Michael’s Trip Diary – Friday, May 7, 2010

In Bath all Day, Wandering Around, Seeing the Sights, and Taking a Tour from a Blindfolded Tour Guide.

We woke up about 6:45 am. I don’t think our bodies and brains were completely in sync with local time yet. I moved from my bed to Minay’s and we snuggled (family friendly — it was cold in the room), waiting for the alarm to go off at 7:00. It didn’t. We made a mental note to check it out to see what was wrong.

Note on beds: At our various lodgings, we opted for two twins when kings weren’t available. Minay is five feet tall, and I’m six feet, so we have a queen-sized bed at home. UK mattress sizes are smaller than in the US. The UK doesn’t have a mattress called a queen size, but they do have twins, doubles and kings. The UK twin is about three inches narrower than a US twin, UK doubles are the same as US doubles, and the UK standard king-size is the same width as a US queen, but two inches shorter. The UK also has a super-king bed, which is bigger than a US queen, but smaller than a US standard king. Minay was going to be fine in any size bed we found, but I needed at least  a twin to myself or a shared king. I’ve been told I elbow during the night, especially in close quarters. We headquartered in nine different locations during the trip, and slept in separate twins in four of those, in kings for three, in a double for our five nights in London, and in Edinburgh we had what was described as a deluxe-king four poster (which really, I think, was more like a large double). Here’s a shot of our beds at Annabelle’s.

Our twin beds at Annabelle's

Our twin beds at Annabelle’s

The room at Annabelle’s was nice. We had an ensuite twin room (AmE – room with two twin beds and a bathroom). Annabelle’s is located in a Georgian building (1714-1837 AD), as is much of Bath.

We finally struggled to our feet about 7:30 and took turns in the shower. Every shower was a new adventure, trying to figure out how to adjust the temperature, and sometimes just how to make it work. The bathroom (BrE = the WC, stands for Water Closet) was tiny. Here are two images. The toilet is on the left, the shower (which was opposite the toilet) is on the right.

The WC in our room at Annabelle's

The WC in our room at Annabelle’s

The bathroom was too small for the two of us to occupy at the same time (I think we might have brushed our teeth side by side, but that’s about it). As soon as we were presentable, we made our way down the narrow staircase to the breakfast room. I had some yogurt (BrE = yoghurt), some granola and milk, a croissant and butter, some very strong English tea, and orange juice and some fruit. I think I had worked up an appetite overnight. It turned out that most of our breakfasts were like that, very substantial, but they got us filled up and ready for the day. We eat much lighter breakfasts at home.

This was our first full day where we weren’t stuck inside a plane or a car, so we decided to just venture out and see what we could find on foot. Our B&B was less than a half-mile southwest of the Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths. The abbey and the baths have been close neighbors since a convent was built on the site of the abbey in the seventh century, but they didn’t know the other was there until the twelfth century when John of Tours built a bath on the site of the much older Roman Baths (which had been destroyed and covered centuries before).

Bath is a city of just under 90,000 people, but it has nearly 5,000,000 visitors each year. Some of the city’s tourist attractions, and the name of the city itself derives from the Roman occupation of Britain, and the spa they built at the site of a natural hot spring, where the Celtic Brythons worshiped the goddess Sulis. The Romans called the town Aquae Sulis (“the waters of Sulis”). The city had a long history of growth and decline, but saw massive construction during the Georgian Period, with much of the city being built out of Bath Stone, a warm yellow-tan limestone.

For an interesting view of the city, check out this 360 degree panorama of the Abbey. To get to the city view, look for the red arrow in the ceiling. Click on it to go to a 360 of the abbey’s bell tower. From the bell tower, look for a red arrow that seems to be pointing toward a No Smoking sign. Click on that arrow to view the city from the abbey’s roof.

Today we decided to see the baths, wander, and buy a cell phone, then see what else we could find. When we set out, it was a cold morning, about 45 degrees Fahrenheit. It was also a bit windy, and it looked like it could rain any minute (it promised rain all day, but never let loose, just a few spits here and there).

Note about temperature: We’ll be using the Fahrenheit scale throughout the diaries, but while you’re in the UK (and pretty much everywhere else in the world), the locals will be talking Celsius. Take a look at this post about temperature conversions (part of our Useful Stuff category).

We walked north along Manvers Street, which is also A3039, which became Pierrepont Street almost immediately (something we would likely have missed from a car, because their street signs are different, and often aren’t displayed on street corners the same way as in the US).

On the way, we passed two restaurants that sounded interesting, Yak Yeti Yak and Salathai (Nepalese and Thai). We decided to try to eat at one or both of them soon. Another fifty feet onward, we saw the Bath Parade Gardens on the right side of the street, but the entrances to it were on the north side of the park, farther than we were going right now. We curved left onto Orange Grove, where the Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths are located. Passing by the Abbey, we noticed this peculiar pig sculpture, painted in glowing turquoise and heavily Bedazzled. We had no idea why it was there, and still don’t. If you have a clue, let us know in the comments below.

the Bath Abbey Pig

the Bath Abbey Pig

The area surrounding the Abbey and the Baths is filled with shops of all kinds, so we wandered from one to another. Minay was looking for some gifts but we didn’t find anything we liked. We did buy a few things (some postcards and postage, some body lotion and facial tissues — total cost £7.52, or $11.43); and we found a Vodafone store, and bought a basic cell phone (BrE = mobile phone, or just mobile) for £10, and added £10 of minutes, at 20p, pronounced “twenty pee.” The p stands for pence (AmE = cents) per minute. That bought us fifty minutes of talk time, and we hoped that would last a while because we planned to use it sparingly. With this purchase, we had spent the equivalent of $30.40 for cell phone use, hopefully for the whole trip. Did we make it without adding more minutes? You’ll have to wait and see.

For lunch we stopped in a place very close to the Abbey and the Baths called Pasty Presto. For £6.50 (about $10) we each got a pasty, something to drink, and a scone for later. I had a potato and onion, and Minay had something with chicken. Yumm!

Next stop, the Roman Baths. It started to rain a little, so we decided to head indoors. We bought joint saver tickets, which gave us admission to the baths and to the Fashion Museum (which was another half-mile north of the Roman Baths). We didn’t make it to the Fashion Museum that day, but the tickets were valid for later.

At the Roman Baths, everything above ground level is only a little over a hundred years old, even though the original baths — or the hot springs at the site — could have had bathers as far back as three thousand years ago. The Romans built a temple on the site during the 1st century AD, then added the bathing facilities during the next few hundred years, ending up with a massive complex. It fell into ruin after the Romans left, but was rediscovered a thousand years later, and was rebuilt in time for Jane Austen to write about it in some of her novels.

Below ground, there is an extensive museum, and several areas where you can get a good look at the inner workings of the complex. One of the items I found most interesting were the curse tablets. Over a hundred small metal tablets, mostly lead, were dropped in the Sacred Spring deep inside the complex. It was a sort of wishing well, dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva, basically asking her to do evil, nasty, horrible things to other people. Usually the curse was meant for someone who had stolen something. Sometimes it was money or jewels, sometimes a lover, but most of the time it was the clothes which had been stolen while the aggrieved party was bathing. Here’s an illustration of a few of them (the curse tablets, not the clothes).

Illustration of Curse Tablets at the Roman Baths Museum

Illustration of Curse Tablets at the Roman Baths Museum

When we left the Baths, we went upstairs into the Pump Room, the restaurant above the baths. We were still full from lunch, but I had been reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and she mentions it a lot, so I wanted to see it. On our way out I tried a sample of the water. It’s pumped directly from the hot springs below (not through lead pipes into lead-lined containers like the Romans used to). I wanted to see how bad it tasted, having heard rumors (BrE = rumours). It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t delicious either. It had a distinct mineral taste, a bit of sulfur, maybe. Drinkable, but not yummy.

The Entrance to the Pump Room, Bath

The Entrance to the Pump Room, Bath

From there we walked to the library, which was a few blocks farther north. I had heard we might be able to use their wi-fi, and I wanted to send some e-mails home, and browse the Web for the next place to stay. They did have wi-fi available, but it turned out I didn’t need it (be patient, I’ll tell). It had been a long day, and we still had supper and one more “event” to attend, so we walked back down Manvers to Annabelle’s and climbed to our room. We lay down on our beds and rested for a bit.

About 4:30, I got restless and booted my laptop. I could see a wi-fi signal, but it wasn’t strong enough to keep a connection. I carried it downstairs and asked Natacha about the wi-fi. She said the signal was strongest in the dining room. She only served breakfast, so no one was in there then. I logged on and sent a quick e-mail to Lyndy, Minay’s sister, to catch her up on what we had done so far and to give her our UK mobile number. I also opened my spreadsheet of possible B&Bs or hotels for future stays (remember the spreadsheet?), and found the B&B’s for the Devon area. We had studied the map and decided we would stay in a town called Ilfracombe for a couple of nights, and venture out to see some King Arthur sites from there. I sent e-mails to four B&Bs there, asking for a room for two nights beginning on Monday, May 10th, then came back up to our room to collect Minay for supper.

We walked down to the railway station, and I put £9.20 ($13.98) worth of coins in the meter to give us another day’s parking, then we walked back up Manvers toward the two restaurants we had seen this morning. We ate at Salathai (Thai food). We weren’t too hungry when we arrived, but the aroma was wonderful. We ordered some noodle dishes. I had pad thai, slurped it down and was completely satisfied. It was amazing, and was only £11.00 plus a £2.00 tip for both of us ($19.76).

To round out the day, we walked a couple more blocks to the Huntsman Inn, just south of the Abbey, to go on the Bizarre Bath Tour. It had been highly recommended by several people, and I had read about it while doing my pre-trip research. We were worried that the tour wouldn’t happen, because a minimum crowd of ten people needed to gather for the tour to happen. The temperature was in the high forties, the wind had picked up to around 15 mph, and it looked like it might rain. When we arrived at the square in front of the inn, at about a quarter-to-eight, a small crowd was gathering around two purple balloons. A sign by the balloons assured us this was the starting point for the tour, and a few of the people told us the guide was just having a pint before we began. Sure enough, he came out the pub just before 8:00, wearing a bright purple jacket. About twenty-five people had gathered by this time. After a brief introduction, he collected eight pounds from each of us. Then he had someone help blindfold him, and we set off down the road past the Abbey.

Our Blindfolded Guide for the Bizarre Bath Tour

Our Blindfolded Guide for the Bizarre Bath Tour

The tour was guaranteed to be “hysterical rather than historical,” and it was. For ninety minutes we learned very little about the city, but had a great time. Funny, funny, funny. And magic tricks, too.

This had been a very enjoyable but tiring day, and the tour was the perfect way to top it off. Weary, but satisfied, we made our way back down Manvers Street to Annabelle’s, crawled into our beds, and fell sound asleep.

Have you taken a tour of an attraction that was more for entertainment than information? What was your reaction to it?

Next up, Minay’s version of the day, Friday, May 7, 2010.

Michael

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