
My organisation of the trip was a bit last-minute - it is a testament to the UK's rail infrastructure that I was able to do the trip, and do it cheaply. Amongst other things, I also had to arrange my accommodation for the rest of my stay in London too.
Pulling into Birmingham's New Street station, I got straight into my walk of the city centre and all of its sights. The
Old Market Hall, Shrewsbury
Built in 1596, the hall was originally used to sell wool and corn.
orientation was a bit confusing at first, but I got my bearings soon enough.
"Brum" has always got a bit of flack over the years - a drab, industrial remnant bereft of culture or of anything to see - which was why I was a little surprised at how nice the city centre was. Grand old buildings such as the Council House are intermingled with daring modern architectural landmarks such as The Bullring Shopping Centre. There are a lot of really pretty areas too - I was particularly impressed by how clean the whole place was and how well connected all the main pedestrian thoroughfares are. The walkways are all rather aesthetically pleasing as well.
One thing that Birmingham's industrial past has left behind are miles and miles of canals - apparently, there are more miles of canals here than there are in Venice. Birmingham has certainly used them to its advantage - they now go through what are in my opinion, are the nicest parts of the city. Then again, I have always had a bit of a canal fetish.
Brindleyplace is a lovely collection of canalside bars and restaurants and from here you can take a pleasant stroll
Victoria Square & Council House
Statue of Queen Victoria with the Council House in the background, in the centre of Birmingham.
along the Old Line canal to a couple of upmarket shopping centres including the old post office headquarters now known as The Mailbox.
I then made my way to The Arcadian where most of Birmingham's nightlife is centred. A large courtyard surrounded by cafes, bars, clubs and loads of Chinese restaurants - Birmingham's small Chinatown is also centred here - there wasn't a lot happening given it was a Monday night that uni was out. Of historical interest, just across the road from The Arcadian is the "Back To Backs" - a row of 19th century working class houses that have been restored to their former glory, giving visitors a glimpse as to what life was like living in 19th century Birmingham. On the corner is a sweet store that really is a journey back in time - it looked like something you've seen in a children's period film.
I've always found something rather reassuring about shopping malls. They are always clean, welcoming and safe. Having been all to aware of the dangers on the street on my recent visit to South Africa, I found solace in shopping malls, particularly in Johannesburg
. So I decided to wander around Birmingham's
With the Hall Of Memory on the left and the stirking Birmingham Repetory Theatre in the middle.
Bullring for a little while before grabbing a good burger outside at Five Guys - a good, old-fashioned, greasy, American burger enjoyed al fresco
along with the cacophony of bells blurting out of St Martin's Cathedral.
While the mall is a sanctuary of sorts, the same could not be said about the area my hostel was in. Walking past a group of junkies sitting down on the footpath, I passed railway bridge and a car scrapyard en route to Birmingham Central Backpackers. The immediate area looked proper rough. I wasn't too enamoured with the hostel itself either - they definitely need more than just one bathroom for the entire top floor and because the kitchen only opened at 8am, I had to miss out on my free breakfast as I needed to leave early to catch my train to Shrewsbury.
Known as a biscuit back from where I am from, Shrewsbury the town, is nice.
From the medieval Market Square, to the narrow alleys of the old town, and from the half-timbered houses to the majestic English Bridge, yes, Shrewsbury is a really nice place to walk around and the city is nice and compact. But you definitely get
the feeling that once you have seen one old medieval English town - like York
for example - you've seen them all. The place is very well signposted for tourists though.
Perhaps the highlight of my day-trip was not the famous and historically important Shrewsbury Abbey, but the walk along the nearby English Bridge and then along the River Severn to the beautifully kept Quarry Park and its botanical gardens on what was a gorgeous and sunny summer's day.
Like many British towns, Shrewsbury has been taken over by chains and corporations a bit and it was disheartening to see lots of empty shops available for rent. The town was very quiet. There are lots of very young and very old people in Shrewsbury - it seems that everyone of working age has left to find better opportunities, opportunities that don't currently exist in this Shropshire town.
The working class have probably gone to places like London, which is where I returned later that afternoon, by two day tour of Birmingham and Shrewsbury now over. It was nice to get away from London for a couple of days.
I don't know where the next blog entry is going to
Not much to look at admittedly, although the lawns are nice. The castle now houses a military museum.
come from now - it could be another trip within the UK before I leave London or it could be from Spain, once I get settled in Barcelona. For the moment, I'll keep you (and myself) guessing.
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