Wednesday 16 May
Today we visited Bath with Rob Gardner, a BPC administrator.
We met Rob in the lobby at 8am, as we needed to plan at least 2 hours to get to Bath. Bath isn't necessarily that far away in miles, but traffic will slow us down according to Rob. Once we got free of the traffic surrounding the Bournemouth, it was a journey along winding, tree-lined roads. Because of our late nights blogging and the early departure time, we were all a bit tired this morning. The leisurely, somewhat long ride caused us some drooping eyes.
However, our drowsy spirits were kept engaged by all the information provided by Rob. Rob, like all of our other BPC "guides" was fount of information about places were passing as well as Bath itself. He visits there at couple of times a year; the last time was around Christmas for his wife's birthday. His comments fueled our excitement to visit this picturesque town.
We arrived just on the outskirts of the town centre and parked in a car park. A few coins in the pay machine, our umbrellas out because of the light drizzle, and we were walking towards the town center.
While nearly every town we have visited has older, historic buildings, Bath was clearly a remnant of English past. Lots of stone façades with the ornate figures and designs, and long neighborhoods of connected buildings.
As we entered the main square, two buildings dominated our view-the Bath Abbey to the right, which we visited later, and the Roman Baths to our left. We entered the Baths building and traveled up the corridor to the Pump Room, which is a restaurant. Rob suggested we start there with a small breakfast, and we quickly agreed. It was a beautiful room, with a tall ceiling supported a very large, ornate chandelier; and a small chamber orchestra playing traditional tunes. It was an enchanting atmosphere.
We each ordered the "Georgian Elevenses", which included a toasted Bath bun with lemon zest butter, a hot chocolate, and a glass of the world famous Bath spa water. We disappointed Rob a bit, since we each ordered the same thing (he ordered the "Pump Room Breakfast", which came with a basket of warm morning pastries) but we each wanted to try the signature food and drink of the Pump Room.
I liked the bun-it had just a hint of cinnamon and wasn't too sweet. The water, though, is another story. It comes from a very ornate fountain, situated in an alcove and silhouetted by tall windows. The fountain was beautiful; the water not so much. I basically chugged it down, then focused on my toasted Bath bun and hot chocolate.
After enjoying the atmosphere of the Pump Room (I think Tory has a video on her blog of the Pump Room), Rob let us enter the Baths. He'd been there already, so he decided to let us travel at our own pace. We each got audio guides, which were generally very useful, although the added sound effects weren't really needed.
We traveled down a series of floors, through displays of artifacts from the original baths built by the Romans into the baths themselves. Basically, there are hot springs in Bath that the Romans used as a focus for a temple and later a therapeutic spa. Over 2000 years old, the baths were only re-discovered recently. Only fragments remain of the buildings built over the spa-what is still there are the basic pools for the spas.
This was such an interesting historical site, particularly since I had no expectation of what we'd find (I hadn't study these spas before). I was impressed by the architecture of getting the water to the spas; of circulating heated air underneath the floors of the adjoining rooms; and the remains, particularly curses that were written on pieces of metal, then metal then rolled up and tossed into the spa waters. These curses were very personal, such as a curse on the unknown thieves who stole an individual's money. The gorgon's head is the most studied and famous of the other remains.
We spent nearly 2 hours in the baths, just visualizing the experience that this must have been for those who came to partake in the healing powers of the water. The baths were well worth the trip to Bath.
Our visit to Bath Abbey made the trip even more worthwhile. We've seen several magnificent churches on our journey, each with its own unique characteristics. Beyond just the beauty of light that the Abbey provides, the intricate vaulted fan ceiling stood and the memorial plaques on the walls and on nearly every floor tile stood out to me. Despite the number of plaques and memorials, this Abbey doesn't have that "full" feeling that I got when I visited Westminster Abbey two years ago. Bath Abbey feels clear and pristine.
After touring the Abbey, we headed over to the Assembly Rooms. Often used in film adaptations of Jane Austen novels, these large rooms for parties and dancing where built in 1796, damaged during WWII, and then restored. They were quite impressive, particularly the octagon room that worked as a passage way between rooms.
In the lower level of the Assembly Rooms is the Museum of Costumes, which Rick Steve's (Travel Guide writer) calls one of the best museums in Europe. I was not as impressed. I'm not generally drawn to museums of clothing and dress, but would appreciate what I saw. However, there was not much to see here (I believe a significant portion was under repair or re-display) and what I saw didn't entice me much. I did appreciate the lady's fan with a map of the city printed on it-seems like a perfect merging of function and aesthetics.
Rob then lead us to the Circus at Bath, a series attached houses built in the late 18th century in a half-circle around a traffic circle. We walked around the Circus, admiring the small potted plant gardens in the lower entries and wondering at the prices of these famous homes. After visiting the Circus, we stopped at a small café for sandwiches and tea. I forgot to jot down the name of the café, but I had a very tasty sandwich there. And of course, good tea.
Rob pointed us in the direction of the Jane Austen Center, something I was obviously interested in seeing. However, a flier that Tory had found didn't impress me-it seemed very cheesy and very attached to the popular, particularly in England, of BBC productions of her films. As we approached the center, my concerns were not alleviated. There was a statue outside of the door and we were greeted by a gentleman dressed an historical outfit. He beckoned us in.
First, there was a brief introduction, covering Austen's experiences in Bath. The general idea is that she was here because her family liked it; she was not a big fan of Bath, because it was a city; several scenes in her books are based on her experiences in Bath, although she didn't write anything while she was in Bath. Finally, the house where the museum lies is not her house (that ones is up the street) and they don't have any historical items of Austen. A trip through the "museum" proved this. The only "authentic" items they had were costumes from a recent BBC production of an Austen-based film. I left feeling rather chagrined that I paid to enter. I felt bad for my colleagues, wasting time and money on this "experience". But you don't know until you try.
We met up with Rob again and headed for the car. On the way home, we talked with Roy about his impressions of America, as a boy, came from watching TV shows like Rawhide and F Troop. It was interesting to compare his experiences with my own childhood impressions of the British based on watching older BBC shows rebroadcast on PBS.
Back at the hotel, we thanked Rob for his time driving, and we decided on our plans for dinner. We decided to try a Chinese place we'd passed several times in our walks toward the town center. I ordered the stir fry duck with bean and garlic sauce. It was very tasty and filling. They even had a three-piece band playing contemporary songs. We talked about music.
Back at the hotel, we each headed off to our rooms, knowing that tomorrow would be another early day. I blogged for a while, while watching an interesting documentary on British youth who were obsessed with becoming bodybuilders. One story described a 22-year old who would dehydrated his body the days before a competition, so that his skins would be tighter and therefore his muscles would stand out more. I started to watch another documentary on the growing middle class in Britain, but the show was not very balanced and I was tired, so I called it a night.