Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dr Who in Bath

I was able to get to bed a little earlier last night (10:30 pm) and crashed. The blackout curtains in the bedroom were working really well and it was after 7 am when I woke (Michael was, of course, still pumping zzzz’s) – yeeha 8 ½ hours sleep – that is a first for ages!

The shower was great so the day is good!! And the traditional Welsh breakfast of poached egg, bacon, sausage, tomato, lava bread (seaweed & oats) and cockles (cold & sans shell) was, well, interesting. Actually it was tasty even if Michael did eat my cockles!

We are continuing our look around Cardiff this morning and before we head into the city centre we go to have a look at the Llandaff Cathedral (the Catholic Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul). We found parking in a little square hidden from the main streets – turns out it was the original market square. The church is actually more interesting from the outside than the inside, although it has a beautiful Chapel to Our Lady. The other thing that it has is a very interesting pipe holder for a new organ that is currently being installed – can’t say that it appealing to my tastes – the arches they have created to support it seem very out of place with the classic arches of the church’s construction.

We have decided not to do the Red City Bus Tour as most things are within an easy walk of parking and we have already seen Cardiff Bay. We continue into town past Cardiff Castle and bless her little heart, the parking fairy provides us with a space literally right outside the council and the courts. The Cardiff City Hall is a truly impressive piece of architecture whose dome top is crowned with a bronze statue of the Welsh dragon. Michael went in asked for a look and they showed him around the impressive foyer areas and in to the even more impressive Council Chambers (note the laptops on the desks – yes, technology catches us all).

The National Museum Cardiff is just next door and has free entry (as do all national museums and art galleries in Wales and Scotland). There are a number of major exhibits including the geology of Wales, the china industries and a very impressive art collection. What we want to have a look at though is the Charles Darwin exhibit and a showing of wonderful photographs by Diane Arbus. There were a number of sculptures by Rodin and the painting Camden Town Portrait by Walter Sickert, who was once considered a possible suspect in the Ripper murders (only Michael would know that piece of trivia).

In the foyer there is a screen with a live feed to a small colony of peregrine falcons that are nesting in the ledges of the City Hall Bell Tower. Back for their third year, they sat on their eggs for the required time (28-32 days) but then abandoned the nest and as it is in accessible, no-one knows whether the chicks died soon after hatching or even if the eggs hatched. When we go back outside, you can see evidence of these nests high in a number of the surrounding buildings and statues.

The car parking ticket needs to be renewed so I go back while Michael races up to Alexandra Gardens a block away to take a closer look at the stunning war memorials – one to the WWI and the other to the Falklands War.

And then for something totally different . . .
I had seen the advertisements for a Doctor Who Exhibition back towards Cardiff Bay and so off we go. It is located within an entertainment complex with the cinemas. There are warnings re strobe lights and advice to children that if the adults they are with get scared, to hold their hands! Nice. The exhibition is incredibly well done. I have tolerated Dr Who for years and years, and the work they have put into this impresses even me. It goes without saying that Michael is almost wetting his pants!

Ah – Dr Who…. Yes, Maria is correct by stating the exhibition impressed even her. Any visitor could not be tempted into showing a modicum of enthusiasm towards this showcase. Indeed it was most impressive, as it covered the series’ history from its inception through to its current intrepid Doctor. Several of the exhibits displayed the costumes worn by the successive actors: John Pertwee (Dr Who #3); Tom Baker (Dr Who #4) – to name a couple. Other exhibits displayed some of the Dr’s protagonists: Sontaran Warrior; Cybermen and Dr Who’s nemesis – the Daleks.

Strobe and laser lights flashed and swept the exhibition; whilst, displays were supported by television screens showing excerpts from the respective series. Overall, the special effects added to the ambience; however, the display of the Daleks’ rise was the icing on the cake. Their sound resonated while they did the Dalek dance and threw their firepower at us. A little corny in the high tech world of today’s animatronics but when you think that these were developed almost 50 years ago, it is impressive.

Its almost 4 pm and we need to be heading towards Bath. It will take us about one and a half hours to get there and we really want to detour briefly into Caerleon to have a look at the Roman Bath House and fort. As we are leaving Cardiff there is a huge traffic halt and for about 7 kms we are crawling at 8 – 15 kph. Roadworks….again! Once we are through them, it takes about 30 minutes to get to Caerleon and we arrive right on 5 pm – and just as the Bath House (which also has free entry) closes. The amphitheatre and barracks however are open all the time and so we can take a look.

The fort must have been rambling, and possibly the size of a small satellite city, if the area of the barrack precinct is any indication. As with most Roman forts, all that remains are the foundations, ditches and perimeter walls…maybe. I suppose to give the area some perspective, the floor area of each of four barracks’ is 40 metres by 10 metres. There are the remains of the two kitchens and four external ovens and two granaries. A 100 metre section of the fort’s eastern perimeter wall remains, and runs parallel to the amphitheatre.

The amphitheatre seems to have fared better than the barracks, being built as an arena in lieu of a semi-circular theatre. This colosseum could seat a modest 5000 spectators, who would be entertained by blood sports of varying degrees. However the amphitheatre would also have been used by the garrisoned troops as a training ground. The arena’s external walls have long disappeared; seating is evident and preserved under a dense layer of soil and grass. The main and alternate gateways still remain as does the small snack bar with its oven. The amphitheatre has been rejuvenated as an open-air theatre, and while we were there a troupe were making preparations for some sort of performance.

Then it is on to Bath. We get back on the motorway and join the heavy traffic towards Bristol and Bath that must be commuters. It was all uneventful until we hit Bath when, road works yet again means that the traffic crawls. Not a problem though – I have phoned Denise at our accommodation so she knows when to expect us.

Now that Kate is armed with the address, we have no problems finding Queen Charlotte's Orangery B&B – gosh, what did we do without her? (he he he) We are met at the door by Denise who leads us into a fairytale. This is the original Orangery built for the visit by King George III and Queen Charlotte to Bath in 1817. The door to the Orangery sits alone in the sheltering wall and is very unobtrusive. You step down two stone flagging steps into a circular room and look out through glass french doors into the stunning garden beyond. Denise tells us that before she and husband, Colin, came to Bath about 2½ years ago that they had run a larger B&B in London for 14 years, winning the Best B&B Award for some years. When they sold the business the new owners did not want the garden, so they dug it up and packed it into a pantech and brought it to Bath with them – which explains the mature garden after only 2 years.

The Orangery sits behind the house constructed for the royal visit that now houses 5 apartments that cannot be altered in any way. Evidently one has a huge ballroom! This building was the orangery - the hothouse or conservatory. It is very obvious that Denise and Colin love what they do. The welcome is warm and genuine and the offer of a cuppa in the garden on arrival is a lovely touch. So in the late afternoon / early evening (7:30ish) light we sit amongst the roses and lavender and wind down from the trip. But our joy is only half done – Denise opens the door to our room - The Amelia Room, and all I can do is gasp! It is decorated in much the same style that you would expect that the bedroom might have been for the royals.

The bed is huge and every little detail has been addressed from the soft (pea-less) mattress to the firm but soft pillows, to muted bed lamps and period furniture. We overlook the garden from our window. The bathroom is large and airy and you step into a heavenly rain-head shower.

Once we have taken in the joys of the room, we decide to go for dinner. Denise has given us a ‘Restaurants in Bath’ guide map. Parking is the biggest issue in Bath as we find in many older cities. Even more so here, as the city sits in a tight valley, with residential areas climbing the steep slopes. After unsuccessfully trying to get parking near the first two we consider, my little angel weaves her magic again and we have a park about four kerb places away from the Beaujolais Restaurant. It is 9:30 pm and the kitchen is about to close so we are asked to ‘please order quickly’. The menu has a nice range with three choices on the set menu and another five on the a-la-carte. We opt for the latter, tempted by a number of the offerings. Finally (ok, ok quickly) we decide.

While waiting for our meals we are served two types of home-made bread and hazelnut oil and I sip on a Raspberry Bellini – man, am I loving these raspberries!
Homemade Ravioli of Fresh Tomatoes with Black Olive Butter (Michael)
Brixham Crab Patties, Fresh Cucumber Salsa and Lemon Dressing (Maria)
Rump of lamb served with fresh peas, broad beans and barley(Michael)
Corn-fed chicken served with a warm potato and leek salad and Madeira Jus (Maria)
Chocolate pecan tart with stem ginger ice cream (Michael)
Pistachio sorbet with caramelised pistachios(Maria)
And we finished with espressos.
Now, this meal was superb, from the breads to the coffee. Without overdoing it, it is hard to do it justice. The ingredients are combined to produce a wonderful marriage of flavours – so that you taste each individual flavour through a wedded bliss. And the service was excellent. Our waitresses (Brigette, formerly known as Malagie! from the Champagne area in France, and Jenna who was born and raised in – Hobart!) are friendly and attentive. I guess we showed just the right level of enthusiasm as the chef, Simon, came to say hello as he was finishing for the night. Our one true regret of the night is forgetting and then not going back for the camera. So, sorry, no photos.

So, back to the Orangery and a night’s sleep fit for a Queen!

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