What’s Bath without a visit to baths?
“Can you make some room?” yelled a man from the platform.
“Can we get through? We have seats!” screamed a frazzled traveller trying to bypass the compartment.
Another passenger surrendered and sat in the bathroom. I found a foot of empty space next to the train's door. With my bag resting on my two feet I prayed we would be moving soon.
Rush hour on London's commuter trains. I had, clearly, not thought through my travel plans to Bath, England. It was only supposed to take only an hour-and-a-half. It trip number nine out of ten from London for less than $100 - felt like five hours as a I grappled for an inch of space.
Where else have I been for less than $100? Good question. It started with a ticket for $65 (one-way) from Bermuda to London with my frequent flier miles. Make sure you get them! Next I hit Stockholm and Sigtuna in Sweden; Sachsenhausen and Berlin in Germany; Hampstead, Dover and Brighton in England. Check out all of these adventures and my tips on frequent flier miles on my website: www.robynswanderings.com.
Now, with number nine, it was time to come clean. I was heading to Bath. Silly me decided to try and go at 7pm on a Friday night.
After extricating myself from the mass of bodies I found myself stranded on the streets of Bath. Luckily it is not a large town and I managed to find my YMCA hostel after negotiating very drunk college students in about 20 minutes. The YMCA might be easy to find, but it's not exactly inviting so I plunked down my bag and hit the town.
Some 2,000 years ago the Romans also arrived here. Rather than the YMCA's pathetic shower they decided to channel Bath's hot sulfurous waters into elaborate pools. These really took off in the 18th century when England's ladies and gents began coming here for the waters and enjoying the season in terraced houses. These iconic homes that line Bath's streets were featured in the musings of Jane Austen who lived here briefly in the 1800s. And of course what else do you do with really old, beautiful buildings? UNESCO makes them a World Heritage Site.
I believe the city more than earned the right; even at night. As I walked through the varied lanes and roads of Bath, the yellow street lights illuminated a city haunted by visions of 18th and 19th century England from Austen's books. This includes the 18th century Pulteney Bridge which crosses the River Avon and is filled with shops. If you have ever been to Florence and witnessed the Ponte Vecchio, then you've seen the inspiration for this gorgeous bridge. Walking along the river's edge and listening to the falling water was soothing, to say the least, after my horrendous train ride.
Ahhh Bath, I think I could get used to you.
With my train stress washed down the river, it was time to relegate myself to my bed for a full-on assault the next morning. First I would have to try my hand at the breakfast. Ugh. the crumbs of bread and poor attempt at an English breakfast ensured that next time I go to Bath I will save my pennies for one of the quaint bed and breakfasts I continually walked by.
I decided I would have to visit, well where else? The Roman baths! This complex built by....the Romans (see you're getting this) is essentially as they were left. In 75 AD they channelled the waters into this complex that rivals the baths in Rome (and I should know I have been there). Visitors, unfortunately, are no longer allowed to bathe in the waters that are 116 degrees Fahrenheit. At least the modern complex has built a terrace for visitors to watch more than 240,000 gallons pump through each day before descending into the underground chambers that offer a historical guide to the baths. With a ticket that cost about £11 I was able to walk around wishing I could jump in, but it also offered me an entrance to the Fashion Museum. Well I mean after you bathe you need to dress, right?
Exiting the baths (not Bath, you get it, right?) I was bombarded by the Bath Abbey. This cannot be missed. I don't mean go inside, though you should. I mean it is the centre of the town. Established in the 8th century, the first English King, Edgar in 973, was crowned here. Through the years it has been built and then fallen until Elizabeth I ordered it restored. The abbey has been the same ever since her meddling.
Around the abbey and the Roman baths is a mix of modern shops in old buildings. I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost with in the Upper Borough Walls, Union Streets and Barton Street among others filled with shops and little cafes opening onto the sidewalks. Bath is, among other things, a town built for luxury. Eat your fill in the famous restaurants that include English chef Jamie Oliver's Italian restaurant and then, if you've got it, bathe in the actual complex for it the Thermae Bath Spa. It will cost you though £24 for two hours!
I did not have the cash for this luxury so I enjoyed a free walk up to the circus. No, not Barnum and Bailey's. Bath's circus is comprised of three semicircular terraces of Regency houses surrounding a circular park. It was designed by architect John Wood the Elder, who built much of 18th century Bath. I tried to get my landscape photo and decided to use the rest of my Roman baths' ticket and head for some fashion.
Not much to note here. A very small museum, Bath's Fashion Museum's main focus is, of course, a whole spread on Princess Diana's fashion through the years. At least I did not waste the rest of my £11 ticket!
Before I could wish Bath goodbye, there was one more museum I needed to visit. Jane Austen's of course. This illustrative author was a resident in Bath between 1801 and 1806 and the city features heavily in Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. She ended up hating Bath when her, her mom and sister fell on hard times here. Perhaps that is why the city devoted the sad little home on Gay Street as a museum to the artist. My guidebook had warned me, but I couldn't miss the museum of one of my favourite writer's! It was dull.
Oh well, I was almost done with my trip to Bath. I wandered through some of the green and stunning parks including the Royal Victoria Park in front of the Royal Crescent and meandered back on the train. Luckily Friday's rush hour was over and I could comfortably ride back to England's capital fully refreshed.
Refreshed and ready for next week's column: finding things to do in London for under $100. It can be done! I promise.
And of course visit www.robynswanderings.com for more all of your daily travel tips!