I arrived early morning at Heathrow, London, picked up my bag and then it was my mission to navigate trains.
Being a Chicagoan, I am happily familiar with trains. But London’s Underground seems quite vast. I found the tourist info desk and told the clerk, “I think I need an Oyster card.” She smiled and helped me with the purchase and my route. The Oyster Card is kind of like Chicago’s Ventra card, but with a much more posh name.
I made my way to the Tube station and began my 45 minute trip into the center of London. The trains are so smooth and quiet. The sun was shining.
I marveled at all of the charming brick homes and older commercial buildings in neighborhood after neighborhood. I also marveled at the British people along the way: diverse, so civil.
Suddenly someone in a non-British accent asked me, “How was your trip from Chicago?” My baggage ID gave me away. It was a lanky Texan with his wife and three teenage sons, fresh from India, spending a week in London, on their way to New York City. We chatted about the best of all those places and he observed that Chicago and London seemed to share much in common: transportation hubs, rivers running through, surviving major fires.
On to the regional train station to get my tickets to Birmingham, about two hours north of London. The clerk listed a dizzying array of train options. Which would you choose?, I asked him. I was on my way on the fast train.
Fatigue was setting in as my phone’s power was dwindling. Even with my handy electrical adapter, the outlets on the train seemed not to work. I dozed.
I was going to spend two days with tour guest turned friend, Philip, his two dogs and other local friends. It was a nice country break before back to busy London.
After lunch in the soaring, light filled station, Philip led us on a fascinating walking tour of Birmingham. Having lived there all his life, his memories stretched back to the post WWII period.
The architecture was fascinating: a rich mix of Neoclassical, mid-20th century clearings and some banal boxes, to a 1990s flowering and today’s exciting urban renaissance (with a contemporary library that deserves a separate post!).
St Philip’s cathedral was a special discovery with its splendid Burne-Jones windows.
It was a stop at a typical supermarket, then back for a proper tea.
The Birmingham day concluded with fish and chips at a traditional English pub, a beautiful local ale, and fun conversation with local wits. Gin and tonic nightcap and good night, Birmingham!