I ♥ Birmingham by Carole Matthews

Romantic fiction author Carole Matthews took time out of her writing schedule (next book out in the New Year folks) to enjoy a break in Brum. Here’s how she got on.

+ Carole and Lovely Kev are pictured celebrating three weeks of her novel CALLING MRS CHRISTMAS at number seven in the bestseller list +

I’d forgotten how very much I like Birmingham. I hadn’t really spent much time in the city since I briefly worked for Central Television in the 1980’s on a show called ‘Look Good, Feel Great’. I’ve also done a few talks as an author here over the years and have sung my way through more than a few concerts at the NIA and the LG Arena,  but I always seemed to have dashed in and out as it’s only just over an hour from where I live in Milton Keynes.

This time, though, I decided to make a short break of my visit rather than blat up and down the motorway like a maniac. So my partner, Lovely Kev, came along with me for a brief, romantic break.

We started off with afternoon tea at Hotel La Tour which, as an afternoon tea aficionado, I’d rate very highly – the Welsh Rarebit dip was completely sublime, as was the mulled wine trifle in shot glass. Yum. Then, fortified with cake and Champagne, we headed off to the NIA to see indie band, Vampire Weekend, in concert.

Birmingham has more concert venues than you can shake a stick at – the Birmingham REP, the Symphony Hall, the Hippodrome, the New Alexander – I’m sure I’ve missed some. We particularly love the NIA. It’s a venue that’s still on a human scale, compared to the vast arenas that some of the bands play now. You can actually see the band without the need for a big screen. It was also a steady fifteen-minute walk from the hotel, so no hassle with parking. It was also lovely to be able to wander past the busy stallholders setting up for the German Christmas market. The streets were already strung with pretty Christmas lights and the whole thing felt so festive, that it got me in the mood to break out the mulled wine and mince pies.

The concert was brilliant and we enjoyed our walk back to the hotel, completing the evening with a cheeky glass of wine and a tasty cheeseboard in the hotel’s Alvar Bar, before falling into our comfy bed.

After a hearty English breakfast from the lovely buffet, we headed off to see the new Library of Birmingham. From the outside, the building looks beautiful all lit-up by night and is equally impressive during the day. Inside, the jury’s out. It felt a little too much like an airport departure lounge than a library, but perhaps that’s because it’s so new. Given time, I hope that it will settle into itself and will feel more like a library and less like an information centre. Still worth a look though.

From the new to the very old – we then popped along to have  a look at the Staffordshire Hoard housed in the Birmingham Museum. This biggest ever discovery of Anglo-Saxon gold – over 3,500 pieces of military artefacts – was found in a field by an amateur treasure-hunter with a metal detector in 2009 and was bought for the nation. The museum displays an impressive array of filigree pieces some inset with garnets. A new gallery will open in 2014 to show even more of the important find and that will warrant a return trip.

Then, with time running out, we had to hit the shops. Birmingham now rivals London for impressive department stores – the fabulous Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, House of Fraser – but there’s also a wealth of the usual high street stores interspersed with quirky independents. It offers all that Oxford Street has, but without the crowds.

Loaded up with carrier bags, we headed off to Brindleyplace to have lunch overlooking the canal. This quarter has been transformed over the years and now hosts a plethora of fabulous eateries in the Gas Street basin area of the Grand Union Canal. You’re spoilt for choice. There’s everything from cheap and cheerful chain restaurants to Michelin-starred restaurants for the foodies.

There are so many Birmingham attractions that we didn’t get to see – the Sea Life centre, National Trust back-to-back houses – which I’m told are well worth a look – the Botanical Gardens and the Jewellery Quarter. And it will have to be soon as I was just too early for the fabulous Christmas market and I definitely don’t want to miss that!

London, I’m afraid to say, you are so last year. I’d rather stay in friendly, bustling Birmingham any day of the week. Brum, you’ve stolen my heart!



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