Friday, February 15, 2013

Birmingham and Alvechurch in December

December feels like ages ago, but I'm determined to catch up!  In December we made our second visit to our future home city of Birmingham.  D had to go to a conference at his new academic home, and I trailed along so we could also look at some apartments. 

It turned out we were a bit early to be looking for apartments for a March move, but we did manage to make a few appointments.  None led to anything but it was nice to start getting an idea of how things work, plus meet some more of the people who will soon be part of our daily lives.

We arrived on a Thursday evening and had the unfortunate experience of staying at a hotel on Hagley Road, which wasn't as convenient to transit and the university as we might have hoped.  (Already a useful piece of information for the future apartment search!)  We ate at a chain pub/restaurant across the road which was incredibly busy with people engaging in after-work drinking shenanigans.  Having seen salaries on job postings I have no idea how anyone there can afford to drink or eat out, but I guess we'll learn more about how it all balances once we settle in there!

The next day we had three apartment viewings scheduled.  It was pouring rain and we not only underestimated the time it would take to walk to our first destination, but we got slightly lost because our map had a marker on it that covered up the fact that there was no joining street where we thought there would be one!  Alas, we also forgot to bring the phone number of the estate agent, so when we showed up 15 minutes late, they were already gone.  Oops.  On to the next one - the first apartment we really viewed was on a beautiful street in a perfect location, but was a tiny dump.  The kitchen was as small as our current one, everything was covered in gray carpet, all rooms were tiny, and the bathroom had weird metal flooring.  So, it could only go up from there!

The estate agent was extremely nice and gave us a ride from the apartment to a place where we could easily catch a bus to our next viewing in a totally different neighborhood.  We had extra time so we hoped to find a cafe near the bus stop to warm up and stop getting poured on - this amount of rain was seriously surprising - but no luck.  It was a particularly depressing intersection and the only thing nearby was an Aldi.  We checked it out just for something to do, then went to the bus stop.  When we tried to board the bus, we discovered that exact change is required to get on the bus (unless you have a card)!!  We didn't have it so we had to go back to the Aldi to buy something small to get change and then come back.  At this point we were soaked and grumpy, but our mood was improved when a passenger on the bus was happy to help us find our stop and tell us directions from there to the street we wanted.  We didn't even ask him - we tried to ask the driver - and he came up from his seat to help out.  And didn't even seem like he was crazy or anything.  If this is normal in Birmingham I'm really excited about that.

The next apartment we saw was with a super-salesy estate agent.  Actually, the place was more spacious than I thought I could ever dream and had a pretty big yard too.  As a bonus the bathroom had both a stall shower AND a bathtub which I think is really cool, and on the useless but fun side, it had two little shriney-looking built-in shelves in the bathroom which would have been perfect for some kitschy Mary statues or something.  But, D vetoed this place because the kitchen was very narrow and hall-like (a common problem in many Birmingham neighborhoods apparently), and it turned out later the current tenant decided to stay until May so it's not going to be available to us anyway.

The estate agent was again really nice and gave us a ride to his office to see if they had anything similar available, but they didn't, so they gave us directions to the train and we headed back to Hagley Road for some curry lunch and to dry off our clothes on the radiators in our hotel room.  Then D had to go to a meeting at the university and I watched TV programs IN ENGLISH - then we met back up with his future "mentor" (not really a boss but something similar?) for dinner at an Italian restaurant in a building called the Mailbox downtown.  There, we saw for the first time something we seriously had not seen before: Christmas crackers!!  There were lots of work Christmas parties happening at the restaurant and when the attendees arrived all their plates had crackers on them, which they opened after a little while, then all wore tissue-paper crowns.  Adorable!  Apparently there's a German equivalent of these which is used at New Year's but I've somehow never noticed them.

On Saturday, we had an appointment to view a place in a very wild-card location: Alvechurch, a village well outside Birmingham which is only feasible for us because it sits right on a train line which goes straight to the university in 20 minutes or the city center in less than 30.  I expected it to be kind of lame and suburban what with that train line right there, but was very pleasantly surprised - it was really a village and it really felt like one.  On the way there, the train passed through sheep pastures and woods.  We viewed the apartment and liked it except for the particularly small size, carpeted bathroom, and lack of included washer/fridge. (There seems to be an all-or-nothing problem - NO furnishings including appliances, or ALL furnishings including appliances, beds, couches, wardrobes, etc.)  Afterward we went to the center of the village and had lunch at a pub with a fireplace, then walked up a hill to visit the Anglican church because it looked cute from below.  It was beautiful inside.  There were several parishoners and the vicar there decorating for Christmas and they were all really chatty and welcoming.  Smitten!  Then we went to check out the canal that goes through town and found that there's a very cute little pub sitting right next to it, and a marina with dozens of gaily-painted narrowboats.  I had a lot of reservations about village life - Heidelberg often feels small to me - especially with no car at our disposal (yet), but all this was sort of starting to convince me.  Later, after much hemming and hawing, we decided we could just try it out for the length of one lease and we called to tell them we wanted the place.  It turned out that another couple had seen it right after us and taken it.  Regardless - that was not our last visit to Alvechurch, I'm sure!

We spent the rest of the day with another couple who recently moved to Birmingham from Australia and work at the university. That's when we stopped through the Birmingham Christmas Market.  At a tapas restaurant, we were given Christmas crackers of our own!  So we got to have our first time pulling them open.  Luckily they explained to us the procedure of all opening them together before we excitedly pulled one open ourselves.  Each cracker contains a bad pun joke, a tissue paper crown, and a small gift of varying quality depending on how much you paid for the crackers.  We ended up with a teeny tiny notepad and a teeny tiny paper deck of cards.  We checked out a few bars in the area (Moseley - nice place, would like to live there, but apartments seem to go fast) then turned in.

On Sunday we wandered around downtown - I'd done this on the first trip while D was interviewing, but it was his first time.  We walked along the canals, checked out the Jewellery Quarter (the part we stumbled into was sorely lacking in cafes), and had some delicious spicy food in Chinatown.  Birmingham has a Chinatown!  I am really excited about this!  We also stopped at a Tesco to buy Christmas crackers, because we wanted to share this cool new find with our Heidelberg friends at our Christmas party later.

The next couple of days were spent at the conference, which I actually ended up attending part of the time too just to meet people and, actually, some of the topics were pretty interesting.  We headed out Tuesday evening, and at the Lufthansa desk saw a sign saying anything containing gunpowder, including Christmas crackers, was not allowed on the plane!  So distressing because I was really looking forward to having them in Germany!  I couldn't bear to throw them away myself so I decided I'd let the people at security do it.  They let the crackers through.  We had them at our party.  So are they actually dangerous or what?


Birmingham & Alvechurch Dez 12


  1. I can't wait to visit Alvechurch! Obviously I'm going to.

  2. I love reading about your experiences in my home country! I can't wait for more :) Did you wander out of the back of the Mailbox to the canal-ly bit (technical term)? It's lovely.

    1. Yes, been back there on every trip there so far! Very nice...even looked at an apartment there! (But it was in a listed building and could not have a standing shower added...that was the end of that.)

  3. It's a shame about not getting the apartment, but maybe the next one you look at in Alvechurch won't have carpet in the bathroom. :)


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