Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bath, AKA spring break week two

We arrived home from Holland on Friday, washed clothes, repacked our bags and took off for our second spring break trip a couple days later.  I successfully drove us to Bath without jumping any curbs, driving in the wrong direction down a one-way street or putting the husband/kids out along the side of the road for crimes like not checking the tom-tom route before we left the house and misdemeanors along the lines of wanting to stop at every service area for another Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut or Starbucks frappuccino.  

I'm definitely not someone who enjoys a leisurely vacation, or at least not the getting there part of the trip.  I like to board a flight at the crack of dawn or drive 12 hours with just a single pit stop.  My husband and girls know better than to guzzle down a whole soda or bottle of water on a road trip.  Once we reach our destination, THEN the vacation will officially begin.  

Skipping hotels and going the flat rental route, I found a great 3/2 townhouse that was built in the 1700s.  I love how they built everything vertically back then.  The ground floor contained a single car garage and kitchen.  The first floor (what we call second floor in the US) had a living area and bedroom with ensuite bath.  The top floor above that contained two further bedrooms and a family bath.  Living in this home would get you lots of good exercise.  Speaking of exercise, we walked across this picturesque bridge, the Pulteney Bridge, every day on our way into Bath.

Our townhouse was located right off Pulteney Street, a major thoroughfare that leads straight into the city of Bath.  The picture above was taken from a boat on the Avon River, not THE Avon associated with Will Shakespeare.  On our lazy tour down the river, we learned that there are many rivers named Avon in England and that the word Avon actually means river.  That seems a bit like naming a street street, but who am I to question the little quirks of the English language.  

This second picture was taken looking in the opposite direction that we traveled on the boat, away from the bridge.  You can just see the seagulls hanging out on the lip of the spillway, getting a drink of fresh water.  The river floated along at a gentle pace, but our boat's tour guide let us know that in the winter the level of the river typically rises anywhere from 4-8 feet.  That certainly reminds me of some flooding we've seen in the Texas Hill Country, with the waters of Cibolo Creek flooding roadways.

The picture above is the abbey at Bath.  It's a beautiful old sanctuary that, like so many other places in England, has been built upon an even older original structure.  If you look carefully on both of the towers rising on either side of the main door, you can just make out little ladders carved into the stonework.  Angels are seen ascending the ladder to heaven.  I can only assume that the ones descending the ladder are not headed to paradise.  Maybe the stonemason who created this part of the exterior ornamentation is telling us to choose wisely in this life so we'll reap our rewards in the next.

Adjacent to the abbey you will find the Roman Baths.  It's amazing to me that we were walking all over something that was established in 43 AD, in the years following the crucifixion of Jesus.  The Romans discovered these thermal springs and built extensive baths on this site.  In one area you can see bubbles making their way to the surface and steam rising off the warm waters.  Annie put her hand in the green waters you see above, told us it was indeed warm and then promptly asked for an antibacterial wipe.

Many of the original structures the Romans built have been excavated and you can see how they would have been used in ancient times.  In the first picture, you can see the original bricks the Romans used to frame the spot where the spring's flow is channeled into the baths.  It has a reddish-orange coating from the iron found in the water that has been diverted over that same spot for almost 2000 years.  In the second picture, you can see how the Romans provided underfloor heating to the various bathing chambers.  The little mounds - stacks of tiles - provide a honeycomb for the stones that would have been placed atop it.  Steam or smoke would have woven beneath this subfloor heating system called hypocaust.  Youngest daughter Callie has been studying the ancient Celts and Romans in 4th grade, so she told us all about it.  In the cold and damp climate that is an English winter, this is how the Romans kept their homes warm.

We decided to take a Mad Max afternoon tour on our last day in Bath.  It came highly recommended in the Rick Steves guidebook for England.  After a scenic drive through the twisty, winding hills in this part of England that made me feel a bit woozy and half carsick, our first stop was Lacock Village.  This charming settlement of several streets dates back to the 13th century and has remained largely untouched over the centuries.  The structures consist of limewashed, half-timbered and stone houses, with the last one built in the 1800s.  During the Middle Ages, Lacock became a prosperous and thriving town through its wool industry.  Nowadays it's a sleepy little tourist village that has served as a set for many period films, as well as the Harry Potter series (third picture above).  You won't find a Starbucks here and wouldn't want to, because it would certainly spoil its quaint historic appeal to the herds of visitors like us that roam its streets every year.

The second stop on our afternoon tour was at Stonehenge.  It sits at the top of a hill on the Salisbury Plain and it was VERY windy up there.  A couple roads converge at this point and just driving by in your auto would provide an excellent view of the stones.  They're taller than you think, though it is all roped off and you can't get right up next to them.  I was amused at the sheep grazing to the outside of the roped off walkway we used to circle the stones.  We all know that the stones have something to do with the calendar, particularly the solstice.  It's still a mystery as to who built Stonehenge and how they got some of the stones to this location from over 100 miles away.  This seems like child's play compared to the pyramids in Egypt, but is still a stunning sight to behold.  I shivered as the audio guide mentioned the slaughter stone, which sounds like something I wouldn't particularly have wanted to witness or take part in several thousand years ago.  

We had a very relaxing trip to Bath and enjoyed seeing some new sights in England.  However, we made sure to return on Thursday, April 28, so we wouldn't miss the hoopla surrounding Will and Kate's nuptials.  My next blog post will be about our adventures in London the day of the royal wedding.

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