Bristol Christmas redux (or, the perils of budget travel)


Happy New Year, dear readers. We hope you have arrived at 2017 safely, and with health and happiness. We look forward to another year of adventuring with you as we house sit.

Last year we were lucky to spend the holidays house sitting a kitten in Bristol, our first time in that arty, vibrant city. We loved our stay, and were pleased to find that this year’s holiday plans led us back there. Open to traveling anywhere in the country, it was Bristol that offered budget-friendly-enough travel and accommodation.

We arrived at Victoria Coach Station in plenty of time for our 11:00 service; we boarded and waited. At 11:15, it was announced that the bus would not move until 10 passengers stepped down for the next service: the bus was overweight. We decided to volunteer; 40 minutes difference was immaterial, plus we earned a free trip and a free sandwich.

We soon found ourselves on an executive liner, replete with table trays, cup holders and seat pockets. Deluxe! Despite the driver’s open confusion as to his destination, the ride was smooth and without incident. We arrived in the central city and were greeted by familiar and friendly sights: Bristol is a visual treat, with no shortage of street art gracing its mix of mixed-age and interesting buildings.

Bristol is ever-colourful, and street art is everywhere to be found

A quick bus ride took us to our Airbnb, which we were surprised to find a “SOLD” sign in front of. Not sure what to make of this, we entered per our instructions and thankfully weren’t ousted during our stay. While the space was lovely, its wont of cleaning was obvious, especially in the kitchen, where a thin film of grease seemed to cover the surfaces. It’s a funny thing to pay Airbnb a cleaning fee, and then turn up to your booking and have to scrub and vacuum. But so we did.

We received the groceries I had ordered, and myriad substitutions meant a call to customer service to organize refunds, plus a trip to the nearest shop to top up (no coffee and no bread would have been a breakfast disaster). We then shared a leisurely late meal at a lounge on the nearby high street. Ahh, vacation had begun.

Our friends, due to join us the following day, arrived in time for lunch. Repairing to a pub near the coach stop, I noted my need of shoes (which, coming apart at the soles and other places is perhaps a sign of taking the budget lifestyle too far). The ladies took to the shops, surely having looked in every shoe store before finding a suitable pair. This also gave us a chance to stealthily top up our gifts; Tim and I set a £20 limit and I was still substantially short.

Christmas morning brought gift exchanges, and then a long walk in very fine weather. We covered pavement and trail to reach the famous suspension bridge, then over and through posh Clifton Village. It was the perfect way to whet our appetites for roast chicken, and while all four chefs had to take turns in the tiny galley kitchen, we pulled off an impressive feast.

The impressive Clifton Suspension Bridge

The following day – Tim’s birthday – called for more walking. We gamboled along the waterfront, down the Christmas Steps, meandered through the unabashed street art of Stokes Croft, and up Gloucester Road, where most things were still closed. Alas, we found a pub for birthday lunch and merriment, but by 4pm it was dark and too cold to walk all they way back. We called for an Uber, and our very excited driver chattered merrily away until he suddenly announced that it was time for music. He selected Track 13, and turned the volume to max: “GONNA PARTY LIKE. IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY.” Yep, a little celebratory 50 Cent for Tim (who looked scandalized on looking up the song later). It was a rather remarkable 15-minutes of our lives.

Time passed quickly and the 27th saw us depart. We locked up the house, under the keen gaze of a few neighbours, and arrived in town early enough to wander around the still-shut St. Nicholas Market and to warm up over coffee. We then awaited the coach, and while it arrived on time, our driver was not to be found. After 20 minutes’ wait on this decidedly colder day he appeared, mumbling apologies. Loading began, and I was pleased to find four seats together, even if they needed the detritus of prior passengers brushed off and a sticky substance covered the floor. We were ready for home.

About 10 minutes into the drive – now an hour behind schedule – we pulled into a parking lot on the edge of town, where a line of additional people boarded, and, surely enough, rendered the bus overweight. The “10 or 15 minutes” until a coach came for our bags was more like 45; we were nearly two hours behind schedule now, and most people’s bags had gone separately. Horrified at the thought of having to locate anything in Victoria Coach Station, I asked Tim to bring our little carry-on into the cabin.

We won’t name the carrier, but this guy might have gotten us there faster

The road back was long, dark, and cold, and we were glad to have our bag at hand, allowing us to head home immediately on arrival.

We enjoyed the trip immensely, and to the carrier’s credit, they refunded our return journey as well. But sometimes cheap is what you get if cheap is what you have paid for. Perhaps next time we look to the slightly pricier competition; sometimes, a little extra fare is so very worth it.

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