Bristol feels sharply different from London: the main parts of it are dominated by the university and its population, and the university year is just starting here.
So from the outset it feels very young; young, smart, and cycling. The centre of town is awash with cyclists and buses, and there's a genuine effort to make space for cycling. It's not perfect, but damn it's better than where I live now.
The centre has lots of student-friendly shopping: charity shops on the high street (I saw 3 Oxfams on one street), cafes, bookshops. There's lots of places to eat and drink, but we found just one real-ale pub, the White Lion, at one end of the West Quay, with tasty beer and cider.
The Wetherspoons, which might also qualify as real-ale, on the high street was packed with people - folks were clustered around trying to get in every evening. It must be noticeably cheaper than all the other drinking spots to get that kind of crowd.
Bristol is hilly; my hill-walking muscles are seriously out of shape and told me so all weekend. The steepest hill we found was near Hotwells (neighbourhood name shown in Googlemaps), a set of stairs that required a break in the middle to get up. Fortunately there was a friendly pusscat near the break, who gave us an excuse to stop.
We got a cab to our hotel, which was up the street and round the corner from goncalves
and J's wedding venue. Unfortunately it was not quite as shown on the website.
I suspect the building of being listed, and thus hard to upgrade easily. Wonky floors, single-glaze windows, smallish bed, poor water pressure. The staff were very good but I think if you're going to run a hotel out of a rundown building you have to excel everywhere else, and this didn't quite pull it off.
We met up with goncalves
and J and several other guests for a pint, dinner (Mexican!) and frozen yoghurt that evening. It didn't feel like the night before a wedding to me - seemed too relaxed, more like the night before a family reunion or something. Most night-befores the wedding couple are still running around madly; Gonz and J seem to have it all in hand.
We got the happy news about pogbody
and Etienne's firstborn, a girl, born 2 October. So glad to hear of it: they both deserve all the happiness they can find together.
With a mid-afternoon wedding we had the whole Saturday morning and early afternoon to ourselves. So after breakfast we ventured into town, to find the Matthew, stopping to browse here and there.
The St Nicholas covered market is a trendy spot for food, coffee, jewellery, crafty stuff, hats and assorted treasures. It's reminiscent of the new Spitalfields market, or a smaller less seedy Camden Town. I found some yarn on sale and have been knitting it (and ripping it out) into a Tudor flat hat ever since.The Matthew is a replica of John Cabot's ship
, which sailed from Bristol to Newfoundland in 1497. There was a big fuss over it in Canada in 1997 when it did the trip again to celebrate the anniversary.
Usually, the closest I come to sailing is reading Patrick O'Brian novels; I can count my boat trips on my hands (other than ferries). But this seemed like the most medieval 'thing' to see in Bristol.
The shocker is that it's tiny: the Toronto Islands ferry is bigger than this. It only held 18 men + captain and even that strikes me as pretty cosy.
It's staffed by volunteers, and Robert had a long friendly chat with one who was a retired Navy man, who clearly still loved to sail. The Matthew still goes out (they'd been filming something for Disney last month), and you can book it for parties and social occasions, and it still stands up to tough serious sailing, though it now has a power motor to manouvre in harbours and in emergencies. One of the kids visiting while we were was more interested in their tea kitchen than in the details of the medieval ship.
We walked on along the harbour, past the SS Great Britain (Brunel's ship) and along the marina to a pub that the volunteer recommended, the Nova Scotia. This proved to be the other decent pub we found in Bristol, with excellent food as well.
Heading back via this monster hill with steps, it passed through what's marked on the map as 'birdcage walk' that takes you through an old (Victorian) graveyard. There's a stone to mark where the church used to be, destroyed in WWII.
I forget sometimes that places other than London and Coventry were bombed, but I expect all the ship-oriented cities on the coasts were attacked.
We prepped for the wedding and strolled to it, in good time, finding a crowd of SCA guests almost unrecogniseable in non-medieval clothes. Gonz, Aylwin and R (one of Gonz' workmates) looked very dapper in their suits with gray top hats, though they kept taking them off and fiddling with them, possibly because we kept teasing them: 'I'm so sorry for your loss'.
I ended up wearing Gonz' hat for the first half of dinner.
The wedding was short and to the point, a civil ceremony with civil vows administered by the registrar.
As often happens at these events, I kept thinking that the herald in charge, while he had a good speaking voice, had missed a trick because he was telling people (audibly) where to stand and which direction to face; shouldn't he have gone over this with them already?
In his defense though - royals do court over and over in a reigh. Wedding participants usually do a wedding...ok, if not only once, then not very many times at all in comparison.
I did a double-take during the procession because the lady attendants preceded J the bride by a minute or so, and of the three, J's near-lookalike sister was the last one to walk in.
So I'm looking at the last woman walking in who looks remarkably like J, thinking, 'that's weird, why is she wearing exactly the same dark blue dress as her attendants? and why doesn't she look very happy?' It took me a beat, when they all stood looking to the back of the hall, to twig that J was still to arrive, in white, to process on her own. Her dad walked her to the aisle, but not up it, and noone gave away the bride.
The registrar did introduce them as Mr and Mrs goncalves
, but on the menu they had their married names reversed, which was a nice touch.
Post-ceremony drinks included bubbles, and bubbles: the groomsmen distributed small containers of bubbles to blow in place of confetti, which was clever and festive. I asked Roger, circulating w/ both hands full of trays of blowing bubbles, what the difference was between the trays: 'this one's cocaine, this one's ketamine', he said. Must be medic humour.
Robert and I sat with 2 of Gonz' household, women we've worked on Raglan with in past years, who had glammed up something wicked - they looked awesome - and then 2 mates of J's, and then one of Gonz' coworkers and her family. Every table had a mix of people, obliging you to get to know someone new, which was pleasant since they all seemed excellent folk.
The food was very good, chosen from a set menu, and while the service was leisurely I think it was intended to encourage you to chat. I had the salmon starter, the steak main and the sticky toffee pudding and I think I got the best combination, though the pea soup starter looked huge and yummy. Robert thought he got robbed on the Eton mess, which was tiny.
Like in the wedding, I spent most of the dinner waiting for the toasts to start, my inner herald twitching. But Gonz and J had opted to have no toasts and no speeches, to avoid any awkwardness for either of them, or their guests. I totally understood, but it definitely felt strange without the public speaking, whether good or bad, and Robert and I weren't the only ones missing the 'feel' of speeches and toasts. It's funny how strongly it struck us.
Upstairs drinks and dancing was a bit of an anticlimax: I wanted to dance but the DJ was the one disappointment of the day. He'd get 2 or 3 songs in a row sorted, and then manage to clear the dance floor with a discordant change of pace and era, and didn't seem to pay any attention to what people were enjoying. That was a bummer, because the dancing could have been brilliant.
Towards the end of the evening they cut the cake, which Gonz' mum had made; 2 very rich chocolate cakes, one traditional one, all gorgeously decorated, and then a monster 3-tier 'cheese cake' make of huge rounds of smelly cheese.
Here (like the DJ) the staff should have taken a cue from the crowd, and moved up the cheese-cutting step an hour or so, so more people could enjoy it. But for some reason folks were fading and clearing out (lack of decent dancing material I suspect).
The next day Cernac asked if it was typical for English weddings to end so early, remarking that it's not unusual for the main party to wrap up at 1am, but most people could stay til 4am for a good party at an Irish wedding.
(English licensing laws would wrap most venues up shortly after midnight.)
Since we left at 10pm (my contacts weren't cooperating and I couldn't keep my eyes open) we were clearly part of the problem, but I didn't know if we were typical or not.
Outside, the youf of Bristol were just starting their evenings, and the touts were out to find custom for drinks and music. Again, I felt old and a bit out of place.
I remember such crowds in Kingston at Queen's (though I didn't spend a lot of time in clubs or bars there)...but mainly, Canadian students wore more clothes when going out - men and women both. My frosh week was full of coveralls.