Bath - More than Just a SPA
Bath owes its name to Britain's only natural water hot springs. Legend has it that the Celts first discovered these bubbling waters, which contained medicinal properties. Later, the Romans settled here and built the spa and a temple, both of which are major tourist attractions. Surrounded by wooded hills, Bath is a blend of historic architecture and the vibrancy of a modern city, once famous for its aristocracy, women in feathered hats and high fashion.
Widely acknowledged to be the best preserved Georgian city in Britain, its elegant architecture is to be seen all over Bath, though some tend to believe the place has lost its original charm. I saw nothing wrong. The parks, the clean roads and streets, lush countryside, flowers, rivers and streams, church spires, crescent-shaped houses, fabulous architecture – to me, all looked perfect. I tried hard to find something that would remind me of Bangalore, but couldn't. Whatever people say, I think Bath still radiates.
With not much time on hand, and with so much to see, we chose to take the ‘City of Bath' bus tour, for which we already had tickets. From Bath station we walked along Manvers Street towards the courtyard at Orange Grove, also known as the ‘City Centre', where we would find the ‘hop-on, hop-off'. We were famished, having skipped the complementary breakfast at the hotel and all we had was some coffee on the train. We decided to grab a bite first, before boarding the bus.
The breakfast we ate was delicious. The name of restaurant escapes me, but I recollect it was a husband-wife run eatery, with not more than 4 maybe 5 tables, but extremely cozy and the lady very polite. Aren't they all, in England? She served us freshly made toasted sandwiches with a filling of fried eggs, sausage and steaming black coffee. It was a meal in itself and looked as though we wouldn't be needing lunch.
As the bus wound its way through the roads and narrow thoroughfares, the guide pointed out many historical facts including some of Bath's eminent inhabitants. For instance, the famous novelist Jane Austen lived there and two of her books were largely set around Bath. As an English Literature student, I had to study ‘Pride and Prejudice', which I found extremely boring; but that's not the reason why we didn't hop off and spend time at the Jane Austen Centre housed in a Georgian town house in Gay Street.
The bus tour was excellent and in those 45 minutes, we realized why Bath is a lovely place. Like the rest of England, there's so much of traffic discipline, and how I wish Bangalore had just 5% of that. We had a little over an hour at our disposal before we boarded the ‘Stonehenge Express' at the City Centre. We decided to quickly taken in the tour of the Roman Baths and time permitting, wander around a bit. I'd read some where that the back alleys of Bath had quite a few shopping surprises.
The reception hall where we bought the entry tickets, was Victorian in architecture with a high dome ceiling. Along with the tickets, we were given personal audio-guides (free of cost), which resembles a telephone handset and complete with a dial-pad, except that it's not a phone. This, as the name suggests, is your guide around the heritage site. All sections of the museum are numbered and if you want to know the significance of a specific section, press the corresponding number button on the handset and you can hear a commentary describing that particular artifact or statute or whatever. I didn't take an audio-guide because I'd be taking pictures; but Mona did.
Many don't realize that the Roman Baths - Aquae Sulis, the Roman name for Bath - were not discovered and explored until the late nineteenth century. At the heart of this heritage site is the Sacred Spring, where hot water (temp. 46 degrees C) rises at the rate of 1,170,000 litres every day and has been doing so for thousands of years. This natural phenomenon has never been explained, but the Romans believed it to be the work of the gods. They promptly built a temple next to the spring and dedicated it to Goddess Sulis Minerva, known to have healing powers.
The centre piece of the bathing complex is the Great Bath and the best view can be had from the terrace, lined with exquisitely carved statutes of Roman Emperors and military leaders dating back to the late nineteenth century. A walk around the terrace enables the visitor to view the green waters of the Great Bath and the huge stone columns from different angles, and also at one point on the terrace there's a nice view of the Bath Abbey spire in the background
It was impossible to see the whole site in such short time; but some day we'd come back and spend perhaps 2-3 days the next time.
I looked at my watch. We had just about 15 minutes to reach the City Centre. We hurriedly walked back to the Orange Grove courtyard and there was the bus, with tour-guide John in-waiting, almost singing,
‘All aboard, all aboard the Stonehenge Express!'
Next: Stonehenge - An Amazing Triumph of Architecture