Confident? Sure. Brave? Perhaps. Arrogant? Probably. It took me nearly two months of living in New York before I ventured out without a map, with the exception of the most routine trips to work. Tonight, however, after being in England less than a week, but also after logging perhaps 20 miles of walking in the city, I left for the evening with no bag, no camera, no map not even my coat since the evening is mild. Travelling light, I have only a book to read on the Tube.
I spent the last couple of nights in Bath, and I just arrived back in the city ~2 hours ago at Victoria Station. After checking in to my lodging, I decided it was time to see what was to be seen for the evening. Bath was a welcome diversion from the busyness of London; all the same, the energy of the city is still exciting to return to.
Upon arriving in Bath on Tuesday, I strolled the streets and took a few pictures. As someone who loves maps, I’d studied the drawing depicting the town center in my Rick Steves’ London 2007 guidebook. And even though I could probably reproduce a fairly accurate reproduction from memory, it’s still amazing (or obvious?) how actually being somewhere makes it come to life.
I went from a 4-star hotel north of Hyde Park to a youth hostel in Bath. It was easy enough to find, and I checked in at the pub on the first floor. I commented that this was my first time to check in at a bar, and the girl behind the counter looked at me quizzically and asked, ”Have you not stayed in a hostel before?” Oh. So much for pulling off the air of a young, hip, experienced traveller. At this stage in my life, I feel like I’m teetering at a certain balancing point, after which it will become exponentially harder to pretend I’m in my early 20’s and backpacking through Europe; instead I will book more and more nice hotel reservations well in advance, perhaps take a cab rather than lugging my bags through the Underground, order appetizers and something to drink besides water with my meals, and perhaps even consider a sport coat and loafers ”casual and comfortable attire”.
Ah, youth. But I digress. I climbed the steep stairs to my bunk room and deposited my bags before wandering around the city a bit more. I had a burger in the pub, and then explored another part of the town. In the evening, I climbed to the attic on the fourth floor where the ”Chill Out Room” was situated (Why can’t they just call it a lounge? Den? TV room? ”Chill Out Room” annoys me. And I’ll take some sparkling mineral water with my calamari, please.) I spent the evening writing a blog post which you’ve probably already read and did some leisure reading.
My sleep from 2230 to 0630 should have been invigorating. I shared the room with 5 1/2 empty bunk beds. Slightly springy bunk beds. Not springy as in bouncy, but springy as in you can almost feel the springs through the mattress. My sleep was interrupted, however, by to Asian girls loudly entering at 2330, and spending 30 minutes talking in foreign tongue and unpacking their luggage which seemed to consist entirely of crinkly cellophane by the sound of it. They arose at 0530 and spent another thirty minutes repacking their cellophane and were gone by the time I climbed out of bed at 0630.
At 0830 I was at the town square in front of the abbey and ready to board my tour for the day. There were 15 of us, plus the driver, a middle-aged man named Keith with a large gut and a slow English drawl. Also on the tour were a young couple–probably about my age, two middle aged women (I now consider middle aged 50’s to spry 60’s), two early 20-something girls from Calvin College–Laura and Stasia–, a computer engineer about my age named Jessie who’d up and moved with his wife and two young children from Seattle to Bath just to try something different, a man and his son who was probably about my age, and a family with three sons who appeared to be about college age. All three were unshaven for probably more days than I’d been away from the States, somewhat sarcastic, and the oldest had a few earrings, a leather coat, and wore his cap rotated about 30 degrees off center.
First, though, we stopped at Stonehenge and took some pictures, saw another ”henge” at Avesbury where I got to try ”dousing” for metal or water with two rods. Nothing. When I returned the rods to Keith, though, I pulled a pound from my pocket and told him it worked pretty well. Surprisingly, he fell for it.
We stopped at lunch at a town called Lacock where we had lunch at the George Inn, which has been around since the 1300’s! There I tried my first English ale–cellar temperature and noncarbonated. Perhaps it will be my last English ale. Jessie, Laura, Stasia, and I formed a ”Tour Alliance” over lunch, and wandered around the town for the next 45 minutes. They, like me, had noted the interesting family dynamics with the aforementioned sons.
Kristin C will be interested in Lacock for two reasons. Harry Potter and Pride & Prejudice. Pictures and explanation to follow. We finished the tour in the Cotswolds village of Castle Combe which is virtually unchanged for the last, oh, 500 years or so. Very charming. Pictures to follow.
Another night at the hotel, thankfully quieter than the last. This morning I toured the Roman baths which had been recommended by just about everyone, including my parents and others on yesterday’s tour. I had a bad feeling about paying £11 to see some old baths, but on the other hand how often am I in Bath? Soon after paying the equivalent of nearly $20, I regretted it. Perhaps I’m sick of being a tourist. Perhaps I don’t appreciate history like I should. In either case, I enjoyed the next few hours waiting for the bus much more than my tour, during which time I had a latte, did some leisure reading, strolled around the picturesque town a bit more in the cool sunshine, did more leisure reading, had lunch at a Nepali restaurant near a bridge (with a glass of French white wine, no appetizer) , and did more reading at the bus station.
I arrived back in London around evening rush hour. I’ve realized an inexpensive way to manage food on vacation (and still enjoy it) is to have one sit-down meal per day (which, if I’m lucky, I can find for £7 or 8), and have a sandwich and fruit for the other meal (~£2). Of course, there’s still room to splurge (like my wine). That being said, I picked up a sandwich and a couple bananas at Victoria Station–which, packed with commuters–seemed like a less busy Penn Station, before riding the Underground over to St Paul’s neighborhood.
That just about brings me up to the present. I’m back at the £1 per hour internet place near Trafalgar Square, and the man sitting next to me reeks heavily of cigarette smoke. And to write quotation marks, I have to hit the apostrophe key twice. There, dear readers, you’re on the cutting edge of my life.
Sorry for the long and wordy post, but it’s just as much for me as for you. And I promise pictures soon when I get back to New York in a couple days. Tomorrow’s agenda will be a morning jog along the Thames, Churchill’s underground war rooms, and a trip to the National Gallery. And plenty of leisure reading sprinkled in between.