Bristol, United Kingdom
A tasty hotel breakfast was a good way to start the day, and full of food and coffee we took a 15 minute walk to drop off a considerable amount of dirty laundry to get cleaned. We then hopped back on the hop on hop off bus, to travel around the the SS Great Britain. Of course this entailed learning more bout all the firsts in Bristol, the city that seemed to have invented everything, had the first of everything, and the best of everything, if you believe everything the tour guide on the bus says. Today we learnt it was a second-biggest city until 1800 when the boats grew to big to make it into the harbour. It was the first place to get bananas shipped in after World War 2. It’s zoo is the biggest zoo (outside a capital city in the UK)… yep, as it went on, the firsts & bests gained more and more conditions and disclaimers, to the point where something was called out for being the sixth-biggest something in somewhere.. but I was (clearly) losing track by that stage.
It was the SS Great Britain that made me want to come to Bristol in the first place. I watched a tv program years ago, ‘Seven Wonders of the Industrial World’ – which had an episode about one of its sister ships, the Great Eastern. This piqued my interest in the engineer that designed it, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who designed and built an amazing amount of things in Britain; Railways, tunnels, ships, bridges (including Bristol’s beautiful Clifton Suspension Bridge), pre-fab hospitals in the Crimea ware … ah, you can just search Wikipedia for the whole story.
So it was a really joy to see his handiwork up close – the boat is amazing, but so is the work that went into is rescue after sitting in the Falklands for 80 years, and its ongoing conservation and preservation is equally impressive. It sits in the dry-dock in which it was built about 140 years back, so it’s easy to get underneath and have a good look around, as well as go onboard and see cabins re-created to how they would have looked back in the day. I don’t think there was much of the original work left when it was brought back to Bristol.
A few surprises about the accommodation – even in the first class cabins the beds wouldn’t even have been two feet wide and would be lucky to be six feet long. I guess everyone was lot smaller back in the mid-1800s. The cheapest accommodation was a small bunk basically in a corridor – with shared access to a basin (incidentally. provided by the Thomas ******* company). There were only two baths on the whole ship, solely for the use of First Class passengers.
Once we’d had our fill of old boats, we hopped on the bus again, happily with much better weather so we were able to sit on the top. Which we did quite merrily until we suddenly stopped at the Bristol Old Vic theatre and the driver turned the engine off. A few minutes later our commentary guy said that the driver had noted a light on the dashboard so he thought it best to stop, and could we all please get off the bus. In other words the bus broke down. What they neglected to mention were the great clouds of smoke that were coming up out of the engine … I think the issue was a bit bigger than just a light on the dashboard.
Fortunately we were only 10 minutes walk away from where we were heading anyway, Cabot Circus, where there were plenty of shops. On the way we passed the very old St Nicholas Market, full of varied and interesting food vendors. Cabot Circus was nice (it had an Apple Shop, so it must be nice!), but we didn’t hang around too long before heading back to the hotel, then off to the laundry. As luck would have it there was a barber right across the road. You know you’ve been on a long holiday when you’ve had more than one haircut! I never knew it could take at least 20 minutes to just do a buzz cut – but I had the apprentice, poor guys, looked like it was his first day on the job … but he did a great job and he seemed chuffed when I said as much, so good luck to him.
Having sorted out the domestic duties, it was back to the hotel to drop the clothes off then head out again – this time about 15 minutes out of town to nearby cinema, who were screening the live charity performance of the Rocky Horror show that was taking place in London tonight. With special guest stars like Stephen Fry, former Spice Girl Emma Bunton, Anthony Stewart Head, Mel Giedroyc (from Great British Bake Off), and Rocky creator Richard o’Brien himself. So it was great fun, and very pleasing to see a lot of the audience calling out just like they do at the movies. Call me parochial, but I think Craig Maclachlan did a better Frank than the guy playing him tonight (sorry London!). Still, really enjoyed it.
After that it was the traditional drive back to the hotel and get lost routine… there’s a closed street that the GPS is determine we need to travel down, so getting back to the hotel is always a bit of an adventure. But we got there eventually. Bristol city is a bit like Sydney, in so far as it doesn’t have any idea how to stay up late. So when we ventured out at around 10:00 for dinner, most restaurant kitchens were already closed, but hey, the kebab food truck was still open, so, job done!
It was a bit of a big day – another big one planned tomorrow. As the young folks say … let’s do this!