I hope everyone has stayed well and enjoyed a successful 2014.. This year seems to have passed extremely quickly, apparently that is what happens as one gets older!
2014 has been a really enjoyable year. Birmingham has become a fascinating city, with so many things to see and do, and I begin to see it as my adopted home – although I am not about to adopt the local accent!. When I first visited, in the late 1960s, people told me the city would be wonderful once they had finished rebuilding it. ‘They’ are still rebuilding it, as anyone who has been into New Street station will know.
In early April I finally sold my two bedroom flat. Bought originally as a ‘bolt hole’ It had served its purpose extremely well. I am now enjoying living at my new, somewhat larger, flat. I have had both the heating and lighting improved but there remains plenty more work to be done here. I am still hoarding an amount of ‘stuff’ I do not really need – a job for next year!
Once more I am studying. An attempt to join an MA in Victorian Studies had to be postponed owing to administrative difficulties. For this year, I am enjoying courses in Creative Writing, German and French. These are keeping my brain working. I am still a gym member and try to work out at least twice each week.
The travel bug has really bitten me. My first expedition this year was to buy a rover ticket, allowing me seven days of almost unlimited first class train travel throughout England, Scotland and Wales. This proved an ideal opportunity to meet old friends in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Sheffield and Leeds. Although the weather was cold, I met some interesting people and saw some spectacular scenery. I visited Aberdeen and Perth for the first time. My intention, to reach Penzance on my last day, was thwarted by a landslip, which had blocked the line between Exeter and Plymouth. There still remain so many places to visit, and I would be tempted to spend another week on the trains.
In April I joined my friend Nicole on a holiday to Florence. We both really enjoyed the Italian scenery as well as the wonderful buildings and works of art. We were both pleasantly surprised by the warm weather. After a long English winter, it was wonderful to be able to eat lunch outside! While in Florence, we took the local train to Sienna, where we spent a lovely day including a drink in the city’s famous square, the Campo.
Although I had travelled to Brussels by Eurostar on previous occasions, I had never ventured into the city itself. It is fascinating, as we found out at the end of May. We took the tram to see The Atomium, once the centrepiece of the 1956 World Fair now restored and well worth a visited. The Parlamentarium – the museum of the European Parliament – was fascinating, showing the story of European co-operation from the late 1940’s to the present day.
In July Nicole and I returned to America, this time to California. We spent three days in San Francisco where we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, visited some local wineries, and took the boat for a fascinating morning on Alcatraz. San Francisco is an amazingly diverse city with Italian and Chinese quarters. Street cars still rumble up and down the hilly streets – just like in Tony Bennett’s song.
We had looked a hire car for our journey inland: we were presented with a red Ford mustang convertible! Aided by a sat-nav complete with American accent – we nicknamed it “Dolly” – we drove across central California to El Portal at the entrance to the Yosemite National Park. Here we stayed at The Blue Butterfly Inn, a wonderful bed and breakfast with humming birds feeding on the patio and real English tea made with boiling water!. Our intention had been to do some serious walking in Yosemite, but temperatures of over 35 degrees centigrade and an altitude of six thousand feet persuaded us to see the sights from the car and from the park bus. The scenery throughout was breathtaking: as well as viewing cliffs and peaks, we also walked through a grove of ancient sequoia trees.
We then flew south to San Diego, spending four days at the Hotel del Coronado. This hotel had featured in the Marilyn Munro film “Some Like it Hot”. We enjoyed a couple of lazy days in the hot sunshine, along with a tour around the USS Midway. When built, this had been the world’s largest ship. No longer in active service, it has become a fascinating interactive museum portraying life aboard a US aircraft carrier.
Madrid proved an ideal destination for the end of October. The weather was still warm allowing us to enjoy walking around and eating outside in this lovely city. The people of Madrid take a lively interest in good, wholesome food, which is available from first thing in the morning until last thing at night. We really enjoyed a fascinating tour of the Royal Palace, but have left the Prado and many other museums for a future visit.
This year’s cricket season passed me by. I saw some county cricket at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, but did not go to any of the test matches. Hopefully, 2015 will provide more opportunity and good weather.
I still enjoy visiting Symphony Hall and remain a friend of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The highlight of this year must be CBSO’s wonderful performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony at the Beethoven week in September.
This is the CBSO’s last season with Andris Nelsons as conductor: we await the appointment of his successor.
I hope you will enjoy a very happy Christmas, and that 2015 will be a really good year.
With all best wishes