Monday, May 22, 2000
We had a wonderful breakfast before making the 10-minute walk downtown to the Roman Baths. We wanted to be at the Baths as soon as they opened at 9 a.m. This was another site that our Heritage Pass covered.
We were given the ever popular "telephone tour device." This tour, unlike the one at Stonehenge, was very interesting. The Roman Baths should not be missed. The ruins of the baths are extensive and all covered by modern buildings. The baths were rediscovered a hundred or so years ago. The city had the foresight to preserve the baths and purchased the buildings in the area.
There is an extensive museum filled with a variety of Roman stone carvings. There is also a section showing the things found in the pools. These included coins and jewelry - just like what you would find at the bottom of a pool today. One thing you wouldn't find in the local YMCA pool is curses. "Curses" are small metal pieces on which a curse has been inscribed and thrown into the pool - some of these cursors were very funny.
The water still comes out of the ground at a very hot temperature and at a consistent flow -this is impressive when you consider it has been doing this for at least the last 2,000 years. The water flows through a series of three pools to allow it to cool enough to allow bathing.
Currently, the baths are closed and you are not allowed to touch the water. This is due to the finding of bacteria that can cause meningitis in the water many years ago. However, there is a plan to filter the water and open public baths in 2001. The water has the same smell as the hot springs in Yellowstone or Hauraz, Peru and that is the smell of sulfur.
We spent over an hour in the museum, which was just enough time. There was a free city walking tour at 10:30 that we wanted to take. Above the Roman Baths is the "Pump Room". This room was built during the nineteenth century and was used as a social hall. Today it is a fancy and popular tearoom. Before joining the walking tour, I made reservations for tea at 1 p.m.
Having a few minutes before the tour started we sat outside listening to a street performer playing a recorder. Now, I can play a recorder - just give me a tape. Ok, that is a bad joke. Actually he was very good and had a large crowd listening. He had found a perfect spot for busking.
I snapped a picture of a camera on the square. The one thing I noticed about England was the cameras. There are cameras everywhere: cameras on the interstate, cameras on stop lights, cameras on every street corner. Yes, I am sure this may be a deterrent and help to identify a criminal, but it is very intrusive. Just a comment. The question is, "Who is watching the watchers?" Can you identify the origin of that saying?
There are tours of Bath conducted by volunteers. The tours are free, and they meet right outside of the Roman Baths. There were perhaps 100 people or so waiting for the tour. We were divided into three groups. Our guide was very soft spoken. There were also three young British teenagers that kept interrupting with smart remarks and rude comments. Each time one of them spoke it threw our guide off track and it took him a moment or so to continue. We quietly excused ourselves and joined another group. I later saw these young "gentlemen" walking off, obviously having quickly grown bored with the tour.
Our new tour guide was a woman who was very knowledgeable about the town. We walked around the city center, up to the Royal Crescent, down Brock Street (where I actually ran into the Laundromat to check on my clothes. They were ready so after paying I gave them to Alan to run up to the room. It cost £6 to wash, dry, and fold and I left a £1 tip.), to the Circus, to the Museum of Costumes, through a shopping center (where we did not stop to purchase anything - just a short cut), to the Bridge, back to Bath Abbey and the end of the tour. The entire tour took just over two hours and was worth every minute.
Our table was ready when we arrived back at the Pump Room. Pat and I had soup, bread and cheese and Alan had chicken and couscous. I ordered a hard cider. These are very popular in England, and they are very good. We also order a glass of "Bath water." This is water from the spa that has been purified. The best way to describe its taste is to say that it taste like the water eggs have been boiled in - as if you would drink that water. There was live music being played during tea and the room was crowded. If you wish to have tea in the pump room, I would advise making reservations early in the day as I saw several people turned away.
Our next stop was the Jane Austen museum. On the way to the museum we stopped in a small store to purchase some postcards. We also passed a movie theater where the new Russel Crowe movie, "Gladiator" was showing. I found it interesting that they showed the start, running, and end times on the board.
Jane lived in Bath for several years and did not particularly care for the place. If she had been able to visit the museum in honor of her she would not have cared for it either. The "museum" (and to call it such is an overstatement) was mainly large pictures of the town with captions of Jane's descriptions from her books. There were a few period costumes and a few original letters and publications of her works. I was very disappointed with the museum and would not recommend it to anyone.
We debated about going to the Museum of Costume and decided to skip it. I had seen on a local map that an Internet Café was located a few blocks away. For £2 we got 30 minutes of Internet access. I sent a couple of quick emails and checked my online account to see my bank balance. I saw that I was getting the great exchange rate of 1.49 from using the ATM with no access charges. At the Internet Café were free "3D" maps of Bath - by this I mean a map that has the streets as well as drawings of the buildings. The only difference between these free maps and ones that were being sold in the stores was that these had advertisements around the outer edge. To me this was a bonus because it showed where various shops were located on the map. Later in the day I withdrew more money from another ATM to lend Pat and Alan.
It was around 2:30 when we arrived back at the room. We considered driving out to Cheddar Gorge but I didn't want to have to go to the trouble. Instead we decided to visit 1 Royal Crescent. 1 Royal Crescent is a museum allowing you to tour one of the town houses on the crescent. These homes are huge. There were 6 or 7 rooms you were able to enter. In each room was an attendant who would explain different items and answer any questions you might have.
The most interesting item I saw in the home was the dog wheel in the kitchen. (Now would be a good time to go back and read about the kitchen of Anne Hathaway's home). A dog wheel is a device like a hamster wheel, only larger. A small dog would walk on the wheel that would rotate the meat hanging over the fire to keep it from burning. I am not sure how they motivated the dog to keep walking. This was an extremely popular method. Some homes would employ small boys to sit and turn the meat.
Afterwards, I purchased a red "mailbox" coin bank in the gift shop. We went to the small side street and looked through several bookstores and antique shops. One bookstore had an original copy of the "Alabama" Arctic Expedition. I have always enjoyed reading about arctic and Antarctic exploration. I am not sure why this expedition was known as the "Alabama" expedition. If anyone knows about this, please write. One reason I still don't know is that the book cost £100 - way more than I would ever be willing to spend.
It was an nearly 5 p.m. when we went back to our rooms. Pat and I took naps and Alan settled into one of his computer magazines. Around 7 we got ready to go out for dinner. I had seen a Pizza Hut earlier in the day and had decided to go there. Alan had been very good about putting up with my restaurant choices so it was time to go somewhere I knew he would like.
We headed downtown to where I thought I had seen the Pizza Hut earlier. On the way we stopped in a huge bookstore and spent sometime looking around. As usual, I picked up a couple of books that I thought I wanted, carried them around for awhile, decided I didn't need them, and put them back.
Arriving downtown, I couldn't find Pizza Hut. It wasn't where I left it. So we went to find somewhere else to eat. We saw several places but nothing excited us. After walking several blocks we turned a corner and there was Pizza Hut.
Pizza Hut was having a "Watership Down" promotion. I understand that there is a new animated kids series in England based upon the book. For £14.50 we got two medium specialty pizzas, two orders of garlic bread, two orders of hot wings, and two stuffed kids toys (I got the Bigwig and the Hazel stuffed toys). The pizza was very good and this was one of the cheapest meals we had on the trip. I remember eating at Pizza Hut in Lima and paying over $25 USD just for a pizza.
It was late by the time we left and just turning dark. We leisurely strolled up the hill (for the third or fourth time that day) and back to Brocks. It was amazing to me how empty the city becomes - downtown was a ghost town even at 7 with the majority of the stores already closed. A friend of mine had been in Bath just two weeks earlier and on a weekend. He had told me how crowded the city was with twenty somethings out partying all night. We couldn't have found things more different. Of course, we were here on a Monday night, which does make a difference. Late that night I woke up and leaned out the fifth floor window in our room. The city was completely quite.