Tag Archives: places to drink

Q and A Part 2

So here are some more questions about me and my work as a guide…

What do you do when you’re not guiding?

Alongside my guiding, I work as a freelance German-English translator.  I am fluent in German – which I am also fully qualified to guide in – and the combination works well as I can do as many tours as possible and take translation work for other times.  When I’m not working I love to read, either novels or books on history and travel.  I also spend a lot of time listening to music – varied styles but rock music is my favourite – and attempting to play the guitar.  I am a keen sports fan, especially ice hockey, which I have been watching since the age of 7, cricket and football.  I try to keep fit by running, swimming and walking.  As you might expect, travel is a big passion and I am always finding new places to explore, in this country and others.

What is your favourite castle?

To be honest, I think that most castles are fantastic places to visit, as they have links to some of the great people and events in history.  Many are also very impressive buildings in scenic locations too. If I had to pick one, however, it would be Kenilworth Castle.  Mainly in ruins, it has enough of its buildings left to retain some of the atmosphere of its glorious past, while its countryside setting and sandstone construction make it extremely picturesque, especially when the sun shines on its walls and makes them glow.  I prefer exploring ruined castles with my imagination and a good guide to visiting better preserved or reconstructed ones with costumed staff and the like, as I think this helps to bring the place to life much more effectively.

And what about stately homes or country houses?

Again, they are fascinating places, as each has its own stories.  While I am keen on what I would call “big history” – kings and queens, great events and so on – my real love is social history, and I am intrigued to discover as much as I can about the people who lived and worked in places, what they might have been like and how they lived.  The best houses manage to convey this effectively through their choice of how they present themselves.  Generally, I tend to prefer smaller ones to the huge palaces, but I have to make one exception here as my absolute favourite is Burghley House near Stamford in Lincolnshire.  Everything about it is impressive, from the architecture to the gardens to the absolutely stunning paintings and wall decorations to the presentation of the house and the family who created it.  Every time I go there, I am amazed all over again and I highly recommend a visit if you haven’t had the chance yet.

Where do you most like to unwind with a well-earned drink after a tour?

My drink of choice is real ale, and I’m fortunate that I get to sample the delights of local pubs and brews throughout England.  It is hard to mention just one favourite but if I had to choose it would be the Red Lion, in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.  It is a small local pub with a long tradition, and serves superb food and a great choice of regional ales.  Our Birmingham Graveyard Ghost Walks finish there too, so I do literally get to unwind and refresh my vocal chords after tours there on quite a regular basis!

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Vee’s Deli

Just like much else in the Jewellery Quarter, Vee’s Deli is small but perfectly formed. The solid wooden door looks a little unwelcoming, but once you step inside, the atmosphere is warm and cosy. Vee has a friendly, bubbly personality and she finds time to chat to all of her customers, while remaining efficient.

The menu is quite limited, but all of the food is freshly prepared and delicious – the homemade soup is particularly recommended. Even the side salads are fresh and crisp, not limp as in so many places.

Even though there are only a few tables and the place gets busy, you don’t feel as though you are being rushed to finish to make room for the next people. In fact we lingered for a while with a second drink after we had finished eating.

As well as being a café, it is also a delicatessen, where you can buy cheeses and pates and locally produces wines amongst other things.

The place is a true treasure amongst the gold and jewels in the area, and the ideal place for a lunch stop.

Top Ten Things to Do in Birmingham

Birmingham is such a huge, thriving city that it’s hard to choose just ten must-do things. My original list was much longer, and it took a long while to whittle it down, but (in no particular order) here goes…

1     Pay a visit to Cadbury World. Amongst its many claims to fame, Birmingham is home to Cadbury’s chocolate, and Cadbury World is one of the city’s biggest attractions. Discover how the chocolate is made, find out more about the Cadbury family and the impact they had on work and social conditions in Birmingham – and of course eat plenty of chocolate.

2     Wander around the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Here you will find the Staffordshire Hoard, ancient Egyptian relics, silver goods made in the city, Victorian toys, the world’s leading collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings and the recently opened Birmingham History Galleries, so wherever your particular interest lies you’re bound to find something to please. When you’re ready for a sit down you can try out the museum’s delightful Edwardian Tearoom for drinks, snacks or even a hot meal.

3     Have a drink in the Old Joint Stock. This former bank is possibly the most ornate pub you will ever enter. Make sure you look up at the ceiling while you are waiting to be served, and be sure to check out what is on at their little theatre upstairs.

4     Go shopping. You’ll definitely need your wallets as Birmingham has some of the best shopping around – from the Bullring, the largest indoor shopping centre in Europe and home to Selfridges, and the Mailbox, home to Harvey Nicholls, to the Rag market where you can pick up vintage clothing at bargain rates.

5     Have a look round one of the small but fascinating museums in the Jewellery Quarter. Choose between the JQ Museum, where you can discover what a small jewellery factory looked like a hundred years ago, and the Pen Museum which tells the story of one of the city’s most lucrative trades – or why not visit them both?

6     Relax with some of the city’s greatest talents: watch the Birmingham Royal Ballet perform at the Hippodrome theatre, or listen to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the spectacular Symphony Hall, which was designed to give the best acoustics possible.

7     Go for a balti. This is Birmingham’s signature dish, and we have a whole area, known as the Balti Triangle, devoted to this particular cuisine. No visit to Brum is complete without a taste of one!

8     Head over to Aston to see Aston Hall and gardens. The house holds the history of the English Civil War as well as a ghost or two, and the gardens are beautiful in the summer.

9     Stroll around Sutton Park – 4 square miles of woodland, common land and lakes. It’s only a short bus ride from the city centre, but the trees screen traffic sounds so well you will find it hard to remember that you are in Britain’s 2nd largest city. Keep an eye open for the wild ponies while you are there.

10  Book a walking tour with Midlands Discovery Tours. I admit I am a little biased here as I run these, along with my business partner, Michael, but you don’t just have to take my word for it. They are a good way to see parts of the city you might otherwise miss, and to find out some interesting facts to impress your friends with. Choose from a variety of routes and themes: City centre, Canals, Jewellery Quarter, City of 1000 Trades, Heroes and Villains, Ghost Walk.

Above all, enjoy your visit to the city. If you would like a private tour with a Blue Badge Guide, tailored to your individual interests, you can always get in touch with me at IAB Tours.

Think we’ve missed out something that would have been in your Top Ten? Let us know in the comments below.

Birmingham’s Independent Coffee Shops

I’ve loved coffee, for as long as I can remember.  Most students’ key item of equipment in their hall of residence room was a toaster – mine was my coffee machine, an 18th birthday gift from my parents!  While I have thoroughly enjoyed witnessing the growth of coffee culture in the UK, as in many areas of the economy I am uncomfortable with domination by a few huge corporates, and believe that local, independent people deserve a chance.

Lucky for me, I live in Birmingham.  Why? Because our city is rapidly developing an independent coffee shop culture that is the envy of other cities, and a delight for resident and visiting coffee lovers alike.  We are blessed with a string of great local outlets, each with their own personality and vibe, but all offering a range of great coffees and food in friendly and pleasant surroundings, as well as a fantastic location for freelance working, a place to meet friends, an ideal venue for networking and business events, and a range of social activities for people with different interests.  What could be better than being served an amazing coffee by someone who is truly passionate about what they do, who knows you by name and is always keen to chat?  It came as no surprise to any of us who know the city that the New York Times singled out the independent coffee shop scene in Birmingham for special mention as they rated the city among their top places to travel to in 2012.

And the independent scene is set to get even more of a boost from the first Coffee Birmingham event, which will be held on September 29th of this year.  Celebrating all that is good and positive about our local coffee shops, and the creative community that goes hand in hand with them, it will involve expert baristas from several of our favourite outlets, sharing their knowledge and expertise at venues throughout the city.  I am delighted to have been asked to contribute to the event by running walking tours to and between venues on the day, and I’m looking forward to being part of Coffee Birmingham and helping to celebrate the things that make this city such a great place to live, work and visit.

For more information, please visit www.coffeebirmingham.co.uk and check out what is happening.  And remember to support your local independent coffee shop!