London – September 25th
Since we opted to stay in the U.K. once the Paris portion of our holiday got derailed by the Chunnel Fire (a little sick train humour there), we decided to plan some extra day-trips in Southern England.
One such trip took place yesterday as we took the train west (from London) to the city of Bath.
To be honest, the only reason Bath was on our radar screen, is that every time I typed in London tours on the Internet, I kept getting links for day-trips to Bath.
I finally googled the city of Bath, and two things immediately jumped out at me. One was that there was a postal Museum in Bath (actually I knew that already but I couldn’t exactly justify a trip to Bath just for that) but of greater interest (meaning both Mary and I), Bath is the site of the largest Roman-built bath in Europe (hence the name of the city I guess!!!!!) and the site of the only hot spring (spa) in Britain.
In addition to the above, there is a magnificent 15th century Abbey, a Jane Austen Museum (perhaps with a statue of Emma Thompson just outside??), a Fashion Museum, and enough other buildings, cathedrals and landmarks of interest, so we said – let’s do it!
As you’d probably expect, we opted for the “buy a train ticket and figure the rest out when we get there approach”, which as previously indicated is our preferred method of operating. Armed & fortified with our morning drinks, Earl Grey for Mary, and Cafe Americano white for me (I miss Tim Horton’s so much), plus a rather yummy lemon and orange muffin, we set out on a 80 minute train ride from Paddington Station.
Twas an uneventful train ride (we need a couple of those after some of the tube adventures this week) which I had correctly calibrated as a two-tabloid journey. With the except of the Times, and the Express, I’ve now determined that London’s newspapers consist of 50% football news, 20% naked breasts and/or stories about breasts, breast enhancements, politicians who fancy breasts, 20% TV listings, and 10% news. Of that 10%, one can almost guarantee that they will find a way to incorporate breasts or football (or both) more often than not.
For the first few days it was a novelty, and I won’t deny that the Page 3 girls and 16 pages of Premiership League coverage was most enjoyable. After nearly 3 weeks, I am now craving some decent journalism, aching for a comprehensive news package, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, I’m actually looking forward to picking up the Province when I get home.
Back to Bath.
Upon exiting the train station, there are well laid out signs pointing people to every
single one of the afore- mentioned tourist attractions. Add that to the fact that the first thing I saw when leaving the station was the spire of the Abbey. Flexing my keen sense of direction, I suggested we head toward that churchy thing over there.
About a 10 minute walk, and we were indeed at the abbey. It was yet another magnificent piece of architecture, but having just been to Salisbury a few days earlier, it was somewhat like going to see the Vancouver Canadians play the day after attending a World Series game.
Right next to the Abbey though, were the Roman Baths. When we first walked in the door and saw the admission price of £10.50 per person ($21 each), I thought this is a bit steep. And, when we first saw the Roman bath itself, I was thinking, this is pretty cool, but if this is all there is to see for $21, then I’m gonna be a little bit “chuffed”. I mean I like history a lot, but Stonehenge was half that price, and that had a big-time wow factor.
Mary and I took turns with the camera and captured a few nice photos (could be taken on holiday, nudge nudge, know what I mean, know what I mean, photos in the bath, say no more, say no more), and then much to our surprise, the tour really began.
There are incredible remains underground of a structure that spans an entire city block. An intricate arrangement of rooms that served multiple purposes – sauna, massage, bathing, a cooling off pool to close the pores, it was really something. In the midst of the tour, we also saw the hot spring itself, and we could actually see the water bubbling.
We were in the baths for about 90 minutes (ok I almost went off on another Python tangent here, but enough is enough), and when we were finished, on the “Stanger was it worth it scale”, we gave it an 8. Pretty cool, and I’m glad we took the time to see it.
From there, we sat down in the town square and shared our lunch with the pigeons, before setting out to find the fashion museum. You have to know, if I was going to drag Mary to the Postal Museum, then I was going to make sure we visited the fashion museum first. And you know,the fashion museum was ok.
It is actually housed in the Assembly Rooms, one of the architectural landmarks we had been told to look for. All of the Asembly rooms were in use for functions, althought one of the meetings was just finishing as we were about to enter the fashion Museum, so we poked our head in the room for a look-see. Pretty neat. It was a very high-ceiling Octagonal-walled room, painted bright yellow. As I’m coming to expect almost everywhere we go, it was adorned with several 16th and 17th century paintings, but of greater interest (to me at least) it had four fire-places spread around the room. Apparently it originally served as some sort of public game-room for the well-to-dos, and as such it has rather a storied history. We would like to have seen the other rooms but it wasn’t to be. Although we did find out later, that some of the scenes in The Duchess (with Keira Knightley) were shot here, and since we had already visited Greenwich where other parts of the movie were filmed, we will definately have to watch it now.
The fashion museum was pretty interesting, even to me, and I think my personal favorite was a collection of shirts showing the life and times (and style changes) of one particular business executive over a 27 year period from 1966 to 1993. I particularly liked the paisley shirt from the early 70’s – I owned a very similar purple one with a matching tie, and sadly there might even be photographic evidence that I’ll need to destroy.
Before leaving the Fashion Museum, Mary added a new cookbook to her collection – “Bath’s Tea Time Treats”, and then we were off to find the Bath Postal Museum. (This next part is for Dan). I had read about it in a Stanley Gibbons Magazine and they made it sound pretty impressive. Let’s just call it creative writing. The Bath Postal Museum is a little bit bigger than the DSA boardroom and it is currently managed by a 6’6″ rugby player with enormous mutton chops and a thick Yorkshire accent, although he was very gentle and very soft-spoken. He was manning the desk while wearing a Wigan sweater that barely contained his bulk.
There were a few examples of postal history on display (mostly photocopies of items that reside elsewhere), and there was a nice historical timeline of the birth of stamps (in 1840 with Britain’s famous Penny Black) right up to today. The main claim to fame and the reason there is a Postal museum in Bath, is that the earliest example of a postally used Penny Black was actually mailed from Bath on May 2nd, 1840, a full four days before they were supposed to go on sale to the public. They had set up a couple of nice interactive displays for young people (kids as opposed to those of us who still act young most of the time), and there were three short but entertaining videos relating to the history of postmasters, postal clerks and telegraph operators. We saw evertyhing there was to see in about 15 minutes and were on our way again.
In between our visits to the Abbey, the Roman Baths and the two museums, we wandered the streets of Bath, and it was a pretty neat place to stroll around. We got the sense that there was “money” here, which had not been the case in other places we’ve been too, and we also noted that there was a very active arts community. In fact there are currently 100 pigs, yes pigs, that have been bought, sponsored, and decorated by various groups, companies and interested individuals, and they are all over the city. We found (among others) “Pig-malion”, “Pig-eon”, “Olympig” and “Pigasso”. It is all part of a fund-raising program for something called the “two-tunnels” project.
We walked for about 20 minutes after leaving the Postal Museum then sat for a moment to reflect on the day. We decided we had seen everything we wanted to see so without much “Persuasion” on my part and with a great deal of “Sense and Sensibility” shown by Mary (did you really think I was going to miss an opportunity for a Jane Austen reference), we sauntered back toward the train station.
All in all, a very nice day while adding another 11+ kms to the Mary-dometer.
TTFN from Limehouse