Busy in Bristol: Banksy, Bridges & Breakfast

I promise to stop with the alliteration soon, but events have to stop lending themselves to such easy categories!

Over the weekend, Alan and I were given a whirlwind tour of the city of Bristol thanks to our awesome host and friend, Marcus (who is also IMHO one of the best writers amongst my peers – you should check his blog out!).

Marcus was back in Bristol to move into his new house. Which is seriously a nicest place  for a student — or even a family — to live in. The rooms are airy, well-furnished, modern-looking with lots of skylights. Most importantly it has HOT SHOWERS. Hot showers with crazy LED lights that turn red when it’s officially 38 degrees. Anticipating my return to Ying/Xiu’s place in London, I took three showers.

One of Marcus’ neighbours is a sagely-looking cat. I called it “handsome in a Jane Austen kind of way,” but Alan gave me a wtf reaction. So we’ve settled on the much tamer adjective.

I’ve to admit, I thought that Bristol was some kind of backwater town, which is probably the same kind of uneducated thinking that leads people to believe whole-heartedly that Singapore is “still a part of China, or was it Japan, isn’t it?”

In some way it strikes me as Berlin with a British spin. There are, of course, the requisite beautiful “neo Gothic” (I don’t know what that really means, I just Wikipediaed it) buildings, like the Wills Morris law building.

But it’s also really modern, with its swanky restaurants and harbourside with old-school charm.

The weather was rather erratic. It was due to rain the whole day but it pretty much started and stopped, like a sprinter on many false starts or something like that. Marcus said to think of the short bursts of sunshine as windows for us to go out and explore, which I quite liked the sound of.

Speaking of windows, we spotted a bunch of enthusiastic and perhaps drunk stag-nighters (?). Marcus was posing for a photo underneath the restaurant’s sign when they all jumped in to get in the frame.

Bristol is also the home of Banksy — THE graffiti artist that everybody and their mother has supported in some way or another through buying pirated t-shirts with his prints on them, or putting up his work as their Facebook cover photo. I don’t know.

Most, if not all, should be his work. It’s pretty much all got the same style, plus I’ve seen them in his books.

This one sits in one of the galleries: 

The Queen/David Bowie piece used to be one of a riot police officer but it recently got painted over, according to Marcus. You can still see the faint blackish outline where it used to be. [Edit: Just found out that this is actually by the artist IncWel; that the work’s by Banksy is just bad reporting haha me included. –27 Aug]

But obviously Banksy is not the only graffiti artist in town. It’s got a whole street (or two) dedicated to really amazing works, which I guess is another reason why it reminded me of the hustle and bustle, the aliveness I fell in love with in Berlin.

Dedicated to our lit class, and all fans of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. What a horrorshow book.

And what would a city tour be without the food? Marcus brought us to Thali, an Indian fusion cafe with vivid decor and equally colourful noms. It’s the go-to place he brings everyone to (apparently 11 times). Here are the boys mucking around:

The Masala Fish Fry (7.95 pounds) – served with mango, sweet chili and lime chutney! I decided to try this after Marcus declared he has eaten it 10 out of 11 times. It’s pretty much Indian fish-and-chips, and how awesome is that? Apparently curry was the UK’s national dish, so I suppose this makes it the child of both worlds. I liked it – fish was fresh, batter crispy. My only complaint was that the chili wasn’t spicy enough, though that was mediated by an extra serving of some Chinese chili oil-like paste.

Alan got the Goan Fish Curry (7.95 pounds).

Marcus got something similar to mine but with lots of vegetables:

In between lunch and dinner we managed to grab tea at Boston Tea Party and then periperi chicken from Piri Piri. Somehow we still had space to eat mussels at Zero Degrees, which also has a microbrewery of its own. We essentially shared two pots between us. This is the Thermidor, which is served in a broth of brandy, cheese and other wholesome goodness.

With two pots, we decided to count exactly how much each of us got to eat. Final count: Alan – 55, Marcus – 44, Rachel – 36. Each pot roughly works out to approx 15 pounds. A total of 135 mussels. 30/135 = 0.22 pence per mussel. I don’t remember why this started but it was the boys’ idea, so I guess that explains things.

Post-dinner, Marcus brought us to the Coritap to drink some exhibition-grade cider to celebrate his results. I don’t have any good pictures of the place, but the moment we stepped in, Alan and I were like, this is a total frat party. It was hot, stuffy, people were spilling drinks (though to be fair, it was cos it was so crowded and less so due to illegal drunken behaviour). The cider was also STRONG. This, coupled, with the epileptic fit-inducing Niggas in Paris video (which pretty much has been Marcus’ anthem for the last week or so), made me say some very stupid things on our journey to and from the Bristol suspension bridge.

To get to this vantage point, we had to walk through an unlit path that cut through a lot of bushery. Exactly the sort of scene from a horror movie where the character about to be killed off tells you that it’s fine and perfectly safe. Thankfully, in the movie that is my life, Marcus is not a character about to be killed off anytime soon, so we reached the ‘peak’ in one piece. I was greatly relieved to see an elderly couple semi-cuddling for warmth and setting up a tripod to take a proper picture of the bridge that my camera didn’t do sufficient justice to. Of course, being the paranoid android that I am, I worried that the avuncular man was going to bash my head in with the tripod but I am alive, so thank God.

It was cold, but we just sat there and talked and played Niggas in Paris over and over.

The next day Marcus brought us to the Primrose Cafe, where we had a hearty brunch. Alan and I shared the Full Monty, a 10.95-pound plate of not-so-wholesome goodness — black pudding (aka BLOOD SAUSAGE), normal sausages, creamy but firm scrambled eggs, mushrooms, fatty bacon, beans and a bagel.

Marcus got the waffles and bacon. WHICH WAS DELICIOUS. He suspects they put sugar in the batter which is why it tasted extra sweet. AND DELICIOUS.

Then it was time to say goodbye. 🙁

Our bus ride back was a ridiculous 4-hour journey where it would normally take 2.5, in part due to the bad weather and horrendous traffic along Heathrow. But we managed to settle in to a nearby pub at the Victoria station, just in time to catch the Euro 2012 finals.

Yay to Spain and their 4 goals and Torres’ amazingly cute kids 🙂

One thing I’ve been thinking about is, at what point of time do you consider yourself to be “living” in another city, or even country. I suppose this is only a problem for the Facebook generation, where we have little status bars to inform friends and strangers our current place of residence. Even when I changed mine to Philadelphia a while ago, it felt strange and intrusive for me to list it down. I didn’t so much choose to live there as I did to study, and as much as you come to “find yourself” when you live in a place so unfamiliar, I can’t profess to know the city. I think this much was evident as Marcus took us around Bristol, which he knows so intimately because he walks EVERYWHERE. We did not take a single cab or bus in the city; we walked a good 6-7 km amidst intermittent rain, through twists and turns round the city. It’s been three years in Philadelphia, and it was only in my junior year that I became acquainted and have grown fond of the SEPTA and how fast it is to get from one end to the other. But there’s the whole North-South stretch that I don’t know at all. With only one year left to live and breathe Philadelphia, it’s making me worried that I’ll go home still a stranger to the City of Brotherly Love. And of course, slightly envious of all the people who get to linger in their cities of choice, searching for jobs, but more importantly, the place they feel most at home in.

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