Today: Bath to London
Part of: Solo UK and France by Train
So I've decided my traditional approach of blogging in chronological order is for the birds. From now on I'm going to post what I want to, regardless of what order it happened in! So although I still have photos and stories to share from Peterborough, Cambridge, Oxford, and more of Bath, I'm just going to tell you what I did today.
Today started in Bath and ended in London, and it was a pretty great day, not least because the weather was lovely - sunny almost all day. In October, that is a precious gift that must be seized to the fullest! So although my time on the train prevented my usual huge numbers of photos, I did manage several fun and photogenic activities in both cities.
Morning in Bath
I began my last morning in Bath very traditionally, by taking the waters! I had my first ever soak in the thermal baths, which nowadays is done in a modern spa a few blocks from the Roman baths. They use the same natural hot springs as the ancients did, which bubble up at 92° F and full of minerals. Not only is it a highly "historic" thing to do, I hoped it would help rejuvenate my poor legs and neck, which I have been demanding a lot of every day for weeks now. And to my relief, unlike in Baden Baden, these baths are not done naked!
The best part is the rooftop pool, which has a lovely view of Bath and the surrounding hills, and the steam rises picturesquely off the water in the cool morning air. It was awesome. There are bubbles in some parts of the pool, and they provide foam noodles you can float on. (Sophisticated, adult noodles, of course - short, U-shaped, and in royal blue.) But the depth is only about 5 feet, so you can stand comfortably as well. I spent about an hour in there.
I also tried out the Minerva Bath, which is a larger version of the same thing on the bottom floor, and the steam rooms, in which you sit in successive "pods" that are scented with various aromatherapy oils:
Another photo from the website, showing the steam pods (does that guy realize the shower isn't on?)
I'm not typically a huge sauna fan - I usually just feel hot and like I can't breathe very well - but I dutifully sat in each one for about five minutes, and it did feel pretty good. It also raised my body temperature enough that I wasn't cold for the walk back to my hotel, which I had been dreading! It was probably only in the 40s outside at that time.
Back at the hotel, I packed up, checked out, and left my luggage with the hotel so I could do a little more exploring before leaving Bath. First item of business was lunch, which, since it was Sunday in the UK, can only be a traditional Sunday roast. I asked Google which ones were the best, and of those I chose the one in a historic building: the Green Park Brasserie in the old Green Park Station.
The Green Park Station is a former train station, built in the 1860s. The trains that left here mainly took vacationers to the coast, so it must have been a pretty happy place. It closed in 1966 and it now hosts a wonderful public market - including farm-fresh sausages and eggs, beautiful baked goods, creative chocolates, art, etc....
The restaurant is at the front of the station, in what I assume to have been the main hall.
I chose beef for my Sunday lunch this time, and it was excellent.
As was the apple cider bread pudding with cinnamon marscapone!
After lunch I browsed the market for a bit, then headed for my next stop, which was about a block away: the Herschel Museum of Astronomy. It would be easy to miss, as it's just one townhouse among a long row of them, but it's a pretty significant place for the history of science: here on March 13, 1781, looking through a homemade telescope aimed at the heavens from the back garden, Sir William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus. He also discovered various comets and stars, working together with his sister Caroline who lived with him.
Front of house and museum entrance
Back of house and garden where the discovery was made
There is still a nice view of the sky from here!
The house has been well-preserved and restored as a museum, and it was fun to explore all three levels of a fairly typical Georgian townhouse, from the kitchen and workshop next to the garden on the bottom floor to the refined music room on the top floor (Herschel was a professional musician as well). There were lots of good artifacts on display throughout, including letters, documents, and lots of scientific and musical instruments.
Workshop for creating improved telescopes, which mostly involved refining metals
I particularly enjoyed this letter - "I am in distress.... I found a comet and I do not know what to do with it."
Next I headed up to the Royal Crescent, which I'd already spent a lot of time photographing (and I hope to share more photos later) but never in such clear blue sky. It's also one of my favorite places in Bath - such refined architecture, made of beautiful Bath stone, and overlooking a big green park.
But mainly, I had one more attraction to check off my list: No. 1 Royal Crescent, a museum that recreates what life was like in these townhouses around the time they were built (1774). It's inside the house at the far right end of the Crescent (seen in top photo above).
The museum has two strikes against it: none of the furnishings are original to the townhouse, and photos are not allowed. But I still found it worthwhile and enjoyable to visit. It was interesting to compare a larger and more luxurious townhouse with the one I'd just seen. As at Castle Howard, there were knowledgable and friendly guides in each major room; here they also handed visitors laminated sheets giving all the details on the furnishings and paintings in the room.
Happily, one of the guides did allow me to take photos from the window of the drawing room over the Crescent (above). This house has quite the views: being on the end, it is one of only two houses with views in two directions. The guides explained that in Georgian times, there was a grazing field in place of the park, there were no big trees to block the view, and no buildings to be seen at all. Sounds pretty great!
On the way back to the hotel I walked through the Circus, a circle of townhouses designed by the same architects as the Crescent.
It is even fancier in its design: the three orders of Classical capitals (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian) are represented in the three levels.
And there are interesting little reliefs running around the whole thing, each one different.
I picked up my bags from my hotel and headed for the station on foot, stopping to snap a few photos on the way. For once I had allowed enough time to do that - usually I am walking at top speed to make a train!
My train left Bath 3:42, and I had worried that this would get me into London at rush hour until I remembered it was Sunday. But it turns out, a weekday rush hour may have been better!
The train from Bath to London Paddington was the most crowded I've seen in a long time - standing room only throughout the entire 1.5 hours. Over the loudspeaker they said there were 600 seats on the train but about 800 people on board. They apologized, but said there was no other reason than "sheer volume of people."
I stood for the first 15 minutes, crammed in near the luggage rack by the door, until the first stop when I was thrilled to grab a seat. I was a little less thrilled when I ended up with butts and purses in my face for the rest of the ride (since the aisles were still filled with standing passengers).
At Paddington, the next step was a 20-minute Tube ride to Southwark. I found this easy to navigate as always (it is wonderfully designed), but once on board I was crammed in again! Ugh, weekends. It is like rush hour all day! But I otherwise enjoy the Tube, and the journey was fairly short, so it wasn't too bad.
Evening in London
Then I rounded a corner and had my first sighting of the Shard, a new skyscraper that is now the tallest building in London. It was built after my last visit in 2010, so it was very fun to see such a major new addition to the skyline. Then I walked about another 10 minutes to my hotel.
Immediately after checking in, I ran out again with my camera and tripod to take advantage of the twilight hour. My hotel is located a few blocks south of the Thames, where the beautiful Millennium Bridge (designed by Norman Foster, whom you know from his Glasgow Armadillo) connects the Tate Modern museum (and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre) to St. Paul's Cathedral across the river. This is probably my favorite view in London, and I did my best to capture it in the lovely light of the "blue hour." I am still pretty new to night photography and have a lot to learn about optimal shutter speeds and aperture settings and what not, but on this trip I am determined to try my best every night it's not raining! Here are a few from tonight's attempt:
After dark, I finally headed to the hotel for the night, picking up some pesto fusilli on the way. And I've been here ever since, telling you all about my day.
The next couple of days are supposed to be the sunniest of the week, with lots of rain after that, so they will also likely be my busiest. Blogging may therefore be pretty minimal for the next few days.