After our travels around England we were ready to "get to work" at the Rotary convention. We had never been to one before, so we weren't quite sure what to expect. It was fabulous. The host clubs and the city and citizens of Birmingham put together a great program.
The National Exhibition Centre (NEC), airport, and train station are all integrated making it easy to get around. We elected to stay in Birmingham center rather than in one of the hotels near the convention site so we became quite familiar with the trains.
Due to the number of Rotarians, people stayed in numerous towns and cities in the area. The excellent train service meant that they could come from several directions.
Jim & I had read about a new trend in downtown hotels: very small and inexpensive rooms. Since one of the convention hotels, nitenite, was in this category, we gave it a try.
Well, it was interesting. The rooms are Tiny. This picture shows it all (I'm standing on the bed). No closet. No drawers. Two (2) fixed clothes hangers. Had both suitcases fit underneath the bed it would have made a big difference, but one didn't. A Pullman train room has better use of space.
On the other hand, it was inexpensive and well-located within easy walking distance of the train station, downtown restaurants, shopping, and cultural venues. For one person it would have been quite comfortable. For two – not so much!
Rotarians with identity badges had free transit between the cities with hotels and the NEC.
Regular commuters on the trains used by the conventioneers were overwhelmed by the crowds but were gracious. It was standing room only! We chatted with many locals. I was surprised at the number of people who were regular commuters from Birmingham to London.
I was also surprised to hear that, although Virgin Atlantic has been very successful with their planes, Virgin Trains has had significant start-up, management and technical problems that caused a lot of grumbling among their rail passengers.
The NEC in Birmingham is enormous. There were numerous venues used for plenary sessions, break-out groups and general mingling.
The "House of Friendship" in the background had restaurants, entertainment venues, booths for numerous good-works and fellowship programs, and shops selling local specialties. We liked all the various national outfits worn by visiting Rotarians.
While enjoying a pint waiting for Jim one afternoon I sat at a table with a young woman who was in the first co-ed graduating class at Lexington's Washington & Lee University! It's a truly small world.
The plenary sessions were in the LG Arena. Even though it was huge, there were two opening sessions to accommodate all the attendees.
This session featured the RI president, D. K. Lee of Korea. Other major presenters were Ban Ki-moon, then Secretary General of the UN, Jane Goodall, and Mia Farrow, representing UNICEF, which partners with Rotary in the eradication of polio worldwide.
We attended many sessions describing Rotarians' service throughout the world.
Buses brought participants from various locations. We caught an early one so were able to see much of the castle (and eat!) before it got too crowded.
I am taking this picture from Ethelfleda's Mound. The link has a great picture of the location of the original fortification at the site. (The stonework is much later.) Ethelfleda fortified the area in the 10th century as defense from the Danes.
The Avon River runs through the grounds. There are several Avon Rivers in England. The Avon in Bath is not the same one as this. This is the "Stratford-on-Avon" Avon. "Avon" derives from the Britonnic word for "river."
The smoke towards the right of the picture is from the barbecue pits where our supper is being prepared.
The boathouse is a 19th century addition.
In addition to the landscape garden, there were a number of peacocks prowling about formal gardens adjacent to the conservatory.
This one was quite the ham – once he had a sufficient audience he put on his display. As he strutted around it was evident that he enjoyed being the center of attention.
Among the medieval exhibitions was a jousting match. It was presented as an narrative including the handsome hero, shown here, at least one villain, the requisite damsel in distress, and so on.
Another group of enactors demonstrated a trebuchet. The stones it hurled made some impressive dents in the turf. Happily they didn't smash any Rotarians.
Two men demonstrated historically accurate sword-fighting. Heavy armor was not used. Chain mail was was lighter and gave better mobility. Metal shields were not common; wooden shields were. They were lighter, stronger, and gave more protection against arrows, which tended to ricochet off metal to the detriment of one's neighbor knight.
It was a fun afternoon.
The down side of getting there early, however, was a desire to leave early. Organizers had instructed bus drivers to wait until after the party was over, but a group of us hijacked a bus and forced the driver to take us back. We didn't use swords, but we made it clear that we meant business. More mild-mannered Rotarians were up until VERY late.
On another evening the city hosted a street fair in the historic downtown. There were booths selling food and souvenirs, street actors, buskers and the like. Locals came out to enjoy the action as well.
Later in the evening there were concerts and plays.
Eventually the conference ended and we traveled to Southampton to catch the QMII for our voyage home.