Weather: Excellent sunny weather
MP3 track of the day: Spider in the bath
Now before I go on, I suppose I should explain what 'snap shot' means within the title of this blog. It basically means that this blog will be a shortened version of my usual blogs, due to a variety of reasons. It is, in effect, a 'snap shot' of my trip.
In the winter of 2014, I came back to the UK for three weeks to eat 'proper' food, meet up with friends and family and to smuggle a years worth of UK chocolate back into the 'land of the rising sun'. Though this was a very busy time, I did manage to spend a few days travelling around the UK trying to even the score in regards to 'home sites I've seen Vs foreign sites I've seen'. Being a very busy period, It is only three weeks later that I have found the time to sit down, with a cup of tea and my last remaining 'Cadbury's Caramel' chocolate bar (knew I should have bought more of them), and write a proper account of my trip. One final thing to note is that, on this trip, my mother and father accompanied me.
With the Christmas festivities over my mother, father and I no longer felt obliged to 'chit chat' with other family members, drink muled wine or eat another damn minced pie. Now with Christmas officially over – however, I must add, that we were all still off work – we found ourselves with time to spend on one of my most favourite past times; travelling.
Before arriving in the UK my mother asked me where I would like to go for a 'short break'? I answered either Oxford, Cambridge or Bath because these three magnificent cities have always been on my 'to do' list and have, rather unfortunately, gathered dust as new foreign places had taken their position at the front of the queue time, and time again. With Cambridge done only two days ago, our next target was Bath; a three hour drive south-west from our current position. The drive – as far as I can remember – went as smooth as one would expect it to be with one retired person driving and another navigating. A lot of 'you need to speak clearer' and 'oh, it may had been the previous left' occurred though, with the UK being the size of a large Walnut Whip, I kept my head down confident that we would, sooner or later, arrive at our destination.
That was until I heard the phase 'Bath is a long way isn't it?' spoken from the navigators seat (to which the driver gave an agreeing sigh). To this I perked my head up and explained, quite politely, that a three hour trip was just a 'trip to the shops' in Japan and that, for my last summer holiday, I had to drive thirteen hours just to start it. What I thought required more complaint was the level of the sun which, due to driving west, hung at 'eye level' the entire journey.
As we had started our trip around midday, it will come as no surprise that we eventually arrived in Bath around 3pm. For a city which was built before today's large quantities of traffic, it was very easy to get into the city centre and in no time at all we had found our hotel. My mother had chosen the hotel and, in my opinion, had done very well indeed. Not only was it within a five minute walk of the city centre, it was also beautiful to look at. The hotel was located in the middle of an old row of terraced stone houses. These terraces reeked of the Regency era due to their large bay windows, stone exterior and their many rooms with high ceilings. It was a very narrow hotel with four levels, including the cellar which had been turned into a dinning room. My room was very spacious with a large bed and a bathroom bigger than the bed room. We had decided to only spend a couple of minutes within our rooms as we were all very hungry. After we had freshened up, we hit the town in search of food.
As this blog will show, we did indeed find food in the form of a lovely sandwich shop however, before reaching said shop, we had to walk around a small round-a-bout and down a lovely street, both of which had beautiful Regency stone buildings lining the sides of the roads. The street, with it's small shops were pretty enough, but it was the round-a-bout which stood out due to the terraced houses creating a circle around said round-a-bout. As the sun was dropping, 'pretty' just didn't do it justice.
As mentioned earlier we found said sandwich shop and ordered a sandwich with a drink. We decided to keep our lunch light as, with the time being 4pm, it wouldn't be long until dinner.
With the sun setting we decided to take a stole through the city not really caring which way we went. We made our way along the River Avon and up towards the abbey which, being the size that it is, was really hard to miss. Even in the twilight the building looked extremely beautiful due to it's Gothic architecture and it's use of 'light stone' during it's construction. The stain glass windows were also very impressive.
Moving on we found the entrance to the old Roman Baths (which were now closed) and, what appeared to be, the main shopping street. My father loves looking in shops (any shop; it really doesn't matter) whereas I try to avoid them until there is nothing left to do. I – quite rightly – believe that the same shop can be found pretty much anywhere therefore, it is best to look at things which can only be found in the place you find yourself in at that moment. Another very annoying thing about my father is that, he'll end up dragging you into these shops, spend ages looking, and come out with nothing whereas I will always find something I either want, or have wanted for a while (this happened on no less than four occasions in Bath where I found a spare battery for my camera, a Bakewell tart, a diary and souvenir presents for friends: father £0 spent – Matthew £35.00 spent).
Our battle against the dying sun was still raging as I prised my father away from another shop window and headed to 'The Royal Crescent'. This was an area which I desperately wanted to see however, due to a liking for 'Regency era' dramas, my mother seemed to want to visit it more than I. To get there we had to walk away from the city centre up a very steep slope and into another beautiful round-a-bout area with a circle of houses. By-passing a gentleman perched against a car being sick, we took the first exit to our left and walked for only a minute until we were on the cobbled streets of The Royal Crescent. Consisting of thirty terraced houses (shaped as a 'crescent'), we stopped and marvelled at the scene in front of us. It wasn't hard to imagine that I had fallen into a Jane Austin novel (which Bath coincidently, is where she wrote her books). I imagined horse-drawn carriages pulling up to said terraced houses with tall men, in tall hats, helping ladies in beautiful dresses out of said carriages. I love places like this where history is truly alive and, I would have kept within my 'Jane Austin' world, if it wasn't for the cold and the eventual fall of night. With the time being 6pm we headed back into town to a restaurant for dinner.
As we sat in the restaurant, awaiting our meals, it was decided – pretty quickly – that none of us were up for 'clubbing' tonight. We therefore decided that, once we had consumed our meal, it would be best if we headed back to our hotel for an early night (I was already visioning a beautiful hot bath followed by a cup of coco, in bed, and pieces of the chocolate which I had just bought from WH Smith – note that my father didn't buy anything from WH Smith – whilst watching TV before falling asleep at 9:30pm. Already thinking like a 60 year old …. proud of it!). Eventually our meals arrived; my mother had ordered a meat pie of some sort whereas my father had gone for a classic Christmas dinner. I, in my attempt to eat as many different types of British food as possible before heading back to a world of rice and noodles, opted for a meat which is very difficult to get in Japan; lamb. When my dinner arrived the lamb was coated in a beautiful red sauce and looked divine; there were plenty of potatoes and vegetables however, these respectfully stood to one side of the plate allowing the customer to see the lamb in all it's glory.
I can't begin to describe how good this lamb tasted. Each mouthful was as though God himself has analysed my 'top ten' tastes and put them all within this lamb. Normally, I would offer a 'forks worth' of food to other family members around the table – and they would do the same - so that we could try each others meal … not this time! It was as if time had stood still and, though no cook would recommend it, the coconut shake I had complimented the lamb perfectly. Once consumed I sat back; currently within my world flowers had bloomed, rabbits were jumping about and there was a beautiful rainbow plastered across a blue sky. That was until a great big wedge of turkey landed in front of me, ruining what was a beautiful clean white plate. As I was skipping around in my own world, unbeknown to me, my dad had been struggling with his Christmas dinner. In between mouthfuls of delicious lamb I had seen my dad's meal which, though it looked very nice, was almost twice the size of mine and lacked gravy therefore, once I had finished my meal, my dad asked me to help him with his (he hates leaving food and … actually, I do too). It was with reluctance that I ate this tough, boring cheap meat which we all know as turkey. Erased from my mouth was that sweet succulent lamb taste, only to be replaced by a dry, barren turkey taste. I even ordered another coconut shake to get rid of the dryness but alas … it didn't work.
As we walked back to our hotel I moved my tongue around my mouth trying to get rid of the turkey taste. Once in the hotel I poured myself a bath (which ended but being too shallow and too cold; the curse of the turkey!) before getting into bed. I must have ate chocolate and watched TV for only an hour before hitting the sack. As I closed my eyes I thought about what I wanted to do tomorrow, what was critical to see and if there was anything I wanted to buy but, above all, I pondered how on earth I was going to get rid of this turkey taste!
Tuesday 30th December 2014
How can turkey remain this potent after twelve hours!
As my parents are quiet old, it was decided that breakfast would start around 9am. This was fine by me; Bath, though a city, is actually very compact and I presumed that we would spend the day looking at things we had seen last night. Also, my hotels bed was very, very comfortable and I didn't hold a grudge against my parents for allowing me a whole ten hours to sleep in said bed, followed by another two sitting in it whilst watching TV. Due to having a bath last night I had a quick shower before joining my parents within the hotels down stairs dining area.
It would appear that the hotel was run by either German or Austrian people as the staff, plus some of the food, had a very Germanic feel to it. The waitresses serving manner too felt very Germanic and, though she was polite, I felt obliged to say 'yes' to everything in fear of retaliation. I started with a cooked breakfast before working my way along a table filled with cold breakfast food. Once I had reached the cake (can't remember its name; it's shaped like a doughnut with icing sugar on the top and dried fruit inside) I stopped for two slices as it was so delicious. It was there and then that, as a family, we decided that we would start looking at all the sites Bath had to offer at around 10am. We would then have a late lunch and then leave the city around 3pm'ish'. With that decided I pleaded with my father to make a mental note of which shops he would like to visit and then, once all the sites had been seen, lead us back to said shops so that we didn't miss anything. With that all agreed we backed our bags, checked-out of the hotel and walked into town.
Within five minutes my father was in a shop. Loosing patients I kept walking leaving my mum as a kind of bridge between our locations. This didn't work for long as I soon found myself back at Bath's abbey area. Wanting to get photos for school, I persuaded my mum to meet me outside the abbey in twenty minutes or so. I therefore broke away from my parents and walked around Bath's 'abbey area' taking photos of this, that and the other.
Either I was speaking Japanese – or my mother misheard me – but when I returned to the abbey both my father and mother were nowhere to be seen. As I waited I remembered why I loved travelling on my own; you never have to wait for anyone, there are no worries and no wasted time. After what seemed like hours – though I guess it was only fifteen minutes – I eventually found my mother. My mother and father had been waiting in the abbey, not outside. Slightly annoyed I went into said abbey as my mum said it was very beautiful. She went for some fudge.
The abbey was indeed beautiful. Only a couple of weeks before coming to the UK I had watched a history documentary about the 100 years war (trust me; it was very interesting) and through this war, England had moved away from years of Normandy-French architecture - consisting of big round pillars and cross-beams– and had discovered it's own architecture. This architecture was very much present within this abbey, with it's concealed pillars which fanned out when they hit the roof. Looking past these pillars and towards the back of the abbey, a huge stain glass window could be seen. Before, I had seen it from the outside however, inside, I could get very close to it. I spent a few minutes marvelling at the pictures and the attention to detail. I tried to guess what some of the images were trying to say, without success. Once I'd seen most of the abbey I left, conscious that I was disturbing people during their prayers.
Once outside I met up with my mother who had in her possession a big block of vanilla fudge. After consuming the small piece offered to me, it wasn't long before I asked for another bite as it was divine. My mother had been looking at the entrance to the 'Bath House'; a museum dedicated to the Roman baths which put this city on the map. The price to enter was £13.50 therefore I was reluctant to have a look. It was only after both my mother and father pushed me towards the entrance (and, if I'm honest, them giving me the £13.50 pretty much clinched the deal) did I go in and purchase a ticket. My mother and father had both seen the baths in their 'yoof' (which I'm sure would have been a much more fulfilling experience than the one I had as they would have been able to see actual Romans bathing) therefore I went in on my own. My mother and father headed to a coffee shop and waited.
It didn't take me long to realise how glad I was that my parents had persuaded me to go in. Though the baths were small, they were packed with information, videos and models of Roman life in, and outside, of the baths. At first you walked onto the balcony looking down onto the baths (the Roman's 'ground level' was much lower than ours today). A handy talking guide allowed you to wind your way in a logical manor. The guide would only give you a small portion of information at a time; to get the next bit you had to walk to the next location and input the number shown on a small 'guide sign' into a keypad. This was great as it allowed you to proceed at your own pace (I hate those guides which try to guess how long it will take you to get from one location to another). Having been pummelled with information in regards to the 'life of the Romans' since elementary school, I skipped all information on that subject and focused solely on information about the baths. I took a lot of photos of said baths which, as it happened, turned out to be some of my best.
Nearing the end of my visit, I finally entered the baths at 'Roman' ground level. Though there wasn't much smell, they did give off quite a lot of heat, and stream could be seen trying to constantly escape. Tourist numbers were low and this allowed me to get a really good feel for the place. I took one last look before leaving the baths and entering the main shopping street. It didn't take long to find my parents and, thankfully, they had completed quite a few shops.
Once together we proceeded on almost the same route as we did the following night. We went back up to the Royal Crescent to take photos and to go into a museum my mother had read about. Once there we struggled to find said museum, though the quality of photos were excellent due to the beautiful blue sky which we had been given today. Finally we found the entrance to the museum … which was closed. Though she tried to hide it, I could tell that my mother was rather upset about this development as she loves looking around houses from this period. Fortunately, as we proceeded back into town, we came across Jane Austin's house (she wasn't in) which had been turned into a museum. My mum paid for an entrance ticket whereas I, with little else to do, entertained my father by taking him around the shops.
Eventually after I have spent another £10.00 (my father having spent nothing) my mother had finished viewing all there was to see in the Jane Austin museum. We met up and she explained that she had enjoyed the visit (though looking at her facial expressions, I got the impression that the phase she was itching to use was “...it was alright...”). We continued to walk around the streets of Bath not really sure what there was left to see. It's strange but I've had these moments before where, though there is nothing left to do, you don't want to leave a place early as you feel that you haven't had your monies worth. We therefore walked around for another hour or so before it was time for lunch. With a 'long drive ahead of us', I had quite a substantial lunch consisting of a wrap, some chips and a dessert. My parents followed suit and after an hour or so we were ready for the off.
Just like when we entered Bath, it was shocking just how easy it was to drive out of it. We were soon on the main road high above the city of Bath heading home. As I looked back down on the old city a small lump in my throat appeared from nowhere. I have been to huge national parks, ancient lost cities, up mountains, across glaciers and around temples and yet, I would say that this beautiful, beautiful city could rival any of the above. As Bath finally fell from view I sat back in my seat proud to be British!