Cheeky Surprises in Bristol and a ‘Wee Look Around’ Glasgow
Most travelers, whether they have been gone for a year or a week (or a week that feels like a year, on certain family vacations), have experienced a scientifically recognized phenomenon known as “museum fatigue.” It hit me, and hard, the moment I set foot in Britain to visit Bristol, England, and Glasgow, Scotland, after four months of speed-seeing the Americas, then Iceland, plus turning 40 in the middle of it. I wasn’t sick of traveling. On the contrary, every second I spend on this 52 Places journey has convinced me of the value of being out in the world, soaking up experiences. I just needed a breather that felt like a life lived beyond tourism. Meandering through these two charming cities provided just that.Posted — Updated
Most travelers, whether they have been gone for a year or a week (or a week that feels like a year, on certain family vacations), have experienced a scientifically recognized phenomenon known as “museum fatigue.” It hit me, and hard, the moment I set foot in Britain to visit Bristol, England, and Glasgow, Scotland, after four months of speed-seeing the Americas, then Iceland, plus turning 40 in the middle of it. I wasn’t sick of traveling. On the contrary, every second I spend on this 52 Places journey has convinced me of the value of being out in the world, soaking up experiences. I just needed a breather that felt like a life lived beyond tourism. Meandering through these two charming cities provided just that.
More than anything, being here reminded me of the time I’d spent in New York City in the early 2000s, hopping from a warehouse concert to a party in a stranger’s backyard.
One step outside my hotel and I was in a smorgasbord of ethnic food options at the terrific St. Nicholas Market. The falafel at Eat a Pitta, based on a recipe from the owner’s Algerian grandmother, was so good I nearly missed my train to Scotland waiting in a crowd of locals to get a second round.
A trip to do laundry brought me to Gloucester Road, purportedly the longest stretch of independent shops in Europe, where many merchants use and accept the city’s own currency, the Bristol pound, as a way of keeping money in Bristol. (It’s worth the same as a British pound, which you can also use, but it is designed by local artists in neon colors.)
Next door is Bishopston Fish Bar, which has been voted the top Bristol “chippy” in The National Fish & Chip Awards for the past five years. There, I met the owner, Nick Lomvardos, who had spent 24 years cooking with his Greek father. Now he’s working alongside his three employees, Seyed Mirabedini from Iran, Bernadetta Plesniak from Poland and Lucie Vranova from the Czech Republic, who told me that she thinks Bristol has “sex appeal.”
This is, after all, a city that has produced the pioneering trip-hop band Massive Attack; my favorite animated duo, Wallace & Gromit; and the ever-elusive artist Banksy, who seems a fitting native son for Bristol, where cheeky surprises keep popping up.
I took a “Blackbeard to Banksy Walking Tour” (8 pounds), expecting to learn about pirates and see some street art. I had no idea that our highly entertaining guide, Duncan McKellar, was a daring street artist too, responsible for tinfoil butterflies on pavement and a giant pineapple made of yellow plastic lifted from construction sites.
Afterward, I made sure to walk through the bohemian, street-art-filled neighborhood of Stokes Croft — direct your map to The Canteen — where students casually played Ping-Pong below Banksy’s “The Mild Mild West” mural. My favorite night, though, was my simplest. I was taking pictures outside BrewDog, a beer pub alongside the city’s Floating Harbor, and three guys invited me to join them. They were “away lads” from Somerset who spend their weekdays in Bristol working for a company that installs green rooftops on new buildings. (Bristol was named a European Green Capital a few years back.) Over many fun, boozy hours, we met a terrific magician from Spain, known as Magic Malka, and a waitress at Three Brothers Burgers, Antonia May Cross, who also runs sex-education talks. Along the way, she figured out that she knew my away lads: “Oh, so you’re the ones in the construction site waking me up every morning!”
On our last full day together, Jamie took me to The Clydeside Distillery, the first to make whisky in central Glasgow in more than 100 years, and then to a place called the Crossbill Gin School, where you create your own spirits. The lovely owner, Jonathan Engles, served up delicious pineapple gin and talked about gathering Scottish juniper in Ikea bags, and the next thing I knew, my brain had turned to mush.
I do have to pass on Jonathan’s apology. He said, “I overserved the other night, didn’t I?” I love that guy. He’s one of those mad inventor types. But I’ve only met him once and not left drunk.
Jonathan makes award-winning gin. And that school, it’s brand-new and in a part of Glasgow that’s been in decline for a long time. It was the Barrowlands. It used to have a lively secondhand market that, but a lot like our profession, has been swallowed up by the internet. Now they are calling it BAAD, Barrows Art and Design. So it’s a bold project to replace the life that was before.
That is the Duke of Wellington, one of Britain’s greatest military heroes, and for some reason, the people of Glasgow — it’s basically seen as an act of defiance. There’s usually one cone on him and one on his horse. If you are walking by at night, especially if you’re a student, and you see him without his hat on, you basically shouldn’t go home until you’ve climbed up there and put it back on.
World’s third-oldest underground! One single loop. You’re either going on the inner or the outer line. The thing that got you was how small it is. And it curves in at the edges, so basically, I think if you’re over 6 foot 2, you either have to take a seat or bend yourself into the shape of the train. We certainly did not attempt a “sub crawl,” which is where you have to get off at all 15 stops and have a drink at the nearest bar to every stop.
Oh, it’s a tragedy. Glasgow is a very emotional city and people were heartbroken the first time. It’s his masterpiece; he never did another architectural project as big as that. But I did read it’s going to be rebuilt.
Conic Hill is the place we went up. We walked a very small, small section of the West Highland Way. And we caught that rarest of things, which is a sunny day in Scotland. We also got some amazing Scottish strawberries, which are the best strawberries in the world. Definitely write that down.
— Warning: Bristol’s hills are no joke. Walk or take a cab to Cabot Tower and the Clifton Suspension Bridge, designed by Ismael Kingdom Brunel, for terrific views.
— In Glasgow, I thought I’d try out an Airbnb and wound up with a beautiful apartment — that was in a rather disturbing building. Dirty hallways, doors with broken glass. I arrived in the city close to midnight and picked up my key from a lockbox while a junkie swayed next to me. Might I suggest doing a thorough vetting before booking?
— Like Bristol, Glasgow is a lovely walking city, with supplemental Uber rides. We rented a car to get to the Highlands. Jamie drove exclusively; I wouldn’t get behind the wheel unless you’re comfortable with driving on the left side of the road.
— Among other fun times Jamie and I had in Glasgow: A pub quiz at The Sparkle Horse; whisky at the Potstill (where the main bartender has a foot-long beard and wears a leather kilt); wandering around Glasgow University, which looks just like Hogwarts; and visiting the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which had an exhibition in which dozens of bald heads with varying expressions hung from the ceiling. The museum is built for the city, with free admission. We also listened to many clips from the beloved Glaswegian comedian Billy Connolly and the singer-songwriter Gerry Cinnamon. He does a tune called “Diamonds in the Mud” with a line that makes Jamie cry: “I’ve been all ‘round the world but there’s nowhere compares to my hometown / The mayhem of Glasgow is buried deep in my blood.”
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