Birmingham, "the real England" and the story behind an international wedding invite
Pictured above: a bunch of happy wedding guests and the Bride.
Hi there! Here is hoping that this week, I can post three times, I’m trying to get ahead of the game and really hope that I’m back on schedule soon since I really enjoy writing as it is a creative outlet for me but not a physical one like silks is, and right now, it is really important for me to have creative outlets like silks, crochet or knitting, and writing to take my mind off of things and help with anxiety. But on with today’s post!
Last November, I went to a wedding in the UK. Birmingham, to be exact. My friend Matt, who is originally from South Carolina married a UK native that he met while studying abroad. I met Matt when we were both in Iceland at the same time in 2015. We both ran the Reykjavik marathon and I saw him walking later in the race, maybe around mile 22 or 23, and I shuffled up to him to chat and make sure he was doing alright, as you do when you’re a slow marathoner like me and see other people who seem to be having trouble. For some reason, I also knew he was an American without even asking. So, we chatted for a bit, I wished him well, and departed. When I finished, I got my medal and did wait for him to make sure he’d made it and was alright and we both congratulated each other and that was that! Or so we thought.
Two days later, after I’d been to the Blue Lagoon, seen a local Icelandic circus, been to the Golden Circle with a Dutch friend I’d made on my first day, I was on my last full day in Reykjavik and had signed up for a tour to Vik and some other waterfalls on the Southeast coast of Iceland. I boarded the bus and realized I was on a tour with mostly Scandinavians and a family from Boston. It was a longer drive so the tour bus stopped at a gas station and as I walked in I saw… Matt again! We’d booked the same tour without knowing it. I said “hi! didn’t you run the marathon on Sunday?!” and we immediately started chatting again and rode together the rest of the day and were each other’s photographers, lunch buddies, and made plans to get burgers and beers later in Reykjavik. Matt said there was a bar he wanted to visit later that day called Mikkeller and Friends and I was happy to go with him because I knew nothing and he was raving about their beers. So, we can thank him for my obsession. We became instant friends and had such a fun day exploring and talking about how much we’d loved our solo trips in that amazing country.
A year after Iceland, Matt and his friends planned a 6 week road trip from their home in South Carolina up into the far northwest parts of Alaska. They stopped in Chicago on the way back and I offered to let them stay in my apartment because I had a ton of space at the time. I had a blast showing them around the city and they met and loved Rocco - who also LOVED having three people to be petted and cuddled by.
So now that you have the back story, know that I was super excited and honored to be invited to his wedding last year to Jade - who I met for the first time at their rehearsal dinner. 4 days after getting home from my Kilimanjaro trip, I was boarding a plane for the UK! I honestly think that helped with jet lag. I was dead tired the first day back from Africa, I am pretty sure I got home at 6 pm, ate dinner, and went to bed. Then on Wednesday I departed for London on a morning flight that landed at LHR at 11 pm. It is weird to be flying all day but it was also nice to not have a redeye and to actually sleep in a hotel and wake up with the rest of the world I was visiting.
I woke up at a Heathrow hotel and took the free bus back to the airport to get on the Tube to London. I had not been to London since 2003, when I graduated from college! From Heathrow, I rode the Underground to Euston Station, (bought a ticket in advance per Matt’s advice) and then boarded the slow train to Birmingham. This was all happening on Thanksgiving day and the plan was to check into my airbnb, go back to town and meet up with Spencer and Will (Matt’s friends who had traveled with him on the road trip) and then later head to the rehearsal dinner with them. I’d booked an airbnb a bit outside of the main part of B’ham in a large home that was once a Council House - which I think is a form of subsidized housing. I had a lovely stay and the bed was huge and SO comfy. The day I left (which was Friday, the day of the wedding), the owner, Edson, was at the home cleaning up after another guest’s stay. We chatted for a long time while I drank coffee and packed and he was from Zimbabwe, so I told him I’d been climbing Kilimanjaro two weeks before and that I can’t wait to go back to Africa and that I’d really like to go to Zimbabwe as well.
The fun parts about Birmingham were that I really did feel like I was in the “real” part of the UK (which is what Jade’s dad told me when I was meeting all of the family). I agree that sometimes you go to a big city like Paris or New York or London and if that is all the glimpse you get of a country, you get a piece but you don’t get it all. It was great to see the countryside from the train and to spend time in a smaller city. It was a 2-3 hour train ride from central London. I arrived later in the afternoon and since I’ve never been that far north in latitude in the late fall, it was weird to see kids walking home from school in near twilight. The free afternoon that I had in Birmingham, I met up with Spencer and Will at the German-style Christmas market. We were all told that it is the largest German style market outside of Germany, and it was huge! We have one in Chicago as well that requires at least one seasonal visit, but it is much smaller than this one. I was impressed with the number of people drinking beer. I went straight for the hot, mulled wine. The three of us chatted and caught up and enjoyed a few drinks before heading out to a suburb of B’ham for the rehearsal dinner.
Because the wedding was smallish and only a few Americans could make the trek, we all were invited to the rehearsal dinner, since it was Thanksgiving back home and we had a room to stay in the night of the wedding at the venue. It was extremely generous of them to do this for us and something I will never forget and hope to repay if/when I get married someday. The venue, in case you’re wondering, was lovely and bookable for events, if you’re interested, see here. We enjoyed a beautiful ceremony and reception, family and the US friends had breakfast the next day at the venue, and then we all shared taxis back to Birmingham. Jade, Matt, Will, Spencer, and I got lunch in central B’ham at this place, which was tasty and then Will and I departed for London on the Virgin express train while Spencer had a flight out of Birmingham back to Malaysia. One other place we went for a drink before the rehearsal dinner (to get out of the cold) was a bar that was an old post office building and aptly named The Post Office Vaults. There was a huge variety of interesting beers there and I ended up having a local sour but tasting an Oude Geuze Boon as well.
So, I’ve got a few recommendations for you in Birmingham and have realized that I’ve rambled on so much that I should let London have its own post! And I have a lot to write about for that! I had so much fun catching up with people, making friends, and generally just being in the moment in Birmingham that I didn’t take many photos. I don’t feel bad about that. Some trips are about visiting places for the first time and other trips are personal. I was also kind of jet lagged - but I was so grateful that I pulled this off and managed to make it across the pond for one more international trip in 2018, because three weeks later I was in New York City with my extended family. I still can’t believe that I visited 3 continents in 2018 plus Canada, Mexico, and various other cities in the US. What a year!