It’s not all music and glamorous festivalling. I’m on the road across Europe trying to cram in as much sightseeing and misadventures along the way. In Notes From the Road, I verbally vomit out a series of unrelated observations, musings, and photos from my journey.
After catching a ridiculously comfortable red-eye on WestJet from Toronto, I arrived relaxed and ready to head out to Wales. A budget combo of train trips through the Midlands brought me to my first destination:
Stop #1: Hereford, UK
Just a quick overnight in this sleepy town. The big attraction here is the Hereford Cathedral which houses the Mappa Mundi and a copy of the Magna Carta. Built in 1079, it’s mind-boggling how ancient European history is compared to the US.
I stayed at this no-frills bed and breakfast ($42/night on Booking.com) just outside the city center and tried to sleep off my jet lag. While I don’t love shared bathrooms, I did enjoy the hearty English breakfast and flashing all the morning traffic when I forgot to close the blinds.
Weird Statue of the Day:
Stop #2: Hay-On-Wye and HowTheLightGetsInFestival
Stop #3: 6 Ways to Kill Time in Birmingham, UK
I have 48 hours before my flight to This is Not a Love Song Festival in France, which is how I found myself in the city of Birmingham, a city I never had any interest in visiting. It’s like “The Layover” on CNN except I have loads of work to catch up on, travel logistics to figure out, all my gear is soaking wet, and my budget hovers around backpacker poor. But if you’re ever stuck in Birmingham, here’s some things to check out.
1. Pretend You’re in Peaky Blinders
Okay, I’ve only seen like four partial episodes of this show, and I think it concerns street gangs in Birmingham. There’s a tour and a Peaky Blinders themed bar, but for the true spirit of the show, just try walking around downtown after the sun sets. That “I might get stabbed feeling” is strong here in Birmingham.
2. Guess the New Street Train Station Design
I imagine the meeting for the design of the Birmingham New Street train station started with the phrase “there are no bad ideas”, and someone blurted out “space dildo” and they just went with that.
3. Hang Out in a Bog
This is what I do on my day off. Take a twenty-minute train to the edge of Birmingham and hike into a spooky swamp during a light drizzle. But guess what? The Moseley Swamp is special as a certain inventor of hobbits and talking trees spent his childhood playing in this Old Forest.
4. Dry Out All Your Wet Stuff
My Holiday Inn Express room key told me to “Relax. Unwind.” And I did, enjoying a super comfortable bed, free breakfast, and the opportunity to drape my damp camping gear over every available surface. Nothing beats treating yourself to a private room to recover from a wet weekend of camping. Plus, they also let me check out at 1:30pm, safely store my luggage all day until the night train, and hang out in the most stylish lounge/breakfast area I’ve ever seen at a Holiday Inn Express.
5. Visit Victoria Square
It’s under major construction, but the heart of the city is Victoria Square with the jaw-dropping Council House, free entrance to the Birmingham Museum, Town Hall, and a couple of naked statues. It’s also the top of New Street, a lively shopping district stuffed with stores and those annoying assholes with clipboards begging for money.
6. Coffee, Coffee, Coffee
Birmingham is littered with Starbucks and Costa chains on every corner which besides serving up shitty coffee also boast shitty Internet. Swing by local spot Faculty across from the train station and if you need to work for a few hours, Second Cup on New Street is an ideal spot.
Weird Statue of the Day
The State of the Tour Update
Day #1 and it has immediately started raining. I stopped by a familiar department store called TK Maxx (don’t know why it’s spelled differently) to pick up a brightly colored yellow umbrella that cost under $10. I can’t wait to lose it.
I had fish and chips, and while delicious, it nearly made me shit my pants, so a wash overall.
I brought along a FitBit because I’m pretending this summer that besides going to fifteen festivals, I’m also somehow going to become super fit. I say this while unironically eating super greasy sausage and bacon at the all you can eat HI Express buffet. According to my stats, I have walked/ran/hiked 84.4 kilometers in the first seven days.
Mentally, camping in all that rain was a bit demoralizing, but hey bright side, at least I didn’t slip on some rocks and smash my laptop losing a bunch of photos so this trip to Wales has already been better than the last.
It’s all brie cheese and cheap wine when I catch a flight down to southern France — and hopefully less rain.