Bristol Balloon Fiesta

The real reason for going to Bristol last weekend was actually visiting the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, taking place already the 39th year! Europe’s largest annual balloon event brought together over 130 international balloonists and a whole field full of spectators.

The festival was spread over the meadows of the Ashton Court Mansions, on the outskirts of Bristol. The early Saturday afternoon was filled with a variety of air shows, including a rather impressive wind walking performances, with the stuntmen fixed on top of the small aeroplane.

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image by: Pixabay

The hot air balloon lifts off was meant to be at 6 pm. Unfortunately, due to the windy weather conditions, the hot air balloons did not fly on Saturday´s afternoon. The public could only enjoy watching the tethered balloons, as it was too dangerous for them to fly.

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However, the evening event was worth a stay. Saturday night was finished off with a glorious nightglow show, followed by the fireworks. The hot air balloons, securely fixed to the ground, were being lit up, turning on and off as giant light bulbs, following the sounds of the music.

Bristol International Balloon Fiesta night glow

Bristol International Balloon Fiesta night glow

Luckily the weather conditions changed and the balloons did take off the next morning.

Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

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images by: Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

The ultimate Bristol walking guide

Last weekend we had a chance to visit the cool town of Bristol – a mere 2-hour train ride West from London. Here is the ultimate Bristol walking guide of main sights to see within a day while walking through the town.

Upon our arrival in Bristol, early in the morning, before 9 am, we were greeted by the beautiful architecture shimmering in the sunshine. The Temple Meads railway station is something to look at from outside – dating back to the 1840s it was designed by the British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel – a name that will come across repeatedly while walking through Bristol.

Temple Meads station, Bristol

Stepping out of the station our attention was first caught by the irresistible aroma coming from a nearby bakery. A little search led to the Hart´s Bakery, situated just under the railway arches, below the station. This artisanal bakery needs to be spoken of due to its absolutely amazing cakes and pastries! Probably one of the best finds in Bristol, everything is baked right there in an open kitchen, in front of the customers´ eyes with the queue winding out of the door on the busier days – and rightfully so! I had the best tasting custard tart and the most amazing brownie of my life – its creamy consistency had a touch of hazelnuts mixed in. I could probably go on and on about how amazing their mini quiches and coffee were (didn´t really get to sample more), but it´s time to move on to the streets of Bristol.

Hart´s Bakery
image by: Hart´s Bakery

As we didn´t have too much time to spend and visiting Bristol for the first time in just a day, the goal was to get a good overview of the town centre. Most of the sights were viewed just from the outside while walking past.

The first sight to pass on our way was St Mary Redcliffe Church. Dating back to the 12-15th centuries, it´s a beauty of Gothic architecture.

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The town centre is made of a canal system and a floating harbour, which plays an important role in keeping the steady water level within the basin. Crossing a few bridges, we found ourselves next to the M Shed – Bristol town museum. The former harbour pier in front of it is lined with old cranes, which used to load the ships. Across the water, at the Millennium Square Landing, a beautiful sailboat was stranded.

M Shed, Bristol

Continuing along the Museum Street, we passed a few more remarkable vessels and constructions, for example, the Matthew boat – a 21-year-old replica of a 500-years old boat, sailed by John Cabot to Newfoundland in North America, in 1497. The ship looks similar to the one from the Asterix film and has frequently been used in the BBC and Disney movies.

Matthew ship, by M Shed in Bristol
image by: Pixabay

The road lead to the Brunel´s SS Great Britain – a museum ship that once sailed the seas of the world from Bristol to New York. The former passenger steamship sailed the seas for nearly 100 years, 1845 to 1933 and is now open for visit.

SS Great Britain
image by: Pixabay

Unfortunately, not having time to pop in this time, we carried on along the Bristol Marina with colourful modern houses lining both sides of the canal. Quite a pleasant walk, I must say.

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Turning at the Underfall Yard power house, from where the floating harbour was controlled, the road took us past the Brunel Lock Road and across the river over Brunel Way, to Ashton Court Mansion. The historic estate is situated just outside of the town, among spacious meadows and a populated deer park.

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From there another half hour walk led to probably the most breathtaking sight of Bristol – the Clifton Suspension Bridge. One of the world´s great bridges it is 101m above the high water level. Planned by the engineer who takes credit for many other famous constructions of the town and opened in 1864, the bridge joins two cliffs high above. Although the bridge´s weight limit is 4 tonnes, I could feel it slightly shaking while crossing over.

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The magnificent view from the bridge above the town was so high, it felt quite eerie.

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Above the bridge there is Clifton Observatory. It´s worth climbing up there for getting the best images of the bridge and the town behind it.

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In conclusion, Bristol is a beautiful town that absolutely deserves to be visited and then visited again to explore further…

Summer Solstice at the Stonehenge

Recently it was the time of the summer solstice and it brought back a personal memory from quite a few years ago.

In my native Estonia, the lightest night of the year is celebrated with large bonfires all over the country. In the UK there is not such a custom. However, some people celebrate the Summer Solstice at an ancient place, thought to be highly energetic – the Stonehenge. The prehistoric monument of Wiltshire dates back 4000-5000 years and is referred to as one of the wonders of the world and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe.

During normal visiting hours, the stones can only be observed from afar. However, once a year (and perhaps on some other special occasions) the access is open for the public to practically climb on to the stones while waiting for the sunrise.

Nine years ago I had the chance to visit the location and celebrate the summer solstice in the manner of old Celtic Pagans –  a “time of plenty and celebration”.
It was a rather cold and rainy evening when we got there. Nevertheless, it seemed like thousands of people were making their way across the field towards the ancient statues. For the protection of the monument, visitors were prohibited from making loud sounds (no roaring music allowed), bringing along their pets, sleeping bags or duvets, barbeques and camping equipment, or alcohol, for that matter. People were left to take care of their own entertainment on how to spend the cold and wet night – some broke into song and there were a few groups making quiet sounds – all kinds of music style were accepted, from drum circles and beatboxing to improvised poetry and chanting.

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The rather annoying phenomenon of that night was the ongoing showering rain, which lasted all night long from dusk till dawn. There weren´t any tents to cover from the rain so the poor visitors had to wrap up in plastic bags, dance around with chanting Hare Krishnas to get warm or stands next to a tiny fireplace surrounded by a metal grid for safety.

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Six hours of dark and wet time had to be passed somehow – there was no escape if you didn´t have a car. The only way out would have been in an ambulance, which there were a few of. Nevertheless, the whole event was in good spirits and it was kinda cool to jam with thousands of hippies among the old ruins, despite the cold and rain.

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Just after the expected sunshine, around quarter to five (which was just formal, as no sun could be seen through the clouds) the majority of people were ready to rush off. The first bus set off at five to take the brave revellers back to town.

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A quick search shows that the summer solstice celebrations were carried on this year as well, according to the BBC News, on 21st of June. This year being blessed with a heatwave, I bet it was far more enjoyable to celebrate the Midsummer Night.

Image by BBC News
Image by BBC News

Surprise trip to Rochester

A great destination for a day trip getaway from London is Rochester –
a small picturesque town on the river Medway, just 50km from London.
I was taken there for my surprise birthday trip this year.

My favourite birthday present is an experience of some kind – better even an exploration trip to somewhere new. So, already for a few years, I have been getting little hedonistic adventures as birthday presents. Last year ending up in the lovely seaside town of Whitstable and this year, the surprise destination turned out to be Rochester!

The excitement was high, as I got taken on the train at the busy Victoria train station, desperately trying to ignore any kind of hints and announcements as of where the train would be heading, not to spoil the surprise for myself. An hour or so of secretly guessing, it was time to get off the train, discovering ourselves in the marvel of Kent.
Being blessed with the first Summery weather of the year, the sun was shining brightly, making everything look even better, as it does.

RochesterThe high street of this cute little town is something to see – lined with small boutiques and cafés with the abundance of antique and charity shops. Wish we had time to search for the hidden treasures!

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Our first stop happened to be at Fieldstaff Antiques – the lovely little boutique filled with wonders of the bygone days, which I left with a few pairs of beautiful vintage gloves.

The historic town has over time been occupied by Celts, Romans, Jutes and Saxons, bearing quite an important role from early times.

As the main points of interest, I would name the gorgeous architectural masterpiece of Rochester Cathedral and the ruins of Rochester Castle.

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The Cathedral originates from AD 604, the current architectural shape was finished in 1343. The gorgeous Cathedral is a masterpiece from inside and out.

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Rochester Castle, with the 12th-century keep, served as a strategically important royal castle in the medieval times. It saw action in the siege in 1264 and has been in ruins ever since. Currently, the castle grounds are open to the public as a park and it is possible to climb up the ruins for a great view of the Cathedral and the riverside. Just remember to wear comfy shoes!

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For the dinner we were recommended to check out Topes restaurant, just next to the castle – the atmosphere looked lovely and relaxed, but unfortunately, many people thought the same – if you want to get a place there, have to book a few weeks in advance!
Instead, we ended up at Elizabeth´s Restaurant at the other end of the High Street.  Although a bit too fancy at the first glimpse with its pristine white tablecloth, the fresh seafood menu, accompanied by the crisp white wine, really indulged our taste buds.

Rochester is especially known for the historic May Day dancing chimney sweeps tradition with the famous parade going down the High Street. Should remember to check it out next year!

Whitstable

Recently I was taken out for a birthday getaway on a surprise day trip out of London. Got on the train not knowing where we are going to and ended up in Whitstable – a small fishing town on the East coast, just about an hour away. Famous for oysters(apparently already from the Roman times) and other seafood. Being a huge sea food lover, this seemed like the right destination for me!

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The weather was mildly sunny and warm(for this year), the seaside and the town idyllically sweet.

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Whitstable is famous by quite remarkable sights – the Maunsell sea-forts off the coast. We could only see their shadows from afar.

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This is what they look like up close:

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Mysterious structures in the middle of the sea

The main street is filled with tiny cute shops, most of which close at 4pm.

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My favourite place for “fishy” snacks was Wheelers oyster bar and parlor. This tiny award winning parlor has been offering freshest seafood for over 150 years.

For cheese and wine it has to be The Cheese Box, that offers a wide selection of British cheeses and condiments. Cheese shop by day, the place turns into a wine bar On Friday and Saturday evenings. Make sure to sample their divine pear cider, it´s the smoothest I have ever tasted!

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We also went to The Lobster Shack- a fish bar on the beach at East Quay with a nice view.

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In the evening it was time for the low tide. The sea level retreated by about 40 meters and revealed the structures made for collecting oysters. The seagulls took in their positions on their “watch towers”.

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