Recently, I spent a rather overcast (but not rainy!) day in Bath. It's kind of a hike from London- about 2 1/2 hours by train, and it's actually much closer to Cardiff than I had thought it would be. Next time, lesson learned- combine it with a trip to Wales instead of hustling to make it back to London at the end of the day.
They also used Bath as a stand-in for Paris in the latest Hollywood incarnation of Les Misérables.
This is the Pulteney Bridge. I think this is where Javert offs himself in the film? I don't know, it was one of those movies I kind of put on for background noise. Although, after hearing Rusell Crowe attempt to sing, my heart was somewhat gladden when he chose to throw himself off a bridge. And that's the end of having to listen to that!
Even on a Very Grey Day, Bath oozed charm.
Or, even if you saw something less-than-charming, you forgave it instantly.
One thing about the uniformity of the Bath Stone used in every building: if you don't clean your house, it shows. The stones go from limestone glow to smoggy dull filth very quickly.
I probably should have taken this girl's example and rolled back down the hill, just for fun.
I strategically waited until the end of the day to pay my way into the main attraction here: the Roman Baths that give Bath its name. It's been a tourist attraction for much longer than most places, as the Romans would come here to clean up and gossip and relax in the warm waters.
For good reason: this is the only hot spring in all of the UK. The Romans built a huge complex of baths here to take advantage. The site is still surrounded by spas, and people come here to relax and soak in the more modern baths nearby.
Oddly enough, the spring and the roman bath had been forgotten about until somewhat modern times, when it was uncovered in the stinky oozing mud, and restored by throwing a Georgian facade on the front of it. Somehow, it works. The Victorians rediscovered the site and swore by its healing waters. You can still buy little bottles of bath spring water in the gift shop to bring home to ailing friends.
There was a musician with a guitar and amp entertaining people in the square with what can only be described as noise pollution. I loved the looks he was getting when he tried a very cat-in-heat version of "Stairway to Heaven" out on the crowd:
Anyway: Roman baths, very cool things indeed. They are crowded, but I waited until later in the afternoon and the tour buses had cleared out and it left a more leisurely crowd. The audio guide that comes with the price of admission is filled with much wisdom and insight, and walks you through rooms packed full of artifacts and objects found nearby, along with the multi-roomed bath house with the bubbling hot spring running through it.
My favorite thing:
People would write curses on bits of tin or lead, roll them up and throw them into the spring as a kind of wishing well to the goddess in charge. Most of them were hilarious: petty and mean, with some reporting a list of suspects of who they are accusing with a theft of clothes or jewelry from the spa, or reporting a perceived slight.
What was refreshing was people seemed truly taken by the place. It was very low on the whining children quotient.
The spa was quite impressive, with the steam rising off the blue-green waters. If only they cared to really capitalize and let you take a dip, as all this talk about baths and relaxing in saunas was really starting to make me feel like I needed to be included in this ritual.
I also took a peek inside Bath Abbey, an impressive monument originally built in the 7th century upon a Roman temple.
It's kind of a hike from London, but it wouldn't be a bad place to spend a couple of days, as there are several museums that I didn't even get a chance to see, and lots of cute shops and cafes to relax in.
Oh, and the spas. How could I have been so stupid as to not hit a spa while I was there?