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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 March 2006, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
From Birmingham to Blackburn
Blackburn: Gearing up for the visit
The most famous visitor to Blackburn since Mahatma Gandhi inspected its cotton mills in 1931 arrived on Friday.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, widely considered the world's most powerful woman, has taken up the offer of a tour from her UK counterpart and local boy, Jack Straw.

The gesture, it seems, came about as a result of the foreign secretary's visit to Ms Rice's home town of Birmingham, Alabama, last year.

Neither Blackburn nor Birmingham has a particularly prominent place on their respective country's tourist circuits. So, for those unfamiliar with their charms, here is a little of what each has on offer.


Blackburn: In the heart of Lancashire, the town was a major centre for the textile industry during the industrial revolution. Today it has a multicultural population of about 105,000.

Birmingham: Iron and steel saw the city grow rapidly and become an important industrial centre. In the 1960s it played a key role in the civil rights movement. The city is the largest in Alabama, with a population of 243,000.


Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw
Condoleezza Rice previously welcomed Jack Straw to the US

Blackburn: "You will discover a landscape of vivid contrasts where rich history and heritage combines with the most modern of 21st century townscapes." Should Condoleezza find the time, there are the surrounding "wild moorland walks".

Birmingham: Visitors can enjoy "everything from the city's historical preservation to her legendary civil rights history". For those with an eye on cost, "Birmingham is the place where value meets entertainment".


Blackburn: "Tourists rarely stray into the old, unsung mill towns of north and east Lancashire, reasoning perhaps that they are unlikely to offer much in the way of cultural promise or light-hearted diversion." (Rough Guide to England).

Birmingham: "Being known as the 'Pittsburgh of the South' might seem faint praise enough: however during the civil rights era Birmingham also earned the label 'Johannesburg of America' for the brutality and intolerance of its police force." (Rough Guide to the United States).


Local dishes - part of any good trip

Blackburn: Condoleezza Rice will be introduced to curry, black pudding and Lancashire hotpot by Jack Straw, the Sun newspaper predicts. The locally produced - and well regarded - Thwaites bitter seems appropriate to wash it all down.

Birmingham: "I made Jack eat catfish in Alabama," Ms Rice remembers. There was also a barbecue and a family meal at chez Rice. Less well connected visitors might try Jim 'n' Nick's, where Mr Straw had ribs and chocolate cream pie.


Blackburn: Home of Blackburn Rovers, the town has a proud football pedigree. Unfortunately, the team are not playing during Ms Rice's visit. She will still be visiting Ewood Park, though, to tour the ground and watch local children play.

Birmingham: Unhampered by a lack of major professional teams, the city is keen on college basketball, baseball and American football. Indeed, Jack Straw's visit included a football match, which he likened to "rugby with commercials".


Monica vs Lovejoy: Birmingham vs Blackburn

Blackburn: Its pot-holed roads inspired the Beatles lyric: "I read the news today oh boy, 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire". Designer Wayne Hemingway, director Michael Winterbottom, and Ian "Lovejoy" McShane were born or raised here.

Birmingham: Friends star Courtney Cox and sprinter Carl Lewis were both born in the city. It claims to have the largest municipal arts museum in the area and should you fancy making steel, the necessary iron ore, coal and limestone are to hand.


Blackburn: Well, Condoleezza is making the headlines - from the cancellation of a mosque visit to what her visit might do for the region. In other news, a factory full of football fans has named its machines after Blackburn Rovers players.

Birmingham: Injuring or killing an unborn child could lead to assault or homicide charges, under a new bill. Meanwhile, the city's Taylor Hicks has been voted through to the next round of TV talent contest American Idol.


Blackburn: Should Ms Rice want to put down roots, she will be pleased to know the town is relatively good value. At the top of the market is an "exclusive" six-bed home at 850,000. A modest two-bed terrace can be hers for 57,500.

Birmingham: Used to London prices, Mr Straw would live well should he decide to up sticks for Rice country. A detached four-bedroom, three-bathroom home is his for 160,000. A one-bed condo is on the market for 16,000 - with pool access.

Protests stop Rice's mosque visit
30 Mar 06 |  Lancashire
Rice to visit north-west England
27 Mar 06 |  UK Politics
Straw to repay Rice hospitality
25 Feb 06 |  Lancashire

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