Monday, October 27, 2008

roman gods

so, bath. i came here b/c the doc said it was something to see -- and indeed it was. i didn't really have much of a plan of action: i knew i wanted to go to the roman baths and the fashion museum, plus see such architectural marvels as the royal crescent and the circus, but otherwise i figured it would be whatever came up.

i have pretty much not used the garmin nuvi satellite device that my older sisters gave me. i tried to use it on the way from heathrow to stratford (having already mapped out my route via google and using the directions on the RSC's website), but i had to turn it off, because it kept telling me to get off on every single frickin' exit i passed on the M40, which was extremely annoying. it's more useful for me to write my route out on post-its and tear them off as i go. that may seem laughably primitive, but it's hard enough to drive on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road without having to listen to a stupid machine and peer at a tiny fucking screen that doesn't really show you anything anyway. i much preferred to look over the route on google the night before and trust my memory.

there were flaws in that plan too, however. although i now feel like an old hand at roundabouts, they confounded me horribly at first, and my confusion created one long delay in getting to stratford, the less said about the better. as for my trip to bath, everything went smoothly until i actually got into town -- google says follow this numbered road, but there aren't any signs saying this is the numbered road. so i was wheeling through the town of bath, blinding following along what seemed to be the main route but totally lost, looking for a place to pull over and get my bearings. (cuz the streets are narrow and not conducive to parking in a lot of places.) i finally emerged from the winding bits onto a slightly wider street where cars were parked on one side, so i pulled up behind the last one (in a space that was a bus stop, of course). i had phoned the B&B from a turnout on the road a few miles outside of bath, and been told that the place was right in front of a red signal post. so, i'm sitting in the car, peering around, and i see this red post right across the street! NO WAY! i had to pull forward a little bit more to see the sign, but wowee! it was my destination. somehow i had stumbled upon it -- amazing.

and so i arrived at number 30 on sunday around noon, and was greeted by a woman named jean, who checked me in, helped me with my bag, and gave me a map of town and a five-minute lowdown on the sites, a daily walking tour, area restaurants, and other incredibly useful info. i had the john wood room on the second floor, which faced the street and was very cozy, with a double bed, good-sized bathroom, tea tray, tv, and even a portable stereo. john wood (the younger) was the architect of the royal crescent and, i was happy to learn, had a thing for occult symbolism. here's my only shot of (part of) it (for obvious reasons, it's hard to get a good picture):

see the man and his dog there at the left? you have to be a resident to go on the nice green grass. i wonder if it's considered, like, a cool place to live? like, in l.a., when people ask me where i live, and i say "laurel canyon," there's this "oh cool" type reaction. maybe it's the same for the royal crescent ... . anyway, i thought it was cool.

i considered taking the walking tour, but it started at 2, and i needed to get settled in and have a coffee break (hurray for the tea/coffee tray). jean had told me what things i shouldn't miss even if i ended up walking around by myself, so i took the map and my ipod and ventured out, heading first up the woody hill behind the B&B to the royal crescent, then continuing east toward the center of town. i just kind of rambled and randomly took pictures -- the one at the top of this entry is of the parade gardens (i'm pretty sure), which are behind bath abbey near the river avon.

these are some buildings along the steep hill of marlborough lane leading up to the royal crescent:

the day started out sunny, if bracing (in the mid-50s), but as the afternoon went on the sky got cloudier. i walked through the circus without even realizing where i was (der), then headed toward the main part of town. i pretty much stumbled upon bath abbey, and it was hard to get a good shot of it b/c it was half in shadow, half in light, but here y'go:

you can see the entrance to the roman baths at the right of the photo.

here's the back of the abbey, where tour buses seemed to congregate:

just around the bend to the north of the abbey is pulteney bridge, which looks like a bridge from this angle ...

... but it's also a shopping street. you could walk right across it and never know you were on a bridge. after taking this picture, i did indeed walk across the bridge to a convenience store and got a half-bottle of wine for later, having decided to pick up something for dinner and eat in my room (partly to save money, and partly b/c it was sunday, and a lot of restaurants were closed).

my attempts to take pictures of the hillsides covered with georgian buildings weren't entirely successful, but this gives some sense of the totally cool views one could see pretty much by just looking around:

yet also there were pretty natural vistas, like these fall-foliage-festooned trees on the other side of the avon:

i rambled some more and listened to the street musicians -- a guy was playing didgeridoo along one of the main drags as i walked toward the abbey, and he was later joined by someone playing some sorta flute, so there was this curious aboriginal note in the air. stopped at a sandwich shop and picked up some sorta totally delicious chicken salad with lemon-y mayo and rocket, plus some chedder-red onion crisps and a slice of lemon-poppy seed cake for my dinner. it was getting dark as i made my way back to the B&B, which took longer than expected b/c i detoured the long way along royal avenue, to the south of the royal crescent, when i could've just walked back the way i'd driven into town. oh, well, it was a pretty path, anyway.

day two in bath started with breakfast, which was delicious but maybe not quite as good as the one at ambleside. the weather was colder but sunny, so i stupidly decided not to take the horrible turquoise-colored umbrella the B&B had loaned me, figuring i'd pick up a new black one later in the day.

i headed out, remembering to take a photo of (part of) the circus on my way:

see how nice and blue the sky is? yeah. anyway, then it was off to the assembly rooms and fashion museum. i mostly wanted to see the punk exhibit, called 1977, which was just a series of 20 black-and-white photographs. of course the actual clothing wouldn't have survived 30 years ... . anyway, the shots were interesting. naturally, it was pointless to try to take pictures of pictures, but here's a good one of the clash, by caroline coon, from the FM's website:

it was cool to peruse all the rockers in their DIY finery, harking back to the days when one had to invent one's own punk costume instead of buying it at hot topic, ahaha. debbie harry at a surplus store in fatigues and a bomber jacket, the jam all cool in their moddy-boy outfits with blazingly white shoes, ari up of the slits in her shredded black top, stockings, and white panties, hair flying wildly. fine stuff.

the museum had lots of other things to look at, including a fab collection of 17th-century gloves that i found impossible to photograph. the exhibit explained that these ornaments were more for ceremonial use, at the most, and often simply given as opulent gifts. they were lavishly embroidered with animals, people, plants, etc., in metallic threads and fine leathers.

the display cases were filled with gorgeous outfits, like this beautiful formal evening gown:

and this cool chinoiserie gown:

you can see the backs of some of the other things in the display case, like the fancy fur-trimmed coat at the right.

there were also a lot of cool men's suits, but all my pix of them came out blurry. wtf, it was dark in there, and i had to shoot through the glass, ok?

then there was the dresses from history section, which included many fantastical garments, including this victorian number:

there was also a big exhibit devoted to '70s-era UK designer bill gibb, who clothed david bowie and other rock icons and was apparently quite the pioneer of knitwear (lots of colorful and cleverly patterned dresses and sweaters) and had a flair for lavish, extravagant ensembles. not my taste of what to wear, but truly gorgeous and fantastical, unique items.

after studying the clothing for a while, i emerged back upstairs to wander around the assembly rooms (also designed by john wood the younger), which were basically public areas for big balls and card games and other amusements for the townsfolk in the georgian era (of a certain status, i assume). i pretty much failed to take any good pix of these rooms, but here you can get a sense of them all. the chandeliers were amazing, and i couldn't help thinking my mom would've loved them.

now it was time to head to the roman baths, so i popped out of the assembly rooms for the short walk over there ... and into the pissing rain! rats! i wrapped my scarf around my head and hurried to the baths, not getting too wet, but cursing my decision to leave the umbrella behind.

i had purchased a two-fer ticket for the fashion museum and baths, so i just waltzed on into the baths, which were really cool and interesting. i even took the little hand-held recording device so i could learn more about the place (instead of just putting on my ipod and wandering around staring at stuff like i usually do in these situations ... but, then again, i didn't have the squirrel there to download everything she learned into my head at day's end). however, i am not going to recount all the info here, b/c you can learn for yourself on the website if you wanna.

the main thing is that these baths date back to before roman times, and they were built on the natural hot springs that the celts used as a shrine to the goddess sulis (bath was called aquae sulis by the romans). as is traditional with religion, sulis got absorbed into roman culture due to being similar to minerva, the goddess of wisdom (aka the greeks' athena). the worshippers of sulis didn't bathe in the waters b/c they were considered sacred, but the romans combined the holiness and the bathing, clever bastards.

the museum is an awesome subterranean maze of ruins and partially restored sections, including the altar where they did sacrifices (pick your own goat at the marketplace), and the old temple steps. the sacrifice part had me shaking my head at the stupidity of religion. there were tombstones and sections of the waterways, mosaics and bits of the temple, plus tons of smaller artifacts, from sandals and pots and tools to coins and (my favorite) curses thrown into the water for good luck or granting of said diabolical wishes (usually having to do with wanting revenge on someone for stealing something or suchlike).

you may recognize the gorgon's head, which was on the temple of sulis minerva:

it's a pretty tough guardian and basically means "don't mess with this place."

anyway, the centerpiece of the joint is the big bath itself, which of course you can't actually go into (but you can plunge into the thermae spa next door, which i had thought about doing but ended up not, b/c i spent so much money in stratford). here it is from one side:

and the other (with bath abbey in the background):

the museum had two guys in roman dress standing by the pool, calling each other "citizen" and greeting people in latin. ahaha, how very disneyland.

i went into the little shop and picked up a couple of refrigerator magnets as souvenirs, then headed to the pump room for tea. the same couple in stratford who recommended the thai place had said that the scones with clotted cream at the pump house were fantastic, so i ordered some tea and the scones and ... the lady wasn't lyin'! mmmmm.

the rain had stopped by then, but it was getting dark (and colder, brrr), so i went back to the same sandwich shop and got another chicken variation. i walked a couple of blocks to marks & spencer and got more wine and a teeny-tiny umbrella, then hoofed it back to no. 30, taking the shorter route this time. i did pass by the jane austen museum both yesterday and today, but didn't really feel like going in, so didn't. again, it wasn't all that late when i settled in for the night, but i'd done a lot of walking and was pretty tired. i had plenty of blogging to do, and, after a while i had my sandwich-dinner, read for a while, downloaded the new sarah jane adventures (re-watched most of the two-part finale of the last doctor who series before it was done), and am about to watch it before i go to sleep. tomorrow it's back to pop culture as i wheel off to cardiff to visit the DW exhibit and the millennium centre (aka the torchwood hub). the weather is supposed to continue on the cold side, so i'm really glad i brought that extra sweater and my overcoat, not to mention the warm scarf that coiledsoul made me.

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