Art in Birmingham Saturday, Feb 6 2010 

I apologize for not knowing the names to all the works of art in these photos, but they were difficult to research after the fact.  Instead I will remain struck by the images since a picture is worth a thousand words.

The entire city of Birmingham was decorated for Christmas and was drawing tourists to its annual German Christmas Market.  These stands line blocks and blocks in the city and include homemade goodies with foods like sausage, marzipan, donuts, and chocolates, as well as crafts like wooden toys, glass jewelry, and purses.  The smells and the crowds are intimidating but they are very enjoyable.

Alas, it was too cold to spend too much time outside browsing the house-shaped stands, therefore it was time to explore the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  Inside the gorgeous Chamberlain Square clock tower is a grand collection of stained glass walls, paintings, important documents, and interactive exhibits.  We did not have time to view all of the collections, but it was still a fun free activity.  Another that fits in that category was St. Philips’ Church of England with its own brightly colored stained glass windows, tiled floors, and floor-level pipe organ.  Being one the last church I visited in England, St. Philips reminded me of how my goal of visiting the grand castles of England was replaced with my discovering churches of all imaginings.  They were just as historical and often more majestic than castles, ensuring I was not disappointed.

London Calling Friday, Jan 29 2010 

London truly is one of the most expensive cities in the world (one way on the tube costs about 6 American dollars!) but it really is a special place.  Chock full of high end stores on Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus, luxury restaurants, and the Strand’s entertaining theaters you really can spend a pound or two in the Capital.  However, there are many free or inexpensive treats to be had.  We were able to attend a decadent high tea (complete with scones, sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and petite fours) and visit the ancient Tower of London with two-for-one coupons because we took the train in.  Free museums included the Victoria and Albert with its eclectic collection of prehistoric Eastern art up to post-modern fashion designs and the British Museum with the Rosetta Stone and European paintings.  Of course, no trip to London is complete without visiting Big Ben (actually the name of the bell, not the tower) and Westminster Abbey, an ornate royal spot filled with the memorials to past monarchs and the location of all coronations, if you cannot make it to the palaces.  The weather may not always be agreeable, but you can just pop in a shop for some new wellies and plan to visit the parks another day.  Life in London is never dull, the lights glow as you return from the pub and if you are on the Thames you may even see the London Eye lit up!