Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hot Water, Weird Rocks and The Royal Family

When Dayne was working in London, a few years back, and I came to visit for a couple of weeks, we headed out of town one weekend for Bath. It was an easy drive from the city but since we didn't leave until after Dayne got off work on Friday, it was already dark when we arrived. Driving into the small town, through country side on windy 2-lane roads, made us very curious to see the area in the daylight.

We were staying at The Queensbury Hotel, which is an interesting group of old townhomes, connected together to make up a fairly large hotel. The rooms were huge, really interestingly designed and the bed was the best either of us had ever slept on. HIGHLY recommend this hotel!

Since we got in a bit late we ate at the hotel's restaurant (The Olive Tree) the first night, it's very nice if a bit expensive.  After dinner we had drinks at the very cute hotel bar which had the coolest bowler hat ice bucket we've ever seen.

We made our way through the tiny town the next morning and started our sightseeing at Bath Abbey. The church is gorgeous and its original foundation dates back to the 7th century. Its gone through multiple rebuilds since that time obviously. Inside, there is an amazing fan ceiling and the walls are adorned with war memorials and monuments.

Seeing how the town is called Bath, a tour of the Roman baths, although obviously highly touristy, is a must. Luckily it was also really fascinating. The self guided audio takes you around the baths themselves, but also below ground to a museum of archeological finds and explanations on all things geothermal.

As you leave the museum you can get a glass of the spring water from the next door inn, it's said to have healing powers. We went for our magical water, the waiter filling our glass from a pretty indoor fountain, and both grimaced as we took a sip. It was hot and very nasty tasting!

We took a break for lunch at the very delicious Garrick's Head Pub and then caught a 'Hop On, Hop Off' bus for an afternoon tour. Since we were only in town one full day we wanted to see what we could.

Our guide was great, he was born and bred in Bath and had lots of interesting stories to tell. We asked him about the water and he said that all the residents got it for free, whether they wanted it or not! We saw where Jane Austin lived (many of her stories were based in Bath), the Royal Crescent (Bath actually has a few crescent buildings), drove along the lovely river Avon and thru/past multiple parks, etc. It was a good way to see the different areas of town without driving ourselves.
After the tour we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the park that sits along the river. It's really stunning, you could easily make a day of it just hanging out. 

A little walk thru town, a brief stop for a few pints at the Assembly Pub, and an excellent dinner at the Marlborough Tavern wrapped up our brief 36 hours or so in Bath.

The next morning we drove to Stonehenge, through the lovely countryside we had missed on the drive in due to darkness.

Stonehenge is amazing, what can I say that others haven't? Although you have to stay out on a path, not entering the stones themselves, it is still very, very, cool. There are ways to do a special access tour but this visit, literally a stop along the highway back to London, was perfect for me. Park, grab an audio guide, walk, be amazed.

The final stop on our way "home" was to Windsor to tour the castle. We found parking in the small town that is dwarfed by the huge house, and stopped in the pub across the street for some lunch and a pint. Looks like we weren't the only one's who thought the food here was great!
The castle is just absolutely beautiful. As it is still the residence of the Royals there are many places where photography isn't allowed. There are also many places where us mere mortals aren't allowed. But the grounds are big enough to widen your eyes for a few hours and the history is really quite amazing. 
After walking up a steep hill you come to the main grounds. There's the original moat, now landscaped, the main castle, the state apartments, private apartments, chapel, multiple towers, etc. 

One of my favorite areas was the Waterloo Chamber, a large banquet hall with a ceiling covered with the plaques of every person knighted. If a knight falls in bad standing, his plaque is blanked out. Harsh. 

I also loved the room where there was a full replica of the castle as a doll house. This was made for Queen Mary. It's astonishing how exact it was. I snuck a few photos, and got in trouble, but luckily escaped without incident!

And of course no royal visit is complete without a chat with the guards!

And now you know where that new baby will be hanging with grandma. Bath, Stonehenge, and Windsor are easy getaways from London, all photos are here.

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