Monday, June 20, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

England Day 2: Bath 

Today, I walked into a Jane Austen novel, and I could not be happier to say that I did. Bath is a stunning city with beautiful town houses, quaint streets filled with boutique shops, and amazing architecture. Whether walking around the posh Royal Crescent and surrounding area, contemplating buying a bottle full of Roman bath water, or lighting candles in the Bath Cathedral, we were always happy to be walking around in the sunshine and enjoying this historic city.

Our train left around 9AM and drove us through the scenic countryside of Wiltshire. Everything glowed under the sun and made the whole scene look straight out of a movie. We rolled past fields, small villages, and collected more and more people until we finally arrived in Bath. I had absolutely no expectations, and I was excited to find out what the city I had read so much about would be like in person.

Though we had a bit of a rocky start with the map and getting our bearings from the train station, we eventually made our way to the famous Royal Crescent buildings. Built in 1767, the complex is made of 30 houses—some of which are still private homes and some of which have been converted into a luxury spa hotel. Either way, this complex oozes wealth and class, delivered in one of the best examples of Georgian architecture in England. The beautiful curved façade of the complex, at a high point of the city looking out, says all anyone needs to know about who can live here and for how much. I was awed to see it in person at all, and humbled by how historic and amazing the iconic site is. I was beginning to see what was so special about Bath.

After seeing houses we could never afford and looking out onto Royal Victoria Park for a bit, we made our way back to the city center and stopped at some shops along the way. On our way up, we had seen a window display full of trees, ornaments, and other sparkly things on the corner of Brock Street and Margaret’s Buildings. We decided to go in on the way back. The store is called Alexandra May, an adorable little boutique filled with baubles, bits and bobs, and a beautifully decorated interior. I looked through the stationary section and lusted after a few mugs while Diana took pictures of jewelry she wanted to look for later. Everything in the store was something I would have loved to purchase, if I didn’t have to fly home in a few days.

We then decided to walk down the rest of the street, since it seemed jam packed with cute little independent shops and restaurants—just what we love to explore. Looking into the shop windows told us we probably could not fit or afford half of what was offered, but it was fun to peek around. At the end of the street, however, we found our haven: Bath Old Books. Immediately after walking in, we knew we would want to spend awhile there. The man behind the counter was playing The Brothers Karamazov on audiobook, there were antique books from floor to ceiling, and there was a basement with even more things to look at. It might be a hike from the center of town, but every bibliophile needs to have a pop in to this store. They have every type of book imaginable, along with a healthy collection of maps, prints, and original artwork all jam-packed into a tiny two-story shop. We spent 45 minutes in there easily, and would have stayed longer if we didn’t have most of the city yet to explore.

The main reason we left was to get to the Jane Austen Center before noon, so we could get a discounted ticket. I am personally a huge Austen fan—not so much for the romance quality, but for the social issues she wrote about and the fact that she was a woman shedding light on women’s situations at all. She is a powerful figure in feminine writing, and both Diana and I wanted to learn more about her. So we walked back through another impressive round building complex called The Circus, and then made our way over to the Jane Austen Center on Gay Street. 

Though the ticket to see the exhibits was quite for what the exhibit showed, I thought it was ultimately worth it to go and explore the life of Jane Austen. We know so little about her in the English world, since no one really knew about her until after her death. It was fascinating hearing about her large family, her own economic situation that mimicked those of her characters, and how she lived in Bath for quite some time. At the end of the tour, we got to try on some Georgian dresses and write with quill and ink. Signed photos of many British stars lined the walls as we exited, reminding me of how much I do love a good Austen film.

All in all, I would probably recommend getting food there rather than paying for a ticket, and then going all out for the expensive ticket to see the Roman Baths. But it was quite a nice little gift shop and restaurant. Sadly, the tearooms were closed, which was kind of the main reason we stopped there. But hopefully I can come back and enjoy a nice noon tea and cake someday!

As soon as we left, the threat of rain loomed over us. Though it never actually did rain, we wanted to get to a covered place to get some lunch or shop, just in case. After weaving our way through the streets and stopping in to a few more little boutiques, we ended up walking into a mall called Milsom Place on Milsom Street. There, we did a quick round and decided on Jamie’s Italian. I had heard great things about Jamie Oliver’s namesake restaurant, and they were not wrong. I got a caprese sandwich toasted on wheat bread—absolutely delicious. Filling, and exactly what we needed as a pick me up to explore the remaining half of Bath.

And explore we did! We walked into so many teashops, clothes shops, and coffee shops. Paperchase was a fun place that I am glad I got to cross off my bucket list, as well as Caffe Nero and T2. We walked around the city center a little while more and stumbled on a covered market with Union Jack flags, a skylight, and lots of cute vendors. We also walked into an amazing place called Fudge Kitchen, where we sampled fresh sea salt chocolate fudge and bought some for the road.

Bright and sunny weather now greeted us, so we decided to take some pictures of the amazing Bath Abbey and have a look inside. The building is a former Benedictine monastery built in the 12th century. There was so much impressive stonework, glasswork, and general craftsmanship in this building that I completely forgot it was older than America. Perhaps the most impressive features to me were the main door to the church that faces the baths, as well as the beautiful stained glass windows. The vaulted ceiling is another piece that many people praise—myself included. Awe always accompanies me into ancient churches like this, and Bath Abbey was no exception. I spent a long time just looking through the different chapels and parts of the church before we decided to head out for the final bits of exploring.

Unfortunately, we did not get to see the inside of the Roman Baths. We had not anticipated the lines and did not leave enough time to see them before having to catch the train. Plus, it was quite expensive. This is where we realized we should have saved our money on the Jane Austen ticket and instead bought a ticket to the Baths earlier in the day. Even so, I do not really mind not seeing the Baths. We still had an amazing day exploring the city and learning about the history that lives there. For the half hour we had left, we went through the biggest Lush I have ever seen in my life and made a spin through a two story Tiger.

A very nice worker in Lush gave us a tour of their basement spa, where they have a whole “menu” of treatment options tailored specifically to individuals’ needs. The treatment begins with a consultation with the spa worker, and a nice little snack. Part of this involves picking a word from a white board filled with common spa requests: relaxation, de-stress, calming, etc. Whichever word sticks out to the client, the Lush worker will use the vial of treatment oil labeled with that same word. Then, clients can take a shower stocked with all sorts of Lush bath products and prepare for their treatment. After the treatment is finished, clients sit down to a relaxing cup of tea flavored with the same ingredients used in the oil. Pretty awesome, right? He left us with a menu, and I am honestly going to look up where I can get a treatment when I’m back home. I was thoroughly impressed.

Digression aside, we had a fun final few minutes in Bath before hopping on the very full train back to Salisbury. We stood the whole way and were very happy to be back sitting in a car and on our way home. But the day of exploring was not quite done yet!

We had been wanting to look around St. Michael’s Church for awhile, since it sits literally right next door to the house we were staying at. It is a 12th century building that was rebuilt in the 1800s, but still looks more historic than many things I’ve seen in the States. The wooden vaulted ceiling and wall engravings are some of the most notable pieces, though the whole grounds are quaint and medieval and lovely. And literally right next door. I still cannot believe it.

After that, we just had a nice dinner and took some more pictures of flowers around the house. We were fairly tired after a long day of travel and shopping, but so happy that we got the chance to see one of the most iconic cities in England. I will never forget walking through the streets and shops, wanting to live in a place so historic and yet so fashionable and unique. Bath was definitely one of my favorite places we have been so far. I would recommend it to anyone for a great day of easy exploring and fun shopping.

Tomorrow, we head off on the train to London to see the sights and do the tourist things. I absolutely cannot wait to start the next leg of our adventure!

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