Saturday, 29 October 2016

Grand Designs via Grand Central: a Grand Day Out

Interesting laundry equipment at Grand
Designs Live: one of the innovations on show
 When I open the Saturday newspaper and all the bits fall out of the wrapped magazine section, they normally go unread into the recycling bin, but a couple of weeks ago a brochure for the Grand Designs Live exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre managed to achieve a stay of execution by catching my eye. In a few years' time I shall need to think about getting my retirement home into shape and some inspiration from such an exhibition might be worth having, Further, it was at the NEC which is easy to get to, and it was open on my day off ... Tickets were ordered online (and downloaded and printed at home, as is becoming the norm for exhibitions), and then train tickets, standard class, off peak, ordered from Cross Country Trains.

Although the obvious way there is via Birmingham New Street to Birmingham International, the NEC's station, the online booking engine came up with a route via Coventry which shaved about 4 minutes off the outward trip at the cost of an extra change of train, and although I would not normally bother, this would be an interesting ride on a line I'd never used before, so we resolved that if we were on time into Nuneaton we would go that way, and if late we'd stay on board our Cross Country train to New Street and change there in the normal way. It was on time, and we had coffee and biscuits from the trolley on the way to Nuneaton.

The Nuneaton - Coventry line was closed to passenger traffic when I lived in Birmingham in the seventies but opened, serving Bedworth as well, not long after. It is now a full-fledged local service with several intermediate stops, although the single-coach train struggles to cope with crowds at the Coventry Arena stop on match days. For us, it transported us smoothly and comfortably to Coventry where we boarded a Virgin Trains Pendolino for the short trip to Birmingham International.

The show itself was fascinating. Lots to see and many ways to empty ones bank account. It was extremely useful not to be in a position to order anything for several years because that prevented us bing sucked into the "exhibition discount if you order today," except on the wines which we were persuaded to try ... and only just managed to avoid buying. I have to say these were really good but we had not come to buy wines but to get ideas about our future home, which may well have wine in it, but not yet.

Using off-peak tickets meant that we arrived at the show late in the morning, so we had lunch there and then, finished with all we wanted to see by late afternoon, made our way to New Street to await the first off-peak train home. A little stroll around the Grand Central shopping centre above the station, a visit to the Ian Allan book and model shop, and a longer visit to House of Fraser easily filled the time - never fear a long wait for a train at New Street for there is no shortage of things to do in central Birmingham.

We bought sandwiches and Le Froglet wine at M&S at the station for our supper on the way home and boarded our train. Although we were travelling on open tickets we did have seats reserved on the first off-peak train because we know these can get rather busy. A grand day out, with brochures and purchases from the exhibition (we fell for a lavatory brush, believe it or not, at exhibition-only price, of course!) and from the city centre shops as we made our way back across the meadows to our current home.

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