You can tell you are getting closer to Bath by the kinds of stones the towns are built from. They go from the red brick and industrial soot of London into a gradient of different building materials until you reach the area around Bath, with its flat, smooth stonework. Pale, honey-colored limestone.
I took the bus (stagecoach) from London to Bath, estimated time of travel, three hours. The reason for this is an hour of travel is eaten up by a bus just trying to escape the short, congested streets of London. The rest was a quiet trek along a two lane highway headed West. I snoozed somewhat along the way, lulled to sleep by gentle rolling hills, blooming acreages of rapeseed plants, which were a bright square of yellow amid the green, hedgerows, and idyllic towns which dotted the landscape.
A brief rant about America and mass transit. We have all drunk the Kool-aid. We have been told that riding a bus or a train sacrifices our freedoms, and how we aren’t going to succumb to socialism like Europe by GAWD. This is stupid. We pay so many taxes for titles, licenses, fuel, tires road and bridge, heavy fines and justified stop and searches just for driving a car, deal with paying to park, emissions testing, etc. Does that sound like Freeeeedom, William Wallace? The truth is a lot of people make money off cars, the highway systems, and all points in-between. Telling ourselves moving toward trains and a decent mass-transit is harmful is a lot like a tobacco company telling you it’s not good for the country if everyone stopped smoking. Or an alcoholic saying “I’d love to quit drinking, but it’s just too expensive. I’m just too far into it now to stop.” When our infrastructure is all built around cars, including our dependency on foreign oil, our sprawling cities, and our pollution belching machines, saying subsidized rail/mass transit can never happen here is just enabling an addiction.
As much as I love driving my car, if I had a train that would take me to another city, I would leave it at home. That’s what the men who died on the beaches of Normandy did. Back before streetcars and trains were considered a pinko-commie plot by the General Motors Corporation and Standard Oil. It’s not. It’s actually pretty free. It is after all, another option. Freedom is about a right to make other choices after all.
I arrived in Bath and headed towards the center of town, where it was all happening 2000 years ago, and still is today. The city was infested with French mimes, spraying water at each other as they ducked behind the cover of umbrellas. I sat on a bench, eating a Cornish pasty, listening to buskers with the Roman baths ahead of me and Bath Abbey to my left. For a Thursday morning, Bath was even busier than London. Thick with tourists.
The Roman Bath Spa tour provides you with a listening device for a self-paced tour. You punch in codes on the keypad and listen to a narration of what it is you are looking at. From the green, gently bubbling waters of the Bath to projected images of a typical milieu of Roman life acted out like ghostly phantasmagoria on the walls of the chambers, the details come together on how things must have looked in 60-400A.D.
The age of the place really begins to hit you. And what is more is how this place isn’t protected by rows of barbed wire and Plexiglas. In the US, 100 year old houses are cordoned off, but here we walked on the same rutted stones Roman citizens would have tripped over and twisted their ankles on nearly two millennia ago. The lead plumbing, curses scratched on lead sheets, silver coins recovered in their leather bags, bronzes statues of Minerva, and the baths themselves were all amazing, but I think the most striking part was the sauna room, where you could still smell the hot rocks that once supported the raised floor where hot air was pumped into the rooms, almost hot enough to fry an egg.
I visited the pump room, which was now a really posh restaurant happy to lighten tourists of their pounds in the vein of early 19th Century Georgian style. I chatted with tour guides and tourists alike. Marveled at the artifacts, especially the “bearded gorgon” which reminded me more of a Celtic Green Man than any snake-haired female atrocity on distant shores. I really liked how the projections overlaid the artifacts in places, showing how they would have been centuries ago.
I got to sample the water which made Bath famous for it’s medicinal/therapeutic contributions. It tasted like warm bathwater. Very minerally and alkaline. A lot of people didn’t like it. I wouldn’t fill my water bottle up with it, but it was an experience.
This may have been one of the oldest human structures I had ever been to. And to think that over 1800 years ago, there would have been a 30m high roof over the whole thing. Nekkid men and women getting their soak on during the week, taking care of business, socializing. This was first century Facebook and Instagram all in one. Next to it was a medieval abbey, then a Georgian resort town, and surrounding that was a town people still work and live in today.
Noticing my phone was already nearly dead (the charging ports on the bus were mostly broken) I headed to a cider pub and asked nicely if I could charge my phone while I had a drink. The young ladies at the bar were more than happy to help. Sometimes I wondered if people were just friendly or if they liked my accent, since they would always light up once I started talking. Perhaps it was because I was an actual friendly American, unlike a lot of the others I would encounter, whose presence made me hold my tongue lest I betray any plausible deniability to being their countryman.
There were times I heard myself mutter “Oh shut the hell up and go back to Iowa.”
Even though that pasty was still sitting firmly in my gut, I did spend some time there trying out a few of the ciders which were their specialty. Without a phone, I had time to review my Lonely Planet guide (which wasn’t all that great), and just have time alone with my thoughts.
And enjoy my drink. Letting the experience filter in.
My favorite had to be the rhubarb cider. A sweet, cloudy drink that reminded me of summer days eating strawberrry and rhubarb pie. The other ciders were delicious, but I could have just had glass after glass of that rhubarb cider.
At this place I did tip extra. I wish I could remember the name of the place.
Re-energized, and the alcohol making walking on brick roads possible again, I headed out to explore the city.