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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!