Issue 253
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SECOND CITY SABBATICALS

It's a funny phrase, "second city", isn't it? Because for those of us that call Birmingham home, it's second to none. But despite strong shouts from Glasgow and Liverpool and one other city in the North West whose name escapes us (was it Macclesfield?) Birmingham is the nation's second city. As such, let's let Londoners queue for the Colosseum. You've got the Birminghams of abroad to unearth. We've been leaning on travel author, Anna Hart, to school us in the ways of the best second cities, all reachable from the B to the H to the X.

GIRONA, SPAIN

Northern Catalonia’s largest city tends to be overlooked, as visitors flock instead to Barcelona. But Girona boasts a similarly vibrant drinking and dining scene, and its charming mishmash of architectural styles in the historic centre on the eastern riverbank make it a treat to explore on foot. After a glass of wine and tapas at Brots De Vi, wander cobbled lanes, past medieval walls, Romanesque mansions and Gothic churches to the east. Across the river, meanwhile, you’ll find the city’s commercial pulse on the western bank, with top-notch shopping and a glitzy nightlife scene. Fly direct from April to early November with selected flights on Ryanair, Jet2.com and Thomas Cook Airlines.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

Wellington might be the cultural and political heart of New Zealand, but Auckland is the easy-on-the-eye, harbour-hugging, sunkissed sister. Sure, the city’s connectivity to the Bay of Islands and Hauraki Gulf is one reason to fly here, but linger for a few days to make the most of the hipster dining and shopping scene in Ponsonby, to visit the wineries on the island of Waiheke (pictured), and to wander the black-sand beach of Piha to the west. This multicultural city is home to a predictably eclectic culinary scene — sushi is a speciality thanks to the longstanding Japanese community. Try Cocoro in Ponsonby. Fly with one change on Emirates or Qatar Airways.

BORDEAUX, FRANCE

A gateway to all things vin, Bordeaux casts a powerful spell over first-time visitors in its own right. This, after all, is the world’s largest urban World Heritage Site, with half the city’s grand streets and 18th century mansions protected in testament to Bordeaux’s virtually unrivalled archaeological heritage. With shady boulevards, grand palaces and contemporary architecture to marvel at, getting lost in Bordeaux’s streets is pure pleasure. A string of world-class museums — the Musée du Vin et du Negoce will change your wine-drinking habits for life — adds additional cultural clout. And when you’re done touring the museums and city streets, there are wine tasting rooms in the city, or vineyards a short day trip out, the perfect way to unwind after a day in this elegant metropolis. Fly direct with flybe April to October.

AMRISTAR, INDIA

This Northwestern Indian city might not be a household name like Delhi or Mumbai, but it’s the one that best straddles humbling historic sights and frenetic city streets. The Punjab city is home to the spectacular Golden Temple, Sikhism's holiest shrine, built around a manmade pool in 1577. Beyond the Golden Temple, easy day trips to Harike Wetland, Bathinda Fort and Pul Kajari, making Amritsar particularly rewarding for travellers who want to cram a lot of history into a compact visit. Don’t miss the new Partition Museum, which provides a vivid insight into the city’s turbulent past. Fly direct with Air India.

NAPLES, ITALY

Italy’s most chaotic and captivating city, Naples is so much more than a transit point for Capri and the Amalfi coast. More and more visitors are tuning into Naples’s wealth of culture, with two royal palaces, three castles and baroque frescoes, all equally comfortable rubbing up against tatty apartment buildings and shiny new art galleries. The National Archaeological Museum is Italy’s grandest trove of historical treasures, while the ruins of Pompeii are an easy day trip away; visit slightly out of peak summer to dodge the crowds at the big sights and to make the most of the area’s hearty cuisine and robust reds. The city is an unquestionable gastronomic powerhouse; come here for the, dare we say it, country's best pizza (locals continually bicker over whether this is found at da Michele or Sorbillo) washed down with vibrant red wines from the surrounding volcanic terroir. Fly direct from April to early November with selected flights on Jet2.com or TUI.
Anna's book, "Departures: A Guide to Letting Go, One Adventure at a Time" is totally purchasable here.

FILM PICK: FIRST MAN


A film about the Apollo programme starring Ryan Gosling from the dude who made La La Land? Um… ok? First Man’s DNA may be unlikely, but one look at this spacefaring epic and it’s not clear who else could possibly have done it. The obvious point of comparison is Apollo 13, but even though this mission is obviously a success, we’re presented for the first time with a view on just how terrifying it must have been to climb aboard what were essentially flying bombs and ride them into an environment where humans just aren’t meant to be. Ra-ra-USA stuff is kept to a minimum, and the presentation of the decade-long effort to put a man on the moon is highly matter-of-fact – which just makes the sheer madness of its ambition and achievement come out all the more. Times & trailer

GROUP BATH, ANYONE?


Fancy taking a nap with a bunch of strangers? We weren't totally sure about our first ever 'sound bath' either but after 80 minutes of listening to Primal Sound (despite the name they are quite literally the opposite of Primal Scream) and their array of snooze-inducing gongs and drums, we were out for the count. And if you've never heard of a sound bath — which involves zero water — the idea is that you lie on the floor or sit in a chair and relax, switching off from everything while sublime sounding instruments like planetary gongs and a gentle drum that legit sounds like the ocean are played expertly for you. Bring an open mind, a load of blankets and a hoodie to keep you toasty. It's £10 for a sesh, which take place at 4pm on the last Sunday of every month, in Stirchley. Nighty-nighty, then. Sleep tighty. Book
Venue: Pint Shop, 38 Bennetts Hill, B2 5SN; website
Choice: Onion bhaji and pork scotch egg (£7.50)  Chooser: Chef Mark

We now declare Pint Shop officially open. As of 5pm last night, The Wellington acquired a next-door neighbour on Bennetts Hill, and as its name suggests, it's very good at pints. The Oxford and Cambridge operation has three B-ham collabs on its opening beer list, with a hazy IPA created by Burning Soul, Blackberry Sabbath by Birmingham Brew Co and the completely delicious Pint Shop Pale from Dig Brew Co. Highly recommended with all these — chef Mark's onion bhaji, pork Scotch egg. A soft boiled egg is encased in a delicately curried bhaji and minced pork combo, minus any suggestion of gelatine or filler, finished off with a perfectly crunchy outer casing and fresh raita for dippage. If this creation had existed during the
Great Scotch Egg War of 2017, it's difficult to say what might have happened. And in case you're not sure pints and genius-grade Scotch eggs are quite your thing, you'll also find more than 100 gins and a full restaurant menu which is rather more ambitious than you might expect from a place that sounds predominantly like a pub. Go and bagsy your spot for the winter — the loving, cosy, handsome refurb has got a cranny and a nook with your name on it. Menus

HE’S NOT THE MESSIAH…


…you know the rest. Not quite your normal nativity, The Messiah sees the triumvirate of “weren’t they in that thing?” stars Hugh Dennis, John Marquez and Lesley Garrett taking to the stage to play an entire theatre troupe. Not merely an austerity measure, but an indication of true talent as the threesome portray a proverbial cast of thousands in this modern spin on why we all end up stuck with our relatives on Christmas Day. Before it heads off to the West End, The Rep houses this critically acclaimed comedic take on the birth of Christ from the pen of Patrick Barlow, whose previous production of The 39 Steps won an armful of Oliviers. The Messiah runs from October 18 until October 27 and tickets are from £10.

THE STARS OF STRIPES


When artist Gene Davis painted the streets outside Philadelphia's Museum of Art in 1972, it was the largest artwork ever created. Assuming you don't have an imminent trip to Philly planned, plus the small matter of a time machine, you'll never see his bold street art, but get yourself to Ikon Gallery and you will see New Yorker, Polly Apfelbaum's, new interpretation of it. You're actively encouraged to walk over Halfpipe (pictured), where huge pride-coloured stripes run down the walls and along the length of the room. Like much of the exhibition, Halfpipe has been created specifically to suit the space at Ikon, so will disappear when the exhibition closes on November 18. You'll also find textiles, ceramics and drawings, which, by the way, you can do yoga next to on Tuesdays until October 30. Entry to the exhibition is free. Yoga is £6 per session (and do book).
 
Screening Rights is the Midlands' big, important international film festival about social justice. Catch it at MAC and The Herbert from 17 to 21 October.
Who was the world’s first female programmer? Who made history as the first British woman to sail solo around the world non-stop? Once Upon a Time in Birmingham is a book about thirty big hitting women in Brum and has the answers. Launching Saturday
Birmingham Improv Festival includes 22 shows across nine days and a script count of zero. Impromptu Shakespeare (£10) at the Blue Orange Theatre on Sunday October 28 is a stellar starting point if you don't do improv on the regs.

Win a year's supply of dim sum why don'cha?

If you must leave Birmingham, don't pay to do so — get a free return coach journey to London, Bristol, Leicester, Oxford or Worcester right here.
 


"All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"


Reg, Life of Brian (1979)



 
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WORDS: Anna HartKaty Drohan, Robb Sheppard, Andrew Lowry
DESIGN: Tom "there's NOTHING he can't do" Cullen
PICTURES: Polly Apfelbaum, Waiting for the UFOs (a space set between a landscape and a bunch of flowers), 2018, Ikon. Courtesy the artist, Ikon and Frith Street Gallery. Photo by Stuart Whipps.

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