We set out to explore on our first full day in Birmingham. Distances are not far in the city center, so we walked. Map-reading skills came in handy because the city’s streets are a random network of arterials, one-way streets, pedestrian promenades, dead ends and twisting roads. Throw in a central canal that cuts through the heart of the city and you begin to envision downtown Birmingham.
The city sees itself as a cultural center with several museums and six universities. I see Birmingham as a shipping and industrial city with a history of industry and manufacturing. It has some interesting sights like the Birmingham Cathedral (aka St. Philip’s) and St. Martin’s Cathedral, all part of the ABC Tour (Another Blessed Cathedral), and a maze of shops and malls in the town center called The Bullring.
Birmingham’s industrial history differed from other factory cities. While manufacturing plants for weaving textiles or refining chemicals required a low-skilled workforce for assembly line work, Birmingham was much more specialized. They operated smaller shops and highly skilled workers provided custom products on a smaller scale. Birmingham became a center of innovation during the Industrial Revolution as indicated by registering more patents than any other British city. Notable innovations during World War II included the cavity magnetron, a key component in radar and eventually in microwave ovens.
The public library was not open for us which was a disappointment. It was bad timing because the new Central Library is in the process of moving to a brand new building scheduled to open September 3rd. We have been in internet limbo this week as we depend on internet access to stay connected to family and followers. That situation was partially solved with the purchase of a dongle which connects a laptop with the mobile phone network. We only purchased one. We will definitely get a second one since they cost only about $15/month for unlimited use.
It has been exciting times in the UK. We were in Scotland when Glaswegian Andy Murray took the Wimbledon men’s championship. Of course the whole world was watching as the birth of the future King of England took center stage. I still do not quite grasp the British fascination with their monarchy. A couple of locals tried to explain how it is essential to the Brits. I do not think it is something we Americans are equipped to comprehend. Nonetheless, congratulations to the Royal Family!