Sunday, 17 December 2017

Best of 2017

Another year nearly done, and I have one last post to share before I head off for my annual digital detox. The end of the year brings out mixed emotions in me; I'm a rather melancholy person so I tend to feel decidedly wistful when looking back over the year's events. 2017 has, for me, been a time of professional highs and personal lows. 

Earlier in the year, a very close friend died of cancer - a first experience for me of terminal illness, hospice care and supporting my friend's partner through an unbearably sad and traumatic process. His untimely death very much underlined to me the need to grab the moment in life and say 'yes' to things more readily. 

Taking on that mindset led to some professional and personal firsts - I went on 6 Music and spoke on a panel at a conference, both things I never would have imagined doing once upon a time. I've done some great things through the blog, too, as well as meeting some other brilliant local bloggers and influencers along the way. 

But more than anything, I've tried to do more of the things I love: travel, days out, reading, walking, going to clubs and listening to live music. My friend was the perfect example of someone who knew how to live life well - he gave himself willingly to new experiences, prioritised the people who mattered and had lots of varied interests. I've tried to follow his mantra to 'just do it' as much as possible this year, and luckily living in Bristol makes enjoying life to the full easy.

So, before I get too melancholy, here are the things I've really enjoyed in Bristol and beyond in 2017...

Best Cup of Coffee
Sometimes it's the little things. And the coffee at Little Victories has made my lunchtime just that little bit happier. Friendly staff, gorgeous decor and a wonderful location in the heart of Wapping Wharf make this my favourite recent addition to Bristol's vibrant cafe scene.

Best Day Out

We returned to lot of old favourite haunts this year (Southerndown, I'm talking about you again) but one of our favourite trips was, rather unexpectedly, to see some locks...I mean the ones you get on canals. Borne of one of those 'where shall we go that's a bit different but not too far away?' moments, we had a wonderful day strolling along Caen Hill Locks. Tranquil and pretty, this free day out beat a lot of the more expensive experiences we had in 2017.

Best Meal Out
Paco Tapas made me beam with happiness in 2017. When the British weather is getting you down, or you just feel a bit blue, this bijou restaurant on a quite corner of the harbourside will lift your spirits, I guarantee it. You feel as if you've been transported to Seville for the evening and the food - though quite pricey - is exceptional. Without doubt the best tapas I've had in the UK. The Sherry Negroni isn't too shabby either. 

Best Cultural Experience

Forget the hipster haters, Hauser + Wirth is a nice place to hang out. Yes, it's a magnet for the cool Bruton set, and yes, it is 100% hipster, but it's located in a pretty spot in Somerset, the gardens are lovely and it has a nice cafe. When we visited there was an exhibition of Elizabeth Frink sculptures, which I'm pleased to say I genuinely enjoyed.

Best Cocktail
Weirdly, I had my best G&T of the year at the Orpheus Cinema - who knew they can pour a better one than many bars and for a fraction of the cost? But for something a little more sexy, I really enjoyed the delicious cocktails and decadent atmosphere at Red Light. 

Best Live Music Event

We enjoyed Joe Goddard at the Thekla and The Cribs at the O2 (though were disappointed by the Downs Festival) but the most life affirming live music event for me this year was the Bristol Sounds series. From the stirring sounds of the Manics, a band I'd been wanting to see for years, to the euphoria of hearing classic dance tracks re-imagined at Hacienda Classical, everything about these events was perfect - the location, capacity and sound quality. I loved every moment. 

Best Pizza
Pizza - like burgers - is ubiquitous in Bristol and equally as divisive. But in my opinion - and I do like to think that with my Italian heritage I know what I'm talking about - Pizza Workshop does it best. I was very happy when they opened a new branch north of the river on Whiteladies Road over the summer.

Best Travel Experience

While Ibiza continued to enchant us, our stand-out trip this year was to Venice. While not new to me, I'd totally forgotten just how mind-boggling Venice is and I enjoyed every moment of our 5-day visit which cost us less than a long weekend to Centre Parcs. Everyone should go to Venice at least once in their lifetime. 

Best Family-Friendly Eating
Having reviewed Thaikhun for the blog back in 2016, I was delighted to find that it lived up to my initial review. I took the kids during a summer holiday trip to Oxford (there's a branch a bit nearer to home in Bath) and it was excellent - efficient, friendly service and great value, authentic Thai cuisine. My kids have quite adventurous palettes but there's plenty for more reserved young diners too. A great place to mix things up if you're a little bored of Pizza Express and Wagamama.

Best Shopping Experience

I'm afraid Bristol's mainstream shopping options continued to disappoint me this year (when will we catch up with cities like Manchester or Birmingham?) but I discovered some lovely little independents in 2017, from the plant-based heaven of Wild Leaf to gorgeous homeware at Mon Pote Home. I was also chuffed when Graham & Green opened a store in Bath. But my most successful, semi-local shopping trip took place at Kilver Court, where we combined a spot of retail therapy with a picnic in the stunning secret garden. I didn't find anything in the clothes shops, but I did come away with an amazing glass fronted cabinet for £50 and could have spent a few quid more in the homeware store.

Best Luxury Experience

Another first for me in 2017 was a visit to a spa hotel. I won't lie; it cost an arm and a leg. But my visit to Ragdale Hall was one of the most incredible, life-enhancing things I've ever done. Rarely do things live up to my expectations but on this occasion, I came back feeling the several hundred quid I'd shelled out was money well spent. For three days, me and my friend cocooned ourselves in a place that felt a million miles away from our everyday lives. Despite warnings about chintzy decor, unfulfilling mealtimes and over-zealous fitness instructors, Ragdale Hall felt a lot more modern and chic than I'd expected. The food was plentiful and delicious. And it's been a heck of a long time since I've felt that relaxed and carefree. It was worth every penny.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

A Visit to Aerospace Bristol

Loads of cool things and people have come out of Bristol: Massive Attack, Cary Grant, Aardman Animations, Bananarama ('80s girl band, if you didn't know) and, of course, Concorde, perhaps the most mythologised form of transport of the modern age. While I'm not really an aviation geek, I have always had a bit of a thing about air travel and I'm a child of the '70s so naturally Concorde has been, if you'll excuse the pun, on my radar for many years. 
But not having been born the daughter of a wealthy rock star or member of the royal family sort of made actually going on Concorde a bit problematic. But last weekend I fulfilled a life goal by boarding the iconic aircraft at the recently opened Aerospace Bristol museum.

Opened at the end of the summer, Aerospace Bristol houses the last to be built and last to fly Concorde, Alpha Foxtrot. Displayed in all her glory in a hanger at the historic Filton airfield, visitors to the museum can live the dream - albeit while remaining on terra firma - by walking around the aircraft and stepping aboard to see what cabin life was like if you had a spare £8000 to spend on a ticket. 

I visited with my two boys - both of whom are mad on all things aviation - and they were pretty wowed out by seeing Concorde up close and personal. Having pored over the legendary aircraft's story in countless books over the years, it was great to see them wide-eyed with wonder as they stepped inside, taking a peek into the cockpit and walking through the plane. I found myself thinking about all the famous names who made Concorde their preferred mode of transport back in the day; if only planes could talk...
Spot-lit in splendid isolation, the museum has created a truly fitting tribute to this spectacular piece of engineering; she looks absolutely stunning in her new home. Alongside the plane there's a room filled with interesting exhibits and memorabilia - glamours flight attendant uniforms, tickets, crockery and wonderful pictures of the 'ordinary' fans of Concorde who somehow found the money to cross the Atlantic at supersonic speeds.
But Aerospace Bristol isn't just about Concorde - it's a fascinating collection of exhibits that traces the fascinating and perhaps not-so-well-known history of The Bristol Aeroplane Company. For anyone born in Bristol like myself, it's a great education in just how important aviation and engineering have been in shaping our city. 

Plenty of interactive exhibits keep younger visitors happy and, as well as Concorde, there are lots of other models and replicas to explore, including a Bristol tram, Bristol Boxkite, Bristol Babe and Bloodhound Surface to Air Missile. 

You can immerse yourself of the story of the Filton Airfield during the two World Wars, a time of great innovation that saw women exchange domestic work for building engines on the factory floor; in 1918 alone over 2000 aircraft were turned out from the Filton and Brislington works and over 3000 people were on the payroll. 

The museum charts the rise of the Unions as the Concorde project struggled to get off the ground, with local MP at the time, Tony Benn, supporting the many local people employed at Filton whose livelihoods hung in the balance. 

More recent history is also covered; you can see how engineers in Bristol have helped to develop cutting-edge, space age technologies and robotics. All in all, it makes you feel very proud of the city's heritage as a leader in aviation innovation. There's also a flight simulator which - though not fully immersive at the moment (it will be coming to the museum in 2018) - offers the chance to experience take-off and cruise control from the perspective of the cockpit.
The museum also houses a cafe and a shop, filled with imaginative gifts, books and toys. We spent an entire morning at the museum - there's a lot to see here and plenty of room for little ones to wander around without getting in the way of more seriously-minded aviation fans. 

A standard family ticket costs £39 and your tickets can be used for return visits within a year of booking. We all came away from our day at Aerospace Bristol feeling it had exceeded our expectations. And as a local girl who's followed Concorde's story over the years and was sad to see it take its last flight over Bristol, I'm really happy that this iconic aircraft - built just a few miles from where I was born - has come home in style. 

With thanks to Aerospace Bristol who gave me a complimentary trip to the museum. All words and photos are my own. Visit the website here for more information.

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