Because it was election day Brooke only got 1/2 day on this excellent post. We’re re-posting it so it gets the glory it richly deserves.
Hello again, Clammunists. It’s time to continue my travel feature, mostly because KT and James occasionally need a damn day off from filling the blog with actual content that people want to read. So, enjoy some stories about a faraway place, off the island!
I’ve been to Britain twice, and most of that time has been spent in the city of Bristol. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s ok, most Americans haven’t. As I said before, Bristol is neither London, nor anywhere near Downton Abbey. It sits a bit to the south and west of London, in an area of Britain imaginatively called The West Country.
HISTORY! It’s full of so much history that Bristolians (I’m not certain that’s a real word, but I want it to be) pretty much ignore it, walking past things like the ruins of a 1000 year old castle, Tudor architecture, and more medieval churches than you can shake a tortured heretic at on their daily errands without so much as a second thought. That said, it probably loses some wonder when you see it every day. God knows I no longer gawk in awe at the Gorton’s sign.
One of my favorite historical bits of the city is St. Mary Redcliffe, an amazing example of Gothic architecture in the form of a huge, ancient church. Go ahead and Google it, I don’t mind. Take your time, drink in those pictures.
This building is gorgeous and slightly terrifying. Heading inside, you pass through remarkably intimidating doors only to get smacked in the face with the sense that, holy shit, you’re actually standing knee deep in history. No actually, it would be more like chest deep.
All through the place are the tombs of the rich and/or pious , who are buried right in the damned floor of the place, with a big marker slab embedded in the tiles. A lucky few have above floor tombs with carved likenesses of stone. On a pillar of one of the stone tombs is carved “WM 1699.” Yes, some bored kid sitting through a boring sermon over 300 years ago carved his or her initials into a medieval tomb. Pretty badass move, WM. I hope you didn’t go to hell for it.
PIRATES! I couldn’t possibly touch on it all here, but Bristol has a ton of interesting history, including a lot of pirates. You can still see caves and passages carved out of the sandstone harbor cliffs where they hid their booty (heh..heh.) Blackbeard himself was from Bristol! How cool is that? That horrible pirate accent you hear in Movies? It’s a shitty, heavy handed Bristol accent. That said, a lot of the history of the city is bleak. Sadly, pirates were not the cheery rum swilling ne’er do-wells Disney would have you believe. On top of that, Bristol was a major slave trading port in the mid 1700’s, which is not exactly something the average vacationer likes to think about, so we will move on.
CULTURE The city has a hard to describe laid back sort of a feel. I can’t really put it into words, other than to say that it didn’t feel like anyone was hurrying anywhere, if that makes sense. It has a ton of charm, in architecture and just general feel. We spent a few days in Nottingham, and the difference was stark. Nottingham was all angles, harsh looking buildings, and people without character, hurrying to get somewhere. Bristol is different, and I think this might owe something, at least in part, to the history of the city and how Bristolians (I’m keeping that word, dammit) lay claim to it and process the shittier parts of their shared heritage, some of which as I said before, is pretty goddamned bleak.
Bristol has been an epicenter for art for a while now, with a lot of poignant cultural commentary coming out of its fairly rough inner areas. Remember Trip-Hop, fellow 90’s kids? Tricky, Portishead, Massive Attack, they all came from Bristol, bringing with them a dark sort of weird aesthetic. Also hailing from Bristol is that favorite of White People who like to pretend they know about art, Banksy. The thing is, art is everywhere in Bristol. Even in the bleakest parts, buildings are covered with amazing works of graffiti. I don’t recall if there were any painted crosswalks, but there may have been.
NOT CULTURE! Know what else Bristol has a lot of? Chavs. What is a Chav, you ask? Think of Snooki and the other Jersey Shore kids, add more teenage pregnancy and drunken stupor. Wrap it all in Burberry plaid, and increase the violent tendencies. I saw a pack of them, all decked out in their finest tracksuits and wanted to take a picture, but my husband convinced me that I probably shouldn’t.
As lovely as Bristol is, it also has a lot of trash. Literal trash, as in garbage. Say what you will about good ol’ Merica, but our cities in general are much more tidy. Husband and I walked a few blocks to breakfast one morning and had to dodge multiple sets of stairs full of vomit and piss (remember that drinking culture I mentioned in my last article? HERE YOU GO), beer cans, and trash all over the sidewalks. On the plus side, I did find multiple fliers for the Lady Boys of Bangkok show, so there’s that. I think the Gloucester Arts Council may want to think about booking these gals.
All in all, Bristol is great. Given the opportunity, I would spend a lot more time there. There’s so much to it, and so much I don’t have the space to tell you about (Let’s face it, this is already dangerously near TL;DR territory) so here’s a list of some stuff I didn’t get to tell you about, since you people like them so damn much. Google these things, or use your imagination, kids.
• St. Nicholas Market – a fabulous 18th century market, with vendor stalls selling everything from meat to old records.
• The River Avon – yes, THAT river Avon, of Shakespeare fame. It runs through the city, and you can take river tours and drink in floating pubs.
• The Food- British food is actually excellent. It gets an unfairly bad rap. Bristol has a ton of fantastic food and I ate an embarrassing amount of it.
• Historic Pubs – All sorts of stuff went down in the old pubs which are still standing in Bristol today. The Royal Navy Volunteer, the Llandoger Trow, the Hole in the Wall and others have all been host to a lot of shady pirate dealings, and have inspired a lot of writers. Go get drunk in history.