Wednesday, June 22, 2011
When I first moved to London, I was good about taking day trips to nearby cities. From Brighton to Bath, St. Albans to Stonehenge, I went, I saw, I wrote. But recently I have been remiss about seeing more of England. In an effort to change that, I decided to plan a trip to the southwest for not one, but two days of Bristol sightseeing, restaurants, and shopping.
Bristol had been on my list of places to visit in England for a long time. Several friends of mine went to university there and couldn’t say enough good things about the city. Given that it was only 1 hour and 45 minutes from London to Bristol by train, I had no excuse to keep postponing a visit.
When I arrived at my first stop in the city, the brand new M Shed museum, I learned more about Bristol’s history, places, people, and life. This included several large exhibits on Bristol’s World War II history, a display detailing the city’s links to the infamous Triangle Trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, and walls covered with recent quotes from local Bristolians.
My visit to the M Shed museum gave me a good overview of the city and its culture. Armed with the information, I took a walk along the river and made my way past the ss Great Britain ship and up the hill on the opposite bank.
There I found myself in Clifton, a pretty hilltop neighborhood full of stunning Georgian crescents, small cafes and wine bars, and clothing boutiques and colorful shops.
A bit further up the hill lay the Clifton Suspension Bridge, a famous landmark in the city. It spanned a deep gorge in the hillsides, beneath which was the River Avon.
I walked back through Clifton and past some of the stunning university buildings on the way to my accommodation for the evening: the Hotel du Vin. I had been invited to stay the night there, and offered dinner and breakfast at the Bistro du Vin, which I was excited to try.
My room at the hotel was huge. It had a large bedroom and sitting area with a sofa, chairs, and desk. The bathroom was equally large. A giant claw foot bathtub stood on one side, and a large shower on the other.
Downstairs on the ground floor, the bar and lounge area was buzzing with hotel guests and locals enjoying pre-dinner cocktails and wine. Large brown leather sofas and overstuffed chairs gave the area a comfortable feel.
The adjacent dining room was full of dark wood tables, each of which was topped with a candle. The window sills were lined with green glass wine bottles, and the walls were covered with pictures and paintings.
For dinner I started with green asparagus with Bernaise sauce. The asparagus was perfectly fresh and lovely, and the sauce was so good that I had to remind myself to ration it.
For my main I had the caramelized fig and goat’s cheese tarte tatin, which was as rich and flavorful as it sounded. That was followed by an Eton Mess, my favorite British summer dessert.
The next morning I was up early and off to explore more of Bristol. My first stop was the Bristol Zoo, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. My entry was compliments of the Bristol Tourism Board.
I spent a good part of the morning at the zoo. My first priority was seeing the famous red pandas, which were climbing around their enclosure and looking cute as ever. I learned at the M Shed museum that Jasmina the red panda was voted the most beloved animal at the Bristol Zoo, and I couldn’t have agreed more.
After watching the red pandas for awhile, I moved on to the lemurs, which were in an enclosure that people could walk into. Not since my trip to Madagascar have I seen lemurs up close without a cage separating us. It was great to see them climbing and playing.
From the lemurs, I walked over to the penguins, seals, gorillas, pygmy hippos, and other flocks and herds. On my way out, I stopped by the cassowary, an elusive Australian bird that escaped me during my trip to Port Douglas a few years back.
Back in the city center, I enjoyed a quick lunch at Bordeaux Quay, a restaurant right on the waterfront. I bought a tuna sandwich at their deli, and sat outside at a picnic table to enjoy my food and the views.
Afterwards I hopped across the bridge to the Arnolfini museum to check out the contemporary art on show.
I still had a bit of time left after the museum, so I decided to walk along Castle Park, the site of a historic fortress in Bristol. From there I meandered up to Cabot Circus, the city’s new and famous shopping area.
Cabot Circus was an enormous retail complex, complete with pedestrianized streets and every high street shop imaginable. It also hosted special events like the many deck chairs set up in front of a huge screen that was showing live Wimbledon coverage.
Further along was a small sign for a church that John Wesley preached in before he set off for America and became famous during the Great Awakening.
From the church I made my way to my hotel to collect my bags and head to the train station. As I traveled back to London, I was sad to leave behind the Bristol sightseeing, restaurants, and shopping that I had enjoyed during my stay. Now that I’m home, I will have to make a point of taking more overnight and day trips from London. I have enjoyed every one.