March 2, 2016

Living in Brum: The Early Days

Exactly six months ago today, our plane landed in London. About this time, the Tower of London was calling our name (you can read about Part 1 and Part 2 of our London adventures), and we had another 24 hours until we arrived in Birmingham - our new home.

As it turns out, the key to initially settling in was having a place to call home. After three weeks of playing hotel hopscotch, we finally resided in a flat for the long haul.

We currently live in city centre, a detail for which I am extremely grateful as it makes Patrick's trek to college so much easier. I'm not scared to walk alone down our street, even at night (although walking along the canals by myself at night is something I avoid). The college is in the middle of some awful construction, but just around the corner is the beautiful Victoria Square containing Town Hall and the Council House (the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is attached to this building and is marvelous). This area is my favorite part of the city by a long shot as it has the most fantastic architecture.

The location of our flat puts us near the canals and a popular area called Brindley Place which houses a bunch of restaurants and pubs; there is no shortage of overpriced restaurants and pubs in Birmingham, that's for sure. While I hate living in the middle of a city, we are extremely pleased with where we live amidst the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle.


The Council House in Victoria Square.

The statue in front of the Council House building is called the Floozie in the Jacuzzi. Truly. She's technically a fountain but is in need of very expensive repairs.

In case you missed it, I posted a video showing our flat and the daily walk into city centre. It's a long video, but I'm sure I'll enjoy reminiscing about these details when we're back in the States!




A walk down the canals looking toward city centre and the infamous library.


The canals at Brindley Place with the Barclaycard Arena in the background.



Brindley Place

These owls were everywhere last summer.
This was the least obnoxious-looking one, I wasn't sad to see them go.

The "new" library. They're in the midst of tearing down the old one.

The Selfridge's building

Saint Martin's Church
"The most ancient of Birmingham's churches, St. Martin has been the focal point of the markets area since the 12th century. Inside is the oldest monument in the city, a 1325 effigy of the Lord of the Manor Sir William de Bermingham." [source]

Selfridge's and Saint Martin's juxtaposed

Saint Martin's on a sunny afternoon

Part of the new Grand Central Station building reflecting the cityscape.

The Council House in Victoria Square

This is one of my favorite photos of the area. Now that it's all under construction and is inaccessible, I love it even more.

A view of the canals on my way home from walking to the grocery store. You can travel all over the country via canal!


With a new city comes new and wonderful places to explore. One of my favorite safe-havens when we first arrived was the local Waterstone's bookstore - just look at the architecture! It was absolutely incredible. Then they moved locations. Now they're smack-dab in the centre of the Bull Ring at the end of New Street; the new building is crowded and less than inspiring. I was and am not happy about this change, but alas.


The old Waterstone's building. Just look at it!



Inside Selfridge's



I wasn't a huge fan of Five Guys while we lived in Oklahoma as there were so many other great burger options, but this is one of our favorite places to splurge. Sometimes you just need a good burger, and that's hard to come by here. It tastes like home, but it's crazy expensive and makes us feel like poo-dee-doo afterward so we've only eaten there twice in a six month timeframe.

What is far more common here are pubs (duh), and we frequent one in particular just about every Friday night. It's called The Shakespeare and it's within walking distance from our flat and from the college, plus they give a student discount. We call it Shakespeare Friday, and I have to restrain myself every time we go - not for the booze, mind you, but for the macaroni and cheese! Holy moly, that stuff is delicious. I have a craving for it on a regular basis. Sigh. What can I say? I love food.

On the first night I met and hung out with a majority of the percussionists, we went to Handmade Burger for dinner and went to a pub afterward. It was an interesting night, and it is funny to recall my first impressions of the wonderful people we now get to call our friends. I can't remember the name of the pub, but it felt so British when we walked in. To solidify the British feel, there was a beer on tap called the Piffle Snonker and the entire top floor was dedicated to the showing of a rugby game. There was an extremely fat and lazy cat that looked like my good friend Kathryn's cat, Wallace, and I secretly named him Garfield. He was that fat and that lazy, and he paid no mind to the many passersby as he occupied his spot at the top of the stairs. This was also the night when Luke convinced me to try Twiglets - those really gross Marmite-flavored crisps.


A beer called Piffle Snonker. How British.


Say hello to my new friend Garfield.

The guys tried to teach us a bit about Rugby. Not much stuck with me. Sorry, guys.


There is a delicious local restaurant that offers brunch in the style of Kitchen No. 324 back in Oklahoma City. It was right outside the door of the apartment building we stayed in for the week before we moved into our long-term flat. The pricing was reasonable and the food was excellent. Reminder to self: eat there again pronto.




We've tried several coffee places around town. There is one in particular that we favor, but I'll say this: England has a lot to learn when it comes to coffee. That being said, America needs to adopt the flat white nation-wide as quickly as possible. It's my new staple.




The whole reason we're in Birmingham in the first place is because of music. Not long after we first arrived, Patrick and I had the opportunity to go to a few concerts for free (or ridiculously cheaply) put on at Symphony Hall, and we definitely took advantage of that. At this point, I was still breaking into pieces and crying several times per day, but it was a good chance to get out and take my mind off the constant turmoil.


I faked a pretty good smile. My eyes give it all away, though.


Concert at Symphony Hall

Concert at Symphony Hall

Concert at Symphony Hall

Concert at Symphony Hall


Before college really started and before I got to know any of these wonderful people, the percussion department played several outdoor performances during The Weekender - an arts festival event in city centre. The weather was fantastic and it was a lot of fun seeing them play in public! The particular performance that I went to took place in Victoria Square between the Council House and Town Hall.














The first two videos above are from their performance at The Weekender, and the video below is from when the Conservatoire played in Symphony Hall. The acoustics in that building are awesome, and it was so much fun seeing Patrick in his element on stage again. It didn't hurt that they played some of my favorite composer, either.




Despite the wonderful parts of Birmingham, there were tons of things about it that bugged the heck out of me. When moving to a new city (and a new country for that matter), the learning curve is steep and lots of adjustments need to be made. There were a lot of frustrations and a lot of setbacks, but it's all part of acclimating to this new way of life.

Coming from a life of living in the suburbs and several years of living in the country to living smack-dab in the middle of the second most populated city in the UK (London being the first), there were tons of new things to get used to. TONS.

  • Noise. Constant noise.
  • Garbage. Lots of garbage. Everywhere. Especially after the weekend.
  • Speaking of after the weekend, include piles of vomit on that note. Public intoxication isn't against the law here, and it litters the streets with booze and bottles and bile long after the late night festivities end.
  • Pants (or trousers as they're called here) are generally worn lower on the male waistline, resulting in my viewing far more butt cracks than I've ever thought possible - but this isn't reserved only to the male posterior. I can't spend any significant amount of time in public without seeing some random person's rear end, and that does nothing to thrill or please me.
  • Hang-drying all our laundry, including linens, in an apartment bedroom because the living room is occupied. That's a fun two days. There's always laundry drying in our room because the loads are so small, so I'm constantly washing and drying clothes. I have a feeling that I'll moan about doing laundry far less when we get home.
  • Two faucets in the bathroom sink. For some reason, the British have figured out how to put one faucet with both hot and cold water in the showers and in the kitchen sinks, but most bathroom sinks still contain two faucets - one for hot water and one for cold water. I'm thankful that our bathroom sink is one faucet, and that's not something I would have said before moving here. We've asked our British friends about this, we've watched YouTube videos about this... no one seems to have a good answer as to why this quirk is still so prevalent.
  • Walking to and from the grocery store. I don't mind the walking as much as I mind carting cartons of milk, sacks of potatoes, and cleaning supplies across town by hand like a pack mule. What a joy!
  • The lack of flow amongst the pedestrian public. Back home, it's a general rule of thumb that you walk on sidewalks like you drive on the street - you typically stay toward the right side of the sidewalk, that way you're not constantly trying to get out of the way or running into oncoming traffic. Not here. It's a free-for-all in England. Everyone just walks wherever the heck they want with no rhyme or reason, resulting in complete and utter chaos. It drives me absolutely bonkers!
  • The Little Things - everything is opposite: light switches, the way the doors swing, driving, the list goes on. It was maddening at first, but now we're totally used to it. The doors still trip me up from time to time, though.
  • People. Everywhere. Just everywhere. I'm still not used to that. Or maybe I just don't like it.
  • Public transportation. Many a meltdown hath occurred thanks to our newfound reliance on public transportation. For those of you who say/think we will miss relying on public transit, you are sadly mistaken. In Birmingham, you basically have two options (as the tram system is still being redone and is pretty much useless for our needs): bus or taxi. Busses are crowded, expensive, and super confusing until you get the hang of it. Taxis are ridiculously expensive and unnecessary when you could just walk 10-25 minutes to your destination. We love that the trains can be relatively cheap when you travel locally or to London, but many of the other places we want to go are rather pricey and still require bus rides and/or really long walks. The trains don't go everywhere, and even after six months we still have blunders when it comes to figuring it out. Just two days ago, I went to the wrong train station to get to Coventry - not because I hadn't gone to Coventry, but because I've gone there several times and have only ever left out of the Snow Hill station. Unbeknownst to me, during the week you get there via New Street Station. And if you're running just a few minutes late, you can't just text someone and say "I'll be there a few minutes late." You have to catch the next train, which could be anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour and a half later - that's if you have a ticket that is applicable for multiple time slots. I do like being able to get places on the train that I wouldn't be able to otherwise, but I really do miss the freedom of having a car.


The rubbish abounds.

Wash day for the linens!

I took this picture on the day I had several panic attacks trying to get to Warwick for the first time.
I miss my car.

Again, two faucets. No sense. They're everywhere.

Care to go grocery shopping? Because I sure don't!


Oh my heck. One of the setbacks I faced right after moving into our new place was when I scalded my hand with nearly-boiling water. That was so ridiculously painful for a very long time, and it didn't help that we had none of our typical first aid kit. Did you know they don't even sell Neosporin here??? What the heck! I used Neosporin all the time back home, and I sorely needed it with me, but to no avail. Because we were still so new and I had no idea where to find anything, it was really difficult to find the bandaids (they are called plasters here) and ointments I needed. I eventually found  some that would work with enough jimmy-rigging, and finding a store in city centre that sold lavender oil helped, but that was a few days after the initial burn happened. Talk about frustrating. Six months later, I can still see a little bit of discoloring on my hand.







My face and hair have gone through a very strange, very uncomfortable transition phase since moving here. Between all the stress, the lack of my normal beauty products and routine, the change in diet, the change in water, the decrease in sunshine, and the increase in pollution, my face turned into a pepperoni pizza. Holy. Moly. UGH. I've always had dry skin, so my beauty routine was tailored to that. Not anymore. I now have combination oily skin and am fighting with it to this day because it's all new to me. It's quite distressing, so I tailored a meme a while back to express my sentiments:




That pretty much sums it up.

To help fight the learning curve and the frustrations, taking pleasure in the little things and small comforts helped put a smile on my face when I didn't want one to be there. Lots of loving care packages sent from precious family and friends made it easier for me to make it through the days and weeks that passed so slowly. Embracing my newfound free time was made easier by beloved books and movies. Finding a church home filled with incredible people helped us feel settled in more ways than we even realized.










It's kind of amazing to look back over the past six months and see how far we have come, and how quickly everything has happened. That initial first month passed by so slowly - it felt as though it took three months for September to end. Once October hit, the pace quickened; after Thanksgiving, time started passing by rather quickly; after Christmas, it has gone at warp-speed (okay, maybe not that fast, but you catch my drift). We've been here for 6 months - we have 16 months left. At this rate, I won't be surprised in the least if I blink a few times and we're packing up to head for home!

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