Lots to say about our visit to Bristol. Loved Clifton Village, the graffiti trail and the Annual Hot Air Balloon Extravaganza.
I read in something or other recently that a couple were eating Babaganoush which sounded like a pudding or if not something rather lovely. Anyway, we looked at the menu at a restaurant called Saffron and there was Babaganoush which was obviously savoury and made it said from eggplant. We ordered a few starters from the very bossy Turkish waiter including Babaganoush. I just love saying it. Well it arrived looking a bit like rice pudding gone off and tasted quite revolting. Even G who eats everything gave it a miss. The rest of the nosh was tasty but not enough to fill us up so we then ordered chicken things and bits on a plate. Loved it. We left the bossy waiter the change which was 20p and left.
We set off for the balloon extravaganza. Lots of people to follow, so we were obviously going in the right direction. We ended up next to the Clifton Suspension Bridge with hundreds of others all well behaved and waited, and waited. Then a big cheer and up came the Lion King Balloon, followed by Minions, don't know how to spell it as we are childless, then all the other ones. Fab. One couple had got engaged in the Thatchers one. People were having picnics and BBQ. A great couple of hours and not a Babaganoush in sight.
We were lucky as the previous night the balloons couldn't fly and people got very grumpy.
Clifton Village is a delight and we will go back again on a weekday. It is a foody heaven.
We went for a drink on the way back and there was a jazz band. All free, even if G said the band was ‘a racket’ after a while when, like every jazz band I’ve ever seen, they started to show off and the drummer went berserk for about ten minutes.
When we were in the Co op on the way back a posh bloke said to his wife "they have great big bags of M and Ms on offer". She said "you will have to hide them from Rupert as he is allergic to peanuts and is lactose intolerant". He said "I will just get the little bag then." Marvellous.
We like Bristol, but we really, really like Clifton. There’s a lot more here than just a suspension bridge, although that’s mightily impressive, especially when seen from below.
We rolled up in Clifton while the annual Hot air balloon festival was on, even though I had forgotten all about it until the day before. Three years ago we saw the balloons from afar and said ‘we must go there one day.’ We decided a visit to the area was overdue and as I was looking up likely hotels I saw an advert for the Festival.
It was sunny as we arrived and we had a long walk around Clifton Village which is great, especially on a sunny day. Lots of quirky specialist shops, cafes and bars and pavement cafes galore. Our sort of place. A bit like Notting Hill 40 odd years ago.
Marigold decided we’d lunch at a Turkish restaurant, a decision based entirely on wandering past the outdoor patrons and looking at what they had on their plates. It’s a system she has used over many years and results vary, if I’m giving preference to honesty over loyalty for a moment.
Saffron spreads across the pedestrianised width of Boyce’s Avenue, the picturesque heart of Clifton Village with Reg the Veg opposite. We found a Café Nero on the corner, but this is absolutely not a typical street you could see anywhere else in England. We loved Anna, great selection of cakes to French standards of style and presentation and any number of shops to browse in. I could have spent an hour or more in a book/cards shop while Marigold wandered around a tiny shop selling Mexican ephemera.
We agreed on our choices, perched on our somewhat rickety chairs in the sunshine and commented on passers by. Comments ranged from ‘don’t they look lovely?’ to ‘just look at the state of her.’ Meanwhile a young puppy, supposedly tethered to the base of the table next door was making strenuous efforts to sit on my lap. ‘I’m so sorry,’ his owner said, ‘he’s only been out twice before and he’s used to playing with labradors.’ Must be my grey muzzle, I suppose. The puppy cost £1,400, his owner said. No idea why we needed to know that. Seems a lot, but what do I know?
Our most expensive dog cost £5 and that was guilt money after our own (nobody’s idea of a Crufts winner) dog escaped one day and impregnated a prize winning bitch a mile up the road. The breeder, expecting a litter of valuable pups, turned up on our doorstep one day to say ‘your wretched dog has cost me a fortune.’ We didn’t attempt to dispute her claim as the puppy she had brought with her was the spitting image of our dog. We did at least offer the wretched and worthless animal a home for the £5 she requested. He brought us 17 years of sheer joy.
Marigold studied the menu for several minutes, then said, ‘I know what we’re having.’ I know better than to argue when she’s in this mood. The tattooed, shaven headed and somewhat unfriendly waiter brought out a selection of Meze, middle eastern tapas. The ‘Moroccan’ meatballs were superb, strips of lamb with a hot spicy coating equally so, but as for Baba Ganoush…
Marigold said, ‘I’ve been looking forward to this,’ took a healthy mouthful of what in my eyes resembled cat vomit and said, ‘tastes like cat sick.’ It did too. What Philistines we are! Hummus, which we like a lot, is made from chickpeas, baba ganoush has aubergine, which I refuse to call egg plant, as its main ingredient. Over the road, on Reg the Veg’s stall, was a huge basket of aubergines, shining in the sunshine. They looked lovely. I have yet to find a dish made from aubergine that matches their splendour in their natural state. A bit like seeing pheasants in the fields all around where we live. Is it fair to compare the taste of roast or grilled pheasant with the glorious vision of one in full plumage in the wild?
We shared a plate of roast chicken on skewers with bulgar rice, flatbread and a vast salad, delicious. As we were tucking in, a very attractive woman on the next table reached across and asked Marigold ‘I wonder if your husband would mind doing me a favour?’ Sadly, all she wanted was for me to move up a foot or so as I was casting a shadow across their table. So much for becoming an in-demand gigolo.
Our hotel was great, handy for village walks and safe parking. We were early so we toured around the area to see how any ‘Banksy’ masterpieces were still visible. We first did this a few years ago when the concept of street art was in its infancy. Strange, how we both hate mindless graffiti, but find street art wonderful. The mysterious and deliberately unidentifiable Banksy hails from Bristol, but his work is now found all over the world. There’s one in Hastings and we often walked along the promenade ‘as far as the Banksy and back again' back when we were convinced exercise would be beneficial to our crappy knees. Nowadays, we walk until it hurts and then stop.
The fabulous Gorilla in a Pink Mask wall mural was painted over in 2011. This apparent act of vandalism was explained thus by a spokesperson from the Muslim Cultural Centre, ‘I did not know it was valuable so I painted over it.’ The site was a Social Centre when Banksy painted the mural. Maybe the shy gorilla was too timid to go inside and mingle.
The ‘Well Hung Lover’ is still there and I managed to grab a photo. The building contains a clinic for sexually transmitted diseases, wonderfully appropriate for the subject matter, but apparently Banksy did not know this.
‘Girl with a Pierced Eardrum’ is still there too, on the wall of a recording studio in Hanover Place. Within a few hours of its appearance, it had been vandalised by some idiot throwing black paint at it. The paint splatters add poignancy, in my view.
The splendidly named Isambard Kingdom Brunel is best known for designing the magnificent suspension bridge, although he did much else of note besides. Spanning over 700 feet and 249 feet above the River Avon it had the longest span of any bridge in the world at the time of its construction. Brunel submitted four designs to a committee headed by Thomas Telford but Telford rejected all entries, proposing his own design instead. Understandable, as Telford had built a bridge over the Menai Straits, a 580 feet span which was the longest suspension bridge of the time.
Vociferous opposition from the public forced the organising committee to hold a new competition, which was won by Brunel.
We walked up to the bridge to watch the hot air balloons. It costs a quid to drive across the bridge and a family in a BMW were causing much ire amongst the car drivers behind them. The BMW driver got out and shouted, ‘the machine’s eaten my pound but won’t open the barrier.’ When someone suggested he tried again with another pound coin, the BMW man went ballistic. ‘I’m not paying double,’ he shouted. ‘If you want me to shift, have a whip round for another try.’
Incredibly, they did. A young lad turned up with a handful of coins, handed them over, the BMW man threw them in the hopper, the barrier went up and off he went. When the next car got to the cash hopper he picked up a pound coin off the floor and showed it to the rest of the queue. ‘Dozy devil missed the hopper altogether,’ he shouted and everybody honked their horns. Rather surreal.
We sat on the bridge with our feet dangling – not over the drop down to the river – and watched the hot air balloons set off. Amazing and even better for being free. Hundreds of spectators where we were and many, many more around the city. The Lion King Balloon had a near miss with one of the huge girders that support the bridge and we could see them frenziedly working the gas burners to gain more height.
They have the festival every year. There’s a circus too, and they only charge for parking on the field itself so it’s a great few days’s entertainment. We’ll come back again.