In the first installment, Roo heads to South West England with his longtime pal, Ilene. In part II, they head to Bristol then onwards to Cornwall.
SEX IN THE RAIN
It’s time to leave the countryside behind and enjoy an urban adventure. My lame attempt behind the wheel in Cirencester resulted in a near-collision with a bus, so Ilene has volunteered to drive to our next destination: Bristol. This industrial maritime city of nearly 450,000 residents is easily accessible from London (as quick at an hour and 40 minutes by train from Paddington Station) and offers plenty of options for food, shopping and entertainment.
After a few days of shared accommodations, we decide to take a night and go solo at the Brooks Guesthouse, a charming bed-and-breakfast located adjacent to St. Nicholas Market, where you can find some of the best cheap eats in the city. Since we’re on a road trip, I opt to spend the night in Brooks’ rooftop “trailer park” comprising four Retro Rockets. Built in Great Britain, the aluminum caravans are outfitted with compact modern amenities and offer stellar city views.
With less than 24 hours in town, we do what we know best: drink and see a show. It’s an overcast day with pending showers, but that doesn’t stop us from wandering the streets a bit to take in some of Bristol’s famous street art. While there are plenty of places to formally appreciate the city’s cultural scene — such as M Shed (the city’s flagship museum that tells Bristol’s history), the Royal West of England Academy (housing more than 1,200 works of 19th-century art) and Arnolfini contemporary arts center — one of the best ways is by foot.
Banksy is perhaps Bristol’s most famous and elusive graffiti artist, but a walk among the city streets reveals plenty of can-wielding craftspeople making their mark. Take a street art tour with Where the Wall or immerse yourself even further during this summer’s Upfest Festival (July 23–25, 2016), which will gather more than 300 artists to paint live.
After a bit of wandering, we discover an unmarked door that reveals one of the city’s most notable cocktail lounges, the Milk Thistle. The speakeasy-style setting delivers classic craft cocktails as well as a revolving menu of creations, such as the Long Walk Home (Somerset cider brandy, Oloroso sherry, demerara sugar and chocolate bitters).
A few drinks in, we’re ready for some theatrics at the Wardrobe Theatre. We’re both skeptical about their latest ensemble piece, 1972: The Future of Sex, which explores the sexual revolution through an array of quirky characters and live music. It turns out to be refreshingly innovative, with stylistic references to the United Kingdom’s wildly popular Frantic Assembly physical theater.
After the show we meander back to Brooks Guesthouse, hoping to pop into a gay bar for a nightcap. Things are pretty quiet on this misty Tuesday night, but if an übergay scene is your thing, consider planning your visit during Bristol Pride (July 1–10, 2016), when the city overflows with LGBT celebrations.
I say goodnight to Ilene and crawl into my Retro Rocket. The bed is snuggly with its goose down pillows and duvet, but the light spring showers quickly turn into a torrential storm battering against the light aluminum shell. I’m tempted to look outside to see if the Wicked Witch of the West is flying by on a broomstick, but instead I lull myself to sleep with the soft glow of LED chromotherapy (and half an Ambien).
SOMETHING SMELLS FISHY
The skies have cleared by morning, and we pack up the car and head southwest toward the sea. During our heyday we were quite the adventurers: At one point Ilene had dragged me into a mosh pit at a nightclub in rural Virginia; I reciprocated with Halloween antics in Dallas’s Oak Lawn neighborhood. (We still laugh about their catchphrase: “Where the men wear heels and the women wear sensible shoes.”) So it’s only fitting that we experience at least one adrenaline boost. It comes in the form of the Eden Project and Hangloose Adventure.
What was once a Cornwall china clay pit has been transformed into a series of biomes that house different ecosystems, as well as an outdoor garden, performance space, public art venue and more. We walk the biomes for a bit, but Ilene — who spent way too long living in central Florida — is over the tropical heat before I even have a chance to spot a roul-roul partridge. We find that the best way to take in the scenery is from above.
Hangloose Adventure operates in tandem with the Eden Project and oversees a variety of stomach-churning activities, including the longest, fastest zip line in England. We suit up in helmets and goggles and clip in for the 2,165-foot thrill ride, which whizzes us past the biomes at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.
Reeling with exuberant laughter, we pile into the car and head to the tiny fishing village of Padstow for a taste of local flavor. Nestled on the River Camel that spills into the Celtic Sea, the sleepy town is dotted with fish-and-chip shops, vendors serving up Cornish ice cream and local artisans peddling nautical-themed trinkets.
But the real culinary treat in Padstow is Rick Stein’s Cookery School. Author of more than 20 cookbooks, Stein has traveled the world in search of inspiration and is one of England’s most notable food personalities. Last year he was awarded lifetime achievement awards from the National Restaurant Awards and the Food Writers Guild.
We’re both self-professed foodies, though I took it a step further after putting a kibosh on my acting career and going to culinary school. Ilene will eat just about anything too, and we marvel at a demonstration led by head chef Mark Puckey, who whips up an Indonesian curry. Then it’s our turn to don aprons and have a hand. I wrestle with cleaning the squid and monkfish while Ilene puts a pot of rice on the stove. In about 45 minutes we’re eating a second heaping bowlful of the complex stew, which pops with intense flavors of kaffir lime, lemongrass and coconut milk.
We arrive late for our last night in England at Lewinnick Lodge. Perched on the cliff-top of Pentire Headland, the property was originally built as staff quarters for a nearby manor and through the years has been repurposed as a fisherman’s store and even a smuggler’s den. Its thoughtful renovation embraces Cornwall character with natural wood, pinstriped upholstery and plenty of surf artwork to remind you that Fistral Beach is just a stone’s-throw away.
The following morning we finally indulge in a proper English breakfast, a bit bleary-eyed from the week’s adventures. We share a comfortable silence — one that comes with a friendship that spans more than 20 years. The talk of aging parents, changing jobs, lonely hearts, unforgettable meals and forgettable relationships has all been said. We choose not to drive the rental car off the cliff à la Thelma and Louise, instead returning it without a scratch to Heathrow Airport. And though we’ll soon find ourselves back in the daily rhythm of life in the fast lane, it’s been great to slow down and enjoy the ride with an old friend.