or "A sentimental Journey back to Bristol"
a (sentimental) prologue
I spent some wonderful years in Bristol as a student, back in the early 90s. Nice rainy weather, parties, outdoor activities (always with a mackintosh on, of course) lots of travelling around the west country and of course lots of food... wait a moment, Food? English food?
Yes love, my favorite food: meat pies, apple pies, fish and chips, scones with double clotted cream, full English breakfast (perfect for lunch), Sunday roast (of course with Yorkshire pudding), bangers and mash, curry and of course English sandwiches (or "how to turn something simple into an art")…. Stereotypes? Yes, sure but so tasty and exotic stereotypes!
The UK is not just another European Country, it is a "continent" by itself. An exotic, mysterious, beautiful and full of surprises island (ok not really only one, but several islands).
And above all the West Country: the beauty of my university years!
Since then, I haven’t been really back (just for a couple of short visits, mainly to see friends and have a pint over juicy gossiping), so this year (2017) I decided to return as a middle-aged man and see how my beloved city has changed over the last 20 years. You see I had just turned 50!
The first thing that really stroked me is that the city seemed to me very familiar but very different at the same time! Everything changed by remaining exactly the same. That reminded me of the lyrics of a popular greek song: "όλα τριγύρω αλλάζουνε και όλα τα ίδια μένουν"...which means "everything changes around me but everything stays the same". The most worrying of all though, was that I had forgotten basic things like streets and names, basic landmarks and attractions…. aging is ruthless!
Note: I visited the city again in February 2020 for ten days and thus I had the opportunity to see more of it. This time the city felt much more intimate than ever.
I decided to stay downtown (at SACO Apartments - Broad Quay) just opposite the Watershed (my basic point of reference in the early 90s), which brought me nice memories of extremely milky cappuccinos with cocoa power (who on earth drinks cappuccino with cocoa powder on the top?) and European film screenings (I have seen so many boring films that period at the Watershed!).
The weather was unexpectedly chilly, and I was not really prepared for that: strong winds and icy rain. I put on lots of layers of clothes and rushed into the streets ready to absorb as much as possible of the Bristol atmosphere.
My trip was a ten-day trip, but it was not a tourist trip, it was a memories trip. A trip dedicated to the "first half of my life" ... so getting some extra pounds on (I mean weight pounds of course) was part of the agenda.
First stop: the Watershed
The cappuccino is still the same … hot milk with a bit of a coffee taste, weak foam (the kind of coffee you give back to the waiter and never return to that place again if you are in Athens) and that lovely touch of cocoa powder on the top.
Next door to Watershed (under the same roof actually) is the Tourist Information Centre. I bought some souvenirs and post cards to send to friends (are there still people out there expecting a post card?!) and off we go.
Back in my student years Watershed (together with Arnolfini Art Center, just across the water on Narrow Quay) was the only redeveloped building in the area. Today all warehouses (sheds) on the Waterfront and Bordeaux Quay have been transformed into modern bars and restaurants. Besides that, all the area behind these buildings recreated to an entirely new neighborhood spread around Millenium Square. The Bristol Aquarium opened ten years ago behind Watershed, making the area very popular to families.
Banksy - a Bristol legend
My real objective was to visit Clifton and Clifton Village. On my way there, at the beginning of Park street (just opposite the iconic Bristol City Council building) I took a picture of Banksy's "Well Hung Lover" (2006)... a bit faded and targeted with blue paint.... but still impressive.
Banksy is an anonymous England-based graffiti artist, political activist and film director of unverified identity. His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humor with graffiti executed in a distinctive stenciling technique. Banksy's works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls, and bridges of cities throughout the world. Banksy's work grew out of the Bristol underground scene, which involved collaborations between artists and musicians. Banksy says that he was inspired by 3D, a graffiti artist who later became a founding member of the English musical group Massive Attack.
I left behind the "Naked Man" and College Green, a huge open space dominated by Bristol Cathedral and the City Council building and continued uphill on Park Street till Wills Memorial Building Tower (the main-ceremonial University building) and the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.
Continue on Queens Road, pass in front of Victoria Rooms and follow all the curved road till Victoria Square.
Some emotional info about my University years
Here in Queens Road, at No 115, stands the building which was my dormitory during the first year at the University. The building is located just next to the University Students Union building.
My room was on the 4th floor overlooking the Students’ Union Building. Four floors all together...one Greek student on every floor. This was a "third world dormitory" for students from Asia, Africa and Greece. The western Europeans were staying in posh places... for the same price of course!
There was only one telephone set on the ground floor of the building. So, when you had a telephone call someone was shouting your name and you had to fly four floors down ... no elevator!
Making a phone call though, was more fun and certainly very cheap by using the payphone at the Triangle.
I do not know who started this trick first, but that particular payphone was an adorable payphone: instead of 20-pence coins we used 5-drachma coins to make phone calls. You see the silly phone could not tell the difference! (†) I used to carry tons and tons of 5-drachma coins in my suitcase every time I was coming back from Greece. There was not a single 5-drachma coin left in a radius of 5 km from my house in my hometown!
While living here I did most of my house shopping at a small convenience store at the corner of Queens and Clifton Road. It was (and still is) called the "Ten O'Clock Shop".
(†)1 pound ≡ 580 drachmas in the 90s
The second year of my studies I moved one block further down at 9 Dover Place. That was nice two bedroom apartment with a view of Cabot Tower. I shared that apartment with my very good friend Maria (now a high school computer science teacher in Aspropyrgos near Athens).
What I remember more of that apartment is our furniture which did not match: an armchair with yellow and brown stripes, which was given by a cypriot friend who decided to move on with his life, a dark brown bookcase we bought (the only piece of furniture we ever bought) from Habitat at Queens's Ave just oposite Barclays, a crystal dinning table we got from a friend's mom, who moved to Spain to retire under the mediteranean sun, some chairs, all different to each other, which we got from places all over the city, a grey sofa bed we were given by my friend Marty, etc. The big window blinds were given to us by Mr Chad, the indian landlord, the hot-cold water mixer in the bathroom was given to us by our friend Sifis, who lived in London those days (now a physics university professor in Heraklion, Crete).
the Primrose Cafe
Cross diagonally Victoria Square and walk under an arcade to find yourself in Clifton Village, the most beautiful neighborhood of Bristol. The area really feels like a village and one should give himself a couple of hours to wonder around the narrow streets and do some window shopping. But, before doing that I recommend
to visit "Primrose cafe" for some yummy English breakfast (1 Boyce's Ave).
My intentions were to ask for the small plate....so I could finish up with some bagels! I love this place because it is soooo English. I used to go there to have a coffee and watch the locals or to read a book.... no wi-fi those days, no smartphones...no people lost in their texting and social networking.
I had the FULL MONTY (you thought I would stick to the small portion?): 2 poached eggs, 2 rashers bacon, 2 sausages, 2 portobello mushrooms, baked beans, grilled tomato, hash brown & sourdough toast and finished with a pot of Earl grey...
The place was as beautiful as I remembered it.... cozy and warm and ...so full of memories and old fashioned "English ladies" (at least the stereotype picture we have in continental Europe, about English ladies).
My ultimate scope was to visit the Clifton Suspension Bridge , the iconic bridge that has become the symbol of the city of Bristol. On my way to the bridge I wondered around and did some shopping before stopping for a freshly made white chocolate cheesecake and cappuccino (yes, the one with the cocoa powder on!!!) at "Bar Chocolat" at "The Mall".
The Clifton Suspension Bridge
Here I am at Brunel's masterpiece. The Clifton Suspension Bridge opened in 1864.
The Bridge is infamous for people jumping from it (quite some distance) down to the Avon river.... not that easy to do today with all the wire they put on both sides of the bridge. The barriers put on in 1998 and since then the number of deaths (by jumping from the bridge) halved!
If you are lucky, and the weather is nice and clear admire the Avon Gorge from the bridge deck or better climb up to the Clifton Observatory Hill and seat at one of the benches and admire the 360o view. This iconic landmark of Bristol established in 1766. In the observatory there is established a camera obscura and in a clear day you can see all area thru it.
From the observatory, stairs (130 steps) dug into the rock take visitors to Ghyston's Cave, aka Giants Cave or Foxhole, a natural cave in the limestone face of St Vincent's Rocks in the Avon Gorge.
When you feel tired walking and climbing around stop for a drink at the "360 Glass Cafe" located in the Observatory itself.
Mark Olson did not write "Clifton Bridge" for this Bridge, but always thought the lyrics are a perfect match for this bridge... my bridge!
Daylight, comes a sound We walked across Clifton Bridge Which way would it be, up or down? We laid our cards on the table I woke up before the sun Which way is the way Between the heart and the soul You spoke with my words tangled up inside Some people come here to die We came here to live There's a hope in our hearts There's a future in our souls We both have tragedy In our youth I met your brother and sister They stood by me in the ring Your green eyes in the sun Some people come here to die We came here to live There's a hope in our hearts There's a future in our souls Some people came here to die We came here to live There's a hope in our hearts There's a future in our souls There's a future in our souls There's a future in our souls Daylight, comes a sound We walked across Clifton Bridge Which way would be, up or down?
The best way to enjoy the view of the bridge and have a drink or coffee is at the bar of Avon Gorge by Hotel du Vin. If the weather is good you can sit at the open terrace, otherwise sit in one of the comfortable armchairs inside the room with the huge windows, which offer a magnificent view.
Start your way back following Princess Victoria Street, enjoy the small shops and cafes housed into small multicolored buildings. Turn right on Regent Street and follow this road as it changes name to Clifton Hill and finally turn right on Constitution Hill and continue all the way to Brandon Hill. Brandon Hill is a green hill with paved paths, ponds and small cascades. But, Brandon Hill is known for the tall tower built on its top. The Cabot Tower was built in the 1890s to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the journey of John Cabot from Bristol to land which later became Canada. The tower is 32 m high and built from red sandstone with cream Bath Stone for ornamentation and emphasis. It consists of a spiral staircase and two viewing platforms where balconies with wrought iron railings overlook the city, the higher of which is approximately 102 m above sea level. The staircase is very narrow and dark, so be very careful when you climb up.
Come down the hill from its north-eastern slope and visit the Georgian House Museum on Great George street before find yourself on Park street.
And here comes the highlight of my culinary experience in Bristol!
After scrolling all over the wet and cold Bristol one needs food!
On our way to the Apartment we noticed a rather dark restaurant just next door. A place with dim lights and dark painted walls: "Pieminister". What on Earth is this Pieminister, I wondered? I approached the window and without any hesitation I said "dinner time"!
Pieminister did not exist in my old days. It opened just in 2003. It is a Bristol based company, which has already 3 restaurants in Bristol and half a dozen more in other cities. They also sell their pies to many pubs around the country.
They serve British pies .... not a huge variety but very tasty at a very tasty price too! Meat pies, chicken pies, kidney pies, mushroom pies... yummy yummy!
That evening I tried the "Moo & Blue" (beef and Stilton cheese), the "Free Ranger" (chicken, leek & thyme) and the tastier of all the "Moo" (British beef steak and craft ale).
I could die that evening and go to paradise all happy and content. Besides, I already had a very fulfilling life. I was happy and I had lots to narrate to Saint Peter about my adventures in faraway countries!
The following days we visited the restaurant several times for a quickie (quickie means at least two pies each).
British Pie Week - The week the hamble pie becomes a King
British Pie Week is held the first full week of March, which this year was 6th-12th March 2017.
Originally, set up by a pastry maker as a way to sell more of their pastry, it is now Britain’s main celebration of pie! Pubs, restaurants, pie shops and more have used British Pie Week to run com-pie-titions, pie specials and more, while supermarkets sometimes use the week to discount their pie ranges. The British Pie Awards have even moved their awards to this week, to coincide with British Pie Week.
However, it’s also an excuse for pie lovers to do various pie stunts (like eating only pies for the whole week) and for the average pie fan to excuse their pie eating for a week! (“Well it’s Pie Week, so I have to have a pie!!!”)
So what we do during that week? Well, the pies are the limit! The more traditional ways include eating a pie from a pie shop or pub, or making your own pie at home. The more adventurous might host friends for a “pie night” or do some crazy pie stunt or create an unusual filling for a pie or go for pub hoping to eat pies and have a warm ale.
1. a frustrating situation in which one is trapped by contradictory regulations or conditions.
2. any illogical or paradoxical problem or situation; dilemma.
3. a condition, regulation, etc., preventing the resolution of a problem or situation; catch
[from a military regulation in a novel of the same name (1961) by U.S. novelist Joseph Heller]
the 5-star fish & chip quality awarded by 'The National Federation of Fish Friers' restaurant in Bristol! (*)
When I was a kid I had heard that in those far away wet islands they eat "fish and chips" which are served into funnels made of paper! In my English school it seems that everyone knew what fish and chips is. I was too proud to ask because I did not want everyone to understand that I do not know what fish and chips looks like!
There was no Google, no Wikipedia those days, so I could not figure out what kind of fish one eats with his fingers? So, I believed it is small fritted fish like "γαύρος" (anchovy) or "μαρίδα" (smelt).
That was the picture I had in my mind for years.
I saw the real thing in a pub in London, many years later. It did not appeal to me at all. You see, back home, we have a very different idea of what a fish is and how it is cooked or grilled or fried.... besides I was not that fond of fish, anyway!
It took me some time to taste that divine dish...and the moment I did, I dreamed of open seas and beautiful fishing villages, of multicolored boats bringing delicious fish (still alive) into the ports, of fishermen in tarpaulins unload them into big wooden crates…
Fish and Chips: tasty and cheap, easy to find everywhere.... but for the real taste you have to visit Catch22, the new tasty addition in Bristol's culinary scene.
(*) 'The National Federation of Fish Friers"? What on Earth, they must be crazy in this country!
I have to admit that, eventhough I lived in England for years, I had no idea what a "hen party" is! I had to visit "Revolution Bar" in Bristol and see at least 3 different Hen parties taken place: all silly dressed young ladies, with multicolored ribbons worn across their chests, drinking and laughing unceasingly! Why? Because one of them (or more) is getting married. Holly crap!
It is a bachelorette party you moron... an American friend (who has an English lover...how else he would know that!?) told me.
The Revolution Bar at Old Fish Market: the Makers of the Party Spirit since 1996. A huge place with top ceilings (revealing its past as a warehouse), multicolored decor (a bit of 60s all-pastel colors) and full of cheering youngsters, rainbows, smiles, and butterfly kisses.
I have to admit me and my friends were the only persons not in their 20s or early 30s in there ... a bit frustrating ... but who cares: life starts at 50 (bullocks!)
Besides drinking our vodka cocktails (you have to try the Unicorn Frappé) I stack to (what else?) traditional fish and chips (perfectly battered fish, fat chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce right by the seaside), while the others devoured alluring pizzas.
Two of my favorite music venues of my old days still running at the same place.
Thekla is a cargo ship which houses a music venue of the same name, moored in the Mud Dock area of Bristol's Floating Harbour, England. Originally brought to Bristol as the Old Profanity Showboat, it was a late 1982 brainchild of novelist Ki Longfellow-Stanshall, the wife of Vivian Stanshall. The showboat was based on the idea of creating and running a theatre on a sea-going ship and using it to showcase music of every sort, including cabaret, comedy, plays, musicals, and poetry events. The ship also contained an art gallery.
During the 1990s, under new management, it was run as an underground nightclub under its original working name of Thekla. Thekla became a cornerstone of Bristol's drum & bass music scene. I used to visit Thekla often during my days in Bristol almost as often I used to visit “The Bear” in Hotwells.
Over these years some of Bristol's best known artists (including Massive Attack, Portishead and Roni Size) began by playing in Thekla's hull.
Work by the artist Banksy can be seen stencilled over the bulkheads inside the club as well as his much larger work on the outside of the hull at the waterline. This piece was painted over by the harbour master, much to the annoyance of the club's owners, who threatened the council and harbour master with legal action. Banksy returned to paint it again. The painting of the "Grim Reaper" is now on display at the M Shed.
THEKLA Revisited (nov.2017)
Music fans have united in an outpouring of public support after the shock news that a new housing development across the water from the Thekla might put the future of the much-loved venue in serious jeopardy. Venue bosses are concerned that residents in the future Redcliffe Wharf development could force the boat to shut due to noise concerns. Losing the Thekla would have a disastrous impact on the Bristol music scene as the venue is recognised as a standout by touring bands and a launchpad for local names such as Idles and Lice in recent years.
THE BE-BOB CLUB (at The Bear in Hotwells).
The Be-Bop Club, Bristol’s longest running modern jazz club, was founded in about 1989 and presents live jazz on Friday nights from September to June with a summer break through July & August.
The club is based in the function room of The Bear on Hotwell Rd, and gigs are presented in mini-concert style with minimal talking during performances.
Certainly, Friday nights were Jazz nights those early 90s years. Smoke, beer and getting wet by the musicians “fluids” when sat in the front row was in every Friday's agenda.
Some must visit attractions in Bristol
Thank you Marty and Martin for the nice time.
I'll be BACK!