Bristol Christmas Market: No Longer A Winter Wonderland

Caution: This blog post contains sexual references.

Good morning lovelies,

On Saturday, I visited the Christmas market in the centre of Bristol with Matt. Traditionally, this used to be rows upon rows of wooden chalets filled with all kinds of delicious treats and German handmade merchandise. Last year, the original German market was replaced by a smaller market selling international foods and handcrafted items. Part of the magic last year was the vibrant light shows, including the Santa on a unicycle which pedalled up and down on an overhanging wire at seemingly irregular intervals, and yet, somehow this year seemed remarkably different.

When we arrived, we were greeted by a large christmas tree-topped hut selling bratwurst in bread buns, and three different kinds of chips. Matt ordered two bratwursts and a tub of chips for us to share, but priced at £11, that seemed ridiculously expensive for two German hotdogs with a small side of fries. The bratwurst itself was wrinkly and dry on the outside and lacked much flavour in the middle. The bun was crispy and dry and had quite clearly been in a warm, dry environment for some time.

Wandering up, I urged Matt to stop so that I could eat my bratwurst. For me, walking and eating is a surefire recipe for chronic indigestion and quite possibly choking, too. We stood outside a vintage clothing shop to finish our food before heading on into the rest of the market.

Upon finding a quiet spot, one of the first issues I faced was how on earth a woman eats a juicy (albeit fairly tasteless) hotdog in public without it looking in anyway… y’know.. suggestive. As I contemplated my approach, I made accidental eye contact with the middle-aged man at the olive stall.

Please don’t imagine your dick in my mouth, I implored him telepathically.

I bit the sausage a little more aggressively than I perhaps should have. If he was still watching, then I wanted to destroy any thoughts he may have been having. If not then, well, I was hungry anyway.

Trying to eat my hotdog as innocently as I could, I tried to engage Matt in casual conversation. If any onlookers could see that this sausage-eating young woman was spoken for, then that too might encourage them to divert their attention.

Unfortunately, I was without luck. As I gripped the hotdog with my teeth, it exploded hot, oily water over my cheek and hand.

“Oh” I gasped, “that happens occasionally” I added to Matt with a mischevious grin.

Wandering up, we found the marshmallow kisses stall. Marshmallow kisses are something that I make a beeline for every year, and the gingerbread ones are exceptional. This year, we couldn’t get the gingerbread ones so we’ve settled for After Eight, Irish cream and cappuccino. The After Eight ones are mediocre, the Irish cream ones are quite pleasant and the cappuccino ones haven’t been tried yet. At £10 for a box of 12, they’re a little overpriced but not completely unreasonable. I insisted that we ony needed gingerbread ones but my dearly beloved refused. I made a mental note that denying a woman anything less than ten gingerbread marshmallow kisses should be lawful grounds for execution.

One of the things that really stood out and saddened me this year was that a lot of the animatronics were absent or not switched on. Rudolh didn’t stick his head out of the window and sing Christmas songs for the crowds and the singing Frosty the Snowman was nowhere to be seen. Mary and Joseph didn’t chase one another around and around the steeple of the town ‘church’ (actually a hot chocolate stall, I do believe) . Instead, there was just lights and music. It still felt festive, but it wasn’t nearly as magical as it had once been.

As we reached the centre of the market, we found ourselves at the hot pork roll stall. Again, prices here were astronomical and I found myself forking out £12.00 for two hot pork rolls which were supposed to come with sage & onion stuffing and apple sauce. The young man who served me seemed barely awake as he went through the motions of opening a roll and smudging in some stuffing, then topping it off with hot pork.

“Umm, excuse me. One without stuffing?” I interjected as he prepared the second roll. I love me some stuffing, but Matt doesn’t. The level of enthusiasm or care in the server was actually somewhat disturbing and the rolls themselves were every bit just as lacking as the customer service was.

We watched the reindeer roundabout go around for what must have been about the eighth time on our visit. The heads of the reindeers were clearly on some mechanism and they lifted and bobbed as the cars passed over the bumps below. The attraction had clearly been in service for some considerable time as the wheels and lifts squeaked and reineer heads rattled. The attraction had quite clearly been squeezed in on the corner to appease bored children who didn’t want to shop.

Matt and I wandered around some more and tried to find other goods that we could be tempted to buy. There were eco-friendly hoodies and t-shirts and billboards that dictated that it’s “time to go vegan” (it’s really not). as we wandered, we passed the stall selling the “Ultimate Garlic Grater” plates; plates with numerous dimples on which apparently make mincing your garlic much easier. Matt marvelled at the beautiful hand -painted items for a while but sadly such an item would have no place in our home. Our kitchen is so small that even our compact dishwasher acts as an extra shelf and nothing except a chopping board can be left out on the worktop.

Wandering back to the entrance, Matt and I found the hot drinks stall. We ordered ourselves a hot mulled cider for him, and a hot mulled wine for me. To their credit, the mulled wine was good. It had all of the full-bodied flavour and subtle spices that I’d expect in this Christmas treat. The bartender also tried to amuse by pouring both drinks at once. A good effort, but he didn’t look at all cool, confident or comfortable in the process.

Having walked around the market, I decided that I only wanted to drop back for a muffin, and maybe some fudge. I have a phenomenally sweet tooth, and for me, the muffin would be a perfect sweet treat in the evening to enjoy with a glass of hot chocolate before bed. They were large cakes, and I opted for the mint Aero option.

“Would you like milk or white chocolate?” the kind lady asked.

“Milk, please” I said. The shop owner was very bubbly, but I was perturbed by her serving every customer and handling money with the same pair of nitrile gloves. I handed over my £3.50 and took the large paper bag she handed me. I was impressed by her environmentally-concious packaging, but again a little disconcerted by the price.

As a final treat before we left, I swang back around to the fudge stall and was frozen in my tracks.

“Two pound thirty nine for one hundred grams! Jesus Christ, I could make a kilo of fudge myself for that price!” I exclaimed, perhaps louder than I should have. Not to brag, but I can. Proper fudge with real cream and real butter. £2.39/100g is by far the most expensive fudge I have ever seen before. Even my favourite trader, Rebecca’s in Perranporth, only charges £1.29/100g.

As we left, I had an uneasy feeling about coming back to the market again. Bristol has an evident homelessness problem, and it felt nothing short of cruel to be trying to enjoy the Christmas spirit while surrounded by (I counted three) pop-up single person shelters, it felt heartless to be splashing the cash outside their temporary homes and not be helping them. The prices were astronomical and the traders were quite clearly out to cash in on festive cheer. When I mentioned the market to other friends, they told me about similar markets in their home town. I soon realised that this wasn’t a one-off event full of independent, small-scale local traders, but a national event designed to make as much money as it could. The more I investigated, the faster and faster the supposed Christmas magic wore off.

“Would you do it again?” I asked Matt, trying to be as unbiased as I could be about my true feelings.

“I would, you?” he said.

“Hmm, not so keen” I said, “i’s very expensive, and it’s definitely not as magical as it was last year.”

On the way back to the bus stop, we noticed a self-service checkout which enables you to donate £2 to supporting homeless people in Bristol.

“Excuse me” I said to Matt as I cut across the booth. We both made a £2 card donation at the service point. To us, it’s nothing. For a homeless person, it’s shelter for the night. It was a small gesture I’d planned to make before we’d even left home that evening. I didn’t know what or how exactly, but I had one objective to complete for the evening: Help a homeless person. I’m touched by how many of the UK’s homeless are former servicemen and women who gave their lives for our country. The least we can do is help them in some way.

Overall, it was a shame that some of the automated attractions weren’t there and prices were so high. The market used to be part of the Christmas tradition for us and would have been something that I’d look forward to again if they’d only managed to deliver, yet sadly, this year I felt nothing short of disheartened. The winter wonderland that was felt drab and overpriced and the food that we’d waited all day to eat failed to impress. The highlight of my evening wasn’t even at the market itself, it was watching some silly punk get himself arrested.

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