If I Ruled the World at Christmas

I love Christmas.

It is the most wonderful time of year and it so because it’s unique. Uniquely in December. I am at the front of the queue to make yuletide stretch as much as possible but no, Wizard, I don’t wish it was Christmas every day (still a great track though). To keep it special, we need to keep Christmas in December and embrace it.

  1. No public lights switched on until December 1st. It will be great if all Christmas lights came on actually on December 1st. Or at least after November 25th, one month before Christmas is plenty of time. What you do at home is up to you of course.
  2. Absolutely no festive music played where the public gather i.e. shops, cafes, restaurants or on radio before December. Thereafter, 10% of music play can be festive in the first week, 25% in the second week and then more as we get closer. After 19th December bring it on.
  3. No one can moan about turkey. We only have it one day a year – 2-3 if we’re lucky. If you don’t like it, learn to cook/choose/buy it better.
  4. If anyone has no idea what to buy someone, they don’t know them well-enough to buy anything. However, if they've been acquainted a long time, think a little harder.
  5. What do you buy someone who has everything? An experience, food or anything that will be used up. Or update something they already have. The only boring gift is a cheque/cash. Socks, toiletries and chocolates are all gratefully receiving. In my house at anyway.
  6. If I ruled the world, there will be no ‘Gifts for her’ and ‘Gifts for him’ sections promoted. We know our loved ones well enough to know what they like. (see no 4)
  7. If you are going to re-gift, keep a spreadsheet of who gave you what, and who you then gift it to. It’s just polite.
  8. Christmas cards should arrive at least the week before Christmas. Cards arriving on Christmas eve are not displayed and yes, it is the thought that counts but if you like someone enough to spend time and money on sending a lovely card, then send it early so they can display and enjoy it. For some people, that’s their only form of festive decoration.
  9. Everyone has a compulsory clear-out. If they have something they don’t need, it goes to someone who does want it.
  10. Finally, if you don’t enjoy it, just do something else!

By Rickie J, Founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites & Christmas fan

@BrumFaves @RickieWrites

 

Welcome to Birmingham - Resort World

It was a chef that first changed my mind. Possibly like you, I supposed here's another Americanism popping into our culture right here on our city's doorstep. But as I've heard more about Resort World, I've grown markedly more excited. Of course it's bringing jobs and many £££s into the region but more than that, when people think they've been in Birmingham because they've departed from the airport or been to the national exhibition centre which as we well know is in lovely Solihull, they now actually will get to experience some of that famous, warm Brummie hospitality. And spend loadsa money in the region.

What solidified my interest is hearing that one of my favourite local chefs, Andy Waters (Waters on the Square, ex- Edmunds) is opening a new place. That's worth a visit on its own.

Also, there's a purpose-built 11-screen Cineworld. Perhaps, as they're in an international setting, they may show the art house and world cinema films that our local indie cinema's lack.

Resort World have gone to some length to attract 51 outlet shops including H&M, Next and Gap and many more lesser-non brands offering up to 60% off regular prices as well as a luxury spa.

Alongside the Andy Waters restaurant, you have the choice of 18 bars and restaurants including the Sky Bar, Highline New York Bar and The World Bar.

For further entertainment, we have a Genting International Casino (the whole resort is bought to us by Malaysian-based Genting Group, their first in Europe) and you have the opportunity stay in the Genting Hotel, another 4 star hotel, when visiting the already re-branded Genting Arena.

And if cinema, casino, shops, restaurants, spa and bars just doesn't fill your day, there are events including the Style Insider Weekend (5/6 Dec) and before that the festive season launch (18 Nov).

The Resort by Day  part will open on Wednesday 21st October, followed by Cineworld (23rd) and the Casino (26th) to coincide with the James Bond film release.

And it's all just 10 minutes by train from the shiny new New Street Station.

You can find out more here.

By Rickie J, founded and editor of Brum Faves  who, when not following around favourite chefs can be found on @RickieWrites.

@BrumFaves

 

 

Steel and Jelly: Contemporary and Traditional Menswear in Grand Central

 

With their new store just opened in Grand Central, we're keen to find out about the people behind Steel and Jelly.

Who's behind Steel and Jelly?

Established in 2004, the brand name embraces the contrasting industrious (Steel) and benevolent (Jelly) approaches that father and son took when first starting the business. Their 40 years’ experience in the ever evolving fashion industry has led to the formation of the Steel & Jelly brand.

What made you want to open in Grand Central?

“In line with our recent program of expansion, we are very excited to be opening our new flagship store in Birmingham’s Grand Central Station. This major new transport & retail hub in the heart of the region is the perfect location to meet the growing demand for, and increasing interest in the brand. As well as welcoming those local to the region, we’ll be able to reach new customers from all over the country who will be travelling through the new station.”

What would you want a new customer to experience when they enter the store?

With a team of dedicated and skilled retail staff, the store will differentiate itself by offering a personal shopping style experience on the high street.

What makes your menswear business unique?

Our philosophy centres on scrupulous attention to detail. We are passionate about embracing innovative British design by creating a hybrid of the contemporary and the traditional.  Every item is made with the modern-day gentleman in mind by threading the past through to the present with masculine shapes and styles.

What inspires the designs?

We are very much inspired by British design & scrupulous attention to detail. Our collection features all the essentials in a modern-day gentleman’s wardrobe from formal tailoring to soft casuals and premium accessories to finish the look. Each piece carries an element of surprise from a patterned trim inside a collar, to a contrasting button thread reflecting our ethos “Because detail matters.”

What are you working on for your next collection?

Top secret! We are however continuously expanding our product range…

By Rickie J, founder of Birmingham Favourites and a woman who doesn't think eight (very full) wardrobes is excessive.

@BrumFaves @RickieWrites

 

Dear, Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham is a beautiful building, nonetheless, I had my doubts that it was going to be functional from the start.

Having coped without a weekly visit to the old library for nine months, like many, I counted down the weeks to having access to a local library again. The excitement remains even while in the queue to squeeze into Birmingham’s shiniest gem. And during the time it took to get to each of the nine scintillating floors. There are escalators which then turn into a travelator and then lifts or stairs–your choice. I spend the whole day in there trying to see it all; now that I’m back in, you just try to get me out! 

During this day, I notice there were only three lifts for a building that fits 3000. We didn’t have 3000 people waiting to get in though so why the delay – too few doors?

Similarly, 3000 people trying to get to the bathroom is tricky. On the map, it’s delightful that there are facilities placed everywhere – I mean every corner you look. Except most of these are single occupancy lavatories so there’s either a wait or ‘cleaning’ sign to greet you. (If you’re in a hurry, by the way, the best ones to use are on the ground floor in the Rep. Plentiful and functional)

Some solutions

With the opening hours reduced this Spring, we’ll cast aside the reported £1 million wasted on an average website and the number of empty meeting rooms spotted.

In its first year, Birmingham’s newest tourist attraction is said to have received three million visitors, more than twice the previous library.

Surely, the idea is to get as many people in as possible to spend money and make this a sustainable public building it can so simply become, but what to spend cash on? There is only one coffee shop.

The days of libraries earning revenue from unpaid fines are gone – we can now renew books online or pop them into the external book deposit. There are plenty of other ways for the library to earn it’s living in order to retain its status as the must-see community building for all to access seven days a week.

Coffee/wine

Three million people deserve more than one coffee shop by the entrance. How about a fine dining restaurant, preferably with a view or a decent cafeteria with something for all at an everyday price? (see Amsterdam PL (Cost €80m). Another coffee shop/bar on one of the floors will bring in people to watch the sunset with a glass of something. Well they will when the library extends the hours to 10pm, like many cities around the world.

Have coffee served by people who love customers, promote the loyalty card (did you know they have one?) and install coffee machines that are not designed for self-service. They  do work in the ICC, which by the way is the same company, operating a cafeteria and their staff provide fantastic service.

Room Hire

With the view and the state of the art facilities, the library shapes up to be an impressive place to hold events. I was one of those sucked in by the glamour and then regretted it when it took me two months to book rooms. I saw empty rooms everywhere but I was told they were booked up.

The event service needs to be on a par with the hundreds of fantastic venues across this city. They need to match up to the friendliness of quirky Studio Venues, the food offerings of Etc. and the professionalism of ICC.

Eventually the library staff are responsive and I book rooms for several events. On more than one occasion I find I’m unable to have the air conditioning in this green library turned off without calling maintenance and waiting ‘up to four hours’! The staff bend over backwards to help you but just seem to be poorly trained and this  just capped a catalogue of errors over the course of several months.

I’ve organised events for years and worked with some fantastic venue people. We just need to get a few of those in and make the events department a winner here.

Be welcoming

Refrain from using hesitant council language (these chairs are for the use of library café customers only) to welcoming, customer friendly speak (you are welcome to come and purchase drinks and snacks from the café and enjoy them sitting here).

Call me old-fashioned, but a sign that says ‘lending library this way’ would be helpful in a library, right?

Business Centre

This can be the go to place for business starts ups – drop in, have your questions answered or be sign posted to someone that can help.

I understand we're in a community building and knowledge should be free. Nevertheless, how about charging a nominal fee for those who can afford it? Would you pay £10 for a drink and some mingling with lovely views? Or £15 for a workshop to learn some skills while admiring the busiest public library in Europe?

And the study rooms – can we just pay to book some of them for meetings?

Volunteers

For those of us (me) that adore libraries and reading, volunteering here is a dream gig. Who wouldn’t want a few hours of their month spent here? Only, at the time of writing, the library is not offering any opportunities.

Any cost factors to train volunteers are surely offset by the better service to customers = more customers = more revenue = more opening hours.

I say bring in an army of enthusiastic volunteers to over shadow some of the (understandable) gloom. 

Heritage

Sadly, the last couple of times I’ve made it to the top, I’ve noted the Shakespeare room no longer has a person sitting at the desk watching over this key piece of wondrous heritage. It’s lovely to have someone there to answer questions or just have banter with. A perfect role for a volunteer. Frankly, I’m happy to move into that room!

Any more suggestions? Please, let’s hear them.

By Rickie J,  library geek, founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites

@RickieWrites @BrumFaves

 

Theatre: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Performed at Birmingham Rep

A performance at the Birmingham Rep is already a winner as it’s an exceptional theatre (except for the lack of an aisle in the middle meaning a very long row to get in and out of past c24 pairs of knees, but, still the theatre is a pleasure to be in). 

The story of Little Voice, the introverted young girl with the big voice too match every diva is about to unfold before me.

I hear a soundtrack of adverts and music of the 1980s as I make my way to my seat gawking the fantastic set. It depicts a two up, two down house and the audience immediately finds that often two scenes are witnessed at the same time.

The dialogue doesn’t let up, despite the minute cast of six, but it’s good that two are pretty quiet, Little Voice herself and silent Sadie, best friend of LV’s mum Mari . Mari is by far the character with the most lines, most often consisting of made up language followed by a ripple of audience amusement.

Despite the serious undertones of the reclusive, yet talented daughter, her insecure, but over-bearing widowed mother and the sleazy, pushy talent scout, there are jokes throughout. The play is not as violent as the film as I recall it (from a long time ago) but I wouldn’t want to see Ray, Mari’s current squeeze and self-appointed show biz agent be particularly aggressive on a stage a few feet away from me. Plus fake hitting someone is a tricky manoeuvre to pull off.

As is the fire on stage – I could feel it getting warm and was worried for the shiny showbiz curtain lining the back wall! Another stand out moment is with the Jackson Five’s I Want You Back as the soundtrack.

A fantastic performance by all with so many great scenes, this one is going to be remembered long after the curtain comes down. Catch it if you can. Tickets from Birmingham Rep till 30th May.

By editor and founder Rickie J. Tweet on @RickieWrites or @BrumFaves

Photos courtesy of Birmingham Rep.

 

Book: Park Life by Katharine D’Souza

I’ve been meaning to read this book by the Birmingham author for some time so it thanks to bumping into another writer, AA Abbott, who lent me a copy!

I wanted to take a light, quick read with me while spending a few days of reading/writing/coffeeing in France and this is perfect. 

Even after reading it, I’m unsure of the title as there are only a few scenes based in parks but it is a great title! The story works around two main characters who find themselves living in the same building somewhere around Kings Heath/Moseley. Craig is a 20 something corporate who is on the first rung of the housing ladder and trying to advance his career. Susan has just left the only man she has ever been with after becoming stifled in a 20 year, domineering relationship.

They befriend each other as both have a distinct lack of friends, Craig after his best friend stole his girlfriend and Susan because she never had a life outside her husband and now, grown up son.

An easy read, I found it difficult to learn about so many, what I would call, weak characters in one book. Susan’s ex is a bully and Craig’s is manipulating. The only strong people are the two new café owners who offer Susan her first job since she left school.

So, I love that Susan does leave her husband but find it difficult to always route for her.

Joyfully, there are plenty of characters in the book, café customers, Craig’s colleagues and Susan’s non-friends from her suburban life and there is the old trick of using excerpts of a childhood diary to explain an adult character’s flaw.

Park Life makes you turn the pages to find characters steadily changing and that’s what makes it a good read.

By avid reader & Brum Faves founder, Rickie J @RickieWrites

 

Foodie Faves: Marmalade

When the Birmingham Rep was refurnished and opened to coincide with the new Library of Birmingham, it launched with a fancy new restaurant that came and went before I had a chance to visit it. So when Marmalade launched in February, I was there on day two.

Indeed I watched it being built as I was a big fan of Rep Eats, the short lived in-between café that I used for coffee meets with clients. Never having owned matching furniture, I loved the hap-hazardness of the seating from colourful nursery kitchen tables to the seats pulled out of an old theatre. Now with Marmalade, it’s an altogether more comfy, pre-theatre experience.

Although this is an unusually classic and formal setting from the latest of the Bitters n Twisted group, known for their quirks (see Jekyll & Hyde’s Gin Parlour and the old skool boozer, Rose Villa Tavern) the interior still has a couple of twists and of course, it’s own cocktail menu.

I’ve already eaten here three times, firstly with the bf during opening week when they had the half price offer, then for a birthday lunch and recently with the girls.

I’m eating my way through the menu, starting with the light and yet filling sea bass which helped me enjoy beetroot for the first time, then the battered cod & delightful lemon pea puree, even though it wasn’t my customarily Friday-for-fish day and latterly the burger.

I’ve recommended the former two to appreciative diners and the burger although fairly standard is served with spicy paprika fries. All are around £12-13.

I’ve only noticed one dessert on the menu – gingerbread cheesecake, maple sauce, toffee pecans and mint - there may be others.

A thoroughly warm welcome awaits you followed by a pleasant dining experience, whether you’re popping to the theatre or just ravenous.

Note: Marmalade refrain from serving cocktails pre-theatre so do check timings if that’s what you’re hoping for! But there is happy hour 4.30-6.30 and all day Sundays to make up for it.

Share your views on @BrumFaves

By founder, editor & serial eater @RickieWrites.

Foodie Faves: Edwardian Tea Rooms

Have you ever see your city through the eyes of a tourist?

Sometimes it takes a friend visiting from out of town that makes us see our city through the fresh eyes of a tourist. So when a friend came to visit from Devon who’d already stayed with me before, I decided to take her to some places we had yet to visit.

I’d been meaning to try the new look Edwardian Tea Rooms in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for some time and we thought it a good as place as any to fill up on a nourishing snack before the trip back to the south west. After a stroll around one of the floors of the museum, we enter the colourful ETR and pour over the wide-ranging  menu. So much for a snack; we end of with boulder sized jacket potatoes and served with a decent salad; a full-on meal and great value at under a fiver, especially in such majestic surroundings.

The only complication is that you have to get a table number before you then queue up to order your food at the till. Tricky when you’re on your lonesome but even when you are with people. It’s such an enormous space and you need to leave some personal belongings in order to let others know the table is taken and the staff won’t take your order without it! Even more troublesome when I went back the following week and just wanted a coffee while I work. I understand it helps to know you have a table before you bother to queue but it is a big space so tables aplenty, even during busy Sunday afternoons.

They currently have offers every day including 10% off brunch on Saturday mornings and a second wine/beer free when you buy two Sunday roasts.

The restaurant is gorgeous to be in and super comfortable, which is why I’ve gone back three Sundays in a row!

By Rickie J, founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites @BrumFaves @RickieWrites

Photos: courtesy of BMAG

 

10 Things To Do For Free In Birmingham January 2014

January 2014
  1. Library of Birmingham. The novelty hasn't worn of for the locals yet, since this amazing building opened in September 2013. There's so much on offer, look closely you may even see some books to borrow. Free.
  2. Moor Street Station. By far the city's oldest and prettiest station has been refurbished in recent years to the grandeur of the 1930s. Worth a visit even if you're not popping on the train to London.
  3. Bournville Village. Visit the birth place of Cadbury where the Quaker beliefs still stand and there are no pubs or places that sell alcohol.  This pretty village stands proud, having been named by the Cadbury family who built the first houses here for their workers.
  4. Cannon Hill Park on the border of Moesley and Edgbaston is opposite Edgbaston Cricket Ground and houses Midlands Arts Centre amongst it's walkways and cycle ways.
  5. St Paul's Square. It's not just the grade 1 listed St Paul's church that brings you to the last Georgian square in Birmingham. With fine buildings all around you, now filled with architects, designers, restaurants and dwellings, take a stroll on the tree lined lawn and grab a seat on a bench to imagine the days of Matthew Boulton and James Watt.
  6. Pen Room. Also in the Jewellery Quarter and run entirely by volunteers, there are exhibitions, calligraphy demonstrations and creative workshops to enjoy.
  7. St Martin in the Bullring The striking view of this church in the middle of the city centre reflected in the 21st century modern Bullring is what you see on the postcards. Inside, apart from services there are art exhibits and other events too.
  8. Canals Bars, clubs, restaurants, office blocks; why not look the other way and go on a wonderful canal walk? There are 100 miles of them.
  9. The Cube On the aforementioned canal, Birmingham's newest landmark is already iconic.
  10. Music at Symphony Hall  OK, it's not free music in the renowned hall itself but rather in the café area. A treat each Friday at 5pm.

Have you been to any of our current ten? Do let us know below, along with suggestions for the next top 10!

By Rickie, founder of Birmingham Favourirtes. Tweet on @BrumFaves or @RickieWrites

Any Colour As Long As It's Black

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Six colours to wear instead of black this winter.

If you love wearing the all-flattering darker colour, try these instead of the uniform black:

Navy

Instant class.

Wear with the paler pinks or even dashes of red. Plus navy velvet is stunning for the evening.

Grey

Another colour that sits well with pink or the seasons reds and as we all know now, there are different shades of grey; pick one or two that suit you.

Brown

Perfect for the autumn and beyond, especially lovely in suede.  Although keep apart from black all together if you choose this as your staple dark colour; team up with creams, tans and naturals instead.

Purple

Creates instant glamour and you can still have all your black accessories with this one.

Red

Similarly with any seasonal red but the darker reds are on trend (apparently) if you’re into that kind of stuff. Wine or burgundy colours are all fantastic for the winter and a little warmer (to the eye) than black.

Green

Another one used to great effect for gorgeous velvet evening dresses and especially good for the red-heads amongst you.

Of course, if you do have lots of perfectly wearable black in your wardrobe already, how do you feel about layering some colour to it by way of coats and accessories?

Do you have any other favourite colours for this time of year?

Send us your photos of you wearing your alternatives to black to ideas@birminghamfavourites.co.uk or @BrumFaves and we’ll showcase the best ones!

Mid-week Dinner at Aalto, Hotel la Tour

By Rickie Oh Hotel la Tour! I remember you when you were just a building site waiting to be unleashed from behind the scaffolding and all the staff recruiting had to be done at a nearby faceless room. Hospitality hopefuls came in their droves to be selected for interview, not knowing what Hotel la Tour was going to become or indeed what it was going to look like, four months down the line.

Hotel la Tour dinner Brum FavesYou finally opened in March 2012 and quickly developed a strong local fan-base through your ‘classics with a twist’ (British) and ‘High Tea’ (afternoon tea). That's pretty good for a 4 star hotel whose main clientele is expected to be non-locals.

Every since inviting me to bring some unemployed students (one of my many projects is helping people get into work or business) along to the recruitment day you have worked with me on numerous projects and events and even invented a drink for the man known as my love, as a surprise when we came in to celebrate his birthday last year. (Ask for the Wilson Espresso dear reader; it’s not on the menu so you just have to be in the know, which you now are). HLT, you often invite me in on blogger/foodie/preview days, even though I’d never see myself as a blogger/foodie and can’t write about food for toffee.

Which is why I’ve managed to write these 362 words without mentioning the food once, despite the fact that this is meant to be about the meal I enjoyed when you invited me for a 50% off food deal. But anyway, I had one dish that was new to me - a great burger - and one that I've had before, the lovely pot of Creme Brulee. I bought with me some of the people that help me in championing my beloved local businesses, such as yourselves. So, if you want to know any more, please ask my dining companions @Timmy666 @IanBraisby @SJBTeaching @NotASkinnyMini @LydsBoyce or @Epsebah

Take a look at the changeable menu at Aalto, Hotel la Tour. I recommend everything.

Photos: Burger, Jaffa Cake Pudding and Crème Brule.

By Rickie, cake lover and serial eater (at least every two hours). Not a cook. Contact via @RickieWrites or www.rickiejosen.co.uk

6 Travel Packing Tips: Weight Restrictions Apply

By Rickie I love travel and after being on the go seven days a week, tend to run away from home just about every couple of months.

Having just come back from a week in Bruges & Brussels, I’ve (people) watched a lot of cases being wheeled about. Because the BF and I journeyed by Eurostar, I’m prone to thinking that everyone packed lightly as you have to carry on your own luggage on the euro train. The current rule on this most civilised way of travelling - where no-one asks you to lose half of your outfit before being waved through a scanner and to spill out your hand luggage onto a plastic tray for all to gawp at - is that ‘if you can lift it, you can take it.’ Of course there are some size restrictions but really, whatever you can tightly pack into your case, goes.

Travel packing collageI like being comfortable, I love clothes but want to travel light. How do I achieve this? Here are my top tips for travelling on cloud nine:

Create Space

  • The best tip I can give you is to buy some roll-up up vacuum bags. Firstly they save you so much space that you will wonder, as I did several years ago just how you managed without them all your life.
  • Secondly all your clothes arrive organised rather than random socks running for freedom when you open your case.
  • Finally, the bags protect your clothes from any spillages or rain, that is if you have a canvass bag and it’s being thrown about outside by airline staff while you watch helplessly from the plane. I recommend the ones from the storagefastic Lakeland Plastics (see photo top left)

These boots were made for walking

~~I should preface this by saying I’m not a big fan of the colour black.

  • Choose footwear first then build your outfits around this. If, like me you do a lot of walking while discovering new places then comfy footwear is vital (I’m fine to walk around all day in 4” wedges but choose what’s good for you). If you’re taking brown shoes and say navy, (I’m trying to make this unisex!) then there’s no point in taking black jumpers or jackets as they won’t go with either! No need to be drably neural – although that is so much easier – but if you’re going to take the bright red pair, check how many outfits you can wear with them.
  • Choose footwear that plans to last the extra walking or get your best shoes repaired just before you go.

How to remember everything

  • Or just start making a list the first time you utter the words ‘I must remember to pack’, be that weeks before (holiday) or the morning before (business).
  • Lay out your outfits on the bed and match up accessories/undies/socks/footwear for each. Have you got tops that can go with different colour bottoms, thus creating more outfits? Have you one or two warmer layers that go with almost everything, to pop over outfits during colder evenings or create more outfits?
  • Now that you have your perfect mounds, pack them into those bags and start rolling out that excessive air. Pop your shoes into the case first, packing socks, adapter plugs or toiletries inside them and manoeuvre your bags to fit around them.

Top Tip: If you are taking two cases, separate everything so that if one case is delayed you still have everything you need for a couple of days; one or two outfits, some essential toiletries etc.

Weight Loss

  • Save all those sample toiletries and freebies you get all year, including all those you pick up from hotels. Can you live without your shampoo or daily shower gel for just one week?
  • Of not, grab little travel bottles to pour your regular stuff into (Boots have a variety) and cut up some white address label stickers to label up what’s inside each one. Trust me, you will forget otherwise!
  • On that subject, check if your hotel has a hairdryer and then just take that one hair appliance that will make the difference between a good or bad day.

Top Tip: Take some Fabreeze or similar clothes freshener. Spray on clothes you take off and leave overnight to freshen. Et voila, fresh jumpers and jeans for a second wear!

Laundry Day

  • Wear the heaviest footwear and clothes for travel, preferably layers which also means you’re comfortable in fierce air-con or extreme stuffiness.
  • Dress in something you’ll wear again or on your journey back.

To Tip: Take half the underwear you need and hand-wash with some hotel soap before drying them out in the hotel room while you’re out the next day. Two minutes of this will save loads of luggage space. And less laundry to do when you return.

Forecast the future

  • Check the five day weather forecast (or longer) the day before you go and pack accordingly. I once nearly went to San Francisco in the last days of October with a big coat expecting it to be winter but it was unseasonably warm and up to 25c! So I ditched the big winter coat and just took the autumn one saving me having to carry unnecessary weight.
  • If there is even a minute chance of rain, take a folding brolly (or a big one if rain is a certainty) or a rain hat and mac that fold into almost nothing. You’ll be grateful to have if it does rain or you’ll have another layer for when you’re out in the evenings. Or just something to sit on in it in parks.

Top Tip: For a lovely welcome, make friends with the hotel before you go. You’ll be amazed at the difference in service you receive when you get there, plus they’ll give you insider knowledge including tips on cheap transport from the airport. Pop them a reminder the day before you travel to let them know your ETA too.

Happy Travelling!

What are your travel tips? Please share below!

By Rickie, a storage geek who has a place for everything, everything in its place. Found in Lakeland Plastics (UK) or Container Store (N America). Contact via @RickieWrites or www.rickiejosen.co.uk

Shining Light on Crafting in Birmingham

By Rickie Everyone is at it. Crafting, that is! So a couple of weeks ago, I went along to Cow Studio (Creative Open Workshops) in the Jewellery Quarter who teach you to make everything from dresses to bags to jewellery or in my case, a lampshade. Fed up with not finding what I wanted in the shops, I'm learning to make my own!

Cow lampshade Collage

The ever-patient and knowledgeable Francine from CoW  talked us through what we'll be doing and we set about choosing our material to make the shade with (top right). You also have the option to take your own in although it's sheer co-incidence that three of us chose shades of blue/green!

While we're learning and making, all the participants chat and it's a great atmosphere, a world away from my normal  city bustle and actually quite therapeutic. We soon go from a blank sheet of special paper and white rings (middle and bottom right) to what appears in front of you in the larger photo.

It took less than two hours to have something looking like a shade in front of us and we go out into the evening air about half an hour after that with our efforts in our hands, ready to take pride of place in our homes.

So now I know how to make a lampshade I really want to make more. Does anyone need one?

To find out more about all of the CoW Studio take a look at their website. Remember to come back and tell us what you made!

Rickie J can be contacted via @BrumFaves or @RickieWrites  or find out more here

Rickie: 36 Hours in Birmingham

By Rickie I’m fortunate to live in my favourite UK city as I get to at least one (or several) of my Birmingham Favourites every week. Here’s what I’d do with 36 hours in the city.

It’s Friday evening and I’m starting it old-school with a visit to, famously, the oldest working cinema in the UK, The Electric. See an indie flick, preferably kicking back on one of the 2-seater sofas with ice cream or maybe coffee served in cups & saucers served at the seat.

On the way out, try a drink at The Victoria, my favourite pub for live music.

Rickie 36 Hours

Every Saturday should start with breakfast at Brewsmiths. This two-year-old down to earth café with old school service is a solar system away from the pretentious coffee shops that are now creeping out of London and into our friendly city. Dave and his team, however, will greet you warmly and then you can relax/play Connect 4/work while they make your drinks and the best value breakfast in town. All locally sourced too including the legendary To Bizzy 2 Bake cakes. Plus it's home of the bottomless coffee cup, a revelation in this country!

So now you’re ready for a visit to church i.e. the library, currently in transition with the new one opening on 3rd September, not that I’m counting the days for the largest lending library in Europe to come back to us. Nearby is the immense Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery that I can easily spend half a day in but even half an hour takes you to another place, namely the splendour of the Edwardian Tea Room for a restful cup of something.

Saturday doesn’t get as crazy as other cities when it comes to shopping and it’s perfectly relaxing to stroll through any one of the bountiful shopping districts in the mid-afternoon maybe, grabbing lunch from Wrap Chic on route and then a drink at Hotel Le Tour’s Aalto Bar, where the Wilson Espresso was invented especially for this man.

To round-off Saturday, there is food, drinks & maybe live music (every night during International Jazz Blues Week June/July) at The Lord Clifden, tucked into the bit of the Jewellery Quarter that is still called Hockley.

Sunday starts with a walk into the Jewellery Quarter, where 40% of the UK’s jewellery is made, for breakfast at Urban Coffee Co. There are Benedicts or all sorts of other egg concoctions to set you up for the day and if you plan it right, your view will be the brand new Library of Birmingham, which looks like a giant wedding cake.

Energised? Good! Take a walking tour with Midlands Discovery Tours and enjoy the city while hearing stories of Birmingham’s characters and heritage. This way, you can fit in a Sunday lunch at Loves who open cook on Sundays once a month or on another Sunday afternoon tea with silver service splendour is served at (presently) the city’s only five star hotel Hyatt Regency.

To close the weekend, what’s better than a matinee film or theatre showing at the Crescent Theatre, just around the corner at the right end (i.e. just outside) of Brindleyplace.

By Rickie J , founder of Birmingham Favourites, who can be contacted via @BrumFaves or @RickieWrites

Look out for other city dwellers sharing their 36 Hours in Brum with us but in the meantime, have a think, what would you fill your precious 36 hours with?

Welcome to Birmingham Favourites!

A place to share all that's great in our city!

A warm welcome is exactly what you expect from Brummies. Everywhere we go, people are keen to part with their knowledge of great things to do, places to see and people to meet.

Birmingham Favourites is the online equivalent of that. A love letter to the city.

Plus there will be Birmingham based people writing tips, sharing advice or just voicing their opinion.

On top of the Birmingham Favourites online magazine, we'll be organising  events to introduce you to some of the fabulous local businesses featured. Plus any deals and invites we pick up along the way will be shared with you. All that is to come!

For now, here are just some of things I love about Birmingham. What do you love?

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We welcome your thoughts so drop us a line via the keep in touch page or tweet us on @BrumFaves.

If you'd like to write for BF, submit your ideas for articles here.

Let's share the Birmingham love!

Rickie

Ideas and chief editor-type-person

PS Thank you to the talented Mr Williamson for designing our lovely logo!