Just returned from an overnight jaunt to lovely Birmingham! No disrespect to my UK home, but in the battle of the Hams (Birmingham v. Nottingham), I'd say we have a clear, undisputed champion, and it's simply not the Notts. =/ From the moment we got off the train we loved it! =) I didn't expect much- from what I had heard it was a dreadful place, polluted and industrial. But it has been though a renaissance in recent years- refurbishing, rebuilding, re-everything, really, and it is lovely! =) In a nutshell, the city was clean and beautiful- flowers everywhere, a lovely series of canals with footbridges, pedestrian areas, free museums, nice cafes, and very few scary young men with their hands down their track pants leering at you from in front of boarded-up businesses like you might see in some places... (In fact, I didn't see any of those in B-ham.) The purpose of our trip was to see Bright Eyes at Carling Academy. Never a dull moment when traveling... Our train was parked at the wrong end of the platform, and we wound up on a train going the total opposite direction... Not to worry, others had been fooled by the bad signing, too, and so four of us were stranded at Netherfield (not nearly as nice as it sounds, and most certainly not the country home of Jane Austen's Mr. Bingley). The next train back to Notts wasn't for hours, so we all got a cab back to the station together. The cab took forever to get there and one of us (possibly me) made the mistake of saying "at least it's a beautiful day out." Then the rains came. When our cab driver finally found us, we were wet and cold and intent on catching the 18:oo train. The driver wanted to get us there, too, and it was a ride right out of Pole Position. We arrived unscathed (except for the nausea) and got on the train with 4 minutes to spare. =) We stayed right in the city centre at Nitenite, a mini luxury hotel of sorts. Everything is very nice there- cozy beds, huge flat-screen tv, wifi, etc, but the rooms are TINY, so the prices are low. Adorable if you're not claustrophobic at all. I, for one, loved having a bed with walls on three sides and no windows to let in pesky sunlight in the morning. Seriously. If I had a million dollars I'd build myself a room like that (and a library for all of my books with a ladder on wheels). The concert was great- Bright Eyes was far better live than I had anticipated, and we went for post-show cocktails at The Shakespeare, a nice little pub in town. Saturday we hungrily wandered into the Mailbox, which used to be a postal sorting office, but is now a multi-story open-air shopping oasis. If you go all the way through it you end up at what is basically a very posh food court- tons of bars and restaurants with outdoor seating right on the canal. There's even a Nando's there for Andy. =) From there you can take footbridges and walk all around the canal, galleries, convention center, Brindley Place, Gas Street Basin, etc. We had lunch at the Canalside Cafe, which was excellent! Vegan food galore! Chilli, soups, bangers and mash- hard to find that stuff around these parts! It was delicious! =) The rest of the day was spent wandering around- bookstores, cafes, Muji, galleries, etc. Lovely. Got the evening train back and are now home, eagerly anticipating the Wimbledon final this afternoon. =) Tentatively planning to go back to Brum while we're here if we can swing it. Vegan bangers and mash are calling!