Thursday, June 4, 2009

Romans, countrymen, it's time for a Bath

It was a little cooler this morning so breakfast under the sun shining through the Conservatory roof was just lovely thank you. A really nice breakfast it was too - a good selection of cereals, fresh (tropical) fruit slices on the table, plunger coffee and a cooked to order hot selection. I chose to go with a lighter poached eggs on toast while Michael opted for the whole Hot English Breakfast. This will no doubt see us past lunchtime!

Michael heads into the Tourist Information Centre to enquire about the Bath Red City Bus Tour. Walking along the impressively wide Pulteney Street he comes in to the city centre passed the Guildhall indoor markets complete with painted pigs. Information and map in hand, he returns. I, in the meantime, complete the blog listing and upload it. The Internet connection is variable and Greg, our host, makes sure that I can access it - even allowing me to use their kitchen - thanks Greg, greatly appreciated.

We started with that familiar City Red Bus Tour - well in fact, we started with two of them. There are two routes through Bath - one that does the inner city area and another that goes further afield around the perimeter of the city and includes the University.

Bath is really an amazing city. The architecture is something else again - with the credit going primarily to two architects, John Wood the Elder and then on his death, John Wood the Younger (his son). They were responsible for the beauty of the symmetrical, grand Georgian designs. The crowning glory are the Royal Crescent and then the Circus. These both feature 4 - 5 storied terraces that are set in graceful curves and all built in Bath Stone - a local yellow limestone. Of course, this architecture complements the earlier Roman and then medieval constructions. The Circus is aptly named for it clearly represents a Roman amphitheatre, with the circular village green the arena. All that was missing were the Gladiatorea and Venerati, and the Emperor pressing his thumb!

Once we were back in town after the tours, Bath Abbey was the first port of call. This spectacular piece of architecture dates back to the early 12th century where a great abbey was created which dominated Medieval Bath. In 1499 the then Bishop of Bath and Wells, Oliver King, dreamed of angels ascending and descending ladders to Heaven and the former Abbey was rebuilt to what stands today. And those angels are still climbing (and some falling) today! There is so much to see, but so little time in which to see it! We forgo the opportunity to climb the tower for views over the City as it is a one hour excursion.

After grabbing a quick milkshake we took ourselves into those famous Roman Baths whose entry, like the Abbey, faces into the Abbey Churchyard - the huge open square that surrounds the Abbey. As you enter, you go through a 'modern' building (dates back to the19th century) and then from behind a glass promenade you begin to get views of those famous waters. They are a full storey below you and this provides a magnificent view. Then you walk around an outside perimeter that has 10 Romanesque statues depicting the emperors while all the time, the Abbey dominates the air space around you.

Now, I was quite disappointed. I thought that the entire baths dated back to the Romans. But this is not the case. The Roman Baths were not discovered and explored until the late nineteenth century. The statues date to 1894 - they were carved in time for the grand opening of the Roman Baths in 1897. In reality, significant construction was undertaken to develop the site as we see it today - there were no full columns left standing and you can clearly see where they were reconstructed from the stumps that remained.

Once you walk around this perimeter, you go through a huge museum (like, it takes at least an hour to just walk through without stopping to explore all the exhibits). In here though, you continue to get glimpses of the baths while exploring the history of the Romans in Bath. As you go down deeper under the ground level, you find the inner workings of the baths and its various ante-chambers still exists as the Romans had built it. This includes lead piping, drainage channels, tunnels, furnaces, under-floor heating, plunge pools etc. And then, and only then, do you have the opportunity to walk out and face that beautiful and evocative space.

Despite what I have just said, the knowledge that it is not all original does not diminish the beauty or its impact one little bit. I always remember Helen telling us how beautiful and special the baths were, and I totally agree. One absolutely amazing piece of trivia is that the lead sheeting that Roman workers pounded to an evenly thick 3cm layer and then riveted in to place on the bottom of the pool (overlapping them to ensure that the pool was water-tight and that no fresh water from the water table could seep into the pool water) is still in place today - still water-tight - after 1900+ years!!! I'd like to see any plumber today achieve that!

But this bath, as beautiful as it is, was only one of a number of baths and the King's Bath still exists in exclusion - you can only look down onto, or out onto it - you cannot get up close and personal. The water that feeds the baths, and the modern day spas of Bath, has bubbled up out of the earth at a constant rate and temperature for all those years also. Mother nature really knows how to weave her magic. We continue our exploration, talking with staff and actor characters that all add a dimension to our visit (they all love the Aussies - but everyone keeps asking where the corks for Michael's Akubra are!). We finally leave as they are closing the doors behind us at 6 pm.

All around the Abbey are pieces of public art - really quirky pieces that seem to feature rabbits a lot. Kind of lends a contemporary feel to this much older space. And there were so many other things that we saw as well - the fascinating Pulteney Bridge that was modelled on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. This bridge crosses the River Avon and between the two of them, provides wonderful postcard views.

It was a warm day in the sun and sheltered from the wind and again I am reminded of the Noel Coward tune - Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Still can't believe how the lily whites are prepared to sacrifice their tender skins to the ravages of the scorching sun.

ally Lunn's House has existed as a bakery and eatery since 1680 in the oldest house in Bath dating back to the 1400's. Many people have told us we should not miss having a meal here, so before we head back to the tranquility of the Orangery, we join the queue to have dinner. It didn't take too long to get a seat thankfully, and the wait staff were as busy as. The menu sounds interesting, but the meals are very - well, homely is probably the best word I could use to describe it. Michael says that they are very authentic - just minus the weevils! Was a pity after the huge plug it was given. And after the wonderful meal we had last night.

Michael gets a few night shots before bed - ahh yes, that comfortable bed beckons after a pretty full day - physically and mentally!

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