Last week I took full advantage of my 5 day weekend and spent the end of the week in Bath and London. It was a bit damp but overall an amazing experience. Sorry if this blog gets long-winded but so much happened!
Wednesday night I took a night train into Bath and arrived around 11pm after transferring trains in Bristol. I love trains and will seriously miss the accessibility they afford when I return home. Hopefully my summer of canvassing for public transit will soon be rewarded. I doubt it but hey, a girl can dream. Anyway, a five minute walk from the station brought me to Bath Backpackers, a cute little hostel that was practically vacant. I guess Bath isn't too popular with backpackers this time of year. By the time I arrived, people were either asleep or out so I just went to bed. The next morning I headed down 3 flights of stairs to the showers and discovered all the hot water had been shut off on that street due to construction. A young English man in my room informed me that I could take a shower at the local sport center for 1 pound. I, however, was not excited about traipsing across town in my pj's. I also kept flashing to the public shower scene with Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night and decided the reality may not be quite as funny as the movie. So I packed up, had the standard cornflakes and toast hostel breakfast and checked out. It was still pretty early so none of the tourist attractions were open so I lugged my backpack and duffel over to a coffee place and read some Hemingway. Compared to the American and British travelers in his novel Fiesta, my trip was very tame. I think I need to drink more wine and get into random bar fights.
Unfortunately, Thursday was the start of what was to be a constant rainy holiday. As you can see from the pictures, Bath certainly lived up to its watery history. But I walked around as much as possible and tried to absorb every inch of this enchanting city. Here are some rainy street photos:This guy reminded me of one of my favorite paintings, Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte:I decided to be the super-tourist and hit as many attractions as possible. First, of course, I did the Roman Baths and saw where the spot where Romans had communal bath-time in this area's natural hot springs. I was tempted to try the curative waters for myself in the town spa but didn't think it would be as fun by myself (down side to traveling alone). Plus, it might be a little creepy being alone with other half-naked strangers. Here's a picture of the main bath (can you see the steam coming off?):This is the original water as well and hasn't been cleaned since it was uncovered. I definitely heeded the signs and kept my hands out of the nasty bath water.
My boots got a lot of attention that day as well. At the baths, a woman working commented on how much she liked my boots before handing me my audio guide tour. Later, as I was exploring the town, a woman started running towards me and waving me down. She wanted to know where I got my boots and was momentarily disappointed when she found out I was American. Luckily, I ordered them online and was able to give her the website. I have to say, these boots have served me well and kept my feet warm and dry--best clothing purchase ever. They were a bit pricey but I've gotten great return on my investment. If you're interested here's the site: http://athleta.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=46873&vid=1&pid=713916&scid=713916012. Although I later discovered that not even these babies can keep out really bad torrential showers.
For lunch, and to get out of the rain, I popped into a little cafe that sort of hung over the river. I had an amazing brie and cranberry pannini, read some more, and chatted with an extremely comical older couple. The rest of the afternoon I darted in and out of shops to avoid the rain and avoid buying an umbrella. I'm trying to see how long I can go without one which has been an adventure in itself. I bought some thank-you gifts for the couple I stayed with (wine and flowers) and went to the public library for a bit. Around 4 I met Geoff and Chrissie at the train station. Little did I know Geoff's wife recently tore her Achilles's tendon and is having obvious mobility issues. I felt terrible at first imposing myself on an already complicated situation but I don't think I added any more stress. I think Geoff especially loved having me around and was having quite the nostalgic journey through his travel memories. He is such an animated character and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about his time bumming across the US and Canada in the 1960s. I swear, the man needs to write a travel log. They have a great house about 20 minutes outside the city in a little town called Midsomer-Norton and Geoff took me on a nice tour of the country side. That night, he cooked a fantastic meal and we were left in a food and wine coma for the rest of the night.
The next day, Friday, Geoff drove me into the city and left me to my own devices. I first went to the fashion museum which is housed in the famous assembly rooms where many social balls took place (including the ones in Jane Austen's novels). I loooooved the fashion museum! It made me want to go shopping. Then I checked out the Jane Austen center and learned more about her life and her time living in Bath. I met a girl from France since we were the only two in the 'introductory presentation'. Despite the small audience, the museum worker proceeded to yell out the information so that all two of us, in the front row, could hear. Slightly uncomfortable. The center was interesting but rather small. Not really worth the price unless you are dying to be in the presence of Austen artifacts. Ran through the rain to the abbey. Double bonus b/c they were exhibiting art made by homeless people in the church to raise money for a shelter. Great idea! Geoff saved me from the rain later that afternoon and brought me back to their house. We met up with Chrissie's daughter at a cafe where they were raising money for MS. We relaxed at the house a bit wit tea before dinner. I finally saw Britain's Got Talent and Simon Cowell (?) at his finest. There was one amazing act that I think it worth watching. Prepare to be wowed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49cU7gtPIzM
Geoff also tried to teach me cockney slang which is just ridiculous but fun nonetheless. I guess it was born on the east end of London and has to do with rhyme rather than meaning. In other words, they made up phrases that rhymed with a word but have nothing to do with the word. I'm pretty sure an English acquaintance tried to explain it to me in Toronto once, but it's so much easier to understand when you haven't been drinking seven&sevens. Even without inhibitors it still really doesn't make much sense though. Take the phrase 'apples and pears'. Believe it or not, this means 'stairs' for no other reason than that pears and stairs rhyme. And to make it even more confusing, they'll just shorten the phrase to 'apples', taking out the word that might actually lend some sort of clue. Example: 'I'm going up apples.' Maybe this craziness is where the term 'cockeyed' comes from. Although, the phrase 'Let's get down to the brass tacks' is cockney slang apparently (for facts) and I've heard it used in the U.S. Interesting. After some laziness, we drove to an adorable little village called Bradford-on-Avon for dinner out. We ate at this great Thai restaurant with some of the best Thai food I've ever had. I even tried ginger ice cream! They are so generous and I can't be more thankful for everything those two did. There are few things better than the hospitality of friends and especially of people you hardly know. I had never met either of them before and Geoff had only met my stepmother once years ago. Amazing, amazing people.
Saturday morning I caught the lazy train to London. It was slow but very scenic and I got more reading done. I got into Waterloo around Noon and decided to walk to the hostel since the sun was out. It actually got really hot and I was dying when I got to the hostel 45 minutes later (Clink, near King's Cross). To my annoyance, I found out check in wasn't until 2:30pm so I had to stash my stuff in the luggage room. Once I saw the luggage room however I opted to shove my backpack in a locker so that it wasn't lost among the chaos. First, however, I sneaked into a bathroom stall, changed into lighter clothes and rearranged my bags. Then I walked toward Leicester square to meet up with Lauren & Co. before the play. After a bit of cat-and-mouse, we meandered to the theatre and meet up with the rest of the gang. Les Miserables was awesome! I'd seen it when I was younger but it made much more sense now. When we left the theatre it was down pouring. Serious rain. Biblical. The kind of rain that ignores the fact that your clothes and shoes are supposed to be waterproof. I didn't give in though and am still umbrella free! I'm really not sure why I'm so proud of this. So we took the tube toward the Globe and found a place to eat dinner after several tries. It was actually a really good Turkish place and right across from the Globe. We, of course, bought the cheap seats in the standing, open-air part and had to buy ponchos just to get through Macbeth. Totally worth it though. We were all very soggy and exhausted after and headed back to the hostel. I finally checked in and unfortunately didn't get a room with everyone else. Oh well.
It was a nice hostel but sooo humid and damp inside so nothing dried. Even my plastic poncho was still wet in the morning. The worst part was my boots soaked through and didn't dry but I had to wear them b/c it was still raining cats and dogs on Sunday morning. My bus didn't leave until 11:30 but I took the tube to Victoria right after breakfast so I could see Westminster Abbey. I ended up just seeing the outside since it wasn't open yet. I hid in Starbucks the rest of the morning and talked with an older gentleman who noticed I was reading Hemingway. I finally headed to the coach station and sat in the waiting area. I picked the wrong seat, of course, and ended up sitting next to this guy who hummed/sang to himself the whole time--and not well either. Then he kept doing little dances moves with his feet and 'accidentally' brushing me with his elbow. I'm not prone to violence but I was seriously close to taking the punk down. So please people, save the pipes for karaoke night and respect the personal space of others. Finally the dude shut up and I thankfully didn't end up next to him on the bus. I was probably overreacting but sitting in wet clothes does not put one in a good mood. I got back to Sheffield and practically ran into the station to change my shoes since it wasn't raining in Sheffield. It was cold out but I figured cold feet in flats was better than wet feet in boots--all those years of survivor shows and movies have finally paid off. A friend back home also got trench foot once from having wet shoes all day so I thought it best to avoid that nightmare.
Monday was a bank holiday which basically meant another Sunday for me and another day of doing practically nothing. It really put me back in vacation mode which is not good. Today I had regular seminars and lectures although it's the 2nd to last week of actual classes so attendance is low. My modern seminar was only me and one other girl who hadn't read the book. So it was basically me talking the whole time. Good thing I finished Hemingway and liked it. I picked up groceries on the way home so I can stop eating scraps. Although, I've gotten pretty creative at making meals out of limited supplies.
I can't believe next week is the last week of lecture! We only had 11 weeks of courses which really isn't a lot and was broken up by the 3 week break. Crazy. I really need to start figuring out what to do with the rest of my time here. Less than 2 months left before I fly home!