Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Day in Bristol

A couple of weeks ago, my Latvian roomie and I decided to spend a day in Bristol. It's less than two hours from Birmingham by train or bus. It's a small maritime city, though it doesn't sit on the coast; it's on the Avon river, which leads to the Bristol Channel and then to the Atlantic, but the city is almost 20 km inland from the channel as the crow flies. Its protected location was probably a real advantage when it came to battles-by-sea. The character of the city has been built around its access to the ocean, shipbuilding, and exploration.

There are long riverside walks that lead out of downtown Bristol, and walking to the west takes the wanderer past some impressive historic shipyards. On our way to the harbour, we passed beautiful buildings and great statues of Queen Victoria - Empress, you know - and John Cabot, local hero. John Cabot sailed from Bristol for Henry VII, "discovering" Newfoundland in the 15th century. It's an impressive journey to have successfully undertaken considering people in Europe didn't even have indoor plumbing or clean drinking water.

The graffiti art in Bristol is impressive. I enjoyed a series of panels, one of which is above, showing graffiti pirates being shipwrecked in a storm. There were lots of high-quality pieces around the harbour, and just off Park St, almost within eye-shot of Queen V, Banksy has left his famous mark.

When all the history and culture got to be too much, we pulled up a table in the Grain Barge - a ship refitted to be a wonderful little restaurant with excellent locally-brewed beers on tap - and admired the impressively large SS Great Britain and the Great Western Dockyards with pint in hand. You can also watch rowing teams practice in the river while ferry boats, fire boats, and leisure craft navigate around them. One gets a real sense of the river as lifeblood of Bristol.

A little further west and up a steep hill, tourists gather to admire Bristol's famous Clifton suspension bridge. It spans a gorge through which the Avon continues on its way to the sea. Opened for use in 1864, one can easily see it as a kind of test-run for the (much, much larger) Golden Gate in San Fransisco. The bridges use identical engineering, on wildly differing scales. That isn't to undermine the feat of the Clifton bridge; it's always difficult for me to imagine how people could build anything larger than a house with only the help of scaffolding, steam, and horses. One side of the bridge sits on a natural outcropping of rock, while the other side rests on a footing that had to be built up to match the other. With the sun setting in the background, it was quite beautiful.

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