Posted by jswt | Posted in General | Posted on 21-06-2010




Unexpectedly lovely Birmingham

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, UK - England - Birmingham | Posted on 21-06-2010


I’m currently on the flight home towards vancouver having left Birmingham this morning. Unlike the previous cities (Glasgow and Manchester) I was actually quite bummed about leaving Birmingham behind – I’d gladly have stayed another week.

The city reminded me a lot of Vancouver, with loads of greenspaces, a fantastic use of the city’s canal system as a livable space, and a vibe to it that was a lot more relaxed and positive than the previous (downtrodden) cities. It’s kind of like, if London is Toronto (big, noisy, and everyone knowing they’re hot shit) Birmingham was more like Vancouver (chilled out, beautiful, and smirking because they know what they’ve got going on).

Our hotel was in a great area – a short walk to the venue so I could walk over and grab meals, right beside the newly developed downtown market area, and right on the edge of the gay village (translation: good eats and late night lounges).

Tuesday was a day off for Chris so we slept in and had a good wander around the city, grabbing lunch beside the water, checking out the canals and wandering through some shopping (harvey nichols? gorgeous things dahlink.) Found a food fair in the middle of the city that had booths of different food set up and a giant beer garden where thousands of people had come out to enjoy the sun and the music and the varied eats – totally spot on as to how a city should run an outdoor social/eat event like they did. Late eats in the sun led to a nap and then we popped out around 10 that night for a bite of szechewan at this place run by a late 20s guy that had the craziest chinese/english/american hybrid accent i’ve ever heard. When we told him we wanted to order the combo, he kind of laughed and said, “really? We can do so much better than western standards”… he recommended a bunch of dishes I’d never even heard of but each one was better than the last, and we left full of spicy goodness. Ended up in a nice little lounge that’d just opened directly across from the hotel that was open till 4 during the week and 6am thru weekends… it was a slow night, so the bartender just sat down and hung out with us and told us all about Bham and things about town that are fun on different nights — a seriously welcoming and nice pitstop on the way home.

Weds and Thurs were heavy work days for me (finished up a major migration project and launched another live = woohah!) where I’d keep the blinds closed until 4ish so as not to provide blue sky distraction, and then go out for dinner at the venue around 5 and then wander around through sunset.

Weds night Chris was working late, so I wandered off on my own to explore the nightlife in the city and ran into some random canadians that provided some homesickness remediation over a beer (or few). Just popped in from pub to bar back to the lounge and the hotel around midnight.

Thursday night Chris worked late again, but wanted to go out, so we grabbed M (great guy with a voracious presence) and dragged him out with us. It was already 1, and the pubs were winding down, but there was a big gay club just picking up and when we found out the drinks were only a pound each, we went in. Much hands in the air ridiculous diva dancing (“omg! they’re playing madonna in a gay club! can you believe it?!?!?”) and back patio mingling (said to M, who is straight but likes gay bars because the straight women are friendlier: “they all wanna do your accent, dude”). 4am kebab mayhem and then a serious sleep in on a grey day led to a nice lazy friday off for Chris.

We rolled out of the room around 5pm, and went to the venue so chris could make a quick presentation, and then wandered off with M to check out a venue they were renting for a party on Sunday night @ the mega-super-massif-club Gatecrasher Birmingham. Incredible and unexpected professionalism got that taken care of quickly, and we wandered off to watch the rest of the England vs Algeria world cup match in an ‘authentic environment’. After the game we hopped from the rowdy pub for some teppenyaki with very lively chefs and a whole schwack of partying Norwegians (recognized by the drinking song they’d belt out every couple minutes being the same as the one we heard at the Oktoberfest in Oslo last year). Back to the hotel room to keep it an easy night…

Saturday Chris went to work and I hung out and got everything packed up and ready to fly out the next morning, then went over to meet up with a friend of Chris’ that he used to manage and that I’ve tagged along on a few tour dates with. He’d brought the whole family down from Cardiff, and we had a nice catchup over dinner and a site tour, and then killed some time sitting down by the canals watching floating restaurants glide by with grace, and stonerladen water-borne magic busses blaring Led Zepplin drive off in search of their port of party.

Chris got back to the hotel around 11, and we geared up to head out and check out the Gatecrasher club they were going to be using for their party the next night – we’d both said we’d like to check it out full, and the promoter told us they were doing 2 big cd release parties on Saturday night and it should be massive and we should come down to check it out. So we got glammed up a bit, and met up with a few others in the lobby and headed over… The promoter met us by the door, pulled us past the queue, and set us up with VIP area access and our own booth – a very nice and unexpected perk that made the night a whole lot classier than expected (note: The bar had Agwa… the non North_American version… some of you will know what that means – heheh) Amazing venue for certain – some of the best lighting design I’ve ever seen (and entire wall that’s LED panels and fully controllable), 5 different theme rooms, 9 bars, and it’s all tastefully done. We just don’t have the superclub capabilities in Vancouver, so it’s nice to pop in when someone’s doing it right.

Late night led into watching the sun rise outside our hotel window, and it was an early climb into the shower and downstairs to catch my bus for my journey home…

Could definitely have spent more time in Birmingham – it was a really nice place: we’ve never been made to feel more welcome in a city by the people we met, it was clean and moving forward with a good vision and civic plan, and even though we were out most every night there was still much more to explore…

Another time, perhaps…


Posted by jswt | Posted in General, UK - England - Manchester | Posted on 14-06-2010


Manchester: Another bombed out, soullessly rebuilt, slightly depressed UK city… Luckily, we can manage to have fun anywhere.

Sunday night: Got into town and the girl I traveled with that night said there was a concert that a friend of hers was performing in, and offered me a ticket to go. I’d never heard of Leona Lewis, but I’m always down with seeing a show that’s outside of my normal routine, so we hopped across the street to the sold out arena. We had great seat, and even though it wasn’t my normal thing, I appreciate a good singer, the the chick had pipes… she blew the top off one of an old song I like (video). Decent show, great voice, good production values, and superfun company.

The Saturday night previous (at the Horse Meat Disco night in Glasgow), I’d whipped out Shazam to trainspot a track they were playing – Bubble Bath by The Swiss. I’d googled them a bit this afternoon, and found out that they play their stuff as a live band with a drummer and were playing in Manchester tonight. So after the show, I hopped a cab across Manchester to try and catch their set, but unfortunately arrived just minutes after they’d finished… Chatted up the ironic-mustache folk at the bar and found out they were stellar live so looking forward to seeing them sometime in the future.

Monday: Day off and a great sleep-in. Epic Thai dinner out with a good crew, and then on to a fun b-day bash for one of the guys on tour at the bar with the gayest shooters evar made even scarier as you could order them by the pitcher for only 5 pounds. Late night of sugary goodness, and early morning kebabs…

Tues and Weds: Super-heavy heads-down work + gym = win.

Thurs: Caught a bus to meet up with a friend of mine in Yorkshire. I’d met James when he was an exchange student in Regina and had come to stay in Vancouver with me. We don’t see eachother much, but always manage to reconnect brilliantly. He grew up in the small town of York and I’d always wanted to see where he came from, so we spent the afternoon wandering the oldy-worldy cute little town of York: Old churches and ancient walls and an amazing cathedral. Never did figure out why the cavalry was out firing off canons, but the pseudo-blitzkreig helped balance out the calm peaceful nature of the town.

James hopped the train back to Manchester with me, and we met up with a friend Ben, who we met a couple years back when he was living in Vancouver… weirdly enough, James and Ben knew eachother through other circles, so we all met up and had dinner at the venue before they caught the show. Afterwards we went out for a good wander around Manchester hitting some wonderfully sleazy bars, karaeoke’ing with drag queens, and closing things down in the dodgiest club I’ve ever been in (complete with a DJ who was also the janitor). Good night out with some damn fun lads – was really good to catch up with both.

Friday: We hopped in a rental car and picked up our friend C from work and rolled out to the 100,000 person serious rockfest that is the Download Festival. Thanks to good planning it was a very civilized affair – camping involved showing up to find our tents already set up in the VIP camping area with the sleeping bags and airmattresses sorted. Inside the festival, we had access to the side-stage guest area, and then C ran into an old work contact who hooked us up with a private area with free food and an open bar. Admittedly, we spent more time hanging out by the open bar than in front of the stage, but when AC/DC was stepping up, there was no choice but for us to go out and rockout through sunset. Returning to the open bar after the show was a no-brainer and we closed it down and stumbled back to our tents. Even if we’d not been on the cushy ride, it was a serious eye opener to how the UK does festivals… it’s proper… facilities and services for 100,000 people done right.

Saturday: Got up with the birds and drove back to the city so Chris and C could get to work… It was the first day that England was playing in the World Cup (England VS USA), so the city was abuzz and the sun came out brilliantly. Spent most of the day wandering around, soaking up sun and just watching Manchurians get liquored up for the match. Had a few pints on Canal Street with some friendly folk, and wandered through Afflecks – this crazy weird building that’s like a flea market for punks, with stalls that are kinda shops all heavy on the black and skulls. Hard to explain, but totally worth popping in.

Saturday night I was a little wary of going out into the city to watch the match, lest I be mistaken for an american by the drunken chav hordes. Was watching in the hotel lobby bar for a while, then went downtown where I figured the bigscreens at the centre of town would be showing the game. Got down there, and there was no one to be seen – all the shops were shut and the streets were silent and the screens were black. Made a run for a local irish pub just in time to see the game end with a tie, and when I went back out ever pub and bar was spewing drunken Manchurians into the street. Figured that since they hadn’t beat America in the game, I’d head back to the hotel before they decided to beat a (mistaken) American.

Sunday: Chilled out and worked/gym’ed, took it easy…

Monday (today): Hopped the train to Birmingham this afternoon, from where I’m currently writing this from my hotel room waiting for the crew to arrive…

Enjoying my time here, but starting to feel like the UK is kind of like the America of Europe: the cities might vary slightly, but overall they’re pretty much all the same. Manchester didn’t have any parks or things to do other than shop and drink, similar to Glasgow the week before… I think that if I lived here i’d be a booze and pill ravaged wasteland full of anger, low inspiration and greasy malnutrition.

Again, still enjoying my time here with Chris and the peeps we have no trouble making fun with, but sort of glad there’s only a week left before I pop home for a couple weeks to see family, my cat, my own bed, and the things I’m realizing I really like about Vancouver (beaches. mountains. trees. non-deepfried food. etc.)

Appreciation of quality of life comes in all forms.

Glasgow a go go

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, UK - Scotland - Glasgow | Posted on 09-06-2010


Spent the past week in Glasgow Scotland… not the most exciting city we’ve ever been to, but we managed to dig up some good times and make some memories.

The city itself is built upon a river that runs through the centre with an organized spaghetti of bridges crossing back and forth o’er it. Glasgow has some pretty heavy industrial roots and you can tell they’re in a state of flux trying to revitalize it, but they’re still in the mode of having lots of places to go, but no where to be (ie: terraces, benches, etc). There was an amazing greenspace (Glasgow Green) that was packed with people enjoying the supposedly rare week of mostly sunny warmth, but otherwise there’s not much to do, hence the draw towards the thriving pub culture is a heavy pull.

Monday was a day off, a jetlag battle, and a local bank holiday so we just wandered around, soaked up the sun and lunched and wandered with others from the tour. Got pointed towards a fantastic italian dinner and enjoyed a nice bottle of red over some stellar homemade pasta and antipasti.

There was a gym and pool in the hotel, and the internet connection here was much more usable than it was in Spain, so just stayed in and got nicely caught up for the next few days. Took some time out from work on Thursday afternoon to go wander the city some more and enjoy the city, sun and fresh air.

Friday was another day off so we enjoyed a good sleep-in and went and rented a car for the afternoon… We were trying to use the GPS to get us somewhere until we realized we didn’t really have anywhere in particular we wanted to go, but instead could just use the GPS to ensure we’d be able to return from wherever a wander took us… We managed to get wonderfully lost, and just wandered from city to city (ended up in a town called Balloch – teehee), castle to castle, and lake to lake… Highlights were sunsets at both Stirling and Edingburgh castles, a fantastic route up a service road on the backside of Loch [name] and a pint in the afternoon at a lakeside pub in the woods where the cotton was falling in the sideways sunlight like glowing snowdrifts.

The countryside here is really beautiful… endless rolling hills of green velvet with cottontail sheep roaming amongst cattle and clumps of trees. Huge blue lakes and creeks and small little sleepy towns…

Saturday was a standard day (gym/work/dinner) and then when Chris got off work we packed up our stuff for the transfer the next day, and had a few drinks before heading out to a club… A night/promotion crew in London that I’m pretty fond of their sound was touring to promote their new mix cd and were playing in town so we went and rocked out for a few solid hours of 70s heavy underground disco with a seriously appreciative crowd. Got home late (with a slurred smile) and got up this morning aiming for checkout and this train I’m now on to Manchester…

There’s been a bit of an adjustment while my ears ease into the accents here (imagine a jumbled mess of heavy phlegming on top of a heavy english accent), but we’ve met some really friendly people… Also met a few serious assholes, but it seems like a duality of extremes here – the people are either super nice and friendly or heavily angry and aggressive, either really beautiful, or seriously fugly – there’s no really grey area in between.

Glasgow was nice to visit, but I don’t think I’d ever have a need or real want to return – if I were coming back to Scotland I’d much rather spend the time in Edinburgh which seemed to have a lot more to offer as far as livability and atmosphere.

It is nice travelling somewhere where I can read all the signs, and I looking forward to seeing more of the UK through the summer… though it lacks the magic of Spain and Italy, it still beats touring through small-town USA…