Alton Towers and Bristol

Hey y’all,

This weekend we did two separate activities: Alton Towers Theme Park on Friday night, and then the rest of the weekend was spent visiting our friend Fritz down in Bristol.  You may remember Fritz as our Mexican friend from many other blog posts.  He is now living in Bristol, so we figured we needed to go visit him, and also do some sightseeing in Bristol.

Purple = Alton Towers, Green = Derby, Red = Bristol

Purple = Alton Towers, Green = Derby, Red = Bristol

Alton Towers

Alton Towers is one of the top theme parks in the UK.  And lucky for us, it is only about a 45 minute drive away from Derby into the middle of nowhere.  We’ve been wanting to check it out at some point, and our friend Sarah planned a Friday evening outing.  They had extended hours for Halloween, meaning they closed at the late time of 9pm.  We arrived at around 4:15pm on Friday afternoon, and armed with our 2-for-1 vouchers from Sainsbury’s (local supermarket over here), we were able to enjoy 5 hours of entertainment for £52.  Oh yeah, and an additional £12/person to explore the seasonal haunted “maze.”  I sure am glad we had those 2-for-1 vouchers or else this excursion would have cost over £100!

We had a group of 8 of us for the evening, which was actually a really good number since most of the rides fit 4 in a row.  We never had an odd man out.

The weather was pretty miserable: cold and rainy.  But this actually worked out to our advantage because I think it kept the crowds away.  Knowing how much the Brits love queuing, I figured that most of my time at the theme park would be spent standing in lines.  However, I was pleasantly surprised that most of the wait times weren’t too bad.  Some of the rides were only a 10 minute wait.  The Smiler, which is their newest ride and is the world’s first 14 looping roller coaster, had just over an hour wait.  Overall we managed to go to 2 haunted mazes and 5 rides: The Smiler, Thi3teen, Air, Hex, and Nemesis.  Overall, I thought the rides were great.  Air was my favorite because it actually felt like you were flying.  The feeling was similar to the feeling I got when we went paragliding in Switzerland.

Although the rides were pretty good, especially considering they have a height restriction (they can’t built higher than the treeline because it is located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), I was disappointed in the haunted mazes.  I was expecting to be lost in a maze, terrified to turn the next corner, but that’s not quite what happened.  In actuality, it wasn’t a maze at all, but instead a set route, and you were never alone or lost because you had to go in a conga line through the entire thing.  It was a rule that you had to have your hands on the shoulders of the person in front of you at all times.  So although the props and the people were pretty scary, you couldn’t ever feel too frightened because you were in a conga line on a distinct path.  Now, on to the pictures.  I also need to mention that we were celebrating our friend B-mac’s birthday which was that day.  I won’t mention how old he turned.

Birthday boy B-mac and Doug on the first ride of the night (actually just the monorail from the parking lot to the park)

Birthday boy B-mac and Doug on the first ride of the night (actually just the monorail from the parking lot to the park)

The whole crew (minus me taking the pic)

The whole crew (minus me taking the pic)

Something I've never seen at a theme park before - a drying station.  We have chiller stations in the States.  Oh but another difference there: Chiller stations are free - you have to pay for these drying stations!

Something I’ve never seen at a theme park before – a drying station. We have chiller stations in the States. Oh but another difference there: Chiller stations are free – you have to pay for these drying stations!

Half the group getting on the ride Air.  Since the line was so short, we waiting a little bit extra to ride in the front row - definitely worth it!

Half the group getting on the ride “Air.” Since the line was so short, we waited a little bit extra to ride in the front row – definitely worth it!

And they're off flying!

And they’re off flying!

The original Alton towers - an 18th century stately home.  That's something you definitely wouldn't find in an American theme park.

The original Alton towers – an 18th century stately home. That’s something you definitely wouldn’t find in an American theme park.

Overall, we enjoyed our outing to Alton Towers.  And I think we were really lucky to have gone the day we did because the very next day (Saturday), there was an incident on the Smiler roller coaster where guide wheels fell off and actually hit passengers on the ride.  I can’t imagine how terrifying that would be!  The ride is still shut down for investigation and repairs.  So it turns out that in the end, the scariest thing we did was not the Halloween mazes, but in fact, surviving the Smiler roller coaster.

Bristol

After an eventful Friday evening, we didn’t get quite as early a start as we would have liked on Saturday morning in order to get down to Bristol.  We arrived at Fritz’s awesome, modern apartment building around 1pm.  After dropping our stuff and checking out his view, we headed out to explore some of Bristol.

Fritz's awesome apartment called "The Eye" and the ferry that we took on Sunday

Fritz’s awesome apartment called “The Eye” (tallest building in the picture) and the ferry that we took on Sunday

Fritz's modern place and the nice view

Fritz’s modern place and the nice view

Bristol is known for having some pretty good food, but we seemed to be rejected a lot of the time over the weekend.  I think we were rejected at around 6 different places in just over 24 hours.  We tried to eat lunch at 2 different places (one had an extremely long wait and the other had stopped serving food), before finally squeezing in at the Primrose Cafe and getting our order in right before they also stopped serving lunch.  The cafe was extremely delicious, so you should go there if you are in Bristol!  It’s located in the Clifton area, which is a really cute area full of independent shops and restaurants.  We had a walk around there before making our way over to the famous Clifton Suspension bridge.  This bridge was designed by Brunel, who also designed the SS Great Britain which is the ship that we toured on Sunday.  The bridge opened in 1864 and is an iconic symbol of Bristol.  We walked across it, which is free, although to drive across cost 50 pence.  Fun fact: if you check in on Foursquare, you can get a free postcard at the Visitor Center.

Clifton Suspension bridge

Clifton Suspension bridge

Making our way across

Making our way across

Clifton suspension bridge from the other side

Clifton suspension bridge from the other side

Bristol is also known as the place where the famous artist Banksy got his start.  Supposedly he got his start doing graffiti in Bristol during the 1980s when graffiti gangs ruled the streets of Bristol.  If you haven’t heard of Banksy, just know that he is a really famous artist/prankster that has taken the name of Banksy in order to hide his true identity.  Nobody knows who he really is, and it has even been rumored that maybe he doesn’t exist at all, but that a group of people could be using the Banksy name.  Some of his famous works include painting a ladder on the Israeli West Bank wall barrier and circulating fake £10 notes with Princess Diana’s head replacing the Queen’s.  He has many famous works throughout Bristol, so Fritz showed us some of them.  I couldn’t quite get pictures of some since we were driving past, but I got a couple.

Banksy's "Well-hung lover"

Banksy’s “Well-hung lover”

Bansky's image of death - we saw this from the ferry on Sunday

Bansky’s image of death on the side of a nightclub boat – we saw this from the ferry on Sunday

Not Banksy, but some more street art - Bristol had a ton of it

Not Banksy, but some more street art – Bristol had a ton of it

Bristol seemed to have a pretty modern feel to it, probably due to the fact that much of it was damaged in WWII bombings and has subsequently been rebuilt.  Modern building plus street art gave it a more unique feel than a lot of other cities in England.  But don’t worry, they had a nice Gothic cathedral so that you wouldn’t forget where you were.

Bristol Cathedral

Bristol Cathedral – we did not tour inside

Saturday evening we had a mandatory Bristol night out.  I was impressed by the variety of places that you could go and we had an enjoyable evening, despite being rejected by a few more places.  A lot of places had stopped serving dinner, so we were rejected on that front, and we also went to two “secret bars”, one of which we didn’t get in to.  A secret bar is just that – a cool bar with no sign or evidence that would make you realize it was there.  Fritz had figured out where a few of these secret bars were, so we tried them out.  Both of them looked simply like doors to a flat building, but Fritz went up, pressed the buzzer and waited.  We were allowed into the lobby of the first one, but after sizing us up, we were told they were full and they would take our number to call us when they had availability.  We never got a call.  At the second one, we had better luck.  Again, we got sized up, but then they showed us to a table.  The whole scene reminded me of being in a speakeasy in the 1920s.  The decor, the music, even the cocktails on the menu reminded me of this era.  It was actually really cool, and I’m glad we were successful in at least getting into one secret bar.  I tried taking some pictures, but the lighting was too low for them to turn out and I didn’t want to turn on the flash for fear of getting escorted out.

Flight of ciders - this was not at a secret bar

Flight of ciders – this was not at a secret bar

On Sunday we took a boat ferry which was a pretty cool way to get around.  We took it to the SS Great Britain, which is a really famous ship that was built in Bristol.  The ship is historically important because it marked some huge advances in technology, including the first ship to be both built of iron (instead of wood) and have a screw propeller (instead of a paddle-wheel).  In its lifetime it operated as both a passenger cruise-liner and a cargo ship.  The exhibit was really impressive, and I think I liked it more than the Vasa museum in Stockholm.

On the ferry approaching the SS Great Britain

On the ferry approaching the SS Great Britain

Me and Doug.  All those flags are part of the SS Great Britain.

Me and Doug. All those flags are part of the SS Great Britain.

There she is: The SS Great Britain

There she is: the SS Great Britain

And her backside

And her backside

We toured the dry dock where she was parked, which wasn’t just any old dry dock.  It is actually sealed with glass and humidity-controlled in order to stop corrosion and rust.

Inside the fancy dry dock

Inside the fancy dry dock

And more of the dry dock

And more of the dry dock

Reconstruction of Brunel's screw propeller

Reconstruction of Brunel’s screw propeller

The museum next to the ship was really well laid-out and it had you travel back in time through the different stages of the ship’s life.  Our favorite section was its life as a passenger cruise-liner, and we definitely enjoyed the dress up section.  The SS Great Britain took the travel time from the UK to New York down from 50 days to a mere 14 days.  What a huge advancement!

Boarding the SS Great Britain

Boarding the SS Great Britain

Goodbye England!

Goodbye England!

And the best part of the exhibit was that we actually got to go on the ship!  The Vasa museum can’t beat that!  They had reconstructed the entire ship as a passenger cruiseship and it was extremely well done.  They had life-size reconstructions of animals on board (including a cow, pig, and chickens), and all the details were amazing.  They had reconstructed the sleeping cabins (first class down to cattle class), the dining rooms, the kitchen, and even the lavatories.  They even had details such as dirty dishes and recorded voices to make it seem more realistic.  I was super impressed by the exhibit.

Now really boarding the SS Great Britain

Now really boarding the SS Great Britain

If you can believe it, this was actually first-class accommodation.  Doug said his shoulders were even too wide for the bed, touching the wall and hanging over the wood panel at the same time

If you can believe it, this was actually first-class accommodation. Doug said his shoulders were even too wide for the bed, touching the wall and hanging over the wood panel at the same time

Interesting cabin mate

Interesting cabin mate

Hard to tell the scale of this gearbox, but it was massive

Hard to tell the scale of this crank shaft, but it was massive.  It was functioning as well.

More gearbox

Gearbox

Upscale dining room

Upscale dining room

The hull

The hull

Nice view of the colorful houses from the front of the ship

Nice view of the colorful houses from the front of the ship

Cool little display about the Concorde (Rolls-Royce engines!) which, like the SS Great Britain, was built in Bristol and greatly reduced the amount of time to travel from the UK to the US (only took 3.5 hours)

Cool little display about the Concorde (Rolls-Royce engines!) which, like the SS Great Britain, was built in Bristol and greatly reduced the amount of time to travel from the UK to the US (only took 3.5 hours, cutting the flight time in half)

Overall, it was a fantastic display about the SS Great Britain.  That pretty much sums up our weekend in Bristol.  After a few more rejections when trying to eat a late lunch, we finally had a good ol’ Sunday roast.  Thanks to Fritz for hosting us!  Up next: Singapore and Malaysia!  Watch this space!

xoxo

Tara

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One thought on “Alton Towers and Bristol

  1. Pingback: Last trip to London: Greenwich, Monty Python, and Brick Lane | Schetzels in the UK

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