Thursday, July 17, 2008

No one tells you about the Pigs...

While preparing for a trip to Bath, any diligent guidebook peruser reads about the Sally Lunn Bath Bun, the Thermae bath spa, the Bath Abbey, the Royal Crescent, and Pulteney Bridge. While visiting Bath today, I experienced all of the above. But that's not all I experienced. What those guidebook authors don't tell you about are the decorative statue pigs. Pigs covered in shiny jewels, pigs coated in birch bark layers, pigs painted in black and white swirls. Pigs in the middle of parks and plazas, pigs hanging from trees, pigs floating above shops to help sell wares. My favorite secular pig is featured in the above photo, and my favorite religious pig graces the Abbey courtyard, with the motto "Let them sing" inscribed on its little piggy side. I bet Bath residents like the movie Babe.

When I stepped off the train to Bath, the walk from the railroad did not exactly fill me with pleasant sensations and anticipation. I strode along a fairly dirty and nondescript avenue for a good half mile, but once my expectations had sunk, I emerged into a delightful town center.

Which I quickly left. I spent my morning walking up. Up, up, up. I was hoping that eventually I would get far enough up to get a beautiful picture of Bath from above, sparkling yellow Bath Stone lit by perhaps a chance sunbeam from the cloudy sky. Photographic glory beckoned as I sweated upward through a maze of expensive Suburban houses, each individually named with title like "Abbey View." Unfortunately, they blocked my view. At last I got to the very top of Bath and took the second picture in the series above from a schoolyard. I never did get my grand view, but I did get a lot of good exercise, and a lot of picturesque mini-views of cottages and gardens.

I didn't do many of the touristy things of Bath. I admired the yellow buildings and imagined Jane Austen characters promenading on the very wide sidewalks (to leave room for fancy dresses back when Bath was a playground for the social elite). I walked along the vast historical crescents and tried to capture them in a photo (the first one, above), but they were too big to fit with much visual eloquence. So I opted to do what people have been doing in Bath since the Roman Era. Bathe.

The Thermae Bath Spa is an impressive place, and not only because there are small signs sprinkled liberally throughout the city pointing towards it. I decided to purchase two hours within it, "taking the waters at Bath" like so many who have come before. So, I buckled my identity wristband, used it to key into the main spa area, stashed my things in a locker, and emerged onto the rooftop pool. Incidentally, I did not take the above photo, it's from the spa website. I didn't think people would appreciate me carting around my camera inside the spa. But the rooftop pool really does have pretty great views over downtown Bath, and it really does steam. However, it wasn't as hot as a heat-seeker like me requires. What to do? Turns out the four steam rooms are MUCH hotter. So, I whiled away the early afternoon alternately steaming in Lavender, Eucalyptus, Frankincense, and Mint-infused steam in the four circular glass steam rooms of the Steam Paradise. In between I stepped into the waterfall shower, a true delight, in the middle of the area. As the Thermae website puts it: "A central 'waterfall' shower provides a variety of sensations interspersed with fibre optic lighting: the lightest misting of water or a tropical shower." Seriously. Wow.

As I turned another page of Dubliners on the train, headed for home in Oxford, I found I could understand why generations have flocked to Bath. Though they are delicious, it's not the Sally Lunn Buns. Though it is really really yellow, it's not to admire the mellow bath stone out of which all the buildings are constructed. And though they are incredibly wide, it's not for the sidewalks. We go for the extremely relaxed, slightly dehydrated, altogether pleasant feeling that I was feeling just then.

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