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Published: July 14th 2019
Right in the middle of the action, but hardly anyone notices the canal boat moored in plain sight.
We arrived in Birmingham at about 4:30, and found a mooring in the very center of town, across from a LegoLand exhibit and next to the Aquarium Center. We grabbed the last mooring on Oozle Street Loop, and our beautiful boat was visible by everyone in the square. After a quick shower, we went into town to find food. 5pm is a bit early for dinner, and most places were not quite open. However we found a fabulous Indian restaurant where the food was spicy and the water was plentiful, as was the Naan.
Birmingham didn't have as many "big old buildings" as London and other towns we have visited. It seem that the majority of Birmingham grew up during the industrial expansion and either there were not many buildings prior, or the expansion just consumed everything. Recently, it seems, those industrial buildings have been coming down, and a very smart downtown with shops, attractions, food, and plentiful housing has been replacing it. There is construction everywhere spreading out from the center.
On our way back from dinner, we saw dozens of people in hard rock t-shirts, mostly KISS. Then we saw some people in full white
An Escape Room
We found the Holy Grail. It was only a model.
face makeup, and quickly came to the conclusion that there was a KISS concert somewhere. As we headed back to our boat, we started to be surrounded by KISS t-shirts, and quickly realized that the KISS concert was in the event arena directly across the canal from where we moored. People of all ages (primary school students included) arrived in makeup for hours leading up to the start of the concert. Anne and Michelle said it was noisy but polite as people left when the concert was over (Tony was sound asleep).
After a restful night's sleep, we decided to get a late start on the canals (we had planned a short day), and try out a new escape room (we do love our escape rooms). this one was only a 10 minute walk, but we decided to get breakfast at a cafe instead of the fruit and yogurt we have normally been eating on the boat. It turns out that breakfast restaurants don't really open until 9am. Starbucks and Costa (coffee places with pastries) were open, and a UK chain called EAT, with fast, but limited options that you generally just grab and go. We grabbed
I am glad we brought the smart one.
and went, and walked around some neighborhoods for a while before we could escape our room.
The escape room was called "The Grand Escape", and it had three different themed rooms. We chose the Holy Grail room (of course). There is also an Alice in Wonderland room and (soon) a Harry Potter room. The experience was excellent. Challenging puzzles, some physically difficult (not strenuous, just dexterity based), some logic puzzles. A lot of looking at the tops/bottoms/insides/outsides/middlesides of objects, and a lot of red herrings. There were also some themed costumes, and Tony made a few Monty Python references, and one Princess Bride reference. We finished in 46 minutes with no hints, which, apparently, is unusually good. It was challenging and enjoyable, but not overly stressful. We hope to go again on a future visit (which we intend to take).
After the escape room, we found another cafe and had Second Breakfast (we love Hobbits). We headed back to the boat and set off right away, back to the canals.
This section of canal was the most exciting, visually interesting, socially interesting, and tiring of the trip so far (so we
The City Before You
Exciting and Beautiful.. but it's just the start.
are leaving it in the Birmingham entry).
There are 25 or so locks, in two sections, each less than two miles long. In the first section, the locks were going down a hill amongst high rises, busy city streets, new and old developments, restaurants, businesses, homes, parks, churches, and other big city architecture. Down at the bottom of these buildings was a maze of subways, water diversions, walkways, cutouts, power conduits, sewer connections, and other urban artifacts criss crossing, but exposed by the canal running through. Each lock was different, but they all had some sort of basin off to the side for holding a boat for 2 way traffic.
Boats go up and down the locks, but there is only one lock in each spot. There are rules and conventions for the operation and sharing of locks. Luckily, on this trip, we have not faced too much traffic on the canal. In this section, we only passed 3 other boats. In general, since we were coming down hill, they would pull over and we would go straight on through. The locks were only 100 feet apart, so maneuvering two 40 foot boats in that space
Neat Lock Views
The Top locks had amazing views and things to see.
was challenging each time (while also avoiding building pillars or spillways. We setup a regular pattern of opening the paddles and gates of each lock, closing up the previous, and looking ahead to prepare the next lock (or negotiate with an oncoming boat about timing and precedence). Michelle and Anne did most of the strenuous manual work, while Tony took on the tricky and precise driving duty. By the end of the lock systems, we were all exhausted.
After the locks and some Suburban and then Country canal driving, we stopped at a canal-side pub which offered "FOOD" and free mooring and free wifi (according to it's sign). However, the cook had left the week before with no replacement, so food was not an option (We walked 5 minutes to the next bridge to another excellent pub where we gave some advice to the barkeep who was about to visit Disney World). When we returned, we realized that the outdoor seating 10 feet away from our boat's windows is where the loud people would congregate later that night, and where the smoking would happen (was already happening), and drift into our open windows.
It's A Maze - ing
So many things at the bottom levels of the city.
behind the free wifi, we decided to move on and found a lovely, quiet mooring place near the next town, just before more tunnels and locks, and next to nothing and no one at all (maybe some trees and bugs and the creepy old man who started collecting dried leaves and branches right next to our boat at 930pm in the dwindling twilight).
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