The famous Avon River cuts through, and runs out to
Bristol Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. This has historically made Bristol an
important port town.
John Cabot set forth from Bristol. On his most famous journey,
Cabot set forth from Bristol
in 1497 on the ship called Matthew and discovered Newfoundland and Nova
Scotia (although he thought they were China).
There's supposedly a reproduction of the Matthew located in Bristol harbor, but
I didn't see it, although I didn't have time to venture deep down into the
harbor. And Bristol was the capital of the slave trade in the 1700's -- slave
ships were built in Bristol. Manufactured goods were sent down to Africa
where they were traded for slaves, who were brought back to Bristol and loaded
onto slave ships bound for the New World, mostly the Southern US where they were
exchanged for tobacco and cotton. I learned this on one of the historical
placards by the Avon River in Bristol.
The Germans bombed the shit out of Bristol at the beginning of World War II.
The Brits have left a couple of churches that were bombed by the Luftwaffe as
they were, as a memorial and reminder of the thousands that died. And so that's
one of the first places that drew me in, in Bristol -- St. Peter's Church at the
top of Castle Park. I got off the bus (a few stops errantly past my intended
destination of town center), saw the ancient church in the park with all the
people sitting on the grass and headed right for it. Lots of love
going on in the park; young couples cozying up everywhere. Bristol is a college
town, and the center of town and Castle Park are a five minute walk from College
Square of the University of Bristol.
Castle Park and St.
Peter's Church sit above the Avon River. [Click to enlarge]
This being England, there actually used to be a
castle in Castle Park;
remnants of its castle walls are left and preserved (and you can touch them and
climb on them) in various parts of the park, with placards detailing their
Ignorant traveler Lou V poses in front
of Avon River and Castle Park in Bristol, UK. Shirt by Fruit of the Loom, jacket
by Macy's, pants by I Don't Know, and sneakers by Starbury.
And there are seagulls everywhere, flying about. Bristol is a port town
remember. Seagulls squawk. I'm very familiar with seagulls as a resident of
Staten Island and frequent visitor of its beaches, and daily rider of the Staten
Island ferry. So I know seagulls squawk but the seagulls in Bristol have a
different accent than the ones in NY Harbor. They have a deeper, longer call and
seem to mock you constantly as they fly about. I can imagine them mocking John
Cabot as he set sail in 1497. They're a salty bird -- the Bristol seagulls --
they've seen it all. So as I was looking down into one
of the tunnels of the castle -- its Sally Port (see pictures to left), closed off by a simple gate door, a local
Englishman walking past with two gal pals started squawking at me from 30 yards
as they passed, expertly mimicking a Bristol seagull. And then in a haunting halloween voice he warned me not to go down into the tunnel; it was a
scary, scary place. Typical playful Brit.
What a prototypical British scene
-- St. Peter's Church in Bristol is to the right with flag flying. Don't know
what that building is in left center.
At the center of town there is something called the Christmas Steps. This is
the name of the part of town, like Soho or Greenwich Village are to New York City.
There are signs about town giving you directional arrows to various areas, and
you'll frequently see "Christmas Steps" with an arrow pointing that-a-way. I
stumbled upon the Christmas Steps, and indeed it is a long narrow, fairly steep
stairway that starts in a nondescript alleyway near center of town, and goes up
for two blocks. As I walked up them, I could only imagine how pretty they were
decorated during Christmas time and
why they came to be known
crime in Bristol -- hooligans are here and there. Young white kids that look
like they don't have a job. So you've got to have eyes behind your head,
especially when bouncing around alleys like by the Christmas Steps. Just at the
base of the Christmas Steps there is a fast food takeout that provides
traditional fish and chips. I've been to the UK over a dozen times in my life
and to this date had only been able to find 'touristy' fish and chips. But I
stumbled past this non-descript shop and I wasn't even hungry, but the food looked and smelled so
good, I had to try it. Two people before me got the last of the fish - and there
is a choice of fish -- cod for one, but other fish types too; I've forgotten the
selection. And there was sausages and chips, something called a pasty and chips,
and so forth. "No more fish?" I asked
the proprietor, a dark haired, proud, hard-working Moroccon looking fellow of
about 35. "Sure there is I'll make some fresh for you", he replied. I said I'd
have the cod. He told me 10 minutes, so I waited.
Two hooligans entered the
store, one with a cast on his foot, the other, his buddy, walking a large St.
Bernard. They were 20 something, skinny as bean polls; looked like they hadn't
eaten all day. "You can get a sausage" said the dogwalker to his buddy. The two
dug through their pockets for enough change as the proprietor eyed them up and
down suspiciously. "No dogs in here", he told them, but they didn't give him
any mind. He continued to prepare their sausage. "No dogs in here", he told them
again, more adamant this time, and a compadre came up from the kitchen to
confront the hooligans. The dogwalker pulled his dog outside, looked to post him
somewhere for a second; then brought him back in, gave his friend money for the
sausage, which was plunked down and the sausage and change returned. The dog
walker brusked past me to pour some vinegar and salt on the sausage, gave it to
his friend and they walked out in a huff. He threw the napkin on the floor in
front of the shop and they walked off. The kinds of guys who would give you
trouble; I wondered how the one broke his foot.
Just to the right
of Christmas Steps, this nondescript shop sells fantastic, fresh Fish and Chips.
Notice that his sign says he also sells 2 Faggots.
The proprietor had pictures of Fidel Castro in his shop.
And Che Guevara. No doubt a fan, I
started to wonder if he was Moroccon or Cuban. He seemed Moroccon. When the fish
was ready, he put it on a large white paper (about the size of a standard
newspaper, but white), laid a bed of french fries (each about the size of your
thumb) next to it, sprinkled the fries with salt and poured a thin stream of
vinegar on them (after asking me if I wanted salt and vinegar to which I said
yes), and wrapped them up neatly together, and handed it to me. I thanked him
and put it under my arm (under the papers I was carrying) as if it was a parcel.
I wasn't hungry but figured I'd eat it when I got back to the hotel. It smelled
so good, however, I started nibbling on it at the bus stop. And it tasted so good -- the cod so
fresh and the chips so tasty, even seemingly healthy tasting -- not as much
grease as you get on McDonald's or Nathan's fries -- that I finished it all off
on the bus back to the hotel.
Bristol town center, many locals sit on a set of stairs that look out
on a slip housing various tour boats and ferries. The right side of
the steps has water running down -- a waterfall down steps --
providing a tranquil backdrop of sound.
The bus runs to and from Filton until midnight, then starts again at 7am. The
next day was a work day. Abbey Woods is located in Filton -- it is the main
headquarters of the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD). Nothing to do with Abbey Road.
It is a complex of the most modern looking buildings. I'm told it was the
opposite of that 15 years ago but there was a major renovation. It is quite
impressive now. Also the Concorde jet was developed in Filton, and there is a
nearby museum which lets you climb aboard one. I wasn't able to get there this
trip, but did hit the pool in the hotel on day 2. After work on day 3 (a
Tuesday), I again ventured back into Bristol. This time I mucked about the
northwestern section of the town, on the long hill that runs from Town Center up
past the Bristol University.
half chicken was had in this Kebab House, a block south of Bristol University.
Plus they let me hang up a poster for
album so they are A-OK with me.
every store closes at 5:30 pm on a Tuesday in that section of town, and I was
there at 7 pm. So I missed going into the musical instruments shop, the
bookstore, the music shop, and all the cafes. Only the pubs were open by that
time, even though it was a college area -- however a college area in mid July
when all but summer classes are out, no doubt caused much of the early closings. I was on a curfew on this night
as I had a dinner appointment with a colleague back at the hotel.
Got back to the bus station near the
Christmas Steps by 8 pm; there was a bus there with its emergency stop
lights on, and a police car. Apparently there had been a police action
-- some hooligans with baseball bats had clobbered someone on the bus.
I couldn't get details, but one fellow -- a drunk looking guy of about
40 -- or perhaps a clobbered-looking-guy -- was being led away into a
police car. The bus went out of service, emptied its passengers and
drove off. It wasn't even my bus -- it was the 73 -- it just happened
to be stopped at the same stop where the 70 -- my bus -- stopped. As I
waited for the 70, I noticed a number of downtrodden-looking young
white folks go by this way and that. A couple carrying groceries; at
one point a pretty but skinny and scraggly looking young blond woman
put down her heavy load of grocery bags and started to give her male
partner a major beef, just at the base of the Christmas steps in the
alleyway. And then she picked up her bags and they continued on up the
Back in the hotel -- the Holiday Inn in Filton -- in the lobby, are numerous
books that offer a pictorial history of Bristol. Books that offer photographs,
with titles like "Bristol in the 1880's", or "Bristol in the 1920's", etc.
Amongst other books with more words in them. Absolutely fantastic in an
interesting sort of way.
Picture of Bristol's Avon River in the
1880's, from a book in the Holiday Inn at Filton's lobby. What a contrast to the
Filton is a northern suburb of Bristol and very rural, farming area. On my
first day there, I walked out the hotel looking for a Sainsbury (large grocery
store) that the receptionist told me was a 5 minute walk from the hotel (she
obviously doesn't walk much because it was a 20 minute walk at fast pace; maybe
a 5 minute drive). I went the wrong way and in 5 minutes was walking down an
English country road with farms to the left and right. One of the houses I came
to was a business that said on its sign that it specialized in making hanging
flower plants. And I wondered what an odd, niche business that was. To spend your
whole life making hanging plants. It was a large main house with farm behind it,
and at least one truck in the large car port in front of the house with the name
of the business on it. Well not so niche after all, as throughout the rest of
the trip I noticed how many hanging plants there are, all over Bristol; in every
hotel, every restaurant; all over the front of train stations, hotels --
everywhere. Britain is a wet, cool, and rainy place, and you've got to figure
hanging plants help to brighten everything up. And plus there is so much rain
you don't ever have to worry about watering them. It rains seemingly at least
three or four or five times every day. Even if it's a great, clear sky day; at
some point some cloud will roll in, and you'll get at least a sprinkle if not a
shower. Massive white billowy clouds, with dark scary centers; fresh off the
Hanging plants are
all over town, in Bristol, UK.
So that's about all I have to say about Bristol, this time around. Loved the
place; absolutely loved it. Britain's First City of Hanging Plants (although
Bath might have just as many but I don't know because I didn't make it there).
Next time over, if I ever go there again, I'll make sure to check out Kingsdown and Cheltenham Road, and also there's supposed to be a heck of a
suspension bridge on the Western side of town 10 minutes due West of
the furthest west I was -- past Bristol University and beyond.
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