I’ve been uncharacteristically behaving as an American Tourist in Bath, England this weekend. Admittedly, I only had to take a train here since I am a UK resident. I had been to this part of the UK — Bath and the surrounding regions — before, but only for work, and had never sampled the tourist aspects of the town. I had a chance to come back for work this past Friday, and I decided to stay all weekend and explore although by American standards the hotel prices are outrageous. (This was, as my sister noted, a form of a Bridget Jones “mini-break,” a phrase I have never heard here in the UK but agree with completely in spirit–it really was a mini-break for me!)
I actually had quite a scary moment at hotel check-in because I had not brought my passport. I was only coming from elsewhere in the UK but since my credit card is American and still linked to an American address I had a bit of explaining to do… fortunately a quick conversation with the check-in clerk regarding the circumstances did solve the problem. (Note to the idiots that run British banking… your refusal to give UK credit cards to legitimate residents of the country employed legally in the UK on work permits has implications that you’ve never thought of…) But I’ve been bumming around town in my “University of Minnesota” sweatshirt and being my American tourist self, not pretending that I try to live here in the UK. It’s been an interesting few days.
Bath has been brilliant. I cannot even begin to describe the fun I’ve had here and my recommendations for a visit are enthusiastic. Of course, as seems to be the case whenever I travel, the “road less travelled” attractions end up being my favorites. Not only do they cater to my lack of interest in fighting with crowds, but there is typically more to see and learn when one escapes from the guidebook listings of “top 5 things to see while in xx.” I will never get over the fact that I do not know another single soul who has ever been to the “Museum of London” which is my absolute favorite London attraction — easily trumping the Tate modern, the London Eye, the V&A and (gulp) the Science Museum.
I adored the “Building of Bath Museum” which I freely admit is not for everyone, but it does cater to those of us with interests in architecture and engineering. The Roman Baths are interesting but full of people, and one can easily see the complexity of dealing with Roman ruins overbuilt with Georgian nonsense. Note: do not wear low-slung jeans to the Roman Baths. There are a number of places where the only way to see the actual Roman ruins is to crouch down, and I fear I was displaying both undies and even worse at these instances!
I attended the Saturday evensong service at the Bath Abbey, which was definitely an adequate introduction to this building. Unlike other great churches of Europe in which I have toured recently, the interesting aspects of the Bath Abbey are more or less completely visible to the congregation in a service. And for the non-Anglicans in our midst, evensong is a short service of mostly music by the choir, and a great introduction to the formal Anglican attitude towards church services. I remember walking by Westminster Abbey in the years before I lived here and being mystified by this option being listed on the sign, but IMHO it’s the best thing about the Anglican tradition and I’m sure I’m not the only one to think so. They actually don’t want the congregation to sing: the words are in the hymnal but not the tunes! It’s a classic British theme: only for the initiated.
I did not go to any of the sacred Jane Austen sites in Bath although I am quite the Jane Austen fan. I did try the spa water, which tasted to me like Northern Minnesota cabin water. You know, the classic mineral-y taste of well water that we did not realise was a commodity when we drank it as children… I did not have to travel 4000 miles and pay out the nose to drink the water, I could have done it at home. Ah, the marvelous rebranding of un-filtered water! This is Bath so here we are, paying to sip.
The architecture of Bath really is amazing and is worth a few days of wandering. As one of my friends (also an American in the UK) said recently, you almost can’t believe the extent to which an average English street contains an historic building since they have fallen into disrepair in numbers that are difficult to quantify. It’s certainly true that Bath could use a clean up from the industrial revolution… but at the end of the day I’m Minnesotan, and so the state of MN was founded long after Bath was an amazing urban city with architecture (crescents!) and neo-classical elements that are worth seeing.
I have no conclusion other than GO TO BATH! It’s a great UK town to visit and really interesting for reasons other than its proximity to Stonehenge…