Bristol: home?

We’ve felt strange for the last two weeks. We turned up in this little bohemian city in England, trying to have eyes and hearts open and yet still somewhat skeptical and nervous. We came to Bristol to see whether this could be the city for us over the next few years. That’s a really strange thing to do, or at least it was for us. We walked around and kept asking each other, could this be home?

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We spent our two weeks at a number of different co-work spaces to see what the different areas of town felt like. This one was right near where we were staying, and is looking towards a big old heritage listed building on the left. The talk is, London investors want to renovate. Bristolians will fight to get a local investor in to re-make this old “beauty” before they let a London company come in!IMG_2557

The street we walked every day, and one that locals proudly explain has the longest strip of independent shops in Europe.IMG_2542

A little background. If you’ve been following, we’ve been all around. We’re hopping and skipping on short-term visas around the world, and while it makes for nice pictures it doesn’t allow any sort of consistency in routine, work, friends, or church-life. Our idea for next year, to still be “in it” in a work sense but not flapping between futons and sofa-beds is to base ourselves in the UK. Why not, right?

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We have a UK company, and our warehouse and shipments for Europe come from just outside Heathrow. We got to spend time at the warehouse, improving on our processes and meeting the team on the ground which was so useful. One of our Directors is from Cardiff, just across the bridge in Wales, and we are trying to convince our head Engineer to move back home and join us in Bristol.Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Crossing into Wales – a bus ride takes a bit over an hour to Cardiff, the train is just under. It’s nice to think we’d be so close to a coworker and to the centre of our Europe operations.

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This intersection rocks. Especially at sunset.
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This is one of our neighbours – we are living at an airbnb on the posh end of the street, where they’re renovating garages and selling them for over £400k. We’d take this one.

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Bristol came up as an option when we googled something like “cool hip cities to live in the UK”. Straight up after getting here we learnt some really interesting things about Bristol.

1. Anyone you ask who lives here raves about Bristol. They LOVE their city, whether born here or moved by choice.

2. It’s co-operative. In every sense of the word. The groceries stores are co-ops, the clothes shops, the market stores, the office spaces, the book stores. Community is lived in this small city. We stumbled upon market after market, and shared creative space after shared creative space.IMG_2573

(I was feeling so down about the news from the US. I was trying to process with Shane on our walk to work and we went to a new cafe. “Justice is what love looks like in public” – Dr Cornel West #blacklivesmatter. I felt like I wasn’t alone thinking about it all the way over in Bristol, so far from Chicago and college friends, and my sounding-board sister and husband, but so connected to the news by social media.) http://www.cafe-kino.com

3. It’s Europe’s Green Capital for 2015, and Bristolian’s are proud. They’ve done a lot of work for it, and they’re getting more money pumped into it as a result. http://bristolgreencapital.org/european-green-capital-award/. Bikes are going to outnumber cars here one day, if they don’t already. The commuter market is huge.

4. Public transport isn’t “public” (privately owned, I gather), is really expensive, and isn’t (in our experience) reliably on time. While almost everyone said they don’t get in their car more than two or three times a month, they admit that you can’t go without if you want to get outside the city hustle. Bristol is set up to allow one car per household (huge cost for more than one car per residence) so it seems most people live comfortably within that, walking on average 15 – 30 minutes a day for work, groceries, and their social lives. A 30 minute radius does seem to get you most places you’d want to go.

5. They care about their homeless or street population, even though sometimes it’s a little hard to tell between the average Bristolian hippy and a true, homeless person.

I’ll elaborate on what we saw, because it was so powerful.

We were waiting for a bus that was half an hour late. An old man in a bad state was hunched by the wall sitting opposite us. In the time we sat there, a woman and her friend came over, spoke to him (with physical touch affection) and came back a few minutes later with a warm tea. A group of six middle-age women on a shopping trip or girls day out walk past, and one woman noticed the man. “Do you think he needs help?” She kept walking, but couldn’t get more than a few steps before she’d convinced a friend to backtrack and help him. They bent down, spoke to him, and asked him what he need. Do you need money? Are you catching the bus? Are you warm? Can we help? He almost seemed irked with how much people helped him.

There were three other people that stepped in and helped him stand up, sit down, or just asked if they could help. Completely stunning. That was just after Shane was commenting about how people here just seems to react so effortlessly with street/homeless folk.

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And, then there’s BS Social Care. I giggle to myself every time we pass it.

Bristol is very obviously in a period of growth and development. There’s still some buildings needing gutting and renovating, but it’s fun to see what new is happening to the old. There is art on every building, and pot plants hanging in every window. We found good coffee, good food and good people. We visited a church, and were offered a ride, which ended in tea at a couple’s house. People in Bristol, we’ve found, are open. The locals pride themselves on being open and welcoming, and people we spoke to who’d moved here recently commented on the openness of the locals and ease of relationships here.

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“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars – Oscar Wilde”. There’s professional, beautiful pieces, and there’s street art. Oh, and there’s Banksy, because of course this is where he’s from.IMG_2553Banksy’s “The Mild Mild West”, outside our co-work space and opposite favourite new local, Poco. At Poco, not only does their food taste amazing, but they’re almost all locally sourced in season, and do things like weigh their waste every day to continue to move towards no food waste. http://eatpoco.com
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This street has two other buildings, high-rises, with full building size paintings. You can go on building art tours here. http://www.wherethewall.com/bristol-street-art-walking-tours and http://www.bristol-street-art.co.uk/map-of-bristol-street-art. And just in case you don’t click my link, this is the map of street art in Bristol…

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One Friday night we took the train into Bath, a much cleaner, nicer, prettier city not far from Bristol. We weaved the streets of the famous Bath Christmas Markets which completely exceeded my expectations. One of my favourite things since being here has been all the carollers – and this market had a full choir. The markets weren’t just German imitation trinkets, but local cheese, alcohol, and the best of handmade/local vendors. http://www.bathchristmasmarket.co.uk

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The markets were around and underneath this massive old church. Every so often I’d remember to look up past my mulled wine and cheddar cheese (from Cheddar! Aged in the Cheddar caves!!) and just gasp. The detail is amazing.IMG_2590

Bath is a really different vibe to Bristol. We went back later in the week and sought out their best coffee places to get a few hours of work done after some meetings.IMG_2593

Bristol also passed the coffee test for sure. And while we had a few sub-par meals, we found some gems. Brunch at Bakers and Co, http://bakersbristol.co.uk, mushroom pies at Pieminister, http://www.pieminister.co.uk, Wood-fired pizza at Flour and Ash. F+A served us this home made ice cream for dessert. Quince and rose water is on the right, and dark chocolate floating in a double chocolate stout is on the left. We went there twice already, and not just for the gelato. http://www.flourandash.co.uk

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There’s an amazing Indian restaurant that was so fresh, all organic and locally sourced. So, so yum. They even have this very cool take away “Tiffin”, which is basically a multi-story, multi-use take away container thing that saves the environment and keeps your food warm and safe for your trip home.  http://www.thethalicafe.co.uk/our-story/Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetI’ve found it’s pretty common on websites of cafes in Bristol to find an “ethics” page, which lists what they’re doing, where they get produce, and what they believe in. But, what has surprised me with how fashionable all the organic, sustainable, co-operative stuff is, in Bristol there’s a feeling like this has been going on a really long time. The co-working spaces we visited were set up in the 80s and 90s. The cafes that are sustainable, local and organic have existed for years. Sure, there’s new businesses and lots of growth, but in a really interesting way Bristol doesn’t really feel like it’s just jumping on a band-wagon. They’re not prevention or preachy. In some ways, it feels like their fear is that being rated as the most desirable place to live, and getting the newer faster train line to London, and becoming the Green Capital in Europe means they might be found out. They might be invaded by us trend-followers.

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So, we stood by the water and asked ourselves, could this be home? Which is a really hard question when two weeks ago we didn’t know a soul in the city, and now we have some nice acquaintances. We know making real friends takes a long time, and the city doesn’t matter at that point. Because after all, cool buildings and paintings don’t make a home.IMG_2602

We went home before the 150 year fireworks for the Clifton Hanging Bridge because we’d been on our feet all day. A week beforehand, a mentally ill mum walked out of a hospital and jumped off the bridge with her baby. The fireworks went ahead with much deliberation, donation boxes for the charity of her family’s choosing, and a minute silence. Our airbnb host told to us that even though they were 100,000 people spread throughout the hills with no way of communicating with the organisers, once the shot was fired to signify the minute silence there wasn’t a peep. Absolute silence, immediately in unison.

Acting together for the betterment of the collective seems like something this city does pretty well. We think we might be interested in seeing whether it’s something we can be a real part of in 2015.

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