Europe 2015 Diary Entry VII – Bristol, England

If I had to sum up my main memories of Bristol, it would be as follows: Clifton Suspension Bridge, jacket potatoes, polenta cake slices, and Wetherspoons.

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First sighting of the iconic red telephone booth. Had to snap a photo, obviously.

Bristol is another city that I would have never thought to visit if it hadn’t been for Mike. Back in 2005/2006, he lived and worked in Bristol for about a year (basically living my dream, NBD) and wanted to show me around. Throughout the years, he had told me a few stories of his “Bristol days” and I was looking forward to putting pictures to memories.

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The Clifton Suspension Bridge is a bit of a landmark in Bristol.

Unfortunately, the AirBnb that we stayed at was one of our least favourites of our trip. The room itself was actually quite cosy, and the bathroom was really modern and clean, but the host controlled the temperature and during the day, opted to turn it completely off. Keep in mind that we were here in the middle of the winter. While not as cold as Canada, the buildings are not insulated at all. At night, they turned on the heat so we were warm and content, but during the day, when it was turned off, it was colder to be indoors than outdoors. This was problematic because Mike was sick with a cold at the time. Obviously not planned, but we would have preferred to have the option to stay inside and take it easy until he was feeling better. In hindsight, it was probably a blessing because it forced us to wander around.

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Cute and cosy Airbnb room – at night.

We spent 3 nights and four days in Bristol.

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There’s that Clifton Suspension Bridge again. Photo quality not great, but it was so pretty at night when lit up.

Not surprisingly, the first thing we did after we checked into our AirBnb was go for a run. Mike booked our accommodation in Clifton because that was the area he used to live in. The first place he took me to was the Clifton Suspension Bridge because he knew I’d like it. I do love bridges!

After our run, we went in search of food and wound up at a pub. Since it was a Sunday, I saw that the bar was advertising a roast as one of their meal options. Now keep in mind, that I had no idea what a “roast” was. I know what a roast chicken is, but using a “roast” as a noun to include multiple items was confusing to me. Naturally, I began to quiz the bartender there about what a roast dinner was. I didn’t really get a satisfactory answer, so it took me a while to really grasp the concept of a “Sunday Roast”. I THINK a Sunday Roast is equivalent to a Sunday Dinner. Items on the menu can change but it’s a meal eaten at dinner time on a Sunday. Does that make sense?

In any case, after all that quizzing, I glanced at the menu and something else caught my eye – jacket potatoes. I mean, really? A baked potato served as a main, rather than as a side dish?!? Was I in heaven?

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I realize this picture is not the greatest quality, but I had to include it because this meal was pivotal in creating a long lasting obsession with jacket potatoes. This baked potato was topped with a delicious, mild vegetable curry.

I just LOVE baked potatoes, but in Canada, they’re typically topped with sour cream, loads of cheese, and other things I’m not into like bacon bits. And if you order them as a meal, they will not be satisfying enough on its own. I had mine with a lovely vegetable curry and a side salad. I tend to be obsessive about things I like, and I began searching for jacket potatoes at every restaurant in every British city we visited after that. #adulting

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At times, I felt like I was walking around my old uni campus.

Bristol reminded me a lot of Guelph, the city I lived in during my university days. It was small, cosy, and full of students. We spent most of our days trying out new cafes so that we could get work done during the day.

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Earl grey tea with hazelnut milk? The best.

One of my favourite cafes, Mockingbird, was a block away from our AirBnb. They had ginger shots (which we would order to try to fight the cold germs), great coffee and great tea. One day I ordered Earl Grey tea and had it served with hazelnut milk. It was amazing! I’m always looking for trends in cafes when I go to new cities, and a big one here were polenta cake slices. I’m obsessed with cornbread, so I was quite inspired to try as many different versions as possible. You know, for research purposes…

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Polenta cake slices! A reminder to myself that I must recreate these at home.

Two last major items on our agenda were to walk by Mike’s old apartment and to have a cheap Tuesday evening meal at Wetherspoon’s for nostalgic reasons.

It’s crazy to imagine what his life was like back then. Fun fact: we were both in the UK around the same time, but obviously didn’t know each other then. And I was travelling and playing tourist, while he was a resident. And I was in London and he was in Bristol, but you get the point!!!

Current (well, early 2015) photo of his old residence.

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Apparently his building used to be pink on the outside. I’ll try to get him to send me a photo some day to compare.

Old photo of his residence (dark pink building), taken around 2005-2006.

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Mike dug up this photo of the same place from back when he lived there. Loved the dark pink. 😉 And all the cars parking in whichever direction they feel like.

Regarding Wetherspoon’s, Mike warned me that the food was far from gourmet, but he had so many memories of eating there on a semi-regular basis because they had a “Tuesday Steak Club” meal that included steak, chips, peas and a beer for relatively little money. He was pretty excited to share this experience with me so of course we went. 🙂

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Wetherspoons Tuesday Steak Club: Steak, chips, peas and one mushroom with a pint of beer for less than £8.
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I quite liked the meal!

We also visited his old work area and had drinks at a nearby pub that he used to frequent often.

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Near the Bristol harbour, where Mike used to work. Pretty snazzy looking if you ask me!

Overall, I really enjoyed Bristol. Probably because I had my own personal tour guide and it was really fun to imagine what life was like for Mike.

img_0104It felt very liveable with a nice, low key atmosphere. My kind of place! I love any city that is built around or near a body of water as well. I imagine it would have been even more lively in the summer, so I’d love to go back and experience it then some day.

alison

Europe 2015 Diary Entry VI – Granichen

There’s something incredibly seductive about a “clutter-free” life. Especially in a country as serene and beautiful as Switzerland. When I am there, the only thing I want to “clutter” my life with is the outdoors. Owning material things, or spending time online become secondary. How could you want to sit indoors when nature and beauty steps away? I always think when I first arrive in Switzerland that I will go crazy with boredom, but I never do. Even after close to three months of “living” there, I look back and realize that I was the healthiest in mind and body during my time in Switzerland.

Switzerland has been one of my favourite countries ever since I visited it for the first time in 2006, but Granichen had never on my radar until I met Mike. And it wouldn’t be, either, unless you know someone there. You must take a local train from Zurich station to get there and it’s so small that everyone will notice right away that you’re not from there the as soon as you start walking through it.

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Everything is so green in Granichen, even during the winter.

Without much around to distract us, our days were simple and I felt at peace. While Mike continued to work remotely for his company back in Toronto, I worked on our start up and researched our options for staying long-term in Europe. We also trained for our respective marathons, and spent a lot of time cooking delicious meals for dinner and getting to know our hosts better.

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One of the only times I did not mind the snow or running in it.

We were extremely lucky to stay with a family friend who charged us very little rent. Her farmhouse had been in her family for at least three generations. It had all the charm of what you’d imagine a Swiss house to look like. The structure was old, but each room had been modernized, and every single space had been maximized. Even the attic had been turned into an open floor loft with a huge sun roof. On any given day, you could wander into her basement or up to the “attic” (which actually operated as a bedroom for one of her sons) and find a new space or window that would lead to something else. Near the end of her stay when it started to warm up outside, she showed us how to walk out onto the top of her garage which was also used as a  ‘secret’ patio.

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It was winter for the majority of our stay there, so we didn’t get to sit outside to eat until a week or two before we left.

We only ate out at a restaurant once the whole time we were there, and it was the night we arrived when all of the grocery stores were closed and we were starving. It was mediocre pizza at ridiculously expensive prices. The Swiss aren’t really known for their beer, either. But Mike survived off German beers that he’d find instead. Oh yes, and the entire city pretty much shuts down on Sundays, so if you didn’t go grocery shopping by Saturday afternoon, you were out of luck. It threw us off at first, but eventually, we learned to cope and it’s nice that everyone gets a day off to spend with their families.

Shopping at the grocery stores was like shopping at a year round farmer’s market. Everything was so vibrant and fresh. There was a wonderful small bakery a 5 minute walk from where she lived that baked delicious, wholesome sourdough bread each morning.

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You do not want to know how much this ‘little grocery shop’ cost.

Our days were slow. Peaceful. Happy. We’d wake up when our bodies felt like it (earlier some days, later if I had trouble sleeping the night before) and start off with a morning run. I was on an official running streak at the time – not intentionally, but my body was accepting a 7 day / week running schedule so I embraced it. Sometimes Mike and I would run together, and sometimes we wouldn’t. You couldn’t really run anywhere that wasn’t gorgeous and scenic so I was equally happy to run solo or with company. It was quiet, but there were always people, and farm animals (!!!) around to keep us company. We’d usually come home and have a bowl of muesli with oat milk for breakfast. I’d make a cappuccino for Mike and myself – whole milk for Mike and oat milk for me. After breakfast, we’d do some stretches, strength exercises, and then take showers. Then we’d work until it was time for lunch.

Just before lunch, we’d walk to the bakery nearby to grab a fresh loaf of bread to have at lunch. When we got home, we’d slice up cheese or scramble some eggs and make fresh salads with shredded beats, arugula, carrots, and any other veggies that we were in the mood for. After a delicious lunch, I’d make coffees for us again (our friend had a Nespresso machine and unfortunately, that was the best coffee option available to us in Switzerland). We’d work during the afternoon until it was time for dinner. Sometimes our friend would cook for us, and other times we’d cook for her. We’d catch up on everyone’s day, and eventually head to bed.

On weekends, we’d catch a train somewhere close by an explore a new city, and sometimes our friend would drive us to new places for us to do our long runs in.

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Seen on one of my long runs. The sun was warm, but does not have the same bite that it does in Vancouver.

Maybe our routine sounds boring and uneventful to some people. We didn’t go to museums or art galleries. We didn’t cram as much as we possibly could each day. We were somewhere in the middle of travelling, vacationing, and working. I spent so many days trying to work out a strategy that would allow me to stay there long term. I knew it wasn’t realistic, but a part of me really hoped it could be possible. In the end, I realized that I had to let go of my dream to stay long-term.

I’ve realized that some places are meant to be visited often, but not necessarily lived in. Maybe living in Granichen long-term would ruin the perfect memory that I have around it. Maybe it wouldn’t be my favourite place in the world anymore. But right now it is. Of all cities that we spent time in Europe, I miss Granichen the most.

alison

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