We hadn’t stopped moving in four months. The longest we stayed in a single place, and slept in the same bed, was a stretch of eleven days in Moldova. The notion of an entire month in Bristol, with a whole house to ourselves, was terrific. Our bags could be completely unpacked, their contents stored in an actual closet. We could catch up on so much work!
Our intentions, however, fell short of their mark. We didn’t accomplish half of what we planned, not even close. You see, Bristol isn’t the kind of place you visit if you want to stay inside and relax. It’s an energetic city, effervescent and culturally diverse; it’s welcoming, comfortable.
We were busy during our visit, far busier than we had planned or hoped for; but it was awesome. And it was exactly what we didn’t know we needed.
Housesitting for Cheese
Our reason for visiting Bristol was for another house-sit we found through Trusted Housesitters. Oddly enough, the last time we found ourselves in England was nearly six months earlier, for the very same reason. This time around, following a phenomenal week in London, including several late nights catching up with friends, we exhaustedly made our way to Bristol.
We were house and pet-sitting for a family who was off visiting relatives overseas for an entire month. They’re a couple of artisan cheesemakers who left us a wheel of their immaculate creation as a thank-you gift. It was enormous. And as delicious as it was, we couldn’t get through it all over four weeks of effort.
Their one-year-old dog, Mikey, was spirited to say the least. He took us for his daily walks. Pulling most of the time, once off-leash, he’d sprint tirelessly through the trees of the beautiful Avon gorge. This didn’t bother us at all, he always kept within sight, and it provided us a few moments to take in the spectacular, pre-dawn scene.
It was so gorgeous, every single morning we were blown away by where we walked. On one side of the river, Bristol rose up from the harbour, on the other, forests and fields of the English countryside. The river itself made for an interesting sight as well. Connected to the Celtic sea only a few kilometres away, the river rises and falls with the tide, flowing in opposite directions depending on the time of day. It’s actually the second largest tidal change on earth, at 15 metres, second only to the Bay of Fundy in Canada.
Getting Comfortable on North Street
Having a whole house to ourselves for a month was absolutely incredible. The house itself was fantastic and couldn’t have been in a better location. We sat right on North Street, the lively, main boulevard of Bedminster, South Bristol. Our place, in particular, faced the Bristol Beer Factory, with a vibrant ‘Simpsons’ mural on the side, and Mark’s Bread, one of the best bakeries in town. Every morning, the smell of fresh baked, artisan bread would be our wake-up call. We probably spent more money than we should have here, but it was totally worth it.
I’ll get into all the great things about North Street in a later post, but this place had everything we needed. There were so many fantastic restaurants, bars, cafes and shops, our neighbourhood could have been Bristol and that we would have left content. But this was the tip of the iceberg. The reason we slacked on our work schedule is that the real action was only 20 minutes away.
Our initial plans saw us heading into the city centre maybe two or three times a week. The idea was to spend most of our free time working. This failed miserably for three reasons.
First, with Christmas break approaching, we had to see everything we could before opening hours were reduced or certain sights and activities closed altogether. During the first week alone we hit the main galleries, spent an afternoon at We The Curious and another at the aquarium. I even went to the outskirts of town one morning to check out the last Concorde, which is on display at the local aviation museum.
Then we visited the famed S.S. Great Britain, the worlds first luxury cruise liner. We thought we might pop in for half an hour or so, have a peek to “say we went.” What we didn’t expect was to stumble into the most outstanding and interactive museum either of us had ever experienced. Seriously, as many amazing things there are to do in Bristol, this is one of the best. We were there for four hours.
The Phenomenal Street Art
The second reason our schedule fell apart was a direct result of the first. Having spent so much time walking the harbour and the city centre in that first week, we saw how truly awesome it all was. Whether trying yet another remarkable restaurant, popping into a pub for a pint, or scoping out the spectacular street art; hanging out downtown simply became part of the daily routine.
If there was one thing I knew about Bristol prior to arrival, it’s that the city is famed for its street art scene. I mean, the legendary Banksy hails from here. I mentioned earlier the mural across from our house, but that was merely one of many. Within a five minute walk from home, we could easily pass fifteen or twenty pieces. And I don’t mean a bunch of random, chicken-scratch tagging, these are all stunning, colourful, well thought out walls.
Not since our time in Colombia have we seen such an impressive concentration of street art. The entire city is filled with such art, and while it’s technically illegal, it’s a genuine part of Bristol culture. Up in the Stokes Croft neighbourhood, which might be compared to Shoreditch in London, you can see people painting murals in broad daylight!
The Weather was Perfect – Almost
Something else that caught us off-guard was the weather. We rolled into Bristol expecting that cliché gloomy rain of an English winter. And while there were the occasional rainy days, most of the time was sunny and relatively warm. Considering the weather we left behind us in Moldova, this felt like the tropics!
The only time we really got caught in a torrent of rain was during the first couple of days. After heading back to town by bus, we mistakenly get off at the most inconvenient stop possible. There are two bridges to cross the harbour from where we stood, each was twenty minutes away. And it began to rain. It was still too early for any restaurants to be open to take shelter, so we walked. It rained harder, a lot harder. By the time we reached Millennium Square, where we could cross the harbour, we were drenched.
We stood in the entrance to a parkade, miserable and shivering, waiting out the storm. Then, across the square passed the empty rides and games and food stalls, we saw something that caught our eye. ‘Yorkshire Pudding Wraps.’ Sheer curiosity pushed us back into the frigid downpour. Upon realizing what it was, we ordered one without hesitation.
Bristol has Incredible Food!
A huge Yorkshire pudding is flattened in a panini press, then filled with what is essentially your average Sunday roast. Shredded beef (or chicken or pork), green beans, carrots, potatoes, gravy and a generous splash of horseradish sauce are rolled in the flattened Yorkie and eaten like a wrap. Soon forgotten was the cold. Bellies full, we walked home through the rain with content smiles, speaking continuously of the sensational snack we’d just devoured.
What just happened was the first of many memorable moments of Bristol’s phenomenal food scene. What is abundantly clear, looking back, is that we spent almost as much on food during that month than we usually do on rent in most countries. From that first incredible wrap to spicy Sichuan, gooey arancini and the best fish and chips we’ve ever had – to say we ate well in Bristol would be an understatement.
Breaking the Habit
There were only a few occasions that we broke up our comfortable routine.
On my birthday, for example, Kylee treated me to an evening at the Old Vic, one of the oldest operating theatres in the world. We enjoyed an interesting telling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Many pints of cider were consumed before, during and after. It was a perfect celebration of my sixth 30th birthday.
When Christmas arrived, we went full-on for dinner. While travelling, it isn’t often we get a full kitchen and access to proper supermarkets – especially during the holidays. Porchetta, cauliflower puree, braised cabbage and Brussels sprouts with chorizo were on the menu, and we enjoyed leftovers for almost a week!
Finally, Kylee’s sister and her fiancé flew in from the Netherlands for a few days. This welcomed surprise was the first time we’d seen any family outside of a Skype call since May. During their brief visit, we showed them a few of our favourite sights (and pubs) and discovered a few more awesome spots (and pubs) together. On New Year’s Eve, we spent the afternoon jumping between pubs, tasting many different local brews. Kylee and I were asleep before midnight.
And that was it.
A month had passed in a blink.
Once we said our farewells and they flew back to Holland, we only had three days left before heading back to London. The inevitable cleaning and packing were interrupted only briefly with last-minute visits to our favourite restaurants, and playing with Mikey.
Our break from travel to catch up on work, as we had expected Bristol to be, was a complete and utter failure. Instead, we received something much more valuable. A sense of home, familiarity and routine – things that rarely happen in a life of constant movement. And of all places, it happened to be one of the most spectacular cities we’ve ever visited. It didn’t matter what we were doing, I can’t think of another place that felt so good to simply exist in.