EXEMPLIFYING EVERY ASPECT OF EUROPEAN CULTURE, BIRMINGHAM JUSTLY DESERVES THE EPITHET COSMOPOLITAN FOR ITS FRIENDLY PEOPLE, ART AND CULTURE, AND MULTICULTURAL EATERIES, NOT TO MENTION ITS CONNECTION TO THE ENGLISH CANAL SYSTEM, WHICH HAS LEFT ITS MARK ON
Where did the Industrial Revolution begin? Under what conditions did migrants from the countryside to the cities live? What was the urban architecture of the 19th century like? If you have questions like these, Birmingham is precisely where you need to be. England’s second largest city, Birmingham is a perfect Victorian metropolis with its architecture evocative of the Industrial Revolution and the sociocultural atmosphere of the time.
The Black Country Living Museum is one of the city’s major tourist attractions, bringing alive everyday life in Birmingham in the 18th and 19th centuries in the roar of the first steam engines and the smoke curling up from chimneys of old… You’ll understand where the name Black Country comes from when you see the coal and ashes scattered about.
Built to transport the coal extracted from the mines, the canal is the focus of fun and recreation in Birmingham today. The streets begin to empty out around seven as people gather along the canal. It’s an ideal place for those who want to stroll or bike along its banks as well as those who prefer to simply enjoy the view from a restaurant, cafe or bench.
Shopping in Birmingham is fun and cheap. Besides the Mailbox, multu-use mall, we recommend the Custard Factory in Digbeth for vintage clothing especially. Recently transformed by urban regeneration, this area is a hub of art, culture and fashion. If you take a jaunt down New Street, the heart of the shopping district today, you can also catch your breath in one of the many cafes and restaurants here. Having undergone a makeover as part of the urban transformation, the Mailbox on Broad Street is England’s largest multi-use building. The city is evolving through urban transformation, and a point worth noting is that its signature red brick is also being used in the modern buildings, albeit with slightly less emphasis on the red.
A JEWEL OF A QUARTER
Forty percent of the UK’s jewelry demand is met by production in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. If you ask about traditional motifs, you’re directed to the Jewellery Museum just a hop, skip and jump away, where you will discover the Smith family, who have devoted their lives and all their savings to it. Your head will spin when you see all the molds, machines, and tools involved in the production of jewelry. And a couple of blocks further on, the Pen Museum specializes in pens, ink and inkwells. The old machines and workbenches haven’t budged, so you’ll feel as if time has stood still when you step inside. A pleasant surprise for me at the museum was seeing the labels on packages of pens produced for Turkey.
CO-EXISTING ALL OVER THE PLACE
Birmingham is a perfect world mosaic… People of different religions from all over the world have reconciled their way of life with the city’s social mores, enjoying a European standard of living and freely practicing their religious beliefs. So much so that when you take a stroll down New Street you may come across a preacher exhorting passersby with Biblical tales and the words of Jesus and someone else reciting verses from the Quran just 200 meters away.
CITY OF A THOUSAND TASTES
Once a center of manufacturing and trade, Brum, as it’s called for short, is a consummate gourmet city today. You’ve got to try Balti cuisine, which offers a quite different experience in terms of taste as well as presentation in a mix of authentic herbs and spices with traditional dishes, skillfully combined by practiced hands. Other alternatives in the city include Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, Singapore, Italian, French and Turkish restaurants. As you can see, Birmingham more than deserves to be termed cosmopolitan for its cuisine alone!
HEART OF ART AND CULTURE
The Town Hall in all its splendor on Victoria Square, Birmingham Hippodrome, which specializes in Broadway musicals, Symphony Hall at the starting point of the canal, famed for its flawless acoustics, the Ikon Gallery, which brings art lovers Europe’s most sought-after contemporary art shows at Brindleyplace, and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery with its large collection Pre-Raphaelite works are just a few of the city’s hundreds of art and culture venues.
WARWICK THE KINGMAKER
Just 35 km southeast of Birmingham in Stratford-upon-Avon is the house where Shakespeare was born. You’ll think you’ve traveled back in time as you tour this house where John Shakespeare, his father made incredibly beautiful leather gloves. There is also a quintessential English castle here in the county of Warwickshire. Known as Warwick Castle, it is at the same time a living museum.
A TOTAL SPORTS FANATIC
It’s impossible to leave the city without paying a visit to Villa Park. I have no doubt that Villa Park, which stands solid and sumptuous just as in the photographs, is going to be restored to its former glory thanks to Turkish Airlines’ support. Eclectic Birmingham, which has chalked up major successes not just in football but in golf, tennis, cricket and track&field, offers countless opportunities for culture hunters, shopping junkies and fashion mavens, as well as foodies.
OUTDOOR AND INDOOR MARKETS
You can find fresh fruit and vegetables every day in Brum at the markets in the city center. Seafood fresh in from Scotland every morning is also available at the Indoor Market. And on Saturdays you’ll find interesting art objects and other items at the flea market.
A vibrant and bustling urban life awaits those who come to live and study in Birmingham, which is especially popular with foreign students. According to Onur Usta, who is studying Ottoman history at Birmingham University, “You can finish your doctorate in three years. There are no course requirements, and student-supervisor relationships are handled very professionally.”
NATIONAL EXHIBITION CENTER
Spread over 611 acres, the NEC plays host to the biggest events in the city. The NEC, which in the past has hosted performances like Classical Motor Show, BBC Food Show, and Gadget Show, is also Europe’s largest fair venue.
After London, Birmingham is the only city with its own Royal Ballet, Symphony Orchestra, Repertory Theater, City Opera and Contemporary Music Group. According to David Curtis, artistic director of the Swan Orchestra, “There’s no need to go to the concert halls to see Brum’s cultural richness. All you have to do is look around you on the street.”
BIRMINGHAM CITY LIBRARY
Birmingham City Library smack dab in the heart of the city reflects the city’s eclectic nature in its iconic architecture consisting of four high-tech prisms. When you enter through the old doors on the 9th floor, you find yourself in a room filled with books and manuscripts, the Shakespeare Memorial Room, which was relocated here exactly as it was in the old library.
Turkish Airlines has Istanbul-Birmingham-Istanbul flights daily. Departure times are at 8:05 a.m. and 12:55 p.m. from Istanbul and 11:15 a.m. and 4 p.m. from Birmingham. The flight takes about four hours. www.turkishairlines.com