The latter is exactly why I went to England, the only place in Europe where someone actually knows me (aside from the person I'm engaged to). Also, the whole wanting-to-see-England-at-some-point-in-my-life thing motivated the trip.
In an effort to not forget where I came from, I used an American invention called the airplane to get from Barcelona to London. Then I took a grip of public transit to get from London Gatwick to my friend Carl’s apartment at 2:30 am.
In addition to knowing my name, Carl is a super nice person, who gave me a lot of sight-seeing advice despite the fact that he had to be up and ready for work at 6 am. Once I got up, I hit the first-time-in-the-city staples of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Both got an "ehh" from me, but that might just because I'm from a land where Big Bens generally suck.
Then I walked into what I thought was Tate Modern, but really was Tate Britain. The highlight was a massive concave mirror that flipped everything backward (or in mirror-talk would it be an “un-mirror image?”) and upside down. It’s true what they say about funhouse mirrors being much better in Britain.
After a heavy-ass porkchop meal paired with a local chocolate milk, I headed to the Imperial War Museum. The museum featured a walk-through trench warfare exhibit, which was fun. They also had a room that shook so you could feel what it was like to be in a bunker during a German blitzkrieg attack. The old adage about NFL Blitz ’99 being more fun than a simulated blitzkrieg attack also rings true.
I then bounced to Camden, which I felt was just like NYC’s St. Mark’s Place, except it was 20 times St. Mark's size and lacked a pair of 2 Bros. It did have a shitty pizza stand that sold me some deliciously mediocre garlic bread, and for that I’m eternally grateful.
I spent the next day in Carl’s neighborhood of Haggerston, home to Haggerston Park, which is home to Hackney City Farm, which is home to some interesting livestock. After observing the collection of sows and goats, I watched a little kid chase after a hen, which was even more adorable than it sounds.
Before exiting the farm, I picked up a pair of Hackney City Farm mugs for Carl as a thanks-for-giving-me-a-roof-to-sleep-under/house-warming gift, and I picked up a HCF t-shirt for myself. If you find yourself wondering if this is the same Hackney London that is the hometown of Idris Elba who played Stringer Bell on the The Wire, well you’d be correct. You’d also be right in thinking that the street cred of the mugs and shirt has sky-rocketed (on the streed cred index that exists in my head) since I learned they can be loosely associated with Stringer Bell.
After leaving the farm, I sat on a bench and watched 7-year-olds play soccer. Their coach made the entire trip to London worth it as he stood in midfield instructing the kids while chain smoking. I really wanted to take a picture, but I didn’t have my camera on me. I also realized it’s probably best not to take a picture of a group of 7-year-old boys you have no relation to.
Post park, Carl and his girlfriend walked me along a canal which recently turned up actress’ torso. Fortunately I was able to concentrate on the innocent little kids chasing hens and not lose my faith in world where brother mutilate their siblings before dumping them in canals. That is until those innocent little kids grow up to be Stringer Bell.
After a quick bout of canal mourning we loaded up on a silly amount of delicious food from a farmer’s market and enjoyed the spoils of our foodie tour with a picnic in the park. Carl and I then tossed a frisbee back and forth and talked about great TV shows. I then had some epiphany about how I can hang out with friends in England and talk about TV or sit on my mom's couch and talk about TV. The epiphany is still only 25% thought out.
That night I bounced to Bristol, to meet up with my former roommate in Buenos Aires, Tom, who's actually a Scot who lives in England. On Tom’s Wikipedia page that exists solely in my head, he’s listed as the only one of my friend’s that I’ve seen on three continents.
If you’ve ever spent a lot of time at an office job reading New York Times 36 Hours in ____, and fantasized about traveling to a non-major city that doesn’t have a whole lot to do but has some pretty things to look at, well Bristol would be a good place to start your travels.
It’s also true that you don’t really get Massive Attack or Portishead until you’ve been to Bristol. Even if your only familiarity with both groups comes from Wiki-ing Bristol and realizing both groups are from Bristol. The same goes for Banksy. And to a lesser extent suspension bridges over gorges.
Tom lives in the neighborhood of Stokescroft, which is famous for the Tesco riots, which occurred when the chain grocery store opened in the uber-indie neighborhood. Please enjoy these photos from the riot. There is also a massive mural encouraging everyone to boycott the Tesco, because, hey, 93% of everyone is doing it…
As a long-time advocate of chain grocery stores, I visited the Tesco. However I later atoned by having a meal at Cafe Kino, a vegan restaurant co-op where the workers volunteer their time. I still don’t get it. And the food was pretty much sucked. If you’re in Stokescroft, I’d recommend sticking to the six-pack of cinnamon-raisin bagels from Tesco, it’s a much better bang for your buck.
Bristol claims to be the most bike-friendly town in England. And it was, except that I had difficulty going against 25 years of instincts that tell me to look out for cars coming from the right side of the road. I really could have used that mirror from London that flips everything around, but I somehow managed to survive without it.
Biking along Bristol’s docks is very pretty, as is having a pint on the Grain Barge while the sun sets.
I also cycled along the Bristol-to-Bath bikepath, which aside from rhyming nicely, is a very easy 14-mile ride connecting the two towns. Bath is famous for its Roman bath, which was better than I thought it would be despite the fact that you cannot actually bathe in the bath. The rest of Bath is rather lame and filled with tourist-trap shit geared toward 60-year-old women.
Somehow I lived 20+ years in Arizona, yet never went to Slide Rock. Yet within 24 hours of being in Bristol, I hit up their slide rock, which isn’t quite as pretty as Sedona’s, but it does have the suspension bridge backdrop.
This is my first encounter with slide art.
This is some bullshit Greenway in London that doesn't have a 64th St. or Fry's.
This is a photo of a photo of a man eating eel. I ate eel in London, but not like that.
I like that they board up housing project windows with faces.
A pretty dock in Bristol.
Roman Bath in Bath.
Wow. What an exquisite early Banksy piece.