Monday, September 14, 2015

An American family in Europe: Day 8, Bath

(Previously:Day 7, Windsor Castle & Stonehenge)

Today was Bath day. No, not "bath day," like we hadn't taken a shower all trip (at least some of us had), but our day for touring Bath, the English city with history dating back to Roman times.

Though Rick Steves and others rave about Bath, I didn't really get it. What was the attraction?  We were here to find out.

We walked from our rented apartment about 25 minutes into the city -- downhill, nicely -- and made it there just in time for the 10:30 Mayor's Tour. These tours, given not by the mayor but by local guides, are nice, truly free tours (no tips accepted) that last about two hours.

Our guide, Michael, was very good, taking us all over town, describing the development of the natural hot springs into formal baths by the Romans, the later dubious health claims ascribed to the waters, and the history of the city's impressive architecture. I liked how he pointed out the sculpted angels climbing ladders on the Bath Abbey.

Bath is, simply, a good looking town and pleasant place to walk around. With various museums and historical features, along with an assortment of restaurants and shops, it seems perfect for a one-day visit.

After two hours of walking, we were all ready for lunch, but couldn't agree on a place. So we split up. My son and I headed to Pizza Express, a popular British chain that we wanted to try. We entered, saw no one to seat us, and sat down at one of many empty tables.

After a few minutes, a server came up to us and said, "I'm sorry, but we're fully booked." Really? People make reservations at Pizza Express? And what's with all the empty tables?

Oh well. We left and ended up at a better place: The excellent Real Italian Pizza Co.

After lunch, we did a little shopping and browsing, then got on an open-top sightseeing bus. Sitting on the top level and watching the city go by was a good break for our tired legs, and we had a live tour guide who did a fine job as we circled around the city.  No offense to our guide but three of the four of us took a little nap during the tour (it was nicely warm when the sun came out).

We walked some more and then headed to a playground that my son had seen on the bus tour. Now, you might say "Why are you spending part of your vacation at a playground?" But I gotta tell you, this was the Rolex of the playground world. It had a couple dozen really cool play structures that kids could climb on, run through or jump around.  There was a mini-zip line, and plenty of space to run around. My son was having fun, and the rest of us were resting our weary feet when ... the heavens opened up.

Rain came down in buckets. My son kept playing, but just about everybody else scattered. We eventually took refuge under the eave of the toilet building.

We didn't really have a place to go. We didn't have a nearby car or hotel room we could run back to, so we waited for the rain to let up slightly, and timed our run to the curb to hop back on one of the sightseeing buses (our tickets were good all day). This time, no one was sitting upstairs.

We then headed to the Roman baths (a family ticket for all of us was 40 pounds). Going in to the day, I figured this would likely be the highlight of  Bath, but in retrospect I'm not sure we really needed to go. We had gotten all the history of the baths from our two tours, so the only thing left was to actually see them.

To be fair, the Roman Baths have good displays and a good audio guide, but most people only need to know the basics: The warm waters attracted many people here, both Romans and others, and helped make Bath a cultural center. Do you really need to know more than that?

I had wanted to do the Bizarre Bath Theatre, a funny walking tour that began at 8 p.m., but by then we were all pretty tired. We bought some food for dinner and caught a cab back to our apartment.

Next: Day 9, Doctor Who and Swansea's LC

The full trip, by day: 

Days 1 and 2, Los Angeles to Paris

Day 3, Paris

Day 4, the Palace of Versailles

Day 5, the Eiffel Tower

Day 6, Goodbye France, hello England

Day 7, Windsor Castle & Stonehenge

Day 8, Bath

Day 9, Doctor Who and Swansea's LC

Day 10, the waterfalls of Wales

Day 11, Blists Hill and Ironbridge

Day 12, Warwick Castle

Day 13, Oxford and Harry Potter Studio Tour

Day 14, this is London

Day 15, British Museum and British Library

Day 16, the Tube goes on strike

Day 17, Greenwich, the Thames and Westminster Abbey

Day 18, the Tower of London

Day 19, heading home  


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