We were all set to spend a couple of weeks in the south of France. It was going to be great, sunny even! We were going to visit two towns which are contenders in our quest to find our next base, bookending a stay at a thermal hot spring in the Pyrenees where we would meet up with a couple of friends. A day and a half beforehand, we were informed that our train was canceled. The tracks were badly damaged during a huge storm and would be down for repairs for at least three weeks. I spent some time scrambling for another way to get there, to no avail. Sure, we could have flown, but it seemed ridiculous to spend such a sum of money and carbon to go take a bath. It was disappointing, but it was a first-world disappointment. We spent an evening being bummed, especially about not seeing our friends, and unpacking. The next morning I woke up and blindsided Mark with: You want a bath? Let’s go to Bath!
Thankfully Mark responds well to my improvisations, even if he’d prefer I let him have a cup of coffee first. And as much as I lament the internet for what it has done to my attention span, not to mention our political discourse, it’s unbeatable for travel planning. An hour or so later I had train tickets to London and Bath, our hotels, and then on a whim…tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! Clearly I’m not the target demographic for that universe. But after reading the books with my eldest nephew when they first came out, I went back to the series when I started relearning french. They are ideal for that. The books start simple, at an 11 year old’s reading level and progress from there. The story is a hell of a lot more interesting than the usual fare of children’s books or those godawful language learner readers. So just as I became someone who says Super! all the time because I once heard a french person say it and I thought it was hilarious, to the point where a nephew commented that it’s my favorite word, so have I become the sort of person who would go to London to see the Harry Potter play. You become what you do. A cautionary tale.
Blockbuster theater is very much out-of-the-ordinary for us. We were enchanted. Dare I say it was super? Seven hours of theater (or theatre) that didn’t lag once. The staging was spectacular. The theater itself was straight out of Hogwarts.
The place was packed. I have no idea how I got the seats I did on such short notice.
All told, we spent three days in London, wondering why we hadn’t made it there sooner. It’s a two and a half hour train ride from Paris. Easy-peasy! We spent all of our non-theater time walking, going to museums, eating Indian food and speaking English. It was heaven.
My new favorite painting: Hans Holbein at the National Gallery
Off to Bath. We couldn’t have chosen a better plan B. The Thermae Bath Spa is a modern spa facility whose pools are fed by the same mineral source that fed the Roman baths. There’s a roof top open-air pool, one floor devoted to various types of saunas, and one floor that has an indoor pool. All warm and seriously relaxing. No pictures allowed, mercifully, because wouldn’t that suck if everyone was selfie-ing it up instead taking the waters?
You can visit the original Roman baths which is now a museum and get the whole history of Roman bathing. When this site was rediscovered, the lead lining of the pool was intact and it was full of water! It was open to the public for a while, until a girl died of meningitis after bathing.
The statues and building are a re-creation. In Roman times the water would not have been green, which is a result of algae growing in the sunlight. The original baths were covered.
All of Bath is a Unesco world heritage site, not just the Roman ruins. In the 18th century Bath was a fashionable spa town, and large areas were developed in the neo-classical style, influenced by the Venetian architect Palladio. They took care to incorporate the views of the surrounding hills in the town planning, which is lovely, but I find the architecture stifling. Small wonder famous resident Jane Austin was depressed during her 5 years there.
Bath’s other fabulous famous resident was the astronomer William Herschel. His narrow townhouse is a museum devoted to him and his astronomer sister Caroline. Caroline was the first woman scientist to receive a salary for her work and the first woman to hold a government post in England (as her brother’s assistant after he was made the royal astronomer, but still!). William discovered the planet Uranus from their little slice of a back yard, using the telescope THAT HE MADE, adapting Newton’s design. Caroline has a bunch of discovered comets to her credit.
The man had to make his own mirrors, for chrissake. 400 of them before he got it perfect.
While (thankfully) London cuisine has gotten a helluva lot better since my first visit in 1983, Bath is still largely all pub food and the usual college-town fare of pizza and hamburgers. We didn’t see a vegetable for days. And don’t get me started on the horror that is Full English Breakfast.
Meat pie. Yes, I ate this. Not once, but twice. You would have done the same.