Hey, so it's been a while... This last month I've been busy at work and hitting the gym pretty hard, plus planning some exciting things for June. Instead of trying to push myself to write content, I took a break, I've been exhausted for a few weeks and just wanted to focus on myself. However, I've got lots to share! I've been busy planning an action packed birthday month, starting with Birmingham Coffee Festival, I'm doing Rough Runner 15K next weekend, followed by a week in Barcelona (lots of content from that trip I promise, including some video stuff because I've been practicing my editing) and finally a weekend in Manchester with Danny (on my actual birthday). We'll be staying at the Cow Hollow Hotel, I've been so excited for this month to start and it's finally here!
BACK TO BIRMINGHAM
It's been 18 months since my last visit to Birmingham, I had a friend that used to live here so I visited fairly regularly. It had definitely been too long and what better excuse for my return than a Coffee Festival at the Custard Factory. After possibly too many cups of coffee (is there such a thing?) and a couple of vegan cakes, I hit some of my favourite spaces, camera in hand. (Read about my previous Birmingham trips here).
A BULL IN A COFFEE SHOP
I caught the train down from Crewe a little after 7AM (booking this earlier in the month meant it cost me just £14 return), the Coffee Festival didn't open until 10am, but this meant I could wander around an empty Birmingham city centre. I've never seen the place quiet before, when I've been around on the weekends it's usually buzzing with people. It was beautiful to wander around without the stress of bumping into anyone. Once I had finished awkwardly trying to film my very first ever vlog intro, something to look forward to seeing, I headed straight for the Custard Factory. Getting there early gave me time to photograph the Custard Factory and its amazingly quirky creative vibe. It's a collaboration of street art, graffiti, sculptures... seriously though, if you are into that sort of thing you need to check this place out! Not to mention the independent retailers and the people who run them, it was great to talk to individuals who make up this creative hub, whether they're making coffee, cakes or craft beer.
When the doors opened at 10am I quickly joined the queue, this was made up of more casual coffee fanatics (like myself), professional bloggers and writers, and people who ran other independent coffee shops. I love taking trips like this on my own because it allows me to people watch (unapologetically), and slip in and out of other peoples conversations unnoticed (Danny was working so he couldn't come with anyway). It also helped me to get some of the best photos I have in a long time. When I'm on my own I constantly have my camera on, because I don't have to be conscious of neglecting whoever I'm with. I've found recently I'm much happier behind the camera, as my confidence has grown I've learnt to embrace other peoples gazes. It usually leads to people asking me what I'm doing and that's a great way to meet new people and network.
Having worked as a barista over almost 5 years for 3 different coffee shops, I can certainly say I felt right at home. The smell of coffee brewing just takes me to my happy place. It's funny how a shared love for something makes connecting with people so much easier. I chatted to a few people, both those attending and those who were showcasing their products. One woman compared it to Amsterdam Coffee Festival, a few artsy looking types also had their faces hidden behind different sized camera lenses, another guy was doing some market research and I overheard a group of guys discussing the latest Doctor Who whilst casually sipping there cold brew. It was clear their was an exciting mix of people that you wouldn't normally all see together.
Over the last few years my taste has dramatically changed. I've gone from drinking black coffee (especially when dieting), to lattes. From semi-skimmed milk to coconut or soy, I've also quit adding any sugars (apart from the occasional shot of vanilla). The event catered to all tastes, but I found myself at the Alpro stand first. Sampling a golden soy latte (turmeric in case you were wondering) and a coconut cinnamon chocolate, both undeniably delicious. I followed those up with a stop at 200 Degrees, for a flat white with their blend described by the barista as 'strawberry shortcake'. It was strong, dark and definitely fruity. Next, living up to my expectations was the oat-some latte, oat milk is such a great alternative that works for me because I find dairy a little too sickly.
After an hour, I was practically buzzing so I switched it up with some cold brew coffee, and began collecting business cards and printouts for my desk at work. Living the life of a designer does mean I'm particularly sensitive to printouts, but thankfully there wasn't a poorly kerned logo in sight. In fact I was pretty impressed with the packaging for a lot of the products. I was starting to get hungry so I decided to look for a sweet fix, Big Fat Slab was the stall I ended up choosing. They had doorstop sized cakes that were all vegan! I treated myself to a dark chocolate flapjack, a dark brownie and the most delicious carrot cake I've ever eaten. It's safe to say there are none left now as I am writing this. OMBAR also caught my eye, with their offering of chocolate. The organic dark chocolate bars were beautifully packaged, with flavours ranging from lemon & green tea to 90% cocoa. I even got a handy tote bag which came in handy the rest of the day.
My last few stops included a latte art stand, where a very skilled barista was creating colourful patterns (clearly too pretty to drink). I observed the mini masterclass, it's something that I never quite perfected as a barista myself. The more I walked around the venue, I found coffee infused cocktails, offerings of homemade flavoured fudge and even reusable cups. From Cakesmiths to Hundred House Coffee, it's a good job the samples were small. After exceeding my usual daily dosage by about quadruple, I ventured back into the city centre.
24 CUPS OF COFFEE LATER
The IKON gallery is a must see for me (it's free), I'm always interested in seeing what is considered modern art at their latest exhibits. It's a fair walk from The Custard Factory (I covered 9 miles in total over the day), but you do walk through the city centre, so there's plenty of stops you can make along the way. I passed street performers, bikers, dinosaur hedge sculptures and oddly enough a bunch of people kayaking (or canoeing, I'm not sure of the difference), in the river along side the longboats. The IKON had a digital themed exhibition on which was right up my street, it's always hard to describe things like this as every one will have a different opinion, but there are usually a couple of different exhibits on, so maybe one will take your fancy. I liked it, especially the first floor artwork by Langlands & Bell, titled Internet Giants: Masters of the Universe, which included pixelated typography and photography. It was a little abstract but I liked that it challenged your mind to make sense of what appeared illegible at first, my favourite piece read 'Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind'.
I stopped by the Bullring shopping centre for lunch and a little retail therapy. I prefer shopping alone because I'm definitely a browser, I love to take my time and try things on, which can be a time consuming process. With just a couple of hours until the train back I grabbed a quick milkshake from Eds (seriously yum), then hit some shops. There's no end to the options, whether you're looking for clothing, tech, a good book or a sweet treat, they've got you covered. I couldn't resist a stop in Victoria Secret, especially as there was a SALE on. I also have a mix of vinyl at home that I've picked up from Camden market (Queen - Don't Stop Me Now), Manchester record stores (The Stranglers) and occasionally HMV, who I bought Chvrches new album from just last week. The HMV here had such a large stock, I'm surprised I managed to just leave with Lorde - Pure Heroine. The Game of Thrones and Baby Driver soundtracks were very tempting indeed.
Reluctantly, I headed back to New Street Station with less than an hour to kill until my train back up north departed. A hot chocolate in Pret tied me over, while I updated Instagram stories and looked through my camera roll. The footage I'm happy with but it isn't until I start editing, that I know what works and what doesn't. There's usually a few standout clips but that's why it's important to film as much as possible. That way you can cut out the bits that don't cut it. It definitely was worth the trip and knowing now that it's pretty much like getting on the train to Manchester (an hour is easy to do), I will be planning more day trips into Birmingham. Maybe a weekend to Leeds and Sheffield too, because I just haven't seen enough cities in the UK. It's such a creative hub, with some great food spots and bars that I'm sure Danny would be happy to come check out with me (as long as I supply him with regular coffee).
I'm going to keep an eye out for future events at the Custard Factory. They do film screenings and artsy events, or even the christmas markets would be a treat to experience. Plus I've been meaning to check out the record festivals at The Custard Factory for ages and now I think the next one I will definitely be popping down for, but until then Birmingham...
Video Update Coming Soon.
🍑 A B Y
Aby, 24. Northerner.