One thing about visiting England in the summer: you hear American accents everywhere you go. We Yanks love to visit the old country. I feel self conscious every time I open my mouth; my broad American vowels seem extra-exaggerated, as though I’m parading around in a giant cowboy hat. How I envy the Brits, whose way of speaking just sounds so much more melodious to my ears!
The one place where I didn’t hear a single other U.S. tourist was in Trowbridge, a smallish (population 30,000) town which used to be a center of textile production, particularly wool; the last mill closed in 1982, and is now home to a lovely museum (free admission!). When we went into the post office to buy stamps, the clerk seemed surprised to encounter a pair of Americans, and asked what brought us there. It’s my ancestral town, and only 30 minutes away from Bristol by train; how could I not stop by?
If your last name doesn’t happen to be Trowbridge, you’re probably not going to go out of your way to visit. But there are a lot of historic buildings — the town dates back to the 10th century, though unfortunately, Trowbridge Castle (first mentioned in the 12th century) is long gone. Parts of the George Hotel, pictured here, date back to the fourteenth century; the inside was rebuilt and it is now occupied by a shoe shop. In fact, Trowbridge is a shopper’s paradise — downtown is dominated by a bustling indoor mall, and outdoors, the streets were filled with people on one of the warmest days of the year.
Another historic structure here in Bristol is the cathedral, located next door to our hotel. I always enjoy visiting old churches, and this one is really gorgeous. Bristol Cathedral dates from the 12th century, though like many European churches, it’s a bit of a pastiche — the Chapter House was begun in 1150, though much of the building went up in the 1800s.
Somehow, in the midst of all of this sightseeing, there also has to be time for panels and activities at CrimeFest! Celebrating its fifth anniversary, CrimeFest is clearly a well-organized convention with exceptionally strong programming, though it might be outgrowing the Marriott — this year’s event sold out well in advance, and the rooms have been crowded with enthusiastic crime fiction fans. Today’s highlight was the Scandinavian panel, featuring Thomas Enger, Ragnar Jonasson, Åsa Larsson and Gunnar Staalesen. Åsa was the token Swede and said she’s frequently asked whether or not she’s related to Stieg (she isn’t). There was also some discussion of how the relationship of the Nordic countries has changed over the years. Åsa was asked if Swedes feel superior to other Scandinavians (I sort of thought they did, since Stockholm’s branding of itself as “the capital of Scandinavia” has proven controversial). She said that when she was young, Swedes were always telling Norwegian jokes (similar to Polish jokes in America), though now that Norway is so oil-rich, she hasn’t heard any in years. When I was a kid, I used to love Norwegian jokes! (One old favorite: “Why can’t you get ice in your drinks in Norway? The Norwegian who knew the recipe died.”) I guess our neighbors to the west had the last laugh.