Jayne and I were very impressed by Bristol at the weekend.Â Although I had been there before it was a very long time ago and all I can really remember about it from then is the CLifton suspension bridge.
I knew it was the home of Banksy, Concorde, Johnny Morris and Wallace and Grommit as well as the location for Teachers and Being Human but that was about it.In a way the weekend was a bit wasted as we spent a lot of time wandering and gawping at the place rather than seeking out the places of interest, but that made it a very relaxing weekend.Â I enjoyed it in the same way as I used to enjoy free time on overseas business trips, feeling no compulsion to see everything.
We arrived on Friday afternoon after a really hot drive and thanks to sat nav found the hotel straight away, which turned out to be right in the heart of the city: on the waterfront and a short stroll from all sorts of bars and restaurants.Â We occupied ourselves exploring the immediate vicinity before having a meal.
On Saturday the plan was to go and see the bridge first so I could take some photographs.Â We were aiming for the observation point, but took a wrong turn and went over the bridge instead where Jayne inspected the visitor information centre while I walked back across the bridge.
A lot of fuss is made about the design of the bridge, and I’m sure that it is a good design, but faced with such things I am always more drawn to thoughts about the actual construction.
I can see how it works and how it all stays up, but find it hard to imagine how it got there: what was it like when it was half-built?Â Jayne will know more about that, having watched the film at the information centre.
It’s a shame you can’t go up to the top like you can on the Sydney Harbour bridge, but even at road level it is pretty high up with some stunning views.
After the bridge we went to Bristol Zoo, since we were in the area.Â What a great little zoo that is.Â It is not a large place and does not have the crowd-pleasing animals like elephants, giraffes, tigers, pandas and rhinos but it presents what it does have very well.Â The different habitats are very well designed for both animals and visitors.
One of the first animals we saw was an asiatic lion.Â It looked sad and bored, as big cats so often do in zoos but there was something very poignant about it when we read the notice about how the other asiatic lion died in the last month.Â It is easy to over-anthropomorphise animals in zoos, but the remaining lion did look lost and lonely.
It was another hot day so we didn’t spend as much time as we might have done in the reptile house, butterfly house or aquarium, sticking to the outside areas more.
There was a small enclosure of meerkats, but it was teeming with them.Â Honestly I could have stayed for hours just watching them, especially as there were quite a few baby meerkats in there (meerkittens?).Â Â I wanted to take one home, but Jayne said I could only have one if I let her take Jock (the 34-stone silverback) home too.
Actually I didn’t want to steal a meerkat.Â I wanted to steal two, just so I could spend my time comparing them…
I really liked the way the monkeys were accommodated.Â They were on islands so no need for sheets of perspex or wire mesh to enclose them.Â This is great for taking photos.Â It does mean they are a bit further away – but I did have my 300mm lens so no problem there.
I didn’t see a statue of Johnny Morris at the zoo, though I’m sure there is one.Â Â I was a little surprised to not see him being used to promote the place but on reflection people my age don’t really need the reminder and people much younger wouldn’t know who he was.
The gift shop was quite amusing.Â There was a range of model animals on sale which were all the animals the zoo doesn’t have – rhinos, kangaroos, giraffes, african lions, leopards, polar bears, etc.Â It was a bit like the end of Bullseye – “here’s what you could have seen if you had gone to a bigger zoo”.
But who cares if there are no pandas or elephants?Â It is a charming zoo, and a brilliant place for kids.Â You could easily spend all day there.
Although there are no pandas, the zoo does have red pandas apparently.Â I didn’t see them because they were either asleep somewhere or are masters of disguise.Â I was a little disappointed by that because red pandas are also known as fire foxes, which appeals to my inner nerd.
After the zoo we went out to the countryside for a while, ending up in Yate, and then went back to the city where we spent some quality time sitting by the water watching the world go by and enjoying ice creams.Â What an experience that is!Â Â I think if you sit around in Bristol long enough you really will see everything.Â We saw a girl dressed as a Rubik’s Cube, a bloke dressed as a Pac Man ghost, somebody riding a double-decker bicycle, and (unforgettably) a bloke wearing a Borat-style mankini.Â And this was just in the afternoon – evenings are even wilder.
Even the old bill are quite casual: we saw one wearing camoflage shorts, desert boots and t-shirt, with a Police vest over the top.
If anything Bristol reminded me of a sort of cross between Brighton and Amsterdam.Â It has the atmosphere of Brighton but doesn’t seem to work so hard at it, but with the canal-side vibe of Amsterdam.Â Students everywhere obviously. And cyclists. And runners.Â It felt like more people jog than walk in the city.
The cyclists surprised me a bit though.Â Lots of posters proclaim the city as Britain’s first cycling city and it is true that there are bikes everywhere.Â I’m amazed that cycling is so common in such a hilly place.Â I expect it in places like Cambridge, Copenhagen or Amsterdam that are generally flat, but I would have thought all those hills would make cycling a bit of a chore.Â Maybe you get used to it.
Sunday morning I got up at a stupidly early hour and went out to take some pictures of the city.Â Â I walked up to the Christmas Steps, down past the Council House and cathedral, and then down to the water to see the SS Great Britain and back via the renovated harbour area.
After that I was ready for a huge breakfast at the Weatherspoon’s pub opposite the hotel, though I struggled a bit to eat it all.Â After that we checked out of the hotel and loaded the car with our bags and headed for the aquarium.Â We wanted to go there on Saturday but were just too late to see the last IMAX show of the day.
The aquarium is, like the zoo, very well laid out.Â The route through it alternates between indoors and outdoors – well sort of outdoors – making it more varied and less claustrophobic than the London Aquarium.
There is always a slight disappointment about most such places: loads of interesting tropical fish, seahorses, spooky-looking shark egg pouches, and small sharks – but what you really want is to see great white sharks and hammerheads, which only the largest places have.Â Bristol gets round this by having an IMAX cinema showing a 3D shark film.
This was where the weekend fell apart really.Â The start of the film was delayed by unspecified problems and then half an hour in, just as it was getting to the hammerheads, we lost the picture and the whole show was aborted.Â I sort of got the impression that the bloke from the gift shop was filling in as projectionist.
We still enjoyed our weekend away, but it was a shame to end it on a bit of a low.