Solihull, Stratford and Sex and the City

So it was recently that time of year again when aforementioned lovely friend 1 and I went to visit lovely friend 2.  As you may remember, lovely friend 1, Neil, and I have traipsed all over the country (and have even been to Europe!) to visit, lovely friend 2, Georgina, and this time our travels landed us in Solihull.  I, for one, wasn’t sure what to expect from this part of the country: I’d certainly never been to the country’s second city, which was where our train pulled into on the Friday evening, and despite Birmingham’s status as the second city, I have always felt that it is overshadowed in the media and travel-realms somewhat by the likes of Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle.  Boy, were my preconceived ideas blown out of the water!  I was pleasantly surprised by how pretty the region is, and how many great visits are close at hand.  And what’s more, yet another fabulous weekend was spent with my lovely friends, to boot.

From left to right: lovely friends 2, 1 and myself!
First impressions: Marvellous Midlands
Upon arriving at Birmingham New Street, Neil and I were promptly whisked away by Georgina and Luke, who becomes lovely friend 3, to the wonderful Red Peppers Grill and Cantina within the Mailbox shopping and office complex.  The area surrounding the station is smart and upmarket and there are signs of renovation and regeneration in abundance, with the new station itself being a case in point.  I was certainly impressed with the atmosphere, menu and the decor of the restaurant itself.  Over one too many glasses of wine, the last 6 months or so of separated friendship fell away, and it was wonderful to catch up and laugh together once more.
Stratford, but not as we know it
After a leisurely breakfast and lots of tea and coffee, the Saturday was about exploring.  With the next statement I’m about to make, I would be ashamed to admit that I am a geography graduate: on our one full day in the Solihull area, we ventured out to Stratford-upon-Avon, and I never would have guessed that Shakespeare country was that close to Solihull!  You’ll remember from my previous post on York that Georgina makes for an excellent tour guide, and she also proved herself on this occasion to be an accomplished driver, too.   Setting off in trusty Mabel, the drive to Stratford-upon-Avon (or just simply Stratford, as the locals call it – not to be confused with Stratford in East London, which is local to Neil and I, and is therefore Stratford as we know it) was stunning – we were lucky with the weather, which helps of course, but even if we hadn’t been, it would have been easy to see the beauty of the surrounding countryside as we drove through the villages of Hockley Heath, Henley in Arden and Wootten Wawen.

Stratford Canal Boat
The RSC and spring blossoms

Stratford itself was also quaint and pretty, and after a pit stop for lunch in Othello’s, the plush restaurant of the Mercure hotel, we wandered the streets to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and up to the pretty canals.  The only disappointment of the day was the lack of gluten free cakes in the Hobson’s Patisserie tea rooms, and the attitude towards it from the staff too, with Neil backing my cause, but the building itself was beautiful – I had to make do with drooling over the non-gluten-freak cakes instead.  After a quick visit to the Christmas Shop (yes, the Christmas Shop, in April – and they wondered why business was slow!) we made our way back to Solihull.  No weekend with these particular lovely friends would be complete, of course, without cooking a delicious meal – tonight’s recipe was Chilli Con Carne – a few glasses of wine, and of course, the mandatory watching of Sex and the City – complete with live audio analysis, of course.

Gorgeous looking non-gluten-freak giant scones in Hobson’s Patisserie
Short and sweet in Solihull
Our final day dawned bright.  We really were incredibly lucky with the weather!  And after more tea and coffee, there was just about time for a pub lunch in a trusty Weatherspoons in Solihull town centre.  We were struck by the fact that the pub didn’t feel like a Weatherspoons – the Midlands’ beauty was far reaching.  After a quick stroll down the highstreet to the pretty St. Alphege Parish Church, and a brief look in the smart Touchwood shopping centre, it was time to make our way back to the station, to say our goodbyes and make promises of future visits.  And, as Shakespeare himself once wrote, parting is such sweet sorrow: yet another weekend filled with good food, good fun, and most importantly, good friendship, was over.

St. Alphege Parish Church
For more travels with my lovely friends, why not check out my previous blog on Cool York? Visit: http://www.anansweronapostcard.blogspot.co.uk/2012_05_01_archive.html
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