Birmingham, will be back soon!

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Here I am, finally in Birmingham, after an exhausting tour-de-force that started early in the morning in Berlin, with a stop in Oxford when I fully enjoyed the pleasure of discovering a historical city of learning. Too tired to do anything else for the evening, I preferred to have a nice supper, explore the hotel and do a little bit of work. I needed more energy for a good start before going to Wales the next day. However, I wanted to be up as early as possible, to have a short breakfast and run to see more of the city. Everything went as planned and at 8.15 I was waiting for my bus.

The paradox of the public transportation in Birmingham is that despite a very social media oriented strategy – you can get updates of the public transportation network on Twitter, for instance – you can buy tickets only by introducing the requested amount of coins for the trip in a very odd looking machine. If you don’t have the perfect amount, you cannot buy your ticket. And, as usual, I did not have more than 3 £ of change on me. However, compared to some nervous experienced I had in London, the drivers were kind enough to let me go even I was a couple of pp. less the amount of the ticket or did not have any change at all. The local kindness continued, as I was helped to find the best buses combination on my way back: the bus driver called one of his colleagues for more information, and I was given a map to help me reach the stop easier. On the way back from Llandrindod, lost in between train stations and missing our train, we were again the subject of local generosity, being guided as children to the next available train by the same kind local people.

With such a good human impression, my few hours spent in the city got a special dimension. Why do we travel for, unless for discovering new worlds and diversifying our human experiences?

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The next hours passed very fast, in the rhythm of my curiosity to see as much as possible. I started with the shopping area of the Bull Ring and the very spectacular Selfridges building attached, enjoyed the pleasure of finally wandering through a Chinatown in Europe, was disappointed that St. Martin’s market – a historical meeting points of traders since the 18th century – was closed that day, admired the spectacular new architecture, relatively well integrated into the old sumptuous buildings, such as the Town Hall looking as a very serious Greek temple. A foodie fair was opening in the main square, and enjoyed the mixed smell of the international cuisines. Maybe one day will be brave enough to prepare some Jack Daniels onions.

I continued the run with the cries of the seagulls in the background, on the streets getting more and more action from a quarter of an hour to another. More people on bikes than I saw in London, and a lot of colourful flowers on the streets. The Jewellery Quarter was unusually quiet though, so after a small tour I turned back in the shopping area returning to the hotel. Around 10.30, the city was completely returned to life and even the late sleepers were back in the busy world.

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After checking out and enjoying a late breakfast outside, we decided to make another tour for a quiet walk of another hour. This time, I was quite proficient in getting the right directions and catching the buses we needed, and even got enough courage to go a bit far away to take some more pictures, especially of some interesting graffiti that I’ve seen before on my back back to the hotel. During this second trip, I realize how much I would like to return to see some museums, discover the art collection and eventually attend a show at the Hippodrome.

Birmingham, promise that it will be a next time!

For more pictures from Birmingham, check my Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/birmingham/

My travels and 9/11

Less than one week after 9/11 I was in a plane heading to Skopje, Macedonia. I was participating to a media research trip covering OSCE efforts to mediate the inter-ethnic conflict in the area. It was an unusually quiet trip, without too much chatting or jokes, excepts a very inadequate remark of a member of the group wondering how you can hijack a plane with a plastic knife. No one paid him any second of attention and the silence continued till we arrived at Skopje. The tensions were boiling in the Balkans again and the international wisdom was requested to process fast and correctly a lot of unknown.

To be honest, I still cannot grasp what happened in that mid-September. I remember my reaction when I first saw at CNN – at the time I used to watch TV even when I was sleeping – the first plane breaking into the WTC. I’d called a local correspondent who was still sleeping and took my question as a bad joke. No, I was not the one making bad jokes, it was another one of those historical situations when something unusually bad puts the world into motion. When late in the day I saw the manifestations of happiness on some Middle Eastern streets I realized that in fact, the bad was in the air for a long time, maybe for decades if we remember the stories about hijacked planes in the 70s, but it took longer to realize the dangers. Once again, in the middle of our Western hi-tech civilization, some maniacs were decided to destroy everything with the raw force of the cavemen.

A couple of months and many other flights after the tragic September I was going to the States for a longer stay. More facts surfaced since then and at least a basic story about what happened was readable. It was and still is hard to understand ‘why’? Somehow, I promise myself to refuse thinking about the answer, but rather to think about how it could be possible to avoid such outbursts of hate.

I was very happy to be in the States and even t of some family and friends that I must be more careful than usual, I fully enjoy my time. After all, in another one of those wonderful surprises of my lifetime, I was exactly where I wanted to be and I was fully living my American dream. But I was constantly afraid: of the people flying in the same place with me; of some lenient security man who maybe did not check properly the person in the front of me; of the guy eating his hamburger in the corner – who knows what he is plotting while he is chewing his fast-food? I was so happy to find out that my plane from LA to NYC returned back after 5 minutes only because of a technical problem, and not because some suspect package was found out. I was grateful that it was an engineering problem and not another human stupidity. I did not care to walk the streets of Bronx on my own on a Sunday morning, with a map on my hand, or to spend time in the suburbs of New Orleans, but every time I was about to go in a plane, I scanned the people around as a scared animal.

I was very unhappy to realize that, at a certain extent, those maniacs succeeded to make us, and especially the brave me, fear. People like them living to hate and destroy everything beautiful for the sake of some divine justice they will rejoice in their afterlife. When one decides to kill people just for making their entrance in the hall of fame of history it is sick, very sick. Teaching your children do be proud of you and follow your example, is even sicker and one must be even more sick to find a good excuse for such a behaviour.

During my stay in the States, the fear was always in the back of my head. I did not know what and when to expect and every time I was boarding a plane – the easiest way to commute from a part to another of this huge country – I was anxious. That anxiety survived all my successful and intensive trips since then. I will always prefer to fly with a company with the highest security and safety credentials. I don’t mumble and protest against security checking because I know that I don’t have to worry afterwards. I don’t have nothing to hide and I want so much to travel safe and arrive alive! As simple as that! Very often I wonder why too many people are getting very angry against the increased surveillance and security screening but not against the perpetrators of terrorism and even support sometimes individuals with hate speech records. Perhaps they don’t know too much about their idols or assumed role models, this could be their only excuse.

However, nothing will stop my passion for travel, with or without my anxious outbursts. The more I travel the more I realize how important is to share the beauty of the world. This could be a cure for hate and narrow-mindedness. I wish that all those hate intoxicated people will give up their obsessions and will rather open a travel book and decide to understand the world.