National Sea Life Centre Birmingham

Mini breaks are the best, right? There is nothing quite like getting away for a few days, soaking up the atmosphere and exploring your new surroundings. At the end of last week my other half and I went off to Birmingham for two nights. For me it was a chance to reminisce about my university days and show my boyfriend some of the sights.

One of the places we stopped off at was the Sea Life Centre. We’d visited the one in London and mister was keen to compare the Birmingham one. I was simply excited by the prospect of penguins and otters. It doesn’t take much to make me happy.

Our tickets were for 11am but we got there early. The Centre opens at 10am and even within less than an hour it was very busy. Unlike in London, however, we were able to get close to the tanks and see the fishes and animals. Much to my delight, the tour began with the penguins. Needless to say there was quite a crowd gathered around to watch them showing off in the water. One penguin in particular kept doing somersaults much to everyone’s amusement.

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Christmas Market Time

I’ve been a busy old bee of late, zipping up and down the country (well it feels that way!). I had a bit of mini break at the beginning of this week, a trip to Birmingham with my mother. Ever since my uni days I have waxed lyrical about the German market Birmingham hosts and I kept telling mum she needed to see it. It’s ten times better than the one in Edinburgh (although they have upped their game this year). Birmingham at Christmas is just amazing, and so, after years of wanting to go and never actually getting around to it, this year we booked our Christmas mini break.

We stayed in the Bullring Travelodge which was a three minute walk from the Bullring. As soon as we’d checked in I dragged the mother out into the city because the market at night is when it is at its most magical. First stop was the famous bull, who has been all decorated for Christmas. Doesn’t he look adorable?

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I was delighted to discover that the market is a lot bigger than in my uni days. Before it used to end at Stephenson Street, but now it stretched all the way down to the Bullring. There’s a plethora of food and drink stalls, from the beer huts to nut stalls to donuts and chocolates. This one was one of my personal favourites. How adorable are those chocolate hedgehogs off to the right?

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There’s so much to see that it can be a little overwhelming. I think I wore my camera out with all the pictures! I loved the decorations on some of the huts, including these reindeer and sleigh.

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This beer hut is arguably the most eye-catching. The picture doesn’t do it justice. It is so bright and wonderfully Christmas-y. It was right outside the restaurant we had our dinner in and I spent most of meal watching the massive crowd milling around it.

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I was also taken with the carousel. If I wasn’t so old I would have been dragging my mother onto it, but instead we watched the kids and attempted to get some pictures of it, which is hard when people keep wandering in front of you!

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The market is huge. As well as covering New Street, it also stretches down to the Symphony Hall and Central Library. This was the first time mum had seen the new library and we both agreed that by night and lit up with the wheel, it looks spectacular.

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We actually went in it the next day, and it is one of the most fascinating buildings I’ve ever been in. The layout is great – it’s in a circle and as you walk round you can look down at all the other tires. There’s lots of groovy comfy seats to sit and read in or just relax, and even an outside balcony with amazing views over the city. I look so far away because my mum was scared to go near the edge!

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After so many years I was worried the market wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but it did. It’s bigger, brighter and just as wonderful to look around as ever. Admittedly, the stalls are quite pricey. Don’t take any drinks! We went to get hot chocolate and were charged £12 for it – £6 for the drinks and £6 deposit for the mugs. You do get your deposit back, but the next day we found a stall that charged just £3 for two hot chocolates – much more reasonable!

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We thoroughly enjoyed our trip, however, I think we bought more food than actual Christmas presents. I sampled one of the After Eight donuts and let me tell you, it was divine. To make up for not buying anything at the market, we went on a shopping spree at the Bullring instead. I bought a new jumper and pjyamas for myself and mum got a new jumper and some Christmas decorations. And after all of that, we treated ourselves to a night at the ballet, catching The Nutcracker at the Hippodrome. It was a fab mini break and we’re determined to do it all again next year. Until then, we’ll just have to have a wander around Edinburgh’s German market instead.

Life Begins at 25

Phew, I didn’t realise just how much time has gone by since my last blog post! I apologise for abandoning you all. I had planned to do two posts last week while I was on holiday from work, but I ended up being a lot busier than I expected. After finally banishing the dissertation to the recent past, I’ve been making up for my lost summer by meeting people and travelling, and also getting back into my writing. It was a bit of a hectic week, so it didn’t really feel like a holiday as such, but I had so much fun and it was great not to have to waitress for a while.

In the last week I’ve eaten out four times, been to the cinema, gone shopping twice and had a weekend away in Birmingham. In between I have been applying for publishing jobs and writing a story which has been in my head for a few years now. When I think about just how much I crammed into one week I’m a little bit amazed, to be honest. It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago I didn’t really have a social life to speak of. Of all the things to have come out of this last year, studying the publishing course, I think one of the biggest changes has been in me. I definitely feel more confident, more sociable than I was before. In the last nine months, I’ve done so much and been to so many places that I would never have gone to or done if I hadn’t met the people that I did.

Last year I had such a terror at turning 25. It felt so old and I hated the fact that I was no longer going to be classed as a youth. But the strange thing is, since I turned 25 my life has been better than it ever has been. When I look back at my teenage years and early twenties, I realise just how much of them I wasted being afraid and hiding away from the world. I have always been painfully shy. At school I was one of the nerdy kids and I didn’t have many friends. We never got invited to parties or got asked out by any of the boys. When I first went to university I was very naive and a couple of bad experiences with the people I lived with left me even more timid than I was to begin with. Much as I loved Birmingham, I know now that I didn’t make the most of the experience.

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A crematorium for books?

Incidentally, I was back in Birmingham this weekend, visiting university friends. It has only been three years since I graduated and I was last in the city just over a year ago, but it’s amazing how much it has changed in that time. I remember they were building a new road just off Harborne Lane when I was in my final year and now it’s all complete. We drove past the University several times and it was strange to see the new bits they’ve added. In the city centre they have been revamping things too, including refurbishing the library. There’s apparently been a lot of discussion about the building, with most people expressing extreme dislike for it. A lot of people have compared it to a crematorium. I must admit, I’m undecided as to whether or not I like it. When I took the picture the sun was just beginning to go down and the fading rays were glinting off the spirals, making them sparkle and it did look kind of pretty in a very abstract way.

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