If I have to fly anywhere these days my first choice is always Waterford Airport if at all possible, even if it means a connection somewhere else. My favourite part is coming home and knowing that as the plane lands I’m about 20 minutes from my own kettle. There’s no long boring wait for luggage and you never have to play the ‘find the car’ game. If you’re on your own it can be mildly stressful, but throw in a partner or a family with post holiday blues and just trying to locate the car in the larger airports can turn into a family feud. At Waterford Airport you just have to stand outside the door and scan the car park. We’re very blessed to have an airport right on our doorstep and while it may not have multiple routes, the destinations available are good in themselves and a gateway to many other countries. The cost is also highly competitive at present when you consider petrol, time, energy, car parking fees and sheer convenience.
The carrier from Waterford Airport is Aer Arann. A small but perfectly formed airline that understands that people carry luggage when they travel, unlike some other airlines I could mention. Aer Arann appreciates that people might like to change their clothes while away and might also like to bring something home from a trip as well! For that reason the check in baggage allowance is an acceptable 15 kg along with one decent sized piece of hand luggage. For a few days away or a short business trip this is adequate.
Aer Arann flies to London, Manchester and Birmingham in the UK and Lorient in France from Waterford. On this trip I was going to Birmingham. I can hear you feeling sorry for me already. Birmingham? Who’d want to go to Birmingham for a city break? London is sophisticated and exciting, Manchester has even managed to cultivate a sort of ‘cool’, but Birmingham conjures thoughts of the industrial, slightly down at heel, poor relation. These are very wrong assumptions indeed. Birmingham is now the UK’s second city and as a city break Birmingham, to my great delight, ticked all the boxes; excellent restaurants, great shopping, quality accommodation, culture, nightlife and great value too.
There’s been a great deal of successful redevelopment in Birmingham recently and the fruits of such efforts are visible everywhere. The city centre has several large and attractive squares with well restored old architecture sympathetically mixed with new, which surprisingly sit together to create a unique city physicality that would rival anything in Europe. These squares, dotted with interesting sculptures, lead on to pretty, broad, pedestrian only walkways. In fact the main shopping area, known locally as The Bullring, feels really spacious and enjoyable because it is totally pedestrianised. You can fully focus on the shops without the fear of stepping into the way of a car or bus. The stats say that the Bullring covers twenty six football pitches of retail space! That’s hard to visualise, but rest assured there are lots of great shops to browse from the very high end designer type to the more affordable high street names and some lovely small indigenous ones also. As home to more than one million people, Birmingham City has a large traditional market attached to the Bullring which is always a treat as we tend not to have them here. Sadly I didn’t get to experience it but maybe the next time.
Another really pleasant discovery was the canal area. Birmingham lies at the heart of Britain’s canal network which would have been hugely important during its more industrial period. Today the city centre canal banks are home to a thriving cluster of bars, restaurants and nightspots. It’s a lovely place for an evening stroll; clean and well lit with the calming influence of the water, little stone steps and footbridges and the pretty barges and houseboats that line the canals. From here you can easily find pockets of restaurants, all close together creating a lovely leisurely atmosphere with a mixture of indoor and outdoor seating areas. While Birmingham may not have the theatre choice of London, there is always something going; a big musical at the Hippodrome, the ballet, plays and allsorts of music venues as well.
If you enjoy sightseeing and museums the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has a very large collection of pre-Raphaelite art and the city even has its own jewellery quarter with a fascinating jewellery museum set in an actual jewellery factory, now closed down. The guides are retired ex factory workers and so the tours have that added personal spark. Unlike Hatton Garden in London which can be quite daunting, the Birmingham jewellery quarter has all the choice but just feels more welcoming. Apparently the weekends bring the engagement ring hunters out in their droves. Other popular attractions are the restored back to back houses where you can literally see, hear and feel how many people used to live, packed tightly together for more than a century. Surprisingly, despite the apparent squalor and deprivation there is a sense that while the occupants were short on space and sanitation, they were big on community, neighbourliness and family values.
Big Brum Buz!
A great way to decide which of the tourist attractions you might like to focus on is to hop on the open top, sightseeing bus known as the ‘Big Brum Buz’. It’s the same as it is all over the world; a red open top bus with a guide that gives you the history, shows you the sights, and throws in some humourous and interesting comments along the way; a lovely relaxing way to spend an hour or so. Birmingham would also provide a good base for further exploration of the UK as it lies just thirty minutes from Stratford (Shakespeare country), an hour by train from London and is only a short ride from Bourneville, home of Cadbury World; need I say anymore!
I don’t want to sound like the Birmingham tourist board and of course like any major city it has its grotty areas, but you can avoid them. It’s a real revelation as a handy destination for an enjoyable fun break from Waterford. There are lots of websites that will give you more information and a good one to start with is visitbirmingham.com. There is a food fair coming up on July 9th to the 12th called a Taste of Birmingham and at the recession busting prices currently on offer out of Waterford Airport, it might be just what the doctor ordered.