Thursday, 1 April 2010


The first day of our Easter holidays was to be an embrace of the luxuriousness of the enjoyment of all things around us. So I had big plans of heading off to Bath to check out the Roman Baths and the Bath Abbey.

I have extremely fond memories of Bath. However, I suspect this has less to do with the place and more to do with the company. My grandmother had come to visit me in England just after I moved here. It was the first and only time she came to visit me. We had spent a week in the Cotswolds. We'd stayed in charming B&Bs with claw footed bath tubs bigger than hot tubs chintzed to the max with rose budded duvets and curtains and chairs and sofas and pillows. We visited villages with odd names like Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaguhter. We bought an antique clock (which we still have) in a small little village. We walked all over Cheltenham. We laughed at the sight of a horse we had mistaken for a statue wee for 20 minutes. We had played gin rummy for hours sitting in pubs drinking ale. Nanny had marveled at the 7 different vegetables served with our Sunday Roast Beef (each and every one of them lovingly over cooked in the way only the English can do).

Our last day we made our way to Bath. We were exhausted. And she was in her 70s. So we took the easy way out and took a whistle stop double decker bus tour. I tell you Bath looked lovely from there. But I hadn't stepped foot into the baths or the abbey so I always felt slightly guilty when I said I'd been to Bath. I'd really only had someone else drive me round it.

As Sebastian is studying the Romans at school I wanted to go to Rome for the Easter holidays. As a recovering Catholic I have always wanted to be in the holiest of Christian cities for the holiest of Christian holidays. I've always wanted to see the spectacle of the Pope saying mass in St Peter's Square. But my husband has something against Italy. Something about them not being civilised. Can't imagine what he thinks he's talking about. These people invented sewers and water aqueducts and they have some of the best food in the world. I've been to Rome several times and it is my second favourite city (only to Florence - another Italian city). there is so much history here. Everywhere you look!

But the gods (or is that one god) conspired against me and we didn't quite make it to Rome. So I looked around and found that whilst exquisite Italian food is hard to find here, we have plenty of Roman ruins of our own. We picked Bath for the baths.

I knew it was going to be a bit tricky when we woke to a downpour but I will not let this weather beat me. I've lived in this grey, wet country far too long to let a gale force wind stop me.

My plans had us setting off at 9 am but this got scuppered when Marc had a panicked call from a customer who needed some urgent assistance. He assured me he would be back for a slightly later departure time of 10 am. At 11 my husband appeared wondering why we weren't standing outside in the rain waiting breathlessly for his arrival.

I agreed to drive under duress as Marc needed to do get some work done during the journey. We had estimated our travel time to be 1.5 hours which would have been entirely reasonable had the Highways Agency been able to organise a piss-up (drinking contest) in a brewery. But noooooo.

During the 70 mile stretch there were 5 different work zone of more than 5 miles each where the speed was reduced to no more than 50 mph. Speed cameras measuring average speed ensured my temptation to ignore the law was scuppered. This meant our 1.5 hour estimation was in reality just over 2 hours and given our late departure time we arrived in Bath at lunch time.

So we popped into the M&S to grab some sandwiches although with the rain continuing to announce its presence with authority there was no where to eat our lunch unless we fancied some soggy bread. Besides as luck would have it neither of the children particularly fancied our choice of sandwiches. My patience was wearing thin.

We duly paid our entrance fee of £30 and excitedly set upon our audio tours, one for the children and one for the adults. Soon thereafter more troubles ensued.

The site was jam packed. A representative from the site has since informed me that a number of group visits were booked for the day and most of them did not turn up at their allotted times. No, they waited until we got there. We got pushed, We got pulled, We got shoved. We couldn't see a thing, especially the children.

We had been given free audio tour devices upon our entrance. The children really seemed to enjoy theirs. The commentary must have been entertaining and engaging as Sebastian kept complaining we were moving too far ahead and needed to slow down so he could finish listening. this is what all mothers dream of hearing so we quite happily slowed down.

Unfortunately, the audio tours were not quite as good for the adults. It didn't move at the same pace as the children's but that is not always a bad thing. However, music whilst just standing in a thronging crowd doesn't make it come alive for anyone. Tell me something I wouldn't know by just being there on my own. There are additional commentary tracts narrated by the author Bill Bryson which are good but he does swerve into over sentimental territory often. I, also, am awe struck by the historical significance of the baths. You don't have to tell me how awe struck you are seven times (or more....I only started counting when my annoyance levels went into hyper speed).

To make matters worse, a large portion of the site is under refurbishment. This cause major foot traffic jams in pinch points in the exhibits particularly when there was a long audio explanation in a specific area. And all that construction disrupted the continuity of the site making it extremely difficult to visualize what the site looked like which is a key component for a curator of a museum of this historical significance.

I suppose I was most upset that we didn't see any signage at the entrance that indicated there was refurbishment work taking place. When I checked out the website I didn't see any either. And the teller certainly didn't mention it when we bought our tickets. I think it is a bit cheeky to ask people to pay a full price ticket when only half the site is available to view. And even then you couldn't see it for all the crowds.

The final straw on this camel's back was the spa water fountain. The water in the baths is untreated. You should not touch it or drink it. However, there is the promise of a spa water fountain at the end of the tour. The children were desperate to try a drink. So we went and joined the queue. The long queue. The very long queue which was getting longer as there was no one serving the water from the fountain. Nor did there appear to be anyone interested in resolving the situation.

It is safe to say that we left there with a somewhat bitter (and parched) taste in our mouths. I am happy to inform you my dear readers that a very nice woman, Katie Smith, has responded to the, I am ashamed to admit, rather vitriolic email I sent this morning. She responded to everyone one of my complaints and apologised profusely. Additionally she offered a free ticket for our family to return to the site once the refurbishments are complete as they have overrun. She also offered a full refund but when someone is that nice and professional and fair, you gotta give it another go. So, dear Ms Smith, we will be back once your refurbishments are over. And it better be good!

After our rather unpleasant trip round the baths I was tempted to just get in the car and drive home. But I couldn't pass up the Bath Abbey. Never one to pass up an ancient church I just had to give this one a go. And I have to admit it was well worth the time. They had a little quiz for the children that ensured they explored every corner, nook and cranny. I discovered that the very first English monarch was crowned here in 973 AD. It had some of the most beautiful and best kept stained glass windows I have ever seen. It was dry. It was warm. It was peaceful. It was calming. It was perfect.

There will be a third trip to Bath in a few months time and we can't wait. Anyone fancy joining us? Third times a charm!

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