AdventureNotes #23: Birmingham

 

It’s been a busy time for me and I missed last week’s AdventureNotes. And although this week’s article is late, I’m going to make it up to you! This week’s AdventureNotes is about Birmingham. It is the city where I live in now. I’ve lived here for more than six months now and I can find more and more interesting places to visit.

Birmingham is the second biggest city in the UK. It used to be an industrial city where car manufacturers do their production. Indeed, it becomes a quite busy city until these days. People come here for business, but less for tourism. Yes, as it is more perceived as a ‘metropolitan’ city where people trade and conduct business, it has less tourist attractions. There are more office buildings and shopping malls.

Photo: https://mamt.org.uk/TheSchool/About-Birmingham

Having lived in Birmingham for more than six months makes me realize that this city grows rapidly. There are more building developments each day, a newly opened apartment, a construction for a new office center, and a new mall. I feel almost like it’s growing to be Jakarta. Indeed, I think this city has so many shopping centers spread throughout the city. Birmingham itself is big with different areas with their own village centers and attractions. I haven’t had a chance to visit all of them, but here are some that I would recommend.

There are many ways to enter Birmingham. The most common one is of course by train. When you arrive in Birmingham, you will most likely arrive in Birmingham New Street Station. It is a newly built facility, just opened by Queen Elizabeth II a few months back. It is such a modern and iconic building just in the middle of the city center. Besides functioning as a train station, the building is also a shopping mall called Grand Central. It is almost like PIM in Indonesia as this shopping mall is connected with another shopping mall. The place is always bustling with people, even in early morning. Birmingham has two other big train stations, which are Snow Hill station that is located within Birmingham business district and Moor Street station that was once the central train station in Birmingham before it was moved to New Street Station. The architecture in Birmingham Moor Street station is unique and preserved to maintain its characteristic during the old days.

As I said, Birmingham is a city with so many shopping centers. Walking in the city center, you can see different kinds of markets, shopping mall, and shopping area. Besides the Grand Central, another bigger and more iconic shopping mall in Birmingham is called the Bullring. It has been a Birmingham icon for a long time. It is actually a regular shopping mall with unique layout. I really think that the first time people visit this place, they will be lost. Haha. I quite like the surrounding area of Bullring. There are outdoor market where people trade fruits, vegetables, etc., indoor market to sell meat and poultry, rug market where you can find just anything, literally anything, and the streets nearby where you can find individual stores. Walking along the city center is quite nice, really, just hopping from one shop to another.

Birmingham is not just about shopping spree. My favorite place in Birmingham is its Canal Side area. We can walk near the canal, looking at bars and restaurant alongside. Near the canal, there is an area called the Brindley Place where there are restaurants, gardens, and a gallery called Ikon Gallery. I like to visit Ikon Gallery because it is quite unique. It offers different independent exhibitions throughout the year. The garden there is nice and calming. The area is surrounded by tall office buildings, but I can just feel the serenity. Opposite the Brindley Place on the canal side is ICC. It’s a convention center where people see performances, exhibitions, and conferences. Walking through the ICC towards the street, we can see Centenary Square. The annual Birmingham Weekender closing performance is usually held there. Last year, the festival ended with an acrobat performance that was magical! Be sure to visit the city during the event.

In the area near Centenary Square towards the Victoria Square, we can see the Library of Birmingham that is shaped like a wedding cake, the Town Hall, and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Those are the usual places to visit. At the top of the library, there is a Shakespeare memorial room where we can see the city from above. There is also a sky garden where we can have a nice chat outside, on the 7th floor of the building. The library itself is massive! I love coming inside to just look around. The place is so comfy and sometimes there are also exhibitions held there. The library is indeed a very nice place to visit whereas in my opinion, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is kind of a so-so place. The layout is rather outdated compared to other museums in the UK.

An area of the city that is rather less explored is the Jewelry Quarter. It is located rather outside the city center, but not too far away. The area is full of jewelry shops where people can window shop (literally through their windows), looking at different jewelry offered. There is also a museum there, but it charges an admission fee around £10 per person. I basically haven’t entered the place because of the fee, but I think it will be quite interesting because we can see the process of jewelry making as the place was once a jewelry factory before it was changed into a weapon factory during the World War II, and now it serves as a museum.

Less people know it before they arrive in Birmingham, but the city was once lived by Cadbury – yes, the founder of that Cadbury chocolate. Therefore, one of the attractions of Birmingham is the Cadbury Experience. Located in a village called Bournville, which was really founded by Cadbury himself, the attraction offers a full experience of chocolate making and its history in the world. There are fourteen different experiences offered by the place, along with its so-called biggest Cadbury shop in the world and a tea room. The admission fee to enter the place is not cheap, but will certainly worth it. However, you need to be careful because you have to book the ticket online as the place is so popular that sometimes there is no slot available for you to visit, especially during the school holiday.

One of the things that attract people to come to Birmingham is its university. Put among highly ranked universities in the world, University of Birmingham does not only offer a good quality of education, but also a place to visit. The university area is famous for its clock tower called the Old Joe. The clock is so high and big that a double decker bus can go through its clock face. The university complex is quite interesting to visit and has its own tourist attractions, such as the Barber Institute, which is the university’s art gallery, and the Winterbourne Garden that attracts people for its beauty. The Valley area, where the university accommodation is located in, is also interesting to explore. The annual bonfire night of the university is held in the Valley.

The last attraction that I would recommend to visit is called the Black Country Living Museum. Located outside the city center, particularly in Dudley, the museum is very unique. The full review of this museum can be found here: https://theadventureofizzao.com/2016/03/25/black-country-living-museum/. Be sure to visit this place when you are in Birmingham because the experience is like no other. Indeed, we can learn many things from how people manage this museum. The place is very educational, yet not boring.

For me, a very nice aspect of exploring Birmingham is the food. Yes, the food. There are lots of different food stalls offering different kinds of food. Especially for me, who is a Muslim and have to eat halal food, the city is full of halal restaurants. I can find halal Japanese restaurant, halal Chinese restaurant, and the common fast-food joint serving halal food. I love it! There are so many delicious food offered with a very reasonable price. It is not difficult at all to pamper your stomach in Birmingham.

As I said, I haven’t explored the whole city, yet. Yes, despite of my months living here, Birmingham is indeed a very big city. I will certainly have to write some more about Birmingham later on when I have visited some more places. See you next week!

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Black Country Living Museum

Last Saturday I went for a trip to Black Country Living Museum. Since I was still in Jakarta, I already know this place and had wanted to go there. Yes, I am such a sucker for this travelling this. Sometimes it seems that I can’t wait to go out again, to travel again, and to have another adventure. Anyway, finally I got to go to the Black Country Living Museum.

I was interested to go there because of its unique concept. It’s not a regular museum, not the one where we come in and see the collections inside glass boxes. It is literally a living museum. The complex consists of buildings, transportation tools, workshops, shops, restaurants – just like a town. There are also people acting like they are living there. They wear the old fashioned clothes, speak in the ‘Black Country accent’, and do like different kind of jobs. It was a very distinct experience.

I went there with my husband, his friends, and a big group from the university. The first thing we did was watch an introductory video about Black Country. So it actually was an area that produces tools. Its natural resource had something to do with mining (pardon my lack of knowledge). So the whole area worked as people who are producing different kinds of tools, such as glass, chain, and anchor. It was said in the video that the anchor in Titanic was made in Black Country. As industrial area, Black Country also had quite advance modes of transportation at that time, such as trams, boats in canals, and buses.

As we walked into the area, there was this massive open area. We could see buses, cars, and motorcycle come and goes. We went to the mine office building, got prepared, and actually went into the mine. We went underground with limited light and it was quite an interesting and unusual experience for me. It was the first time I went into a mine – well, I don’t know when I will do that again basically. There was this kind of diorama showing what happened in the mine. What amazing was that we had to stop in several points and there will be narration of the ‘mine worker’ who is presented in the diorama. I don’t know but it was kind of amazing that they can build something like that – very educating and full of knowledge and history but not boring.

There are many buildings in the area of Black Country Living Museum. We go into some buildings and heard stories from the people there – you know the people who dress up like they really are living in the Black Country in the 1800-1900. The area actually divided into 2 parts, the first one is the kind of industrial space which is the mining with its machines (which is still working, amazingly!) and the other one is the town. We had to be careful walking there because there are buses, cars, and motorcycles. Those are the transportation which is a part of museum collection. They are all working very well and the museum people drive it for show.

We went to some shops and listened to the explanation from the shopkeeper about how people used to live in the past. We also learned about the money – which was different with the money system nowadays. We came into two very different houses, one is the house of a quite well-off family and one house is called Back to Back house because the houses were attached to each other and despite of its size tens of people lived there. The stories told were interesting. It was enjoyable and I could really imagine living at that time.

Oh! And we also saw this chain-making attraction. Basically it just a person playing as a chain maker and he showed us how to make chain. He also explained about how people get paid at that time and how women get paid lower than men. That’s maybe why the women in the museum wear this pin stating ‘Vote for Women’ on their clothes.

At the end of our visit we watched a black and white silent movie in the cinema. Yes, there is a cinema in Black Country Living Museum. Just like the old days (who am I talking like I know the old days), there are just benches in the cinema and the movie was funny. It is amazing how people in the movie can really act up to the point that the audiences understand what they mean although they are not speaking at all. Oh, but there was some kind of subtitle explaining briefly about the setting of the movie – but that’s just it. We looked at the school – there was really a class going on at that time – and finally we hopped on the tram to go back to the main reception building.

It was a very nice and memorable visit, I think. I don’t know if there is any other museum that offers this kind of experience, but it sure is my first one. I’m glad that I decided to go and let’s plan the next visit!

More info about BCLM: http://www.bclm.co.uk/

Photos: personal collection and https://instagram.com/ryantoanugroho/

Oct 10, 2015

Living as a Muslim in Birmingham

Okay, I admit that the title is a bit overgeneralizing but I just want to share my experience so far, living here as a Muslim in Birmingham. Having had the experience of living in Hull where I must say that I even went to the mosque during Ramadhan far more frequently than when I was back home, I start to compare my life here and there.

It was quite a small community we had in Hull and I felt like I had a family there – people with the same religion and living the same way of life. The mosque was very comfortable, there were lots of activities, and it was full during the Ramadhan. Obviously I haven’t experienced Ramadhan in Birmingham but I hope it is better!

Now in Birmingham, there are many Muslims. Based on the Census on 2011, the Muslims were 21.8% of the total population in Birmingham (http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/cs/Satellite?c=Page&childpagename=Planning-and-Regeneration%2FPageLayout&cid=1223096353923&pagename=BCC%2FCommon%2FWrapper%2FWrapper). Therefore, it is not unusual to find many women with hijab around the city. There are immigrants, Muslims from all around the world, and also local people. In regard to the usualness (I’m not even sure that’s a word) of people wearing hijab, I don’t think it’s far different with Indonesia, honestly and in my opinion, it is quite easy and comfortable living as a Muslim in Birmingham.

As a Muslim, I have to pray five times a day. The time of the prayer depends on the position of the sun. It is quite easy to do it during the fall season but in my experience, finding time and place to pray during the winter was kind of a challenge. Sometimes, I had to pray twice throughout a lecture and with the condition; I had to pray in empty rooms around my class. That also happens here in Birmingham. As the prayer room in the university is placed in the Guild of Student – which is quite far from certain points in the university, my husband sometimes has to pray in empty rooms. The good thing is, in several restrooms in the university, there are places to do ablution or mostly known as wudhu. Well, not only in the university, even in the airport the restrooms are integrated with wudhu place. It’s comfortable, right? In the city center, there was limited space to pray. Yes, we can pray in the park or other open public spaces or sometimes we pray sitting on benches. Now, there was this multi-faith prayer room in Birmingham New Street Station. Yeay! The place is right in the middle of the city center and very easy to reach. There shouldn’t be any more problem trying to find places to pray. The place is not big but it is enough.

Another thing that people usually feel kind of difficult is halal food. As you can guess, there are many Muslims here so halal food shouldn’t be a problem. Yes! It isn’t a problem at all. We can find halal food almost everywhere, such as restaurants, takeaways, and food courts. The halal meat is also easily available. There are special butchers selling halal meat and even Tesco has its own butcher serving halal meat. It is nice because in Hull, there is only frozen halal meat.

During my time living in the UK, I haven’t got any different treatment because of my religion. I think it is a quite friendly country to live in. It is even friendlier here in Birmingham. The city is quite tolerant when you show your religious attributes, even there are people persuading others to know more about Islam and playing Quranic recitals in the city center. So don’t be afraid to come and live here because the negative rumors you hear, maybe they are just rumors.

Oct 05, 2015