Thursday, June 16, 2016

A very Brummy adventure (England 2, June 2016)

7.6 Bethesda - Solihull

All too soon - back to England and traffic and roundabouts. A quick stop at Prestbury for lunch and catch up with Sam who is, as usual, too busy too talk. But he looks good, if tired, in his chef garb!
Sam in Prestbury
The roads are either motorway (3 lanes of very fast traffic with lots of lorries), secondary roads with endless roundabouts, or laneways where you have to pull over for oncoming traffic. Each has it's own stresses, but at least motorways are fast. It's motorway to Birmingham and Solihull, so except for a bit of peak hour congestion it's quite a quick drive. We arrive at our small b&b guesthouse, which has a faint whiff of fawlty towers, and find our room is small but comfortable and very clean - a relief after the Bethesda grot. There is a leafy outlook over the back garden, and good wifi.
The town centre is a 5-10 minute walk, through a quiet shopping mall punctuated with a few pubs and restaurants. Of course there's a picturesque church and cemetery. Via Tripadvisor we pick a well-reviewed Indian place for dinner (Panchuli), and we order the 3 course special, but in fact are not nearly hungry enough and we take half of it home.

8.6 Solihull - Birmingham

Sleep in and emerge late for breakfast! But our hostess takes pity and does a cook-up that we don't really need. We resolve to skip lunch. Train to Birmingham from the nearby (old, attractive) station, to Birmingham (Moor St - old, attractive station). No visitor info at the station so we head up New St. The visitor centre has closed and amalgamated with the new train station, so we queue there for a city map. No maps, they have run out - but here's a barely legible photocopy ... An hour into our Birmingham visit and we still can't see where to go, it's reminding me of Bucharest. Guess they don't have a lot of tourists ...
Greco-Roman in Brum - the Town Hall
Kids' dress-ups in the Art Gallery
But it's not complicated. We walk to Victoria Square (impressive old city buildings) and the Art Gallery, which has a good historical collection as well as some contemporary specialities such as ceramics. The major draw is the Pre-Raphaelite (and Arts & crafts) section, with several major works by Rosetti, Millais, Holman Hunt and Madox Ford, as well as a whole room of Burne-Jones. I used to love these guys as a teenager who aspired to illustrate fairy tales, and still feel a nostalgic affection.

Then to the new library, in its glitzy new building - amazing spaces and interesting architecture, we enjoy walking around, but as we don't actually have library business it feels a bit voyeuristic. Next stop, IKON, gorgeous avant-garde gallery in gothic old school building. Dan Flavin's neon works from the 60s and 70s make it look like a space-age church - stunning. But just as we are leaving with a plan to walk canals to the Jewellery Quarter, the heavens open. My umbrella is at home. We sit for longer than we should over coffee in the attached cafe, and finally make a run for it ... And forget to pay for coffee (but also realise we have been overcharged in the gift shop ... ).

Thirty minutes later, like drowned rats back at Moor St, we find the platform crowded with commuters stranded by the flash floods, which have caused cancellations. But thankfully our train arrives and we (literally) squeeze on. Dinner is last night's Indian leftovers (palak paneer and rogan josh), and I dream that it's new year's eve.

Chris on terrace of the new Library
Back home, post-downpour

9.6 Solihull - Cookham

Before leaving Solihull, a few pilgrimages: the house where we lived, the school I went to, and a great collection of op shops (charity shops here) on the high street. A few photos and op shop buys later, on our way again.
Our old house in Solihull
Op shopping!
On our way back to London, we detour via Kenilworth (crumbly castle, restored Elizabethan garden) to Cookham, birthplace and spiritual home of Stanley Spencer. Visit the modest gallery (the best work is now in major collections), then walk in a glorious afternoon through the churchyard (no resurrections!) and along the willow-lined Thames.

Have a drink at Bel and the Dragon (we should stay here! But it's a bit pricy), then drive to nearby village Wooburn where we stay at the Old Bell (almost as appropriate!). The 'garden view' room has no view, just a tiny frosted window, and a leafy outlook through the door when it's open. But it's right next to the beer garden, so smoke and hubbub drifts in. The room itself is spacious, comfortable, and full of olde English character (pitched ceiling with dark beams), and we make the best of it, with whisky and oatcakes, and I hang a sarong over the (usual) awful modern 'art'.

Kenilworth Castle - with recreated Tudor Garden
Cookham graveyard
The Old Bell - Wooburn

10.6 - Cookham-London

It's an easy drive back to St John's Wood, except for a final mis-turn that takes us via a busy Lord's cricket ground (England vs Sri Lanka test). Phew! A relief to have the car returned with (touch wood) no problems. Back at the lovely Finchley Road flat, we have returned to summer. A bus ride, then walk around Hampstead Heath to Kenwood House cafe. Home for Libby to nap, and we lounge and chat up in the warm, sunny garden.

It's Bob's birthday! So early evening we walk up to Primrose Hill wit ha bottle of (proper French) champagne. There are knots of people picnicking, walking and taking in the view, which is a panorama dominated by dozens (hundreds?) of cranes. But still a gorgeous spot for wine and nibbles, followed by Lansdowne Pub for a yummy, healthy and slightly pricy dinner (roast cod on chickpeas, courgette fritters with lentils and coriander).

Walking back via Georgian terraces, it's easy to feel that London is the most civilised place on earth. (But on the tube it's a somewhat different view).

Chris at Finchley Road
Chris and Bob watching footy at the Finchley Road flat
Bob, Libby, Chris at Hampstead Heath
Libby and Bel at Kenwood House cafe
Bel, Libby, Barbie & Bob on the way to Primrose Hill

11.6 - 12.6 London 

A quiet day, Chris & Bob watch AFL, then a walk through cemeteries and gardens. Following prosecco in the garden, Chris and I cook dinner - my eggplant and gorgonzola tart, Chris's Thai salmon (trout) poached in coconut milk. In the morning, a final outing to the Victoria & Albert Museum - it is a treasure! Enter via an avenue of Rodin sculptures to the cafe, designed by Morris and Co. It's buzzing on this gloomy Sunday, but we have a great flat white. Wander through Medieval galleries, Renaissance sculptures, portrait miniatures, tapestries, jewellery, ironwork ... It's a maze, the whole museum a vast treasure trove. Return home via Knightsbridge on double decker bus, a great way of sight-seeing! Buy a few picnic supplies for the train, eat a Nicoise salad, then watch Mr Turner, poignant having seen his work (and Constable's, and Pre-Raphaelites) at the museum today.

View from a double-decker

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