Bristol and beyond

Trip Start Jan 27, 2008
Trip End Apr 06, 2009

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Flag of United Kingdom  ,
Saturday, February 2, 2008

At last got on the bus to Bristol, about a two and a half hour ride from London. At the station I kept my eye out for a dodgy character, and sure enough, there was Simon, a travel friend I had met a few times in India. The first time was smoking a hookah on palolem beach with the Morjim crew--they fill the bowl with tobacco, and then everyone pulls out a lump of charras to make things a little more interesting. Through the haze of smoke and stone, I looked across the room to see a man I had met for a bit in the internet caf earlier that week. A friendship was born.
The next time I ran into him, it was literally running into him. I had eaten my dinner in the River Music restaurant in Old Manali, and proceeded to the bottle shop for an digestif, and had to wait for the previous customer, a swaying dark-haired gentleman being steadied by an Indian guide. As he turned to go, recognition rose in both of our brains (his of course, being already pickled, and mine well on the way). "There you are mate!" says Simon, as if not a day has passed instead of the three months since Goa, "Off we go then." Back up to my porch to down vodka and orange juice until the wee hours. From there this became an almost regular occurrence, often getting on the piss in the internet shop in Manali, raising hell as a team on my local music forum board back in boston.
Travel friends are like old ghosts, they haunt you from time to time, you know they are still out there somewhere, and hopefully at least, occasionally they manifest in a solid physical form. So it was at the terminal in Bristol.
Simon has a lovely lady in his life, Julie, who has a flat there in downtown. It was only a 5 minute walk there, and when inside I was introduced to a fridge full of beer, a bottle of the mandatory vodka, and various other caustic substances. Telling stories and listening to music, the last thing I remember was eating cold leftover chinese food by dipping croissants into it (an unholy alliance that disgraces both the french and the chinese), and then waking up on the couch, staring at the ceiling with a head the size of the hms Queen of England. Suffice to say I didn't see a heck of a lot of Bristol proper, but I can tell you just how many cracks there are in Julie's ceiling. .
After a hearty English-style breakfast of egg, toast, roasted tomato and beans, we pondered our next move.

Having a decent job in Bristol allows one to have something that most in London can't afford: A car. Simon has a company car, a little ford diesel that runs like a top, despite the rattly suspension and high mileage on it. So in we piled for a little motor-tour of somerset and cheddar, interspersed with a pint or two and fish and chips in Weston. Simon had graciously offered to drive me back to London, and knowing a bit about the game of american football, was inducted into the crew to watch the Super Bowl along with Julie.
Up over the famous clifton suspension bridge where those who are depressed and can't take it any more take a final plunge, over through the posh neighborhoods above bristol, through the pastoral countryside of Somerset and through Cheddar Gorge to the cheese and cider shops of old Cheddar we went, smoking cigarettes and talking all the while. I did manage to snap a few pics, some from the car in motion, and some in the times we made our quick stops.
If you have never had proper Cheddar cheese, you might be surprised at the flavor of a true mature cheddar. It has a smell similar to what we americans think of as cheddar, but the flavor is stronger, sharp, but also not sharp in the acidic and tart way the colonists think. It melts in your mouth like butter with a strong hint of stilton, or another veined cheese. It is salty, sweet, and slightly moldy all at the same time. Brilliant.
The area is also well-known for its cider, generally coming in sweet, medium and dry varieties, all of which are about 6% abv, and make a man crazy, according to my guides. A couple of cheeses and a gallon of cider in tow, it was off to the local for a cask ale--Old Peculier, which we get in bottled form back stateside.
One of the best things about this country is the cask ale, hand pumped and only slightly cold. It is generally pretty hearty, not too terribly strong, and has a wide range of brands and tastes. The English pint is usually 20 ounces, so it takes a nice amount of time to down one of these lovelies. Rather than the wholesale strong beer drank by myself and my partners in crime back in boston, this is a little more like having a snack--I'm fairly certain that one could survive quite nicely on this beer alone, I'm equally sure that many do. Yummy.
They're living off a more dangerous brew in Weston, however. A seaside resort in the summer, in the winter there are a number of hostile drunks wandering the streets, picking fights with cops, and generally menacing innocent passers-by. Papa's fish and chips however, on the high street there, is not to be missed. Most times fish and chips are done well here on the island, but papa's are made with perfect batter, flaky and crispy, not chewy or greasy, too thin or too thick. The place has it down to a science. Chips aren't bad either, though I myself am not a huge fan of chips in general. Numerous kinds of fish are available, plaice, roe, even skate wing, but I opted for the old standby, Cod.
Julie got the roe, so we were able to taste that delicacy as well and left the place recharged, our hangovers fading into the haze of the previous night. It was coming on 5 o'clock by then, and we figured it was about time to head up to London to make it in a timely manner for the informal Super Bowl "party" that another travel buddy of mine, Mr. Darby, had offered up his place for. I could watch my team in action against a new york team for the championship! Of course I would be watching with a bunch of people who knew not the first thing about that complicated game, but hey, I have had to suffer through a number of cricket matches.
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