Our planned trip to Wales had arrived. Over the next four days, Jacqueline and I planned to visit Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. I had seen some exciting looking activities there, and we both agreed we should check it our. However, the threat of Storm Brian loomed to spoil our journey with rain and strong winds.
Unperturbed, I packed my bag in the morning, before heading briefly out for a game of Tennis against a friendly Dane named Peter. Returning home, Jacqueline and I made our now familiar journey to the Cambridge Railway Station. We caught our first of many trains for the weekend from Cambridge into London, which we had done so many times over the summer. To break things up with a sense of difference and excitement, we got off at Finsbury Park, to catch a Victoria Line underground train to London Euston. Euston is a busy, often overcrowded, station, but we had a few minutes there to search around for some lunch, opting for some pastries from one of the shops in the station.
Our third train for the day left Euston in the early afternoon, and raced across the Midlands to Birmingham, where we planned to stay the night. The timings of our plans for the following day worked easier if we started in Birmingham instead of Cambridge. We therefore had an afternoon and evening to spend in the city. My first impressions of Birmingham was that it did not feel like most cities in the UK. Most of the places I have been to are characterised by old buildings with a few new ones mixed in between, However, the centre of Birmingham was replete with shopping malls and high rise buildings, with motorways encircling the city. The older buildings that remained had been integrated into the public space in a modern way.
We were both quite hungry, so Jacqueline found a decent-looking curry-based pub just north of the city and so we wandered over. The pub was an old one, but much larger than most in London or Cambridge, spilling out over three rooms. Unsure, we ordered the large mixed grill, and were thence presented with a plate piled high with meat. There was a selection of chicken, pork, lamb and fish, which we eagerly ate through, savouring all of the spices along the way.
We returned back to the centre of the city and checked in to our hotel, a minutes walk away from the station. We also took the opportunity to collect our tickets for the following morning’s train. Our hotel was a simple, budget one, with all of the surplus features stripped out. The room was small, but had all of the essential features of a regular hotel, and was significantly nicer than most hostels.
Faced with an evening at Birmingham, Jacqueline suggested that we wander over to the concert hall and see whatever was on that night. So we walked the short distance to the hall, which was integrated into yet another shopping mall. We found the box office and managed to get student tickets at a decent price in a decent area. There was still over an hour until the performance, so we found a coffee shop in the well put together public space near the canal, and sat around for a while.
We returned to the concert hall, which was large and spacious. It had only been open for a few decades, which is a large contrast to the centuries old concert venues in London and Cambridge. The venue was large and spacious, with circles above the stage that looped around the whole hall. The theme of the concert was “smooth classics”, popular or famous pieces of music which had a relaxing or meditating feel to them. So instead of performing an hour long symphony, the pieces were five to ten minutes instead, with a radio announcer introducing each of the pieces. The two halves were concluded with pieces that were a bit more fast-paced: “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and “Prince Igor”. Of course, the orchestra pandered a bit to the British audience by giving them more Elgar, playing “Nimrod” at the end; an encore piece we had heard at the Proms earlier in the summer.
Finally our day was done, and we headed back to the hotel. We stopped by a supermarket on the way to pick up some food for the following morning. On the whole, it had been a pleasant day, but the greater activities were yet to come.