Saturday, February 09, 2008

Euro Day 5: Splish Splash

Eagle House's garden entrance

July 12, 2007. It's Thursday, so it must be time for a Bath. One full day of sightseeing and one last day on our own before the good people at Disney start running the show. After a quiet breakfast at Eagle House, we pointed Blue Passat towards Bath. Dee was slightly annoyed that our morning dawdling might mean we'd be late for the 10am walking tour of Bath. The tour was free - hosted at the local Tourist Information (TI) office in Bath. Based on the great experiences thus far with free tours, Dee was not about to miss out.

Blue Passat knew the way back to the Cricket Grounds and we were at the TI with 10 minutes to spare (and lash marks across our backs!). In reality, the tour did not start until 10:30am, and we were obliged to cool our heels in the small square outside the TI. We passed the time watching dodgy-looking street folk try to keep the pigeons at bay. Good times. Soon enough we met our guide Myra - an elderly native of Bath with an encyclopedic knowledge of local history and architecture. For the next 2 hours Myra led us through back alleys and across broad boulevards and kept us rapt with her stories. The kids were generally engaged, although JediBoy did wane towards the 90-minute mark. We all agreed that Bath - with its Roman/Victorian stonework, lush green spaces, and the River Avon - was among the most beautiful cities we'd seen so far.

Bath phone booth
Bath counil flats - i.e. public housing

After a quick lunch - a Yorkshire pudding bowl filled with beef in ale, all designed to hide those hideous peas - we decided to dive into the algae-tinged waters from which Bath got its name. Actually, we decided to stroll casually beside the waters, in the Roman baths. As luck would have it, we fell into yet another free tour as we passed the turnstile. I think we got far more out of the tour than had we wandered about the ruins on our own simply reading the posters and signboards. The baths are an interesting combination of Roman engineering with a thick layer of Victorian dramatis on top. The waters begin some 4 kilometers below ground from where the hot water literally bubbles to the surface. The sickly green tinge is a result of hot water meeting sunlight. Back in the day, the now-open-air baths where sheltered by a wooden roof, and the waters would have been clear and inviting. As well, the baths were once part a larger complex available to the average Roman to cater to their more 'sensual' needs. I think our modern-day spas probably pale in comparison.

Main bath complex
View of Bath Abbey from the main bath complex

As a fitting end to our tour of the Roman baths, we adjourned to the famous Pump Room - a Victorian tea room that overlooks the baths. Included in the bath admission price is the opportunity to sample a glass of (filtered) bath water from a pump located in the aforementioned tea room. The theory: drinking the heavy mineralized water has curative properties. The reality: the water is a rather acquired taste. I found it not too bad, but with a vile aftertaste. I await The Cure, however.

We banished the taste of bath water with a quick ice cream snack out on the square. As the minerals washed from our tongues, we listened to the variety of street performers that earn coins from the tourists. My favourite was a dreadlocked Jamaican fellow who only knew 2 songs - and only 2 or 3 lines from each song - which he simply repeated over and over as he mugged for the tourists. What he lacked in talent he made up for in bravado.

Also skirting the square is the Bath Abbey. It's quite ornate for an Abbey and proved all the more interesting by the fact that Myra (leader of the morning tour) had educated us a bit on the symbolism in the Abbey's stone carvings. As luck would have it, the Bath Philharmonic was holding a public rehearsal - which afforded us a lovely concert as we sat in one of the rear pews.

Bath Abbey tower
Inside Bath Abbey

It was nearing mid-afternoon at this point, and we had decided to have dinner in Bath rather than driving back to Bathford. As we strolled over near the River Avon we noticed there were a number of small, 2-deck tour boats sitting idle. This would be a perfect way to kill some time before dinner and relax a bit. Long story short, the Avon cruises are relaxing for sure (and the on-board beverage service didn't hurt either). However, these tours have little in the way of historical narrative. These are really just 60-minute scenic trips, and that was just fine for us.

A fellow Avon River tourboat
Boat rentals on the Avon River

Refreshed from bobbing up and down the Avon, we strolled the narrow alleys of Bath a bit - looking for someplace to grab a bite to eat. We settled on a light dinner of sandwiches at Bath's (in)famous Sally Lunn's - known for it's signature "Sally Lunn's buns" - small round loaves of bread. This local eatery has a history stretching back 300 years, and the atmosphere doesn't disappoint. The food did not disappoint either and we found ourselves purchasing some buns to go.

With our stomachs full, it was time to say good-bye to Bath and head back to Eagle House. We would cap off our wonderful day with a walking tour of Bathford. There has been a community on the town site since Roman times, with the local church - St. Swithun's - in existance since the 1300's. The village looks like what a small English village ought to look - if it were haunted. Stone walls bordering narrow lanes, an ancient church with an adjacent graveyard, stone buildings surrounded by stone walls, greenery overgrowing everything, and no human activity other than a couple of fellow tourists walking the same circuit as us. The village is beautiful and yet so foreign to us North Americans. But I couldn't shake the whole Children of the Damned vibe.

Bathford near dusk
The family walking in lonely Bathford

And at that, we retired back to Eagle House to pack our vagabound belongings and prepare for another travel day ahead. Tomorrow, we would head back to Heathrow and turn ourselves over to the good people at Adventures by Disney.