A Day in Bath, UK

At the baths

Taking a very brief break from London, we recently headed to the city of Bath for the day. While Darren had encouraged an overnight trip, I was confident that we could make a reasonable dent in Bath’s offerings in a day, especially given that it’s a mere 90 minutes by train from London. I may have been mistaken, under normal circumstances.

The Abbey & Baths

In addition to being home to ancient Roman baths, Bath also offers natural hot springs, beautiful architecture, loads of museums, and is one of the most picturesque cities in England. The volume and mix of museums is impressive; from the Jane Austen museum to the Herschel Astronomy Museum to the Postal Museum.

Our first stop after arriving in Bath was the Roman Baths, the building of which started in 60-70 AD and evolved throughout the site’s use to the present.  The wikipedia  Roman Baths page is definitely worth a read for more background).

I think my favorite part were the curse tablets found at the site. On these small tablets,  one would convey a curse upon another who had wronged them. Many of these related to stealing offenses and the tablets would, in some cases, list all of the persons suspected. These tablets were thrown into one of the pools so the Gods could act upon them.

For Drinks Only

We then headed out in pursuit of lunch, dropping in at Bath’s smallest pub, The Coeur de Lion. Lured by the promise of local Abbey Ales and the pub’s lovely front window, we abandoned our original and well thought out plan for lunch at the Lime Lounge.

This, friends, was a mistake. While this pub was a cozy spot to hide from the rain, the food would have qualified as a 1.5 at best if subjected to the rigours of the Quest for Sunday Roast. My fries actually tasted bad! Darren focused on the mash component of his bangers & mash.

Denied at Herschel

Deflated from lunch, we headed to the Herschel Museum of Astronomy. En route there, not a single joke was made about how Herschel discovered Uranus. Really. Unfortunately, when we finally found Herschel’s house, we learned that the museum was closed for the rest of the month. Little did we know, this would not be the only time this happened.

The Jane Austen Centre

We then headed over to the Jane Austen Centre, located near one of the houses that Jane occupied during her lifetime.  The center offers a twice hourly presentation, and while the exhibits were nicely presented, the presentation was by far my favorite part of this museum of sorts. The presentation was largely biographical and talked about Austen’s life and how her family, and especially her seven siblings, are believed to have influenced her writing.  I learned so much!

The Royal Crescent

Heading through lovely, residential areas, we headed towards the Royal Crescent, a row of thirty Georgian houses that have been used as a backdrop in numerous films and is considered one of the finest examples of this sort of architecture in the UK.

Denied at Holburne

Around this time, I started to think that a sticky toffee pudding was necessary, but this was put off to see the Holburne Museum, located on the other side of the river. Our trek through the rain proved pointless as when we arrived giant banners advised us that the gallery would be closed until spring.

It seems to be a commonly held fact among the English that tea fixes everything, so we did the only reasonable thing: go for tea.

Sally Lunn's

A quick google for, “best tea shoppe bath”, brought us to Sally Lunn’s. Located in Bath’s oldest house, this was exactly the sort of place we were looking for. It smells wonderful! Lunn is famous for inventing the aptly named Sally Lunn Bun, which is a variation on the sweet and fluffy Bath Bun.

Naturally, we ordered Sally Lunn buns with our tea and enjoyed them very much. Even before adding jam or clotted cream, the buttery version delivered to me was fantastic.

So much to do...

Spirits were restored, and while we agreed to consider an earlier train back than our planned one around 8pm, we decided to check out another museum en route: The Postal Museum.

The Postal Museum is located in the basement of a post office.  While the staff was helpful, there’s not much to this museum. It’s actually smaller than my flat. While it did have a nifty old machine for perforating stamps that one could play with, the post office cat promised by the visit Bath site was disappointingly Fur Real and not a taxidermied cat with a story. I did enjoy the Queen Mum’s pigeongram (sent via carrier pigeon, really.)  sent in the mid-1980’s celebrating the museum’s opening.

so buttered!

We did the best we could. We’ll have to go back, I think… maybe when more things are open!

I’d definitely go back just for the awesomely buttered Sally Lunn bun.


York, England

Yorkminster and the Snow

As the end of the year draws closer, I realize that the husband and I should really be taking advantage of all the inexpensive mid-week train fares.

Among the many shopping streets

Thanks to that nagging idea and a pile of Hilton points begging to be used, we headed north to York for an overnight jaunt.

While the train took its sweet time to arrive (two hours late), we arrived with a few hours of Tuesday’s precious daylight left to enjoy.

After checking in, we headed to the Jorvik Viking Centre, a museum of sorts located on the site of a late 70’s archeological dig which yielded a number of significant finds about the Viking city of Jorvik, now known as, “York”.  The center includes a museum of archeological finds, exhibits relating to the structures that resided on this site, and an indoor gondola ride meant to provide visitors with the experience of touring Jorvik under Viking occupation, including the commerce, architecture, and even the smells.

We then headed to the Merchant Adventurers Hall, built in the 14th century by the traders who formed this organization. It remains in use today, as the organization continues to have an active membership, nearly 700 years later.

The Parkin

After having a delicious tea fix at  The Hairy Fig, a shop with adjoining tea room, we had a bit of a wander around The Shambles and surrounding streets. The Shambles is a more than 900 year old street, lined with 15th century buildings. It is currently home to shops, and was rated as the most picturesque street in the UK.

With a quick pub stop at The Swan en route, we headed to the highly ranked Melton’s, which was every bit as excellent as reviews led us to believe. The venison was lovely, but I think my favorite thing was the dessert, a Parkin. A parkin is a ginger cake, specific to Yorkshire. It reminded me of sticky toffee pudding, only gingery.

Our view in the morning.

Yorkminster's Interior

We awoke on Wednesday to find that quite a bit of snow fell whilst we were dreaming. After a quick stop for suitable footware, we headed to Yorkminster, the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. Like many of the cathedrals I’ve seen in England, this one has been well preserved, but what I really liked about it was how, where possible, evidence of the site’s evolution was highlighted. For example, one can view the Roman era walls in the crypt, and the first apse is subtly marked.

After all that Cathedral, it was scone o’clock. My pilates instructor, Lavinia, had mentioned a tea shop, and I was about to text her for the name when I spotted a venue that simply had to be the place. Betty’s delivered exactly what we were seeking: delicious tea and sultana scones.  While we were steered towards and also ordered a Yorkshire Fat Rascal, I found that I preferred the smaller, simpler offering with strawberry jam and clotted cream.

The Messy Closet Portion of the Museum

The Shambles by Day

In a scone coma (my first), we ventured out into the snow, and had more of a wander around the tiny streets and listed buildings.

Outdoor market off The Shambles

Last but not least, we headed to the National Rail Museum, conveniently located next to the train station. I realize I am likely outing myself as a giant dork, but I love trains, and I love this museum. Between the old UK rail cars, the Royal Trains from the 1840s to present, the aerodynamic locomotives, and the Flying Scotsman exhibit,  followed by a mishmash of asset tagged stuff all stacked up on shelves and largely unlabelled, I was super happy.

While I could have happily spent another two hours, we were kicked out at two due to a private event being hosted later in the day. It may have been for the best, as our decision to leave after a quick lunch, rather than waiting a few hours for our train, meant that with the delays, we made it home as planned.

Given our 26 hours or so in York, I wish I had booked another day. I would have liked to have seen the York Castle Museum, and The Yorkshire Museum & Gardens, as a shopkeeper we spoke with stressed the beauty of the gardens. Fortunately, a return is a quick train ride away.

Hastings, UK

View from West Hill

As I’m basking in having a bit of extra free time, I’m catching up on some travel notes. This trip to Hastings actually occurred back in July, so I’m only four months late in finishing this posting.

We headed to Hastings on a 915 train arriving around 11 and headed directly towards the Blue Reef Aquarium.

Hastings Snack

We were deterred only by an inquiry about Winkles and Cockles, which was immediately answered by immediate provisioning by Darren. For the record, these are like little snails. We ate, decided we collectively liked them, and remained focused on getting to the Aquarium.

The Blue Reef Aquarium has a reasonable collection, and we enjoyed our wander thoroughly, especially the sea horses.

We wandered out, nearly caved in for snack two, and wandered over to the Shipwreck Museum. If you ever wondered how a crate of muskets lost at sea might have looked after many years, this is definitely a must see. The exhibits cover several local shipwrecks and the recovered contents thereof. For the record, the Shipwreck Museum is very close to the Hastings Lifeboat Center.

It was around this time that we actually were derailed by the prospect of ice cream, but actually indulged in a beer and decided to go for lunch after a walk on the temporarily sunny beach. The restaurant we planned to visit,  Maggie’s, which supposedly has the best fish and chips in Hastings, was booked all day, so we admitted defeat and opted for a nearby option,Webbe’s. Webbe’s had a completely reasonable lunch offering, and the massive portions left us all in a bit of a food coma.

East Hill Funicular

After a mighty lunch, we went to the Fisherman’s Protection Society museum before taking the East Hill Cliff Railway, one of two funicular railways in Hastings.

The clouds cleared just for Vera & Roland.

From the top of the East Hill, we finally had our ice cream, enjoyed the view, and took an unplanned path down the hill to return to town.

The town center has lots of cute shops and restaurants, which we wandered in and out of while heading to the other funicular railway on the West Cliff.

Up the West Hill Cliff Railway lies Hastings Castle and the Smuggler’s Adventure. The Smuggler’s Adventure is a tour of St. Clements Caves, which were used by smugglers in the 17th and 18th Centuries. The attraction itself is very geared for kids, with lots of games in the exhibits, but the caves are still very interesting to see.

After taking the funicular back down, we went to the waterfront, which has all the trappings of a beach town: minigolf, arcade games, rides, and of course, even more ice cream, before heading back home.

The Magic Roundabout

That's right... five mini roundabouts! (Thanks to DickBauch for this photo)

I was out for drinks last night, relaying tales of my driving lessons. Naturally, I had to bring up the infamous double mini roundabouts of my recent adventures around Islington.

I was immediately alerted that two mini roundabouts is nothing! That there are, in fact, places where there are five, which unite to create a gigantic, “Magic” roundabout.  (This one is right outside of Swindon, if you really wanted to know)

Are the Brits roundabout mad? Very likely! There’s even a UK Roundabout Appreciation Society, which produces an annual calendar of the country’s finest offerings.

Roundabouts and Roundabouts

Among the many delightful things to be encountered on UK roads are roundabouts, better known in the States as rotaries.

In my driving lesson today, I had a new experience!

The Exchange went something like this:

Instructor: Up ahead, there is a double mini roundabout, please take the first exit of the second roundabout…
Me: <Hysterical Laughter> Double! Mini!

Indeed, I had the joyous experience of encountering the Double Mini-Roundabout, which I believe is actually a practical joke inflicted upon the populace by a civil engineer who decided to take the piss out of the roundabout-laden system.  (The first mini roundabout was implemented in 1960).

Getting a UK Provisional Driving License

As Learner Driver, you must display these on your car so people know you suck.

Recently, I kicked off the process to get my UK driving license.

The first question I’m typically asked when I mention this to others is, “Doesn’t your American driving license carry over?

I can assure you, it most definitely does not. One can drive on a US license for one year only. After that, you need to apply and take all of the exams for a UK license.

First things first, you need to apply for a Provisional License  from the DVLA (that’s British for DMV!). It’s pretty straight forward and you don’t even need to go to DVLA to do it. There’s an online application to be filled out, after which you need to provide pictures. If you’re not an EU citizen, you must have your pictures signed off by someone who has held a license for more than three years and you need to provide your passport. It sounds crazy, but this is how DVLA ensures that the person in the photographs provided is actually the applicant… or someone who resembles their passport photo. If you provide a special delivery envelope with your application, they’ll send back your Passport as soon as it has been verified. I had mine back within a few days and a colleague had hers back within the week, so it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated.  There’s not much point in calling and trying to argue this, as I found when I did, I was told that I could either send the document and get my license or not.

A few weeks later, my Provisional License arrived.

The license has two parts: One Photocard and one Paper License. The photocard is much like what I had been issued by New York State, a card you keep in your wallet. The paper license is used to record offenses and the like. You are supposed to carry both.

Back when I did this in 2008, I wasn’t taking driving lessons yet, so I put my paper license somewhere safe. It was never seen again. As a result, I had to report my whole license lost and request a new one when I decided I should finally get licensed at the end of August.

Once you have your provisional license, you are allowed to drive (excluding motorways)  if supervised by a driver who has held a licence for at least three years on the sort of car you are driving (automatic only v automatic/manual licenses are issued). All that separates one from a full license is a written, theory test and a practical, road examination.

Worcester, UK

Exploring the Cathedral

Last weekend, as a part of my ongoing effort to see new parts of my new home, we (Vera, Roland, Darren, & I) headed to Worcester.

We didn’t choose it for any reason other than it was there, and we hadn’t been.

It’s a relatively short trip by train from Paddington of just 2.5 hours. We immediately checked in to our hotel and headed out into the rain in pursuit of lunch.

After lunch, we headed over to Worcester Cathedral, and took lots of inside pictures. The Cathedral’s construction started in 1084, and its crypt dates from the 10th century.

As we were clearly on a roll, absorbing heaps of local culture, we then went to the Worcester Porcelain Museum.

Sadly we were denied, as the museum was closing at four, and we were advised that we would need more than half an hour to soak in the experience. I managed to console myself with a photo op with this guy (Henry Sandon) from Antiques Roadshow.

Spirits dampened, we wandered around in the rain some more, until I decided that rainboots were in order because my shoes were failing me. Unfortunately, trying to find a pair of Wellies on a rainy day that weren’t pink and actually came in my size was a bit of a challenge. In the end, I emerged with not only dry feet but a pair of unoffensive navy blue rainboots, reminiscent of those I owned at age 5.

I did what one does with new rainboots. I took them to the pub, and I consumed a beer in them.

We headed back down the street to Saffron’s, and enjoyed an excellent dinner there. The Sticky Toffee Pudding was enjoyed by all, and after dinner, we all lamely admitted defeat and had an early night.

Sunday morning brought a bit of respite from the rain, and we had a bit of a wander around both a farmer’s market and a shopping mall which was full of shops that hadn’t opened yet.

At the Farmer’s Market we discovered an excellent source of Scotch Eggs.

After meeting up with Vera & Roland and wandering until the deluge resumed, we had a quick lunch and headed over to The Commandery, which is a 12th century building that has been converted into a museum.

Over the course of it’s lengthy history, it has served numerous functions, including a hospital, a school for the blind, and as Civil War headquarters. It was definitely worth a visit, thanks to the audio guide, which allowed a user to tour the building and hear about the role of different rooms and areas of the building at one’s selected time period. (Picture taken from the balcony in the Commandery’s main hall.)

We wrapped up and headed to the train, right in time to head back to London at half three.