Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Birmingham vs London!

In the UK this past few weeks there have been a few news reports about how last year more people moved from London to our home city - Birmingham than to any other city. It makes sense as it has the highest concentration of any city other than London and you know - there's us :)

There is a whole list of stories here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-37585337 but I thought I would jot down our reasons for the move after a 2 day stay in London reminded me of all the reasons our move was totally the right decision!

1) We could afford our own house and as a massive benefit the mortgage on our house is £500 less that the rent we were paying for our 1 bed London flat.

2) Getting a dog! We could have NEVER got a dog living in London but in Birmingham we have dog walks on our door steps, in fact over 8,000 acres of parks and open space - that's a LOT of walking!

Bisbee cheering me on at netball and showing off at her agility park

Hide out in a cabin in the Cotswolds
3) Country breaks are just a quick drive away - including the beautiful Cotsworlds. Maybe that's why Mercer ranked Birmingham number 1 for quality of life of any UK city outside of the capital.

4) London is still commutable, in fact I head in once a week for work.

5) Birmingham is buzzing.....seriously there are SO many good restaurants (more Michelin star restaurants than any other English city, if that's of interest), bars and food markets to explore that you could eat or drink a weekend away. Best of all you can get around all the places in a quicker amount of time - in London you would be stuck on the tube or in traffic. And if eating is not your thing then the fact that it's consistently voted in the top 3 most popular places to shop should make it clear there is plenty to keep you entertained!

6) The buildings - this is not the rundown city I used to know, this city is beautiful and a great mix of old and new architecture...check this post for my favs! It makes showing the city to visitors really interesting.

7) The canals (we have more than Venice as everyone knows) make great cycle tracks, dog walks in the wet and ways to explore new areas. I love how you can head along a canal and pop up in new places. It makes for a great addition to the city and while London has canals they are not areas you want to walk along (in my experience).

8) You can get cocktails for around £5 in a club! That's right in Birmingham's biggest club PRYZM has REASONABLY priced drinks - and not just on a student night! We were shocked on a night out as London drinks start at double that.

9) You can get anywhere in the country in a few hours (we're the red dot)- that includes Manchester, the second biggest city, Glasgow in Scotland, Bournemouth - on the south coast and a ton of other UK places. BUT even better with an international airport we can also get to Europe in a few hours. I have made it to Milan, Barcelona, Paris and Dublin since we moved here.

10) You can still work in London, maybe not full time, but if like me you are lucky enough to work from home you can still keep your London based job. I am also lucky enough that my company has customers in Birmingham so it is actually an asset having me 'local'.

11) We still get to see all the concerts we enjoyed in London, and most of the time prices are cheaper and it is WAY easier yo get to the venue. We even managed to get tickets to Adele! With over 40% of the city's population under 25 they have to provide world class entertainment so we are never short of choice!

12) America has found it's way here (and I don't just mean my lovely wife), there are more American candy aisles in stores here that we ever found in London. We have our own Victoria Secret, Forever 21 etc

13) Unique London things are also making there way here including the Cereal Killer Cafe! That means no more treks to Brick Lane. We also have GREAT curries and Birmingham has been voted curry central - so step back Brick Lane! We can also get freak shakes, doughnut burgers and all other delights.....yum, yum, yum :)

14) There is so much to do. I mean it's not ALL about Cadbury's World, we have a pen museum. Actually we hear you should make a point of visiting (pun intended :D) then there is the Black Country Museum, Blists Hill Victorian Village and Backs to Backs if like me you love history. Star City if like me you occasionally love to be a big kid with mini golf, laser tag and bowling.

Heading to the Black Country Museum, at Pride and on a pizza making course with The Stable

I have heard it said from a lot of people but the best way to describe Birmingham is that it is like London just smaller and therefore better :) We have everything you can find in London just easier.

The absolute BEST thing for us though is the quality and balance of life we now have. We have WAY more time for each other, for our interests (choir and netball), for friends and for our puppy. We may have given up the chase for the big ££££ but what we have is worth more than ANYTHING money can buy. Moving to Birmingham has been a great decision for us!

So there you have it, if you are ever heading Birmingham way let us know....

We also wrote a couple of posts for Swoope's #HiddensGemsofBrum as a way to explore the city...
We drunk in a Launderette speakeasy:
Check it out here
And spent time checking out Cannon Hill Park and all it has to offer....
Check it out here

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

To Canada the USA and back again!

It's been a whirlwind 2 weeks - how are you?

We have managed to get to Canada and the USA and back again in little over a week and racked up some 7000+ miles in doing so. It's fair to say that we are feeling a little tired last week but hey ho when there are memories to be made whats missing out on a bit of sleep.

Our whirlwind tour highlights look a bit like this:
Saturday - arrive in Toronto and meet Victoria and Emily, two girls we met via twitter / Instagram and have been looking forward to meet for the 4 years we have been corresponding. That evening we met up with a further two girls Patricia and Court that we also know via social media for a wives night out. It was a great way to spend our first night in Canada.

Sunday - a day we will NEVER forget. After a 2 hour drive we arrived a Niagara Falls. We had stocked up on Tim Horton's delicious doughnuts en route and arrived ready to go. The area was a strip of entertainment - think mini Vegas or Blackpool - and at the bottom of the road was Niagara Falls in all it's glory.

We REALLY recommend seeing this extraordinary sight from the Canada side as you get a full perspective of the size and scale of these incredibly powerful waterfalls. We also did the Maid of the Mist (now called Horn Blowers) and got up close to the falls. Thankfully the boat trip provides ponchos as it is true - you get soaked! As you approach the falls the mist starts but as you get closer the rain gets heavier until you feel as if you are standing in a shower. It is incredible and must be on anyone's to-do list. It was everything we had hoped for and more.

After the soaking Victoria and Emily felt it only fair to warm us up by introducing us to Poutine - essentially chips, cheese curds and gravy - and it was SO good. We each ordered a different type of Poutine so we could indulge in the different flavours - I went for Thanksgiving dinner, Laura for bacon cheeseburger, Tori for chicken, bacon, ranch and Emily went for the original. Can you figure out which is which?

For dessert we started with dippin' dots and finished with Beaver Tails with maple syrup - so so so good! To 'balance' the indulgence we walked off a few pounds with a game of pitch and put / crazy golf and a tour of the strip. It was so much fun.

The evening was a highlight Laura had requested - a Jewish feast courtesy of Emily. We dined on latkes and matzo ball soup and ate until we collapsed stuffed on the sofa to review the days photo's.

Monday arrived too quick and while Tori headed back to work Emily gave us a tour of the rest of Toronto, the docks, Yonge-Dundas square and the old brewery district where we grabbed breakfast. Then a quick stop to get Jewish bagels and that was it. On to Boise.

Tuesday, after arriving late Monday night and having a hellish experience with the Dollar rental car representative (we both left practically in tears and wising we hadn't bothered renting a car) we had driven straight to the Air BnB and fell asleep. Our first day was spent with 2 of Laura's oldest and dearest school friends Sarah and Julia. Sarah was leaving town the next day to start a new travel nurse assignment in Montana and Julia had started work at 6am so she could get finished in time to join us for breakfast and then a drive to the mountains. Which ever way you drive in Boise the scenery is stunning and Tuesday was no exception except that our drive and plan for a hike was curtailed when we realised that the forest fires were still burning higher up the mountain and the whole area was a no go.

We had to settle for a wander around Idaho city - a once thriving mining town that is now a is collection of ramshackle houses and museums - and a visit to Trudy's that does the BEST tater tots and pie we ave EVER had. Seriously we'd have driven the 2 hours just for them.

The evening was then spent chilling out on the deck at Sarah's parents house, enjoying a drink and indulging in the warm evening - it was perfect!

Wednesday we shopped and I got my fill of Panda Express. The highlight was catching up with Laura's friend Tina and her fiance Jared. Laura is part of their wedding next year and so we wanted to meet Jared beforehand. We are so glad we did he was brilliant. Although slightly too good at mini-golf / crazy golf for my liking, we had met then at a fun course and he made my victory a close one! Although his hole in one at the end set of a fire ball which was impressive, my miss had me soaked by a water cannon! Crazy golf in Idaho is CRAZY! We then caught up over dinner at the Village shopping centre that has fountains to rival the Bellagio - they dance to music and everything!
And yes we WERE that happy to be playing Crazy golf :)
Thursday. Wine day. Well wine tasting day - not something Laura and I are a fan off but as it was a hen party we made an exception. It turns out Idaho has quite a few vineyards out in the mountains and after boarding a coach with the rest of the hen party we had a 90 minute drive into the country to arrive at Ste Chapel. Next stop was Hat Ranch and finally Sawtooth. The first vineyard was sat among rolling hills providing a stunning view. The second, at Ranch, was exactly as I had imagined an Idahoan vineyard, small and with guys in cowboy hats. The third one was hard to describe having only really seen the vats inside.

Friday and our last free day in Boise. We caught up with another of Laura's school friends for breakfast and spent time checking out all the pumpkin spice food supplies that we needed to bring back. Then it was home to pack before heading out to welcome drinks for the wedding. We actually ducked out fairly quickly as the bar was rammed and it was boiling with no where to stand. We decided that as we had caught up with most people at the hen party that we should spend the evening checking out a local corn maze.

We met up with Tina and Jared (I didn't trust that just Laura and I would survive) and it was the right decision. They were great team mates and Tina single handedly got us out of the maze. Jared was making us try corn straight from the cob (don't try it) and Laura was taking pictures. I was just concerned about getting out before dark! We also indulged in a corn dog and got a free fireworks show. The night ended at a bar called Motel that used to be a motel but is now a bar with outside seating and toilets that play records - you have to check it out!

Saturday - wedding day! Well firstly dog walking day, we were up super early to get to a local park for See Spot Walk, a charity dog walking event for Idaho Humane Society. We will do a post on our full experience but in summary we got to walk a super cute puppy called Rudy, an enthusiastic collie mix who just loved everyone. It was so hard to give him back. We walked with another of Laura's friends (she has so many) Kelcie and her dog which made it even more fun.

After the walk it was home to get ready and then a 45 minute drive up to the mountains for the wedding of two of our wonderful friends. The wedding location was a private house with amazing views over Boise. It was a little windy but all in all a lovely wedding and a great chance to further catch with everyone before we left.

Sunday - travel day, 3 stops and a race through Toronto airport to find Tim Hortons before our final flight.

And that was it. We're back as if nothing happened. It all feels like even more of a dream as I had to be on an early train into London this morning.