Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ancient relics - giant stones and Roman baths

Day 13 (Sat, 14 June 2014)

Today would be the last of our day trips, out to Stonehenge and Bath. Again, we booked with Anderson Tours because of the convenient pickup at Earl's Court, which meant we didn't have to wake up extra early and take the Tube down to another pickup place.

Our first stop was Stonehenge. Some 15 years ago when I last came here, the coach could drive up all the way to the Visitor Centre at the stones. But since the Centre was being renovated, the coach had to drop us off at the base of the hill and we could only access the site via the official bus or tram.

Stonehenge is a World Heritage Site dating back nearly 5,000 years. It has been home to pagan religion and spiritual worship for many over the years. When we were there, there was actually a group of druids all dressed up in medieval clothing, performing a ritual among the stones! And no, it wasn't a re-enaction. They really do believe in the mystical properties of Stonehenge. Umm... I dunno what to say to that.

To be honest, we thought they kinda spoilt the facade of the stones, but this was the best angle we could get that didn't show so much of the group.

All throughout the area were fields of poppies, an explosion of scarlet amidst a lush verdant backdrop.

Next, we headed to the city of Bath, a famous English city in Somerset. This was the view coming into Bath. Bath was also the home of famous author, Jane Austen (although Lesley-Anne refused to visit the Jane Austen Centre cos she detested the book Emma, that was her sec 4 literature text).

This Georgian City is a UNESCO World Heritage site, mainly because of its Roman Baths, built nearly 2,000 years ago. The baths are the best preserved Roman Spa from the ancient world.

Example of a drain that channels the water to the baths. Amazing how they had such sophisticated structures thousands of years ago.

These are the tiles beneath the floor that would be heated up by the natural hot spring.

Many structures were discovered at the baths, including tombstones such as this one:

They had hot rooms and steam rooms too, much like the saunas and spas of today. The rich would have servants pour the hot water on them and give them massages. Ye Olde Spa Treatment! Baths were not just a leisure activity, the waters were also considered healing and therapeutic.

There are quite a few historical eating places in Bath. One of them is Sally Lunn's, which occupies one of the oldest buildings in the city and is famous for its buns.

We had the buns with some smoked salmon, pork loin and a cream tea set. The sets come with a pot of tea. Can't get more English than that.

The bun looks like a massive burger bun but its texture is more like a light and pillowy brioche, slightly toasted so there's a nice crisp around the edges.

The savoury items were nothing to shout about but the cream tea, with jam and clotted cream, was addictive. (Incidentally, Andre and I love clotted cream. We wish we could tar pow tubs of it back home!)

We had some time left so we walked towards Pulteney Bridge which overlooks the River Avon. Yet another postcard-worthy scene. The parks and gardens of England are gorgeous in Summer.

Traffic was bad coming back to London. Due to road works, I estimate we were stuck for 30mins at a half-km stretch. We held a bet as to what time we would reach our drop-off point and the guesses were as follows: Andre - 8.05pm, Me - 8.20pm, Lesley-Anne - 8.30pm, Kenneth - 8.40pm. At 7.50pm, we were still gridlocked and it looked like there was no way Andre could win. Then suddenly, as the coach passed a stretch, traffic became smooth-flowing and it stopped at Earl's Court just as the clock on the bus turned 8.05pm. Unreal. I'm only telling this story because it sometimes seems as if the stars align just to suit Andre. His prize? A bag of chips.

We weren't that hungry as we'd eaten at 4pm at Bath, so we decided to grab a pizza from Pizza@Home, a little shop around the corner of where we were staying.

Prices are very reasonable. After 6pm, it's £8 for a freshly made 14" pizza. £1 off if you order before 6pm. There are so many varieties to choose from, we took a long time to figure out what to order!

In the end, we went with parma ham, rocket and cheese. It was an excellent pizza - the crust is light and crisp. That's one very happy boy!


Rachel Tan said...

I didn't know Jane Austen lived in Bath! We just returned from only 3 days in UK (was nit in London) and saw that she was buried at the cathedral in Winchester! The cathedral guide said they would reveive hundreds of flower bouquets each year at her death anniversary.

monlim said...

Yes, Jane Austen lived in Bath. The coach even drove by her old place and we took a photo of the door! It took a lot of courage and determination for a woman of her time to take up writing and I salute her for that. However, if I'm honest, I thought only Pride and Prejudice was a great classic. Some of her other novels were rambly and plotless. Don't kill me :D