Sunday, November 4, 2007

When In Bath, Do As The Bathers Do!

That was a quote from my lovely Irish friend Nicola (Nicki for short). Nicki and I had a wonderful time yesterday exploring the historic city of Bath. The following is my account of our journey!

It seems to be becoming a common trend, me waking up at a ridiculous hour in the morning, bleary eyed and exhausted from the night prior. This particular early morning ushered the beginning to my Bath adventure.

It all started days previous when I was talking with some of my house mates about where in England I would like to visit. It was when I mentioned an interest in Bath that Nicki gave me a startling, though not unwelcome, proposition.

Nicki is part of a group here called RAG which stands for Raising and Giving. Every week, members of RAG are presented with an opportunity to collect money for charities i.e. standing on the street heckling passer bys for their pocket change. While I'm not terrible keen on heckling, or street corners for that matter, this particular charitable opportunity was to help the Poppy Appeal, a campaign to raise money for veterans which is put on by The Royal British Legion. While I believe this campaign was originally for veterans of the Second World War, it continues to support anyone who has served or is serving in the British Armed Forces.

Anyhow, RAG was offering to take us to Bath where we would, for a mere couple of hours, work our charm on the Bath tourists and shoppers. After sufficiently schmoozing the public we would have free reign for the remainder of the day to explore Baths hidden wonders! This seemed like an opportunity to good to be true and I found myself practically begging Nicki to take me. She sent out an email to the RAG coordinator that night and was fairly certain I'd get to come along! O wicked fate! How you play with the emotions of men.

Alas, RAG emailed back with the disheartening news that the excursion to Bath was cancelled!

A cold wind blew through the window as I read that email, and outside the sun was enveloped by the clouds. Deep within my inner workings I felt my hopes being beaten down by Destiny's cruel messenger. A sad day this had become.

But wait! Just then, two things struck me almost simultaneously: First, a ray of sunshine burst forth and fell so warmly on my back that it calmed my strife's, while at the same time Nicki's voice fell so gently on my ears, "Why don't we go anyway?" It was so simple and so beautiful! Hope had returned and this time brought Resolve. Our trip to Bath was practically set in stone.

Never you mind the ensuing details. We ordered the tickets right then and there; Saturday morning at 8:30 was our departing train. The only thing left to do was wait!

Waiting was no small task as our excitement grew by the hour. Finally Saturday morning was upon us and though exhausted from the night before, this previous Saturday had been notoriously worse than, in comparison, this lovely morning.

One small setback before we could start our day. My clothes, all of my clothes, I had put in the dryer the night before, were not dry when I went to collect them. Mmm, so I put them back into the dry and prayed that they'd be suitable before I left 45 minutes from then. In the mean time, I shot off some emails, showered, prepared my bag, and in due time, returned to check on my clothes. This time they were dry and Nicki and I scooted out the door one time, albeit I was practically still dressing as I hopped out the door.

The trip to Bath was startlingly short, we didn't even bother to sit on the train. I secretly took this as a pity as I love train rides. There was little time to dwell on that small misfortune for in what seemed like seconds we were off the train and wandering the streets of Bath!

While our house mates deemed us "idiots" for leaving so early, I was pleasantly surprised with early morning Bath. My trip to Cardiff had been somewhat similar in that, if you get there before the rush of tourists and shoppers, you're more able to appreciate the city. I should clarify that, you're more able to appreciate the architecture and design of the city, but I personally think that the people are the most important aspect to a city and I got to admire them later as well.

Well, we did get there a little early. The tourist information centre wasn't even open yet. So began a blind excursion which, for me, is nothing unusual but for Nicki it seemed a bit novel. Soon enough we had our mental maps oriented around Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths. Eventually we knew the main streets and directions of the museums, so we decided to take a break. We searched around some of the open shops, found some nice post cards, then trekked to the nearest coffee shop to write.

There, sipping on our warm drinks, we chatted about family, friends, and life with a little post card writing on the side! It was at this time that the streets of Bath began to fill...

Emerging back onto the street we pondered about what to do. Some local buskers were performing, painters were painting, shoppers were scampering from shop to shop. "Well, we are tourists" thought we, "might as well do the touristy things first!" So we strolled through the cobblestone streets of Bath until our shoes rested on the doorstep of Bath Abbey. It was quite a doorstep.

The entire building is massive and, following with traditional Gothic design, is decorated with ornate pieces of stone art and stained class. Not to mention the entire building was a giant cross. Inside was even more spectacular than it's shell; unknown amounts of art, stonework, carvings, flags, metal sculptures, and even quilts lined the walls. This was highly impressive, as was the grandeur of the soaring vaulted ceiling.

I'd say that the one thing that put me off was the music. They had a magnificent organ but it was playing the most drab music. I don't mind calm music, but this was literally something you'd hear at a funeral. It didn't instil the mood of holiness or that which was awe inspiring, no it pulled over your head a black shroud and weighted your shoulders with unnecessary depression.

Doing our best to ignore this minor irritation, Nicki and I silently explored the grounds. I immediately found my new favourite place in churches, the votive candles. I stood there for a moment saying a small prayer in my head and lit the candle. There is something deeply satisfying to me about lighting a votive candle, though I have to admit that this instance was not as internally moving to me as it was when I found myself in the Bristol Cathedral; I think I needed it more then.

Nicki stole away for a time. I quite literally lost her for a time but as I swept my gaze across the Abbey I saw her in the distance, tucked away in a corner pew, head bowed in prayer. I let her be and figured she'd find me when she was finished.

We left the Abbey and figured we'd continue on with our touristy journey. We walked about 20 feet and found ourselves in the queue for the Roman Baths. Considering our options we pressed on from the Baths and decided to continue our exploring. So it was that we found the Jane Austin Museum.

It was a pretty good walk from the Baths, maybe 20 minutes, or perhaps it was because of our leisurely pace, but no matter, it was well worth the walk.

To say it was well worth the walk may have you immediately assume that I'm referring to the museum itself. Let me silence that assumption immediately: Nicki and I never set foot inside. We were, however, greeted by quite an interesting man. He was dressed in a proper outfit; waistcoat, white stockings, top hat, cane, and bad teeth. We enquired how much it would be to see the museum to which he replied 5 pounds or there abouts, I do not honestly remember. But it was his gossip afterwards that made our visit particularly worth it. He begin to talk with us in the most amusing and stereotypical English accent about "Miss Austin," hinting that he knew information that the public may not normally hear. We stood there no doubt looking a bit confused as to his insinuations. He then raised his eyebrows, glanced from side to side, and leaned in slowly to whisper "Information pertaining to Miss Austin's gentleman friends."

I no doubt spouted the most outrageous grin and was immediately hooked! Thank God Nicki was there to pull me away for I would have, I fear, spent more money just to keep that man talking! There were, as Nicki reminded me, other things to see that were much more beautiful and completely free of charge. Ere we made our way to the Royal Crescent.

A more lovely stroll I've never had. I suppose I'll begin to describe it by starting with the sun. I mentioned that it was a sunny day but it almost felt like the sun was shining just for us that day. It was not too hot nor to cold and we felt it's gentle touch gently grazing our cheeks as we walked along the Crescent. The Royal Crescent was something I'd not heard of before, but Nicki was very excited to see them and I was, by induction, so filled with the same excitement.

The Crescent is, in form, exactly how it sounds but that doesn't really explain what it is. Whether it was just a historically preserved site or whether it was the display for some families wealth, I'm not sure. Let me attempt to explain what the Crescent is. Here in Bristol, as well as the greater lands of Britain, there is a style of homes. These homes are particularly abundant in the city limits where space is scarce. They are often three stories high but perhaps only one room thick, i.e. tall skinny buildings. Standing alone, these buildings might look quite odd. In fact, these homes are rarely seen singularly but rather put side by side with no space in between, as if a bunch of tall skinny people were jammed together in a queue. Well, imagine that there was a line of these tall skinny people minding their own business when something came and hit the queue perpendicularly so it formed a gigantic bulge or crescent shape. Perhaps now you have an idea of the Crescent, it is a bunch of individual buildings stuck so closely together that they seem to be one building (in fact they may be) and they form the most delightful crescent shape that looks onto a green field at it's centre. This field is where Nicki and I sat in leisure chatting and watching the passer bys.

Being the blossoming sociologist that I am, I wanted to get away from the touristy places so I took Nicki off the beaten path. It was a short excursion but we saw the Bath beyond the money. We passed a quaint pub and some Bathers chatting with phenomenal accents. It's amazing how much the City can change once you wander just one or two blocks away from the attractions. That difference within a City is endlessly fascinating to me.

Well, we'd properly avoided doing the biggest attraction of them all, the Baths, but how can you possibly go to Bath without seeing the Baths? And so we went, practically skipping from the pure excitement of the new world around us, to the Roman Baths. It was quite an experience, two hours of experience and information to be precise!

We got into the queue but didn't wait very long, and lucky us being the University students that we are, we got a discount! Upon payment we were let to a counter around the way and handed a slim charcoal coloured thing resembling a telephone. It had a number pad and speaker for your ear. We soon discovered the ingenuity of this device! With it we could travel through the Baths at our leisure for all along the path there were signs with numbers on them. All we had to do when we saw these signs was type in the number then listen to the wealth of information gently spoken into my ear by a female voice with the most proper English accent. Life is good.

What we found was that the Baths are astounding! Okay sure, everyone says they're amazing and therefore I probably had an expectation of them being great, but honestly they were incredible! There were rooms that the Romans had that would create steam to heat the floors; heat them so hot mind you, that apparently if you were to walk on them barefoot you would burn the bottoms of your feet. Underfloor heating 2000 years ago!? Absolutely amazing!

There is plenty more to say about the Baths themselves but instead of reinforcing your own preconceived notions of the Baths, I say to you, "Go and visit the Baths yourself." Life is short and you only get one of them!

It was at the Baths that I purchased, amidst Nicki's ridicule, some authentic Roman Bath water. Seeing as both our cameras had died on this trip, I wanted a memento. It was with this seemly innocuous event that gave rise to the banter. This teasing would continue, dished and taken by both sides, for the rest of the day and was immensely fun.

The rest of the story is good but, perhaps having written so much already, I'll begin to be more concise.

After the Baths we were ravenous so we found a nice little Deli on a back street. When I say little, I mean we had to share a table with two middle aged ladies because there were literally four tables. In retrospect, I would have liked to talk to those ladies for the guy behind the counter said they were regulars. I'm sure they could have given us some great inside information on Bath. Oh well! After finishing Nicki and I next went to an Art Gallery... for free!

We spent a good amount of time inside though it was a smaller art gallery with local artists. Some of those pictures and paintings I wish I could have taken with me. Some were bizzare, some were extremely bright, some were so striking you had to tear yourself away. I particularly like ones with people. There was a grizzled old man's face riddled with creases and lines. It was almost as if you could read the story of his life through the lines on his face; the crows feet from smiling so much, the corners of his mouth slightly drooping downward from a life of hardship, his brow wrinkles from delight and despare...

We didn't stay terribly long there because the darkness was coming on. We did have time to stroll around the river that cut around Bath's centre. There was a famous bridge that we crossed; famous to others but I'd never heard of it before. It was on that bridge that Nicki got the urge for a cookie and so we went in search of a, according to her, famous cookie. We trekked back all the way across Bath and I found myself in a department store. This was indeed the place of the famous cookie but the cookies, that fateful day, were all gone. So we went to Starbucks instead. heh. Good ol' Starbucks.

We got our coffee to go and hopped on the train back to Bristol. Lucky for us, a friend of ours has a car, and Nicki, being the savy gal she is, contacted Dominic to come pick us up. I'm so grateful she did because we were dead tired by the time we got into Temple Meads station. I would say that concluded our night but I would be horribly wrong.

It wasn't ten minutes after I'd arrived back home that I was throwing on my jumper and heading out for a 20 minute trek up to "The Downs." The downs is a large field north of the university were people go to run, play football, rugby, hold events, etc. Well, that Saturday was Guy Fawkes weekend and there was going to be a big bonfire and fireworks display. So we went!

It was five quid to get into the event! That is outrageous in retrospect but it was Guy Fawkes weekend and I was in England, I couldn't very well refuse. The crowd was absolutely massive and the bonfire was epic. We were all huddled together a considerable distance from the fire when my friend Natalie grabbed my arm and said, "Zach, you know if you get lost you don't have a phone and there'll be no way to find you again." I said I'd stay close and not to worry. About five minutes later I was separated from the group! Haha. Well, no big deal, but I never did find them again. After I watched an absolutely pitiful fireworks display I started making my way back home. I bumped into some familiar faces and eventually we all gathered again back at Queens Road. That is when my Saturday ended and with it brought the conclusions of my Bath and Guy Fawkes adventures.

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