Twitter is a tool we’ve not really got our heads round yet – easy to use and interesting to read but somehow not as easy to interact with your followers and ‘digital friends’. What it does seem to be better at is interacting with businesses –somehow a ‘disgruntled’ tweet seems to get a much quicker response than an email. Can’t remember ever seeing a customer service complaint on Instagram!
We do have Twitter to thank though for our recent (very small!) piece of good luck when we won two tickets courtesy of Fujifilm UK to a presentation of our choice on the Super Stage at the Photography Show 2018. Great excitement when Samara from Fujifilm contacted us to give us the good news – free tickets to anything are great aren’t they? We did have to buy the tickets to get in and buy the train tickets but definitely worth it – just don’t ask about what else we bought (should have left our credit cards at home!)
It is many years since we have been to the NEC at Birmingham. (Birmingham again - its becoming a pattern…) . The last time we were there was before we were married – probably 30 years ago - to watch one of our favourite bands at the time The Cure. Hard to believe how far we used to have to travel to see a concert. Thank goodness for the arenas which have sprung up in most cities. Back then we had an hour and a half drive down the M6 which in these current days of horrific traffic would probably take much longer, but thankfully from Wigan trains go direct to the NEC in just over an hour and a half.
The train was very busy and great fun. There were three large shows on that day the Photography Show, a Sewing and Crafts show and most excitedly Birmingham Comic Con! Time for a game of passenger bingo – who was going where? The Comic Con cosplayers were easy to spot in fantastic costumes many of which looked home made – maybe they were doing a 2 for 1 with the sewing show? We had two characters behind us dressed in Final Fantasy costumes and one who appeared to be carrying what had once been an ironing board and had a new life as some sort of sword. As the train pulled into Birmingham International it was standing room only and the addition of the ‘ironing board’ into the queue to get off caused endless laughter amongst the passengers. It was a real life game of tetris as we all tried to get in position to get off or just get out the way!
The entrance to the exhibition halls was dominated by colourful characters and it was a pleasure to see how much effort people had put into their costumes. Our camera was in our bag but we’re both a bit shy at photographing people so there it stayed. I do wish I had been braver as I am sure the photos would have been amazing.
Photography Show 2018 was much quieter and we were soon inside and overawed by the sheer size of the hall and the number of exhibitors. We had a guide but no plan so decided to just wander up and down and ‘browse’. 2 hours and 5km later it was lunch time, we had a shopping list and we were very hot. Outside was -3 and snowing so we were dressed accordingly. Inside was toasty warm and obviously dry! Tip 1 – dress very differently to us!
I was surprised at what a male dominated world photography appears to be. Where are all the female photographers? There were some families which was lovely to see and the occasional woman but the hall and most of the stands were very heavily male. To cater to this audience lots of the camera stalls had young female models there to allow people to experiment with taking different shots and using their equipment. Well done to Fujifilm who bucked the trend and had a very regal Greek God on their stand the day we visited. Can’t help but wonder how these actors describe that job on their CV’s but well done to all of them I don’t expect they get paid too much and it must be a very tiring strange day.
For our free tickets we had chosen to attend the presentation on the Super Stage by Art Wolfe. Now one of us is not good at sitting watching things like that and was really just looking forward to a rest but how wrong could I have been! From the minute he started talking I was so engaged. His photographs were breathtaking but the story of his life was inspiring and just so interesting. I particularly loved the photographs he had taken of the tribes he had spent time with as well as the views from the mountains he had climbed. I sat in the auditorium trying to work out how we could get such photographs – I have to admit I have never been up a mountain. He overran considerably and still didn’t get to the end but it was an extremely entertaining way to spend 90 minutes and we loved it! Once again thanks to Samara (who we did go over and thank personally) we were very grateful for the free tickets and especially her help when we realised the day before we had booked the wrong date!
Overall we both really loved the show and of course didn’t come home empty handed!
So what did we buy?
There was another piece of kit we saw which we really loved but couldn’t find any excuse to spend £200 on. The Adaptalux Lighting Studio consisted of tiny very bright LED lights on the end of adjustable arms. If you’ve ever seen the original War of the Worlds film they looked just like the alien ships! The lights were available in different colours and allowed the photographer to cast colours on objects making very interesting and unusual macro photos. We loved them and maybe one day will get some of our own!
Finally there was a chance to get our hands on the brand new Fujifilm X-H1 a definite step up from our trusty pair of
X-T1s. It just felt so right and the performance was out of the park – definitely marked that one for the future.
Thanks once again to Fujifilm for the tickets, which gave us the impetus to visit the Photography Show. As first time visitors we learnt a lot on the day not just about photography and I am sure we will be back next year!
Competition comes in many forms including two of England’s most famous cities vying for the title of ‘second city’ after London. What attributes does this second city need? What would be the one thing that would propel one of the cities to the coveted second place? Would there be any advantage to being the official ‘second city’
Manchester is a very familiar city to us with strong family and work links. We socialise in the city, dine there, attend different sorts of events and frequently just wander around with our cameras uncovering hidden corners and hoping for exceptional photo shots. Conversely Birmingham is a place we’ve never really spent any time in other than to pass through on occasion and, in the pre-arena days, attend concerts at the NEC.
Our recent short visit to Birmingham gave us for the first time, and purely from a tourism view, the opportunity to see for ourselves the differences in the two cities.
Arriving in Birmingham late afternoon on a working week day was the first surprise – where was the city centre traffic? In fact, the whole time we were there we saw no traffic queueing in the city centre at all. Sadly, horrific traffic jams are part of everyday life all the time in Manchester. How does Birmingham achieve that?
Another notable difference was the skyline. Birmingham was surprisingly flat and even though the two cities have similar skylines filled with cranes and building sites, Manchester appears to be growing upwards at a rapid rate. The views are equally stunning but quite different.
Birmingham has a very compact shopping quarter including its very large markets, the Bullring and the Grand Central area around the station. Manchester is much more spread out with substantial distances between some of its main shops. Like most shopping centres now there is no real individuality to them with the same shops and restaurants offering the same clothes and food.
Birmingham’s New Street station is huge and feels more like an airport terminal with restaurants and food bars, shops and space. It has undergone a huge transformation in the last few years and now is part of the Grand Central shopping mall – or maybe the shopping mall is part of the station? Either way it is very central to the city and gives easy access to most areas. The Manchester stations both sit just on the outskirts of the city centre and are relatively small in comparison, but it is easier to find out where you need to be in them. New Street offers a bewildering array of platforms and lounges and there were so many different options for you to go through that it was a very confusing experience!
Both cities have interesting buildings, art galleries and museums – equal amounts of photo opportunities! Whilst Birmingham cathedral is interesting particularly the stunning stained glass windows, Manchester’s is exquisite. We return to it repeatedly and never fail to be disappointed. Manchester also has the beautiful Harry Potter like library inside the Chetham’s buildings and the equally stunning John Ryland’s library on Deans gate. Both free to visit and definite must sees.
And, in what is a very controversial subject up north, Birmingham has more than one Michelin star restaurant whereas Manchester has yet to achieve one despite several chefs having a try. That is not to say that Manchester has no Michelin quality food just that it never seems to fully meet the criteria. Does this matter – maybe, maybe not we could both recommend many a Manchester restaurant where you are guaranteed to have good food and service. However, for many the lack of a star in Manchester has become an obsession and having one would probably help lift the city out of what seems its focus on burgers.
The canal development around the Gas Street Basin area in Birmingham is another must see and something Manchester could learn from. Bars and restaurants, miles of well paved walking opportunities, well signposted routes – a joy to walk down and spend time in. Particularly attractive at night with many a twinkling fairy light and canal side seat.
Manchester has the previously mentioned Northern Quarter. Edgy and exciting, unusual restaurants and bars and a wealth of quirky, individual shops to visit including the famous Affleck’s. Ever changing murals appear on walls in the old-fashioned streets. Modern yet still having a period feel it’s a perfect film location– most notably being used in scenes from Captain America and Peaky Blinders.
Constantly trying to encourage visitors to the city, Manchester City Council are particularly good at events and themes – Chinese New Year resulted in a city full of red lanterns and decorations – Halloween saw the city turn green and giant tentacles above House of Fraser. Having never been in Birmingham for the equivalent it’s not fair to say who does it best. Think a visit to Birmingham’s Christmas markets will take place later this year for a brand new experience and to do some further research (as well as trying some more Michelin standard food!)
So, it’s probably too early yet for any final comparison, if one is even needed, and does it even matter who is first or second? Makes no difference to us. What we do believe very strongly is in the amazing cities we have in the UK. Go and visit them both you won’t be disappointed.
Birmingham has been high on our list of places to visit for some time. We'd had a long planned-for trip to Purnells to take and it is just a hour and a half train journey direct from home. Having a Christmas birthday in the family always means extra thought and planning to ensure Chris' birthday doesn’t disappear into the Christmas festivities. Finding two lots of special presents in one week can be quite a challenge cue this years brainwave – a day trip to Birmingham for lunch at Purnells and a trip round the markets. As with any activity undertaken close to the Christmas season the chance of illness stopping plans is very high and unsurprisingly I came down with a heavy cold and the decision was made to postpone (disappointment after disappointment as I also missed Star Wars Episode 8 The Last Jedi!)
Sometimes disappointment eventually unveils unexpected hidden silver linings. We made the decision to rearrange our trip for February and include a few nights in Birmingham so, and I am sure this is familiar to everyone, it was time for an online accommodation search and to read countless reviews. For no other reason than they looked nice and sounded a bit different we settled on the Staying Cool apartments located in the Rotunda. We booked direct and got what we felt was a really good price for a city centre hotel room.
As is the case (in our house anyway busy lives etc…) we then forgot all about it and only read up the night before what was actually included – small kitchen, small amount of breakfast food, toiletries all included in our mini studio apartment. We hadn’t realised at this point how different a ‘hotel’ room we had booked.
On arrival – pleasant surprise number 1 was the proximity of the station. A very short walk from the front of Birmingham New Street although we managed to end up on the wrong side of the road! Couldn’t actually miss the Rotunda towering over everything else!
Easy check in and our lift up to our 18th floor apartment and surprise number 2 - the view - wow
As soon as you enter the room you have floor to ceiling windows and the most amazing view over the Bullring shopping centre, Birmingham markets and beyond. Bizarrely there in the middle of all the modern buildings is the old Church of St Martins in the Bullring.
And the room was so much more than just another hotel room - as described it was a mini studio with a small kitchen, bedroom, living area and dining section – all separate and feeling perfectly in proportion for the two of us. Interestingly the bed faces away from the windows making it feel very private and allowing you to leave the windows uncovered all night.
Most excitingly we realised that the two middle windows fully opened (like your patio doors at home)! You’re safe behind a rail and there are some strict safety rules but the feeling of being so high and so open is breathtaking (particularly when the wind blows!
Apart from our Purnells lunch, we ate every meal sitting out just looking at the views. Over the three days we were blessed with clouds, sunshine and even a misty morning giving us the opportunity to use our cameras to full capacity! My favourite was the trains travelling through a short piece of the track filled with lights. They glittered as the lights reflected on their carriages – magical!
For us it was so much better than your average hotel room – we loved the freedom of being able to breakfast when we wanted and choose our own food and wine for the evening plus I am sure it was considerably cheaper! Little extras like the milk in the fridge, granola for breakfast and even oranges for you to squeeze your own juice coupled with a departure day check out of 12 noon made it a perfect stay, oh and did I mention the views.
Needless to say we did a few tweets and Instagrams which were picked up and retweeted by Staying Cool and just to cap it all off we got a bottle of Prosecco on checking out as a thank you for the tweets and posts. It's not often we're lost for words but we were with this - what a great gesture - thank you Danny and the team!
Only problem now is we want a view like that all the time! Interestingly we've learnt that they are opening up similar apartments in Manchester. Can’t wait to see how they turn out.
Life and other