Get into the Festival Spirit

festivals

Image Courtesy of: https://aberdeenfestivals.com/

In 2015 we were very excited to open apartments in one of the world’s leading festival cities – Edinburgh. With a schedule comprised of 12 internationally renowned events that cover all disciplines from Films to Storytelling and which are spread out over the year, it is irrefutable how Edinburgh is certainly championing the festival scene. However, did you know that Aberdeen, Scotland’s renowned Oil Capital and Silver City, also has its own dedicated festival group? People often think of the golden sandy shores of the beach or the glittering architecture when they think of Aberdeen, but it is really starting to evolve beyond that and developing a rich multi-cultural entertainment and events base. This has culminated in the formation of “Aberdeen Festivals” so that there can be a collective effort towards raising awareness of the festivals and enhancing their offering. The success of “Aberdeen Festivals” is already prevalent with it being discovered how it generated a £2 million economic impact for the region – thus reflecting the number of visitors the collective events enticed and inferring the quality of the festivals. Therefore, if you are thinking of visiting a Festival city, why not choose Aberdeen with its burgeoning events scene that predominantly takes place between February and November? Amidst the stores, the dolphins and the castles, soak in culture in a different way and with 10 prime festivals underlying “Aberdeen Festivals”, there is at least one Festival that will appeal to everyone.

SPECTRA – starting off the year in a blaze of bright light, SPECTRA is officially Aberdeen’s Festival of Light which helps to brighten up the dark winter days. Involving international artists collaborating with Scotland’s creative community, this is a festival that touches all the senses. From gallery installations to imaginative works in public spaces, this festival truly celebrates all that is unique and amazing about the city’s creative scene.

Dates: Normally held in February

Find out more: https://aberdeenfestivals.com/our-festivals/spectra/

Aberdeen Jazz Festival – for the music fans out there, the Aberdeen Jazz Festival organised by Jazz Scotland should definitely be headlining your list as it is one of the city’s headlining music festivals. Attracting renowned jazz players and incorporating free lunchtime performances for those making their way into the jazz scene; the festival truly encompasses all players in the vibrant Jazz scene. Held in a multitude of locations, Aberdeen’s iconic “Blue Lamp” location plays a prominent role in the festival.

Dates: Normally held in March

Find out more: https://aberdeenfestivals.com/our-festivals/aberdeen-jazz-festival/

LOOK AGAIN – If the dazzling lights of SPECTRA caught your eye, so will the equally aesthetically attractive LOOK AGAIN festival which is centred on visual arts and design. For a number of days, you have to really be on the lookout as the city centre with its existing structures such as statues are transformed into imaginative and innovative works of art. Popping up when you least expect them, the works of art will really catch your eye so you have to ‘Look Again’. Seeing really is believing!

Dates: Normally held April/May

Find out more: https://aberdeenfestivals.com/our-festivals/look-again/

May Festival – the title is not a misnomer, you can certainly expect this festival to occur in May! One of the longest standing events in Aberdeen, the May Festival commenced in 2013 and is centred on one of the city’s renowned higher education institutes – Aberdeen University. Celebrating the world-class research that is consistently being carried out at the university, this festival crosses various disciplines and subsequently is a simultaneous arts and science festival.  Comprising of performances from a wide collection of familiar faces including musicians, authors and chefs, this festival is truly perfect for the whole family with there being over 100 events of all genres to be engaged by across 3 days.

Dates: 27th to  29th May 2016

Find out more: https://aberdeenfestivals.com/our-festivals/may-festival/

Aberdeen International Youth Festival – as inferred by its name, this festival is truly international in its scale and in its reputation both within the city itself and further beyond on the global stage. Formed forty-two years ago, this festival can now attract over 25,000 performers which only alludes to how well-regarded, popular and prestigious it is. A world-class festival celebrating performance arts and which also prides itself on its intimate chamber and classical music performances; it is bursting at the seams with talent and in 2015 held over 80 performances across the 9 days.

Dates: 29th July to 6th August 2016

Find out more: https://aberdeenfestivals.com/our-festivals/aiyf/

TechFest – it is not just all about music, drama or visual arts however, Aberdeen even has a dedicated festival to all things technological and numerical. An annual festival where people convene to celebrate four major disciplines, Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, this event centres around promoting their attraction in an engaging manner to audience members of all ages.

Dates: 3rd to 18th September 2016

Find out more: https://aberdeenfestivals.com/our-festivals/techfest/

North East Open Studios – One of the biggest Open Studios events in Scotland, it is more than just a networking opportunity for the artists and designers involved, but is also an excellent opportunity to promote Scottish arts, crafts and galleries and to open their access up to the public. Therefore, be prepared to be introduced to some of the finest talent in Scotland and be inspired by their amazing works in their studios.

Dates:  10th to 18th September 2016.

Find out more: https://aberdeenfestivals.com/our-festivals/north-east-open-studios/

 

True North – One for all the music lovers out there who are always looking to discover the latest talent, True North is all about celebrating Aberdeen’s very own music scene with concerts aplenty all over the city. Whatever kind of music you love, you are sure to hear it and from some of the up and coming talent as well as well-established acts.

Dates: 23rd to 25th September 2016.

Find out more: https://aberdeenfestivals.com/our-festivals/true-north/

DanceLive – In its 11th year, the name of this festival says it all with this festival being dedicated to the beautiful world of dance. Specifically focusing on contemporary dance, it is a wondrous opportunity to witness spectacular talent from the dancers and choreographers of national and international companies involved and to bring the world of dance to our corner of the world. Combining both intimate studio encounters and performances held on a larger scale, you are sure to be entranced particularly as the programme has been broadened to even encompass masterclasses and workshops.

Dates:  14th to 25th October 2016.

Find out more: https://aberdeenfestivals.com/our-festivals/dancelive/

 

Sound – another music festival, but this one focuses more on the discovery of new “sounds” meaning it is all about innovation and new kinds of music that you may never have heard of before. A welcome into a world you may never have expected to enter, you can experience it all across a wide range of concerts and workshops that encompass all unique sounds from acoustic to improvised and experimental. Think you know music – experience “Sound” and really awaken your ears!

Dates: 20th to 6th November 2016

Find out more: https://aberdeenfestivals.com/our-festivals/dancelive/

Although not run by “Aberdeen Festivals”, an honourable mention needs to go to the Energetica festival particularly as the summer season is luring temptingly in front of us. Energetica is a long-term programme centred around developing Scotland’s Energy Corridor in a sustainable and innovative manner and this focus on energy and the environment is mirrored in the programme of events. In its fourth year, this festival focuses on activities which will bring you in harmony with nature including guided walks, wildlife spotting and tours of gardens. Taking place from May to August, most of the activities are free and provide the perfect itinerary for an adventure basking in the glory of nature.

http://energetica.uk.com/festival2016#August

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The Man Behind The Watercolours

One of Bryan Evans' works in our Edinburgh apartments
                                                        One of Bryan Evans’ works in our Edinburgh apartments

With all of our apartments we like to bring a stylish touch to them and to make them feel like a home away from home; which is why we like to incorporate modern and striking art that complements the surroundings and catches the eye. With our brand new apartments being located in Scotland’s capital, of course it was irrefutable that we would bring that Scottish edge to them through the inclusion of tartan rugs and pillows embellished with natural imagery such as deers. However, the ultimate touch that pays homage to the historic yet beautiful city which The Spires is pleased to now call its fourth home, has to be the visually stunning works created by Bryan Evans which now adorn the walls of our Edinburgh apartments. Based in Glasgow and known for creating works which depict the atmosphere of the rainy Glasgow and Edinburgh streets, Bryan’s works could not have stronger ties to Scotland. Therefore, whether you have been fortunate enough to admire his talent in our apartments or at one of his exhibitions, we would like to take a moment to let you come become acquainted with the man behind the art.

Although initially hailing from Pembrokeshire, West Wales, Bryan Evans settled in Glasgow post-graduation due to the passion he found for the city when he engaged in a three-month exchange there while studying for his degree in Fine Art at the Loughborough College of Art. A full-time professional painter and printmaker, Bryan Evans’ work can be typified by a variety of factors. To begin with, although he does produce etchings and mezzotints, he favours the use of watercolours which makes sense when you consider how many of his paintings convey the wet streets of many a Scottish town and city caught in the rain; particularly those of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Although rain is undoubtedly a common feature of day-to-day Scottish life, what particularly enamours Bryan Evans with the Scottish drizzle is the array of colours it allows him to use due to the effect that rain has on light and the reflections it casts. As well as the rain, Bryan Evans is also a fan of the dusk and other favoured subject matters include reflecting people engaging in those ordinary moments of day-to-day life as well as capturing the gloomy atmosphere of dark tenement closes. See some examples of these stunning works here: http://bryanevans.com/reproduction-prints/.

It is quite likely that you will have already encountered Bryan Evan’s works because not only has he been exhibited across the UK, but he has also made it onto the international stage by exhibiting in locations as far away and as exotic as India and the USA. Moreover, while his works speak a thousand words about the strong talent and creativity he has to offer, the fact that the ‘Glasgow Herald’ even once proclaimed him as “The New Scottish Impressionist” just cements the fact. Therefore, we feel extremely grateful to have Bryan’s well-regarded works adorning our walls and I can honestly say here at the office we were all extremely excited when we first saw the prints due to the unique way they bring the Scottish streets and closes to life through their vibrant array of colours and beautiful technique.

Therefore, if you happen to have been fortunate enough to have admired Bryan’s work and want to see more, make sure to check out his dedicated website which includes everything from the exhibitions he is appearing at to his current works: http://bryanevans.com/ .  Alternatively, you can find his work and keep up-to-date with all his news on good old Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/BryanEvansArt. We hope you appreciate and admire his beautiful pieces as much we do.

Information Source: http://bryanevans.com/

Nature in the City

Holyrood Park
Holyrood Park

This year it has felt rather sombrely like an eternal winter. However, now we have weathered the dreary, miserable winter days full of drizzle, hail and the relentless wind, it is now time to lock those well-worn wintertime lifelines of scarves, hats and gloves away for another few months. Yes, July is finally here meaning the hibernation weather has been vanquished and it is time to bask outside in all the resplendent glory that the sunshine brings with it (at least when it chooses to come out!). It is irrefutable that in our city destinations of Aberdeen, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh, you can find some of the most vibrant and pulsating entertainment, dining and retail scenes to be found in the UK, however amongst all those buzzing sights, sounds and noises, there is always a space for tranquillity, peace and clarity to be found. Whether it is spacious parks, stunning beaches or picturesque gardens, there is always a bit of nature to be found amongst the concrete jungle of city blocks and with this much prized heatwave bringing some light to the UK, we felt now would be the perfect time to discover them.

Aberdeen

Union Terrace Gardens
Union Terrace Gardens

A sparkling skyline created by magnificent granite buildings that glitter in the sun, it is undeniable why Aberdeen also affectionately goes by the title of the “Silver City”. However, do not let that title mislead you because Aberdeen actually has a hidden green side that softens out the harsh edge of the plethora of the outwardly appearing austere granite buildings. Nothing quite cements Aberdeen’s ability to be an equal natural wonder quite like it winning gold at “Britain in Bloom” a record-breaking eleven times.

You may not know it, but over a quarter of Aberdeen’s land is actually open space which is predominantly manifested in the form of gorgeous parks and gardens. Most renowned of all are Duthie Park, Johnstone Gardens and Hazlehead Park; all of which provide an abundance of lush space to have a leisurely walk around; an adrenaline pumping work-out in or a place to indulge in a summer picnic. However, each park also brings with it a myriad of hidden gems and treasures to be unearthed. For instance, in Duthie Park, a venture through the rather mysterious and exotic Winter Gardens will lead you to encounter the largest collection of cacti in the UK while an exploration of the idyllic Johnstone Gardens will enable you to photograph many a memory against the picturesque backdrop of fairy-tale like ethereal ponds, waterfalls and a signature bridge. Moreover, between its pets’ corner, rose garden, maze (the oldest in Scotland!), child’s playground and golf course, Hazlehead Park delivers the perfect family day out away from the hustle and bustle of city life. However, nothing quite epitomises nature in the city quite like the Union Terrace Gardens which present an oasis of tranquillity right in the midst of the city centre. With an abundance of green space to stretch out on, and an iconic floral recreation of Aberdeen’s Coat of Arms to admire, the ambient atmosphere is at total contrast to the fast-pace of life emanating from the surrounding city streets.

However, of course the crowning glory of the cosmopolitan Silver City is the golden sandy shores of Aberdeen’s beach. Aberdeen’s prosperity as a city is based upon the riches that reside below the crashing waves of the North Sea and so it is no surprise that images of the harbour also are commonly used to characterize Aberdeen. Take in the stunning coastal views and breathe in the fresh air as you venture along the coast and some of Britain’s finest beaches including Balmedie Beach.

Alternatively, at this time of the year, the sea also affords a different natural pleasure in the form of our friends with fins: dolphins. Due to Aberdeen being one of the best places in Europe to watch these magnificent animals at home in the sea, it is no wonder it is fast becoming a prime dolphin watching spot. Often frolicking near the harbour, it is not uncommon to witness the dolphins feeding & playing alongside surprise guests such as whales. It is truly a beautiful sight and reflects how there is more to the North Sea than just oil. RSPB Scotland’s DolphinWatch team will be at the Torry Battery Car Pack till mid-August and with dolphins appearing on 90% of 2014’s DolphinWatch days, you cannot miss an opportunity to see such playful, innocent fun.

Birmingham

East Side City Park
Eastside City Park

With one of its defining features being its impressive canal system which covers more miles than Canal City itself, Venice, and runs straight through the heart of Britain’s animated ’Second City’, it can already be inferred the strong sense of nature that permeates throughout Birmingham. The canals provide the best seat in the house for an intensive tour of Birmingham, with none of the stress!

Nothing epitomises Birmingham’s green-side quite like the very aptly named Birmingham Wildlife Conservation Park, which, with a collection of over 130 species including the popular likes of lemurs and meerkats, is an simultaneously fun and educational experience which offers much enlightenment in regards to conservation efforts.

Although not quite an authentic natural attraction, the headlining National Sea Life Centre certainly at least presents an opportune moment to get up close and personal with our friends in the sea. Surrounded by a one-million litre ocean tank, which is residence to all kinds of exotic and mesmerizing creatures including tropical fish species, gentle sea turtles and formidable sharks, it is no surprise that the Sea Life Centre is a popular attraction for anyone who wants to experience the wonder of the ocean in a bustling, up-and-coming city jungle. It is truly a whole other world!

However, of course you cannot miss the plentiful supply of headlining Birmingham parks in which to picnic, workout or just simply to admire. One of the most famous parks is Cannon Hill Park which with its pedalo boats in the summer, as well as its collection of tennis courts alongside a bowling green and mini-golf course, provides a lasting day of entertainment for the whole family to bask in. Alternatively, there is the Eastside City Park as well as Kings Heath Park, with the Eastside City Park being of particular importance due to it being the largest single piece of public open space in the bustling city centre and it even winning a special accolade for it being an outstanding public green space (which includes gardens, water features and a Science Garden) at the European Entente Florale 2013 competition.

Glasgow

Glasgow Botanic Gardens
Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Glasgow may well be a prime dynamic leisure hub due to its renowned nightlife and retail scenes, however with its collection of 90 parks, it is clear that Glasgow is more than a little in touch with its green side also. However, in fairness, the sassy yet warmly hospitable city has much to live up to considering that in Gaelic; Glasgow translates as “Dear Green Place”. Therefore, be under no illusion that Glasgow is all about the bright lights, the vibrating bass and the chime of cash registers, there is so much underestimated natural beauty and peace to be uncovered alongside the magnificence of its prestigious architecture.

No park brings nature to the city quite like Glasgow Green; Glasgow’s oldest and most city central park. Famous not just for its age or location, Glasgow Green also features the largest terracotta fountain in the world. However, that is not the only treasure to be enjoyed as within the stunning grounds you will also come across the People’s Palace and the Winter Gardens; a Victorian glasshouse masterpiece which will generate much wonder due to it being residence to all kinds of tropical and mysterious plant species.

However, it is the West End of Glasgow that is a particular natural showcase due to it being home to both the renowned Kelvingrove Park and Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens. Nothing enhances the beauty of Kelvingrove Park quite like its location on the banks of the River Kelvin. If its location was not idyllic enough, its status as a Victorian park only goes to exacerbate this considering the air of splendour and grandeur it conjures. The prestigious Kelvingrove Museum and Art Galleries aside, one of the park’s most stunning features is the tranquil walks it affords alongside the breath-taking river walkways and the plentiful supply of wildlife you might have the fortune of crossing.

Internationally recognised for many a thing, whether it is its warm hospitality or its inspiring art scene, Glasgow is also a winner on a global scale when it comes to its highly-esteemed Botanic Gardens. Well-regarded when it comes to both the glasshouses’ architecture and the wondrous exotic collection of plants they behold, the wooded walks and formal gardens are truly a natural haven that is worlds away from the hustle and bustle of Glasgow’s streets.

One other natural highlight worth mentioning is the picturesque Victoria Park which due to its stunning horticultural backdrop of beautiful floral displays, is often regarded as one of the loveliest parks in Glasgow. However, the real treasure it beholds is Glasgow’s most ancient attraction: the Fossil Grove. Open between April and September, the Fossil Grove consists of a fossilized grove of prehistoric trees which to give any indication of their age, are so historic that they are double the age of dinosaurs.

This year in particular is an opportune time to consider Glasgow as a “Dear Green Place” due to it being the “Year of Green”; a year in which there is much jubilation and cheer in correspondence with Glasgow’s mission to become a sustainable city in the future. As a result, there are many an exciting event to partake in; including the likes of Twilight Walks and Wildlife Garden Festivals.

Edinburgh

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens

With its ideal location on the mighty Firth of Forth, it is no surprise that Scotland’s most bustling city is also greatly in touch with Mother Nature. It is a side that can only be reinforced due to it proudly receiving a Gold Award in the Britain in Bloom Awards 2013, one of the most prestigious awards when it comes to celebrating Britain’s best and most stunning gardens. Of course one of Edinburgh’s headlining attractions is the renowned Edinburgh Zoo which is home to many a fascinating furry resident including meerkats, tigers, rhinos and penguins.

The pinnacle of Edinburgh’s nature scene is most definitely the Royal Botanic Gardens which in itself provides over 70 acres of sweet-smelling, scenic gardens that contains wondrous plant species from all parts of the world. These gardens are so magical and beloved as they are rumoured to be some of the most excellent in the world due to them being residence to all kinds of special and rare plant species. Between the gardens, the greenhouses and the eco-centre, there is so much beauty to be admired and knowledge to be gained and all in a tranquil setting that is only a mile from the fast-paced Edinburgh streets. It is certainly a prime natural spot with the award-winning Inverleith Park being located in the near vicinity which offers mesmerizing cityscape views that cannot be easily replicated.

However, do not assume that nature is only to be found on the outskirts of the city, there is much green space to seek solitude in, even amongst the animation and the incessant hustle and bustle of Scotland’s Capital. At the base of the Royal Mile, you can explore the spacious Holyrood Park but the ultimate crowning glory in the area has to be Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano, which provides a heavy workout as well some of the most renowned and photo-worthy views of the whole city. Whether you hike it, walk it or even run it, the magnificent views will certainly make an intrepid adventure of Arthur’s Seat worth it! Alternatively, if you are needing somewhere to relax right there and then after an ambitious shopping spree on some of the nation’s most beloved high streets, then the extremely city central Princes Street Gardens should tick the box. Residence to some of the most iconic Edinburgh attractions that make their way into every picture perfect postcard, including the Scott Monument and the grandeur of the Ross Fountain, it is not surprising that these gardens are packed on a warm’s summer day due to the surrounding all-encompassing beauty and energy of Edinburgh’s historic streets.

Ultimately, there is so much natural beauty hiding amongst the concrete camouflage of some of the UK’s most cosmopolitan and dynamic cities, and it is waiting for you to discover it. Therefore, get your picnic baskets, running shoes and cameras at the ready, with the UK currently basking in the glow of a heatwave, now is the perfect time to breathe in that fresh summer air while enjoying nature’s gifts.

Sources

Images

en.wikipedia.orgwww.glasgowbotanicgardens.comglobespottingcara.wordpress.comwww.bdonline.co.ukphotorator.com

Information

http://visitbirmingham.com, https://peoplemakeglasgow.com/, http://www.visitaberdeen.com/, http://www.visitscotland.com/about/nature-geography/edinburgh-lothians/https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/

The City Built on More than Just Oil

Source: www.offshorewind.biz
Aberdeen

If I were to ask you for the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Aberdeen, odds are on that “oil” would be your headlining answer. It would not be at all surprising because even as a born and bred Aberdonian, whenever someone asks me to describe my home town, the oil industry tends to be my instant characterisation of the city I call home. It is not possible to separate Aberdeen from the oil industry because the North Sea and its oil supplies are what has put Aberdeen on the national, and indeed the international stages. Nothing epitomises this quite like the fact that Aberdeen is known as the “Oil/Energy Capital of Europe”. Due to the strong inter-relation between Aberdeen and oil, it is undeniable that the predominance of tourism is in relation to business as reflected by the fact that over half of the visits to Aberdeen are linked to business matters.

Consequently, I can fully understand why one may not consider engaging in a leisure trip to Aberdeen. With the strong association of energy corporations and professional services, it is easy to comprehend why someone may think Aberdeen is all work and no play. HOWEVER, there is so much more to Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. It may be best known for its oil supplies, but there are so many other achievements and accolades that Aberdeen should be on the map for; none of which have anything to do with business but all to do with fun. From the luscious supply of lush green spaces; an abundance of breathtaking castles and all the fun and frolics to be had at the seaside, it is clear that Aberdeen is equally capable of delivering glowing holiday memories and experiences that will last a lifetime.

The Silver City

Practical, easy to maintain and stunning to look at, the eye-catching glistening of the granite walls of Aberdeen are certain to capture your attention and your camera’s lens. Known as the Granity City and the Silver City, Aberdeen’s greyness can easily be attributed to its architecture that was built in the granite days of the Victorian era. Due to the mica that sparkles beautifully in the sun, it is no wonder that Aberdeen’s resplendent architecture is one that you have to stop to admire.

Marischal College  Source: www.canon-fodder-forums.com
Marischal College
Source: http://www.canon-fodder-forums.com

Do I Spot A Castle?

Aberdeen may have alter-egos in the form of the “Silver City” and the “Oil Capital of Europe”, but it also has a rather unknown secret identity that goes by the code name of “Castle Country”. With a collection of over 300 castles and more castles per acre than anywhere else in the UK, there is almost a castle to visit every day of the year meaning more than one trip to Aberdeen is not a choice, but an necessity. Due to the wealth of castles to explore, there is a castle to suit everyone’s tastes. There is the breathtaking dramatics of the haunting cliff-side ruins of Dunnotar Castle or for an idyllic family day, there are also the enchanting gardens that surround the splendour of Crathes Castle. For a more majestic experience, a trip to Balmoral Castle cannot go amiss for it is a favourite with the Royal Family and even is the grand holiday abode of Her Majesty the Queen. Similarly, Craigievar is an almost iconic image for Scotland as due to its ethereal fairy-tale like appearance, adorned with turrets; it is also supposedly responsible for inspiring Walt Disney. An exploration of castles could be your sole reason to visit Aberdeen if you embark on Scotland’s only Castle Trail which will take you through 17 of Aberdeen’s most renowned castles. You could visit all the castles and still desire more because ultimately, there is always a fascinating story to be learnt about Scotland’s captivating history.

Dunnottar Castle  Source: : http://www.uk-pictures.com/dunnottar_castle.html
Dunnottar Castle
Source: : http://www.uk-pictures.com/dunnottar_castle.html

The Grass is Always Greener…

To balance out the stunning (if a little gray) architecture; over a quarter of Aberdeen is actually open space. The fact that Aberdeen has won the Britain in Bloom competition for a record-smashing ten times is only testament to its abundance of sweet-smelling, picturesque parks. Whether you are looking for a tranquil walk in nature or a heart-pumping workout, there is a park to accommodate anyone and each will provide a scenic backdrop to all the action. Each park has its own unique attractions providing the perfect location for a family day trip. If you are looking for rose gardens to admire; a play park to keep the little ones out of trouble or a maze to get them lost in, look no further than Hazlehead Park which also comes armed with a petting corner full of furry friends. Duthie Park and Seaton Park also present the perfect setting for a moment to engage with nature and Duthie Park even has its own winter gardens which is resident to the UK’s largest supply of cacti (a little bit of trivia for you all!). However, if you stay at The Spires and are happening to be looking for a park closer to home, the ethereal Johnston Gardens is also a gorgeous spot for a bit of nature loving as due to its hidden waterfalls and ponds, it is no wonder that it is a favourite for wedding photos.

Johnston Gardens  Source: Wikipedia
Johnston Gardens
Source: Wikipedia

Nature Watch: Aberdeen Style

Parks are not the only natural wonders in Aberdeen. Perhaps the biggest draw to Aberdeen this lovely sunny season are our favourite new residents: dolphins! Due to Aberdeen being one of the best places in Europe to watch these magnificent animals at home in the sea, it is no wonder it is fast becoming a prime dolphin watching spot. Often frolicking near the harbour, it is not uncommon to witness the dolphins feeding & playing. It is truly a beautiful sight and reflects how there is more to the North Sea than just oil. RSPB Scotland’s DolphinWatch team will be there till mid-August and with dolphins appearing on 90% of 2014’s DolphinWatch days, you cannot miss an opportunity to see such playful fun.

Dolphins in Aberdeen Harbour  Source: www.rspb.org.uk
Dolphins in Aberdeen Harbour
Source: http://www.rspb.org.uk

Golf Anyone?

Golf is a sport synonymous with Aberdeenshire due to its plethora of courses to play on. Residence to over 50 courses, there are courses only a quarter of a mile away from Aberdeen and even more courses located just an hour’s drive away. Therefore, you are certain to find a course you like. Most famous is the Hazlehead No 1 which is rumoured to be one of the best in the North-East and whose claim to fame is that it was designed by Dr Alistair MacKenzie; the man who was responsible for creating the Augusta National course home of the US Masters. It is no surprise that Hazlehead No 1 is a thorough test for those golfing skills! Similarly, history meets golf with The Royal Aberdeen Golf Club being the sixth oldest course in the world and if it was not enough that the course allows for some superior golf playing, it also allows you to play among stunning panoramic views.  Another golf course that is commonly associated with Aberdeen is the splendour of The Trump International Golf Links which has only helped to consolidate Aberdeen as a golf paradise.

Royal Aberdeen Golf Course Source: www.dailyrecord.co.uk
Royal Aberdeen Golf Course
Source: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk

Those Summer Days Spent by the Seaside…..

We all look fondly back with nostalgia on those good ole days spent on holiday by the sea, splashing about in the sea and munching ravenously on delectable fish & chips. Well, due to Aberdeen’s Fun Beach, you can relive those memories and bring them into the 21st century. Many a day can be spent at the beach between the arcades; mini-golf; tempting restaurants; the amusement park; the leisure pool filled with watery thrills & spills; the ice-rink, the cinema….All this before you even consider the simplicity of just walking along the coast line to bask in the fresh sea air and to feel the warm sand between the toes. It is truly an entertainment hotspot and is certainly one to keep the whole family occupied and the cameras snapping.

Aberdeen Beach Source: VisitScotland
Aberdeen Beach
Source: VisitScotland

Journey to the Past

The beach borders on another prime Aberdonian attraction: Footdee (or fondly known as Fittie by Aberdonians). The words charming, quaint and idyllic certainly come to mind but how could they not considering Footdee is a well-conserved fishing village where you are free to walk around and bask in the tranquility of life by the seaside. It is truly a walk back to the past and is in stark contrast to the modernity of the city centre that is only minutes away. Similarly, due to Aberdeen’s strong maritime links, of course there has to be a museum to document the bond between Aberdeen & the Sea; something which The Maritime Museum spectacularly manages to convey in its award-winning displays.

 

Footdee  Source: TripAdvisor
Footdee
Source: TripAdvisor

History in the Walls

History could not be any more present in the city than in Old Aberdeen where you are able to find a 15th century college and a medieval bridge and cathedral. Aberdeen was once its own independent town between 1489 and 1891, however to this day its historical beauty still remains and you can feel the rich heritage emanating through the walls. Popular sites on the two-hour journey to the past include the King’s College (which is now a part of the University of Aberdeen) as well as St. Machar’s Cathderal and the Brig o’ Balgownie. Traverse the cobbled streets and breathe in the smell of the past, it is truly a unique and beautiful trail to follow which shows how there is more to Aberdeen’s history than just the sea.

St. Machar's Cathedral Source: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2636881
St. Machar’s Cathedral
Source: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2636881

The Water of Life

It goes without saying that a visit to Aberdeenshire is not complete without a visit to a distillery. Scotland is home to the only whisky trail in the world, in Speyside, where you will be able to find more than half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries each possessing their own unique recipes and history. From Glenfiddich to Glenlivet to Cardhu, these are the famous whiskies we all know, and can be found on this illustrious trail.

However, you do not have to look as far as Speyside to find a fully-functioning distillery; reminding you how Aberdeen is in a prime location to engage in all aspects of Scottish culture. There are eight distilleries only an hour from Aberdeen which may be smaller in scale, but still have their own exciting story to tell and unique whisky recipe to taste. Fettercairn, Knockdhu and Glen Garioch are some of the names featured and of the eight overall distilleries; at least half of them do have visitor centres making for a perfect day-trip from Aberdeen.

City Life

Aberdeen may have 8,000 years of stories to tell, but that does not stop it from being a bustling modern 21st century city. There is always a whole host of the biggest names gracing the stages of the AECC, the Music Hall, the Lemon Tree and His Majesty’s Theatre. However, if it is Hollywood calling you, then there are three major cinemas to keep you up-to-date as well as the artsy Belmont Cinema which shows a more international & indie selection of films. With all the latest brands in the shopping and food plaza hotspots of Union Square, Bon Accord Centre, Trinity Centre, St. Nicholas Centre and The Academy, your wallet will not be short of exercise and that is before you even consider the retail parks. However, if it is the mind you want to exercise, then the likes of the Tolbooth Museum & the Aberdeen Art Gallery should be enough to engage the brain. Other cultural activities include the plentiful supply of festivals that take place, including the Aberdeen Festival Collective which features prime events such as the Aberdeen Jazz Festival, Techfest & Aberdeen International Youth Festival among other.

His Majesty's Theatre Source: www.rosemountaberdeen.co.uk
His Majesty’s Theatre
Source: http://www.rosemountaberdeen.co.uk

If you have managed to reach the end of this rather extensive city guide to Aberdeen, then I hope that you are in no doubt that it is a lie to say Aberdeen is for business tourists only. Aberdeen opens its arms to everyone, as does The Spires, and so whether you do come for business or leisure, we look forward to giving you a warm Aberdonian welcome.

Sources:

http://www.visitscotland.com/

http://www.visitaberdeen.com/

http://aberdeen.stv.tv/articles/317594-dolphinwatch-was-launched-at-aberdeens-torry-battery-on-friday-april-17/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/the-granite-city-thats-made-of-stronger-stuff-10264270.html

Back to Serviced Apartment Basics

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The Spires Glasgow

The most exciting news at The Spires in the past few weeks is that we have just launched our brand new serviced apartment finding service: “The Apartment Collection- By The Spires”.  As you may know, The Spires initially operated over one hundred serviced apartments across four major UK destinations. However, with this latest development, we are no longer constricted to these geographical boundaries and are now able to source serviced apartments all across the UK & globally; meaning we are now in a position where we are better able to satisfy our customer’s diverse requirements.

Now for a little bit of honesty. When I first interviewed at The Spires, it would be fair to say I was a little ignorant in regards to the serviced apartment world. I could probably give you a satisfactory definition of what a serviced apartment was, but it was not an accommodation form that had really made it into my consideration set when it came to decision-making. Conversely, having now worked at The Spires for approximately 3.5 months I think I can safely say that I am somewhat more enlightened, and while by no means I am a fountain of knowledge or a serviced apartment guru, I am certainly a converted key advocate for them. Therefore, you too may be sitting reading this thinking “why would I want someone to source me a serviced apartment anywhere I want?” or even, “why would I choose to stay in a serviced apartment”. Consequently, I think it is time for you to sit down with a nice hot beverage and prepare for a lesson in serviced apartments as we go back to basics and discover all there is to know about this dynamic industry.

The Definition

There has been much furore and confusion when it comes to deciding on a set definition for a “serviced apartment”, due to the variety in supplier offerings, and this could be at detriment to the industry because it means that customers are in a state of confusion when it comes to their expectations of the experience they will be provided with.  Similarly, many terms are thrown about when it comes to serviced apartments including “suites”, “apart-hotels” and “extended stays” so it is no wonder that it is difficult to create a standardised global image. However, when in doubt, it is best to turn to the official industry body for serviced apartments: The Association of Serviced Apartments (The ASAP). As their Managing Director states,  The ASAP is now marketing “the Serviced Apartment as an umbrella term for a type of furnished apartment available for short–term or long–term stays, which provides amenities, housekeeping and a range of services for guests where taxes and utilities are included in the rental price.” In effect, what makes The Spires unique is that we offer the flexibility and service of a hotel (such as housekeeping and breakfasts on request) with the space, freedom and comfort of an apartment-it is the best of both worlds.

When looking for serviced apartments, there is always a wealth of possibilities to choose from; particularly with individuals being able to lease out their apartments. Therefore, to help you with your decision-making, make sure to look out for those apartments which have passed The ASAP’s Quality Programme because it means it has been subject to a rigorous inspection process and therefore has been deemed as exceeding customer expectations.

The Industry

For all you ever want to know about the serviced apartment world, you need look no further than The Apartment Service’s “The Global Serviced Apartments Industry Report”. This year alone, the report was compiled using findings which had been unearthed from over thirty interviews and over 2, 500 surveys that had been conducted with stakeholders in all relation to the industry from operators to agents to buyers.  Therefore, it is safe to say this report knows what it is talking about.

The most critical finding that was documented, is that the serviced apartment industry is one that is rapidly growing. At present, there are nearly 750,000 serviced apartments operating in over 9, 000 locations and since 2008, there has been an 80% increase in the amount of serviced apartment inventory across the world. The rapidness of the serviced apartment boom can only be emphasized when it is considered how in the past twelve years, the numbers of serviced apartments have doubled and they are predicted to double again in the next four. Yes, as you may infer, as an industry we are aiming for world domination!

Of course, I am sure we have all endured an economics lesson in life and therefore are aware of the connection between supply and demand. Therefore, there would not be this surge in supply if it were not for the fact that there is a market for it. Over 80% of those surveyed stated they preferred serviced apartments over hotels, with factors such as the freedom to make your own meals, as well as the privacy, swaying their preference.

The Misconceptions

Going based off of my own misconceptions, I think one of my greatest ones in regards to serviced apartments was that they were designed for corporate long-term bookings. However, while I cannot speak for the whole industry, I would say that a majority cater for leisure and corporate bookings alike. Similarly, while minimal stays do tend to be in place, this can be from as little as two or three nights and a great percentage of apartments, such as our own, can actually be booked from as little as a one-night stay. This is because booking an apartment is on par with booking a hotel room in that all you have to do is pay for the apartment per night (not the number of people). With the majority of providers, there are no leases or utility bills to be paid separately as you are not taking any ownership of the apartment, like you take no ownership of the hotel room.

The Benefits

As was stated before, 80% of respondents favoured serviced apartments over hotels and in approximately 75% of businesses, employers are increasing their usage of serviced apartments when it comes to business projects and assignments. Hotels and serviced apartments will always be in a heated rivalry because of the similarities of their product offerings, however, would it be biased of me to say that serviced apartments edge it? You get all the benefits of a hotel stay from the attentive housekeeping and the hearty breakfast on request, but you also get that extra space and flexibility; and normally at a lower cost to boot.

 I will not lie; I love the thrill of staying in a luxurious hotel with the thriving lobby environment and shedding the adult responsibilities of making the bed and cooking dinner. However, having stayed in one for a prolonged period of time, I can also say how the novelty does wear off. Being restricted to a sole room can make you go stir-crazy as your legs long to be able to move between more than just the bathroom and the bed.  Similarly, your stomach and your wallet ache from having to eat out all the time. It is true; you do not long for something till you lose it and when you stay at a hotel, you long for those home comforts. Thankfully, that is where serviced apartments come in. You have the familial welcoming decor of your home as well as fully furnished modern kitchens and lounges that mean you can spread yourself out like you do at home and have control over the food you want to make.

Similarly, like hotels, a majority of apartments like ours will have a dedicated reception desk meaning you will always be greeted by a warm, friendly face and have someone there to ensure you have the best experience possible.

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Ultimately, I am confident in saying that the world is waking up to the benefits of the serviced apartments and due to there being over 700,000 located all across the world, with “The Apartment Collection-By The Spires” we can certainly find you an apartment for wherever you want to stay.

Sources: http://www.relocatemagazine.com/articles/reeditor-02-2015-tas-report-reveals-exponential-growth-and-investor-interest-in-serviced-apartments

http://www.relocatemagazine.com/news/re12-d1-2014-5591-asap-unveils-new-quality-accredited-logo-and-serviced-apartment-definition

The Bard & Birmingham

Shakespeare

As the mighty man himself wrote, “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late”-now is the time to walk in Shakespeare’s footsteps.

It has been quite an unusual chain of linking events this week. Firstly, yesterday in the mail we received a rather mysterious envelope complete with some rather exotic stamps and a letter informing us of how we had been voted “Top Choice 2015” by Lianorg; a professional tourism information site for Asian tourists. As a result, we now have a medal that we are proudly wearing at our Aberdeen HQ and we are now featured on their website. I have to say it is rather intriguing to see The Spires written about in Chinese, even if I am not entirely sure about the translation (thank you Google Translate). It is definitely an achievement to see how we have made even the smallest of foot-steps into the international arena, especially considering the language barrier which makes it really hard to market yourself; particularly as a smaller organisation.

Linking on from our exciting news was how Birmingham, one of our respective locations, has announced that Hainan Airlines is to operate two weekly flights between July 3 and 28 August flying from Birmingham to Beijing; hopefully blazing the way for a regular service. Between the flights expected to carry almost 4,000 Chinese tourists to the UK, and coupled with our online presence on Lianorg, this hopefully will help us to open up to a wider international market. Both of these developments are very exciting if this could potentially pave the way for us spreading our cultural wings and having the chance to welcome an increased number of international guests-particularly from growing economies such as China.

Finally, this then linked on to how Birmingham is re-branding itself as “Shakespeare’s Airport” in China due to the tourism pull that Shakespeare has for Asian tourists and the proximity of Shakespeare’s home to Britain’s Second City. Already the cogs in my brain were turning in regards to writing a blog about the Birmingham-Shakespeare connection, but then it turned out that today is actually National Shakespeare’s Day, making this day of all 365 days in the year the most fitting time to write about the UK’s most renowned playwright and poet. Coincidences eh?!

Stratford-upon-Avon is the fond childhood home of Shakespeare and is located about an hour’s drive or so away from Birmingham. No visit in Stratford-upon-Avon could be complete without a visit to the house where some of the ideas and inspiration behind some of the greatest plays and poems in history potentially began to form; Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Between the house itself where Shakespeare grew as both a boy and a man; the beautiful gardens and the Shakespeare Exhibition, there is much to be explored. The house is even more iconic in that it did not just welcome the great literary mind of Shakespeare; it also opened its doors to the likes of Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. Stratford-upon-Avon is home not just to Shakespeare’s childhood residence, but also to his wife’s (Anne Hathaway’s Cottage), his mother’s (Mary Arden’s Farm) and his eldest daughter Susanna’s (Hall Croft). Whichever property you visit, if not all, each is glowing in beauty and heritage, with Anne Hathaway’s Cottage even being known as the most romantic cottage in the country. However, from Shakespeare’s birth to his death, Stratford-upon-Avon has witnessed it all as Nash’s House and New Hall formed the background to the final chapter in his life and now Shakespeare and his wife rest in the stunning parish of Holy Trinity Church.

Shakespeare's Birthplace
Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Of course, what is paying tribute to Shakespeare without having an opportunity to see his great works in action? Today, the world’s most widely known theater company, the Royal Shakespeare Company, performs at its resident home in Stratford-upon-Avon where thousands in their droves assemble and while Shakespeare is not the only playwright on the list, with contemporary pieces being performed too, it is still a definite stop on a Shakespeare tour.

Therefore, it is abundantly clear that Stratford-upon-Avon is the place for any literary, Shakespeare or Tudor fanatic. Most people associate Shakespeare and his hometown with London; however Birmingham is a lot closer and more conveniently located if you wanted to balance out a city-break with a bit of historical and cultural enlightenment. Similarly, if you cannot afford the day-trip, there is always The Shakespeare pub in Birmingham!  There are so many reasons why you should visit Birmingham, from Cadbury World to the Bullring to the Jewellery Quarter, and now visiting the birthplace of one of the UK’s most iconic historical figures should be headlining that list also.

the-shakespeare-in-lower-temple-street-birmingham-674376394

Is Shakespeare not your literary fix? Well, a famous author also descended from Birmingham itself, the man behind the hobbit, J.R.R Tolkien. You can pay a visit to Sarehole Mill where Tolkien spent many a happy moment in his youth playing and see some of the Birmingham sights which are reputably responsible for inspiring him when writing his globally beloved novels. However, whatever your motive for visiting, we are always more than eager to accommodate you and all the family and friends you bring with you.

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Sarehole Mill

Had he been immortal, today on National Shakespeare Day (April 23rd) Shakespeare would be the rather youthful age of 451 years old. However, while he has not lived to see that mighty age, his globally beloved works have, making a day-trip from Birmingham to Stratford-upon-Avon a timeless venture which I am sure will live on and on throughout future generations.

With regards to the two literary legends covered in this piece, I feel it would be rather fitting to let them have the last words:

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”-William Shakespeare

 “All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.”-J.R.R Tolkien

Images: Wikipedia & Birmingham Mail

The City Spotlight is on Birmingham

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Maybe it was due to a lack of regional knowledge, but Birmingham was never really a place that was on my travelling radar. I am ashamed to say that whenever I considered a visit to England, invariably my favourite ‘go to’ places were Manchester and of course, that distinctly well-known city of London. However, coming to The Spires and doing a daily press check to see what is going on in the world, a city that keeps coming up on my newsfeed is you guessed it; Birmingham. Not only is Birmingham a consistent news item but it is one for all the right, positive reasons such as being named best city to *insert activity such as live/visit/invest*. Birmingham is on such a role that it is really starting to give London a run for its money, hence it commonly being referred to as“Britain’s Second City”. Consequently, Birmingham is now firmly headlining my ‘to go’ list and I hope to persuade anyone who is thinking of engaging in a ‘staycation’ this year or even in a mini city-break to do the same. All the way back in 2012 we highlighted the awesomeness of Birmingham (read here) but here are some facts and reasons as to why Birmingham (and The Spires!) should be on your 2015 UK bucketlist and to fit with the 2015 theme, I will give you 15 reasons:

1. What links Rome and Birmingham? Well, Birmingham’s quality of life is on par with Rome’s with both cities placing at number 52 out of 440 cities featured on Mercer’s Quality of Life 2015 report. Factors that were taken into account to generate the rankings were aspects such as political, cultural and social environments. However, Birmingham edges it in terms of miles of canals when it is considered how its 18th century canal systems designed for trading, outstrips Venice’s at 56km of waterways. Read more here for full rankings.
2. There will be a greater sense of jubilation in the city with many anniversaries being celebrated in Birmingham including Birmingham Cathedral’s 300th Birthday and the renowned Rotunda’s 50th. Get those party poppers out!
3. In 2015, the party is at Resort World Birmingham which will be the UK’s first ever integrated destination leisure complex complete with an 11-screen cinema; an outlet shopping centre; an array of international cuisine options and a casino.
4. In 2014, the Birmingham Hippodrome was the highest attended single theatre in the UK and features all kinds of shows from musicals to drama to opera to comedians. Things to look forward to in 2015 include the likes of Shrek, Dirty Dancing and The Bodyguard. However, if concerts are more your thing, the Genting Arena and 02 Academy should be sure to hit the spot with musical acts this year including Take That and Fleetwood Mac. Birmingham’s music scene has clearly proven itself to be one to watch as previous bands which have made their breakout in Birmingham include UB40, Duran Duran and Black Sabbath.
5. Have a liking for the sparkly things in life? Well, Birmingham’s trendy Jewellery Quarter is still inhabited by over 500 jewellery firms and is full of heritage with it being a designated conservation area. Come here to check out some positive community spirit, historic architecture, some unique restaurants and a bit of bling!
Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham (Source: http://www.maguirejackson.com)
6. Out of all UK locations, Birmingham was the only one to make it in Rough Guide’s Top 10 Destinations of 2015 where it was in the warm company of destinations such as Wellington and New Orleans. Factors that attributed to the awarding of this accolade were in relation to Birmingham’s impressive shopping, music and diverse cultural scenes.
7. According to Site Selection’s (read here) “The Best to Invest List”, Birmingham was determined as the best UK city to invest in and the second best in Western Europe. This was determined by its success at attracting investment projects and considering all the developments that are happening, it is no surprise why these investments are sparking further ones such as the ambitious HS2 high-speed rail project.
8. If you are a chocoholic as well as a foodie then Birmingham is your new paradise. As well as the production of the nation’s favourite chocolate bar happening here, within Birmingham you can also find Bournville which was a community built by the Cadbury family for their chocolate factory workers. For all you extreme chocoholics, make sure to check out the Cadbury World Museum where all the chocolate fun and sugar comas are at.
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Cadbury World (Source: http://www.coolplaces.co.uk)
9. The iconic Bullring is more than just iconic, it is also historic as it has been a market trading area since the Middle Ages. With the wide array of brands, restaurants and retailers it now boasts, it is an attraction that acts as a retail magnet for tourists the world over with its status as one of the UK’s largest shopping centres.
10. Exiting times lie ahead for you in Birmingham in 2015 if you are a sports fan with two Rugby World Cup matches being held in Birmingham as well as The Ashes.
11. Are you a foodie? Well, after London, Birmingham has the greatest number of Michelin starred restaurants, such as Glynn Purnell, and its dining scene has been praised by many a national and international publication. Do not have a Michelin friendly wallet? Well, Birmingham also has an abundance of street foods covering a global range of cuisine.
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Adams Restaurant (Source: http://www.edgemagazine.org)
12. Nature is in abundance because there are plenty of places to take a leisurely stroll with Birmingham having more parks than any other European destination and in Victoria Square, you can even find one of the largest water fountains in Europe.
13. Exciting developments are all around in 2015. For instance, in September, the New Street Station development will be complete with improved facilities; a new concourse and a shopping mall; the Grand Central Shopping Centre. The centre will feature 60 retailers and restaurants as well as the inclusion of a flagship John Lewis store. It has been claimed that the new centre will be a “world class transport, shopping and community hub”. Definitely one to watch!
14. Those who like to engage in a little bit of retail therapy will also be pleased by the developments going on at The Mailbox Refurbishment and Selfridges Birmingham. Selfridges’ £20 million investment will bring in 70 new brands as well as an “Oxford Street” edge while there is a an even greater upgrade being made to The Mailbox, including the flagship Harvey Nichols, where £50 million has been spent to take luxury shopping to its max. You can already feel bank accounts cowering away in fear…
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Birmingham 2015 Developments (Source: http://business.grandcentralbirmingham.com/the-location.aspx)
15. The Library of Birmingham was the only UK Visitor Attraction to be featured in the UK Top 10 Most Visited Visitor Attractions (as determined by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions) that was not in London. Just look at this building for the reason why!.
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Birmingham Library (Source: Wikipedia)
Therefore, I hope right now you are all plotting a getaway to Birmingham because with even bigger, future developments on the horizon, it is clear that Birmingham’s already impressive music, cultural, dining, shopping and transport scene are set to become even more attractive. If I have failed to convince you of this, watch this space and let Birmingham’s growth do the talking!

Information: http://visitbirmingham.com/ ;http://www.birminghampost.co.uk/business/birminghams-15-15-big-projects-7149572http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/

Head Image: http://finedininglovers.com