Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Start of Many History Lessons Learned

Bath, UK

My next stop was Bath, a picturesque city about 13 miles away from Bristol.  While the population is only around 90,000, its remarkable history and lasting features have made it a favorite tourist destination for UK locals. 

I found it easy to find the train station in Bristol and for somewhere around £6, purchased a ticket to Bath and was on my way.  I left in the afternoon so I could spend a little longer in Bristol, but still get to Bath before dark.  My hostel, Bath Backpackers, was just up the hill from the train station, which was very convenient.

Bath’s name originates from its history as a luxurious spa getaway and is now a classified as a World Heritage Site.  It was the Romans who first established it as a spa as early as 43 AD!   This was definitely a history lesson for me, as I, to be honest, had no idea their empire extended that far.

I had a tour scheduled for the next day so the first night was calm.  I met a couple girls in the hostel and we went out for dinner and a drink.  Lesson Learned: they don’t do to-go boxes in Bath.  One of my new friends was a little bummed to learn this, as that was a tactic she was hoping to use to save a little money while traveling.

The tour the next morning was with Mad Max Tours.  This was one of the only formal tours I took on my trip, and I am very glad I did.  It was a full-day tour to Stonehenge, Avebury, the Lacock National Trust Village and the Cotswolds, all located about an hour from Bath.  It was such a great tour I have decided to dedicate it with its own post, which I will share tomorrow.

When I returned from the tour I ran across a bakery selling the remaining pastries of the day for 2 for £1.  I may not have mentioned it, but this was a budget trip, making these savory goodies the perfect dinner!  I clearly was not the only one seizing this opportunity as the bakery was bursting with energy, as well as a line out the door. 

My last day in Bath was spent exploring with the girls I had met in the hostel the first evening.  The walk as a whole was beautiful, but I am going to divide it up into the primary areas we visited: the Circus, the Royal Crescent, the Roman Baths and the Bath Abbey.  All of these sights were within walking distance and easy to find as there are street signs to help navigate us tourists on just about every corner.

The Circus

The first point of interest on our walk was The Circus.  In short, it is a large circle of townhouses with a roundabout in the middle and three entry points.  What makes it notable (beyond the rumor that Johnny Depp lives there) is that it is a well-preserved example of Georgian architecture.  Designed to be viewed from the inside of the roundabout, no matter which road you enter on; you will see a beautiful Georgian façade.   We found however, as we walked back along the outside, that like many buildings of that time, the backside, or in this case, the outside, wasn’t really designed at all and even shows different heights, widths, and lengths of what appear to be uniform townhouses from the inside.

The Royal Crescent

Similar to The Circus, The Royal Crescent is a stretch of townhouses.  This stretch rather than being a circle though is a crescent overseeing a beautiful park.  These townhouses had a similar style to those in The Circus and were very well preserved.  They are beautiful, but I would not want to live there being that there are hundreds of people taking pictures of your front door and windows all day.  Not to mention a portion of the ‘townhouses’ have been converted into a museum and hotel.

Bath Abbey

This was the first abbey I visited in Europe.  It was remarkable to see a space so old and well preserved still being used for services and worship.  I later learned that it was recently restored and has actually been destroyed multiple times since it was originally built in 1499.  I took some notes to share, but in short it was a beautiful abbey and the first of many religious structures I would see during my time in Europe.

The Roman Baths

I was extremely impressed with the restoration of the baths, as well as the animation and visuals provided throughout the museum to help you picture the original facilities and artifacts.  It was once an entire complex providing cold, warm and hot baths, exercise areas, a gymnasium and massage rooms.  The museum is located within the original spa complex, and has been laid out in a way that preserves the space but still allows you to walk throughout it and around the pools themselves.  Being on a budget, it was pricy at £12.25, but I would still highly recommend it.

I really enjoyed visiting Bath and can’t wait to go back again someday.  My favorite part included the tour of the surrounding areas though and you will have to check back in within the next couple of days to hear all about it!   (Stonehenge included!)

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