Stonehenge and Bath
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After Stonehenge, we went to Bath, so named for its ancient thermal springs. I really enjoyed our visit to the Roman Bath museum, which contains the most perfectly preserved Roman bath in the world. I was amazed at the artifacts displayed. A Celtic-looking sun god carving, the golden head of Minerva, and a large Roman altar for the sacrifice of animals, all indicate that the Roman Bath was more than a spa; it was an important religious site of the Roman Britons for centuries
Bath’s most famous resident was Jane Austen. The irony is that Austen hated Bath, and described it as a supercilious, cold town. She set the latter part of her novel, Persuasion, in the city of Bath, and so exact were Austen’s descriptions that I could imagine Anne, the heroine of her novel, walking the streets of Bath, her umbrella clashing against the damp umbrellas of other fellow pedestrians, and her dashing into a tea shop to get out of the rain. In honour of Jane Austen, and to assuage our hunger, we had tea at a local tea shop, where we had light sweet buns spread with raspberry jam and clotted cream and lamb stew served on a trencher (a bread plate)
All the buildings in Bath are faced with sandstone, and this is a city law: no new buildings may be erected without sandstone. As a result, the buildings, both old and new, are unusually uniform. I felt like I was walking around in a well-planned 18th century city. The winding, narrow streets did not feel cramped or dank but light, airy and classical – odd for a city of such antiquity. My final stop in Bath was Bath Abbey, a church of pale yellow sandstone with stained-glass windows. I expected the Abbey to be more of a museum, but to my surprise, it clearly was a working church. A local artist’s works, which were calligraphy texts of the Book of John, was on display, and the back of the church had bulletin boards and pamphlets for congregants. The Abbey was large, yet conveyed an intimate atmosphere, as befits the centre of an active congregation. I wonder what the churches will be like in Paris and Rome. France is such a secular country that its churches might be more like museums (and many churches were turned into the mausoleums of famous men during the French Revolution), and Rome, the ecclesiastical centre of the Catholic Church, will likely have churches with a more formal atmosphere.
Tomorrow we're going to visit the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and if we have the time, the Saatchi Gallery for contemporary art.