Losing my mind in Bristol. I need a Doctor... Who?

We awoke in London and headed to Paddington station to go visit our friends in Bristol. Bristol is right across a channel called the Bristol Channel from Cardiff and home to one of my favorite television shows called 'Skins'. If you've not seen the show, then clearly you haven't seen high-brow drama! They're even doing a remake here in the States but it will never live up to the antics of several juvenile British students in their years leading up to university while living in Bristol.

When we arrived at Paddington we had plenty of time to spare. We happenstanced upon Cafe Sloe. A leather sofa cafe with free toilets. Yes no thirty pence charge for us! Outstanding coffee and full English breakfast overlooking the rustic main terminal, what more could you want?. There's even a departure board so we knew when to go find our train. It was a wonderful slow paced morning that left us relaxed and ready for our train ride.
Eventually it was time to go. We were becoming pros at the whole train thing, and this was our second year on this National Rail route. We were also very glad the strike was avoided that had loomed our planning prior to coming. (Europe is always on strike it seems.) The train is fun and often quiet allowing time for reflection, reading or sight-seeing out the windows. At one point we went for a soft drink in the cafe car and Shannon was once again coquetted, this time by the ticket taker guy. While I believe the gentleman did hold some fascination with two American women on his train, it was clear by now that Shannon has officially earned the "trollop of Europe" award for this trip. The lady in the cafe counter just rolled her eyes. We knew our next train, a eight minutes ride in a "Cross Country" train from Bristol Temple Meads (the southern station) to Bristol Parkway (the northern station) was a tight one but we managed without an issue. When we pulled in and walked out there was our friends with open arms. We were so excited. We were in a strange town ready to discover it with friends... what better way?

Our friends have a beautiful home, and the city of Bristol is just an amazing place. Rolling hills, gorges, very unlike I had imagined it from the show. Just absolutely fabulous. When we got to their place they sat me down in some electric recliner which was way swanky and flipped on Doctor Who! Yes Doctor Who. I actually was watching Doctor Who, in a real British house with real Brits. Does that sound condescending? It's not meant to because honestly, I was beside myself. You always imagine the grass is greener on the other side, but seriously LOOK:

IT REALLY IS!
So I got to watch Doctor Who, loving every minute of it. I probably could have died right there knowing my life was complete. It was rather odd relaxing with friends as the craziness of Belgium and Paris faded into the past. Our amazing race seemed now as if time was standing still. After discovering that Karen Gillian is perhaps the hottest and most ginger companion yet, and that there is something to be loved about Matt Smith even though he killed David "Ten-Inch", we headed off to Strada in Bristol. I've talked about Strada before. It's a chain of Italian restaurants, which as we discussed that night- its closest equivalent in the U.S. would probably be Macaroni Grill, though it's a bit more upper scale in my opinion. Great pasta, breads, and Italian and wonderful gay waiters?  We had yet again another gay waiter.... Which was completely awesome! In fact I don't think we found a straight wait staff anywhere in Europe. It was such a relief and comfort to see people are so "out" over there unlike the always tense culture of America. The conversation was great, the food was amazing and once again we were asking ourselves how we were so lucky to be right there, right then at that moment. It all gets a bit surreal. We then went on a tour of Bristol. Got to see the giant Clifton suspension bridge which is breathtaking and hung marvelously over the gorge like a crown to the city. It was built in 1859 by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the great British civil engineers who was also responsible for the SS Great Britain Iron Ship which is now anchored permanently in Bristol, and the Temple Meads rail station. Apparently they had to cover the motorway below due to the weekly suicides. Some famous like Sarah Ann Henley who was caught by an updraft and lived through her attempt. Remind me when I decide to off myself because I can't get a job as a waitress here in the States... that this bridge is the perfect place to kill myself!
Bristol Parkway Train Depot

We also got to see a defunct Clifton Rocks Railway that burrows up the hillside and was used by the BBC in times of war to maintain broadcasting capabilities. We then learned about the Bristol's dark past connection with America serving as a port to deliver slaves to the "New World". There's a lot of history here in the winding hilly streets of Bristol, so it's no wonder that Bristol is branded as the "Best English City To Live". I know I would move there in a heartbeat. In fact the only downside seems to be that much of Bristol does require some form of automobile. It could be a blessing if you enjoy your car, but I think when and if I ever can make the jump abroad I'll want to ditch the car completely.

So that night we went back to our friends and had a chin wag about everything going on in our lives. Paul and I go way back to when we both moved to NC about 6 years ago. We talked about health-care, religion, and learned all about chip and pin. We talked about our trip and I found myself growing in self-reassurance. See when you go to Europe, you see things,and  it changes you. When you come home it takes yourself awhile to deal with these thoughts and feelings. Like a reverse culture shock. Sometimes you doubt yourself and tell yourself you're a liberal nutter who just refuses to go along with the majority of people here in the States. Then I go back abroad and I talk to people, real people, and they think like me. They're like "you're kidding?". I'm like "no, I'm not". This is usually in response to "What happens if you have to go to hospital and have no insurance?" (you just die broke) or "What do you mean there's a tea-party who throws bricks through senators windows." Basically America, when you explain to foreigners what's going on here; they think we're all a bunch of monkeys humping footballs. Which probably is mostly true for some of us.
Clifton Suspension Bridge

Alas the night was coming to an end. For the first time in our lives we fell a sleep in a home in England. No four star hotels, no concierge, just a real place, with real friends. Again, this might all seem like I'm overstating the obvious, but it was way cool. Remember this is the girl who almost forwent the hotel in Paris to sleep out under the Eiffel Tower. I dig the little stuff. I like standing barefoot on a terrace in Brussels, watching the sunrise over my "adopted" backyard, or just sliding my hand over the bricks of a building hundreds of years old. Yeah that's me, the one who thinks rain makes a vacation better, that I'd rather order in French and get it wrong than not try at all. Someone who yearns for those hugs from both friends and complete strangers just because this world is so much better than most Americans will ever realize.

You love this town
Even if that doesn't ring true
You've been all over
And it's been all over you

It's a beautiful day

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