Day 28-29 – A Tale of Three Cities, part 1

Starting mileage: 16645 km
Day started: 09:00/08:00
Day ended: 22:00/22:00

Somerset

Somerset

The heat wave is here, alright. It sounds surreal that less than two weeks ago we were shivering under two thick woolen blankets, wondering how ever will we get to Scotland in this cold. Now we are sweating under the sizzling sun, wondering how ever will we get to Scotland in this heat.

We stayed close to Bristol, because we had to jump into London for the day; of course, you can’t just walk into London. The taxi which was supposed to carry us to the nearby railway station got lost for half an hour, and had to take us all the way to Temple Meads – five minutes before the Paddington train departure. The return train was delayed by fire in Swindon for so long we resolved to stay in Bath until things quietened down.

Even though we were less than three hours altogether in London, I was quickly reminded how I love this city, its hustle and bustle, colourful crowds, great food, and the ability to scowl at people who move to slow or on the wrong side of the pavement.

It’s a good thing, then, that the next day we spent visiting three modern, vibrant cities, which allowed us to ease back into the rural side of living in England.

We started early morning in Bath. As we had wandered its streets the day before, we remembered that just as the car needs maintenance from time to time, so do its passengers. M. needed a massage, and I needed a hot bath, so we booked a session in the Thermae Spa – the city’s only, overpriced (£26 for 2 hours) reminder of its former glory as the hot springs town.

The potential of Bath is criminally wasted. Possessing the only warm spring in Britain, the entire place should be steaming with little and big bath houses, public fountains, foot spas. Instead, it has one overcrowded, tiny building with two small swimming pools. Sure, it’s fun to swim on the rooftop, and have a session in the steam room, but in the end, most aquaparks in Poland have more attractions – and that’s not even mentioning what the place would look like in Japan.

Still, mustn’t grumble. Properly soaked and squeezed, we headed for Sally Lunn’s, for what we remembered from our previous visit as the finest breakfast/afternoon tea meal in the West: the Sally Lunn Bun. This is not to be confused with a Bath Bun – its smaller, commercial version. The proper Sally Lunn brioche is the size of a platter, and you’re only served half of it, spread with tasty goodies – and half is quite enough, considering how rich and filling the pastry is. Sally Lunn was a Huguenot refugee who brought the brioche dough recipe with her and amazed the Britons, then, as ever, unused to the idea of tasty bread. The evening before we also tried famous Bath Ales at Graze Bar (excellent!).

There is plenty to see in Bath – the Roman baths are most impressive and almost worth the steep admission price (£13 pp), there’s the substantial abbey and the market streets around it, there’s plenty of Georgian and Victorian architecture and a whole lot of Jane Austen memorabilia; but we’ve seen it all before, so after breakfast we headed for Bristol.

I had great expectations of Bristol as one of the major highlights of our journey, and I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed. We’ll definitely be back here again. If we ever had to choose a city to stay that wasn’t London, but was the most London-like, Bristol would be high on the list.

As if to prove its vibrant, youthful charm, the city welcomed us with the loud sounds and colours of the Gay Pride festival in the Castle Green. It got only better once we tried proper, very fine cold brew and cinnamon roll in the Full Court Press on Broad Street, and headed for St. Nicholas’ Market – once England’s Wall Street, now Bristol’s answer to Camden Town. There was none of the dreadful, drab grey shopping-centre-after-hours atmosphere prevalent in central areas of Portsmouth and Plymouth; despite war damage, the old town and the harbour are beautifully preserved, restored and the gaps filled out with tasteful new buildings.

Bristol has a special meaning for me, as not only this is where Isambard Kingdom Brunel‘s main masterpieces were created – and I was always a big Brunel fanboy – it’s also the place where the crucial chapter of my book takes place; and yet I had never been here before, never walked its streets other than waiting for a train on Temple Meads. I kept thinking about it while walking down Broad Street, and I managed to miss completely – until M. pointed it out to me – the massive art nouveau sign marking the Grand Hotel: the very same Grand Hotel in which Bran and Dylan stayed before their journey!

There were more landmarks on our route – some, again, mentioned in the book, as the lavish Georgian Queen’s Square (where Bran and Dylan discuss Rome and Brunel), and the Floating Harbour, the magnificent hydroengineering project which turned the muddy Avon river into a network of deep, level canals which in places make Bristol look like a better managed Venice. There were ships and barges of all shapes and sizes in the harbour, and crowds of young, colourful, happy people in the streets. The falafels in St Nicholas’ were perfect, as was everything else. Let us not forget that Bristol is the birthplace of Pie Minister – my favourite gourmet pie company – and Clifton Coffee, and many other recent foodie favourites.

There was still more to see in Bristol before we moved on to our next destination, but as this post is growing in words, I will need to do the unorthodox – and split the day’s post in two. Yarr, me hearties!

Bath Thermae Spa

Bath Thermae Spa

Bristol Harbour

Bristol Harbour

St Nicholas Market, Bristol

St Nicholas Market, Bristol

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2 thoughts on “Day 28-29 – A Tale of Three Cities, part 1

  1. I don’t have much to add to this – i just found it interesting as i live in Bristol and it was nice to hear an outsiders take on it. I have plenty of friends who came to university here or moved here for a job and just loved it so much they stayed – i really think there is something really magical about the place. The route you took through the city is certainly a picturesque one – it’s such a shame you never made it up to the suspension bridge (or a drink in the White Lion in Clifton village, overlooking the bridge, which is as good a vista as you’ll get having a pint). I would also recommend climbing the many steps of Cabot Tower just off Park Street. It has wonderful and majestic 360 degree views of the city that will take your breath away.

    • Thanks 🙂 We’ll definitely be going back to Bristol to see all that – we’re on a tight schedule now and can’t spend too long in one place, but we are noting places worth revisiting and Bristol is near the top of the list 🙂

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