Monday, February 28, 2011

Let the Accents Begin!

Getting Abroad

Before I can talk about Europe I have to mention how I got there.  I truly believe in the miracle of flight and love the travel experience, so the 25 hour journey was not so bad.  Sure, there are direct flights, but not for $750 round-trip.

This was my first time flying Air Canada and with individual screens, free wine and great flight attendants I was quite comfortable.  After departing from Portland I arrived in Toronto where I met a mob of 17-year olds flying home after competing in the America’s Karate Championship.  I felt a little unaccomplished as a bunch of youthful 17-year olds were all around me representing their countries with their national track suits and all, but it was fun meeting youngins traveling the world for the first time and feeling their excitement. 

The flight from Toronto to Dublin was a lovely introduction to Ireland as about half of the passengers were red-heads with charming Irish accents.  I was almost too excited to sleep…almost.  Since I had decided to save Dublin for the end of the trip, I had one more flight to catch and that was the one-hour flight, just over St. George’s Channel, to Bristol, England that cost me a whopping £1 ($1.50) by means of Ryan Air.  The 8 hour layover wasn’t too noteworthy beyond being impressed at how inexpensive I could get a healthy meal at the Dublin airport, and learning how to sleep on a bench with built-in armrests while defending my backpack.


Bristol was an interesting city to be my first stop since it’s not the largest and receives fewer international visitors than others I could have visited.  It was for those reasons though that it was the perfect choice.  Bristol is a very cultured city with a great deal of history and right from the beginning I could get a feel for the difference between America’s ‘old’ versus the rest of the world’s ‘old.’

The shuttle bus I rode from the airport allowed for a good initial view of the city, as my stop was almost the last.  After checking into my hostel, the YHA Bristol, I meandered along the harbor side taking in the city.  I have found throughout my travels that one of the best ways to really see a city is to just walk around.  This provides the opportunity to see locals, life beyond the tourist attractions and usually results in seeing interesting things that you wouldn't have seen otherwise.

It was raining, but being from Oregon, I know what comes with green and that it is wet.  I came prepared with a water resistant coat with a hood and I would highly recommend it if England is on your list of places to visit.  Since I knew absolutely nothing about Bristol, I decided to try a tour bus.  It was the hop-on hop-off variety, but it was raining so I opted to simply stay-on.  It was quite the experience as the bus was literally leaking everywhere, but the tour guide was very knowledgeable about the history of the area and kept everyone engaged.  I enjoyed it so much that I decided to go for another loop and look out the other side; unfortunately they switched tour guides on me.  Another lesson learned: tour guides make all of the difference If you are on this type of tour and get a lackluster guide- I would recommend hopping-off and hopping back on the next one that passes by.

One thing I learned is that the city center of Bristol was nearly destroyed by bombings during WWII, and in between 1940 and 1941 around 1,300 people were killed and almost 90,000 buildings were damaged.  Being from the U.S. this was a bit of a revelation for me.  War has never, literally, touched home.  It was painful to not only hear someone talk about their city that way but to actually see the ruins and bullet holes left behind.  I do not want to discount the loss of loved ones in war and the lasting impact that has on families and communities, but I realized there is a big difference between a war abroad and a war at home.  I’ve never felt unsafe at home when the U.S. has been at war.

I would like to tell you everything I learned about Bristol, but there is so much history in this relatively small city that I can’t even scratch the surface- here are some fun facts to introduce you though.

Bristol fun facts:
  • Home of Wallace and Gromit
  • Building site of the first iron-hulled steam ship to cross the Atlantic: the SS Great Britain
  • Home of the first passenger train station in the world
  • Holds the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, a hot air balloon festival, every August
  • Ranked as the UK’s Most Sustainable City

I would loved to have stayed longer than one night, but with only 29 days and 12 cities to visit, it was time to catch my train.

On to Bath.

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