12 June 2016

bow down

E X P L O R E || SS Great Britain, Bristol

This weekend, I watched Titanic [released when Leonardo DiCaprio was a fresh faced 21 year old]. My last memory of watching this film [I haven't watched it that many times] was while I was in Junior School at my bestie Joanna's sleepover party. I genuinely don't remember it being as horrific as watching it now older and apparently more attuned to the gravity of this disaster. These great vessels were built to be able to transport those who could afford it across to new worlds, for new opportunities or simply to visit loved ones. Without the luxury and convenience of air travel as it is today, this was the only way to travel great distances. What happened to the RMS Titanic was just tragic. Watching the film also reminded me of the last time I was in Bristol when pops took me to visit SS Great Britain - another great ship which, unlike the Titanic, I was able to get up close and personal with.

I didn't really know much about the SS Great Britain until I got on board. She used to be a passenger steamship, now famous for being the longest passenger ship in the world between 1845 and 1854. Considered pretty advanced in her time, Brunel's SS Great Britain was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic [in a speedy 14 days]. Starting off being able to carry 360 passengers, she later was able to carry nearly 800 with the addition of two upper decks - plus a crew and all the live animals to eat on the journey. Fun Fact #1: the only animal brought on board that survived the whole journey was a cow as she was needed for milk! Great Britain also carried thousands of immigrants to Australia before she was retired to the Falkland Islands. After many years of abandonment [and slow deterioration], a huge cash donation in 1970 meant that SS Great Britain could make it's last epic journey: returning home.

SS Great Britain is now a museum ship in Bristol Harbour, restored as close as possible to how it used to be - you can get on board, climb the masts, explore the rooms, visit the kitchens, see the engine rooms and experience what life might have been like if you had been a passenger. There are even wax [I think] models of passengers that look scarily life-like: the head chef, the captain, crew, passengers - even one being sea-sick in one of the rooms [the smell of surprisingly included!]. The rooms were absolutely tiny as well which, despite the fact I've been long-time aware of people generally being smaller back in the day, continues to shock me. Fun Fact #2: on the upper class decks, there were women only sections for comfort - i.e. if it was that "time of the month", women could be more private [how civilised]. Aside from being a museum, the dining saloon and deck are still in use for hire and functions - when we were on board this visit there was a wedding party and the ship made for a lovely quirky setting.

My favourite part of visiting SS Great Britain though was being outside the ship.  Being on top-deck gives beautiful views onto Bristol Harbour, its colourful houses and general buzzy harbour life - rowers, sailers, people fishing, it was glorious on a crisp sunny spring day. Although the ship was now back in dry dock, in 1998 the conservation team discovered that the ship's hull was continuing to corrode in the humid atmosphere, giving her approx. 25 years left of staying intact. So a huge bit of construction work started in order to install a glass plate across the dry dock, covering the hull [bottom half of the ship] in a huge glass dehumidifier chamber, thus helping to preserve surviving material. I loved this bit of the visit - because the top of the glass plate had a thin layer of water on top, it felt like you were underwater but dry [pretty surreal]. On a sunny day, it also makes beautiful patterns across the ship's hull and surroundings. My favourite part though was standing underneath the bow of this great ship and looking up, because that's when I realised how mighty and beautiful of a construction it really was. I have never felt so tiny [and oddly frightened] to be standing meters away looking up at a massive ship [not sure if the pics do it justice]. Plus, you can even touch it! [Fun Fact #3: I touch things - it was a little rusty but nice]. At one point pops saw a little bit of water dripping out of the dam blocking the dry dock from the main harbour - so I was like let's get outta here hahaha.

So that was my little explore of a great ship - who knew I would be so into it but it was fascinating. I've never been on a cruise ship so I have no idea what this would be like but being in the presence of the SS Great Britain made me realise that it must feel like a great adventure, sailing across oceans, seeing nothing but water, waves and sky around you. I can't decide whether it has any appeal to me yet - if you have any experiences do share! - but I am definitely more intrigued now than I was before especially as am sure crossing the atlantic by ship has vastly moved on from the time of SS Great Britain. It was an interesting visit - made all the more worthwhile by the great weather and great setting. Even if you don't go into the museum, just strolling along Bristol Harbour is lovely - skylines dotted with the postcard colourful houses, being able to peek into warehouses that are mid-building ships, and just watching harbour life leisurely unfold before you. It's all pretty chilled... until you hit the city centre, you've been warned!



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