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Monday -- Immersed in History (and Tourism)
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jducoeur
[NB: this is the day that I finally twigged to, "Hey, I have a camera in my pocket!". So a lot more of the travelogue will be behind cut-tags from here on out. And for those who missed the first entry, which several folks apparently did, this is all retrospective -- we've been home for over a week now.]

After Sunday's monumental dinner, we let ourselves oversleep a bit on Monday, then dashed off to Paddington Station to catch the train. After an extensive conversation with the lady behind the counter, to figure out the least expensive way to deal with the rather open-legged trip (Paddington -> Bath -> Bristol -> return from the *other* Bristol station -> Paddington), we got on board. The trip itself was lovely and calm, and we got to watch the scenery zoom by at high speed while I read more of The Economist. (This being the secret agenda for the trip. We brought five Economists with us, so I finished the trip within striking distance of actually caught-up. We'll see how long that lasts.)

The real purpose of the trip was to visit Kate's grandparents in Bristol, but along the way she declared that I simply must see Bath while I had the chance. We spent the night at The Bath House, an upscale-ish B&B within easy walking distance of all the major attractions. This page appears to be a picture of Room 6, which we stayed in -- very pretty, although we decided that the canopy bed was rather too large for the space. (Yes, the canopy is bumping into the chandelier.)

After dropping off our bags, we wandered into the main district of Bath, which turns out to be pretty much All Tourism, All The Time. Pretty, but with a distinct sense of not having much *except* tourism at this point.

Our first stop was a critical priority: Cream Tea. Kate has been telling me for ages that I simply had to have a proper Cream Tea while I was there, since real clotted cream is near-impossible to obtain in the States. I will admit to skepticism: the term "clotted cream" has always sounded rather nasty. But the reality was quite tasty: a high-quality scone with fruit dotted throughout, spread with a substance that turned out to be sort of like the platonic ideal of sweet butter, and fruit jam over top. The only downside is that it's going to make it even harder to cope with the dry bricks that usually pass for scones in the US.

And then, on to The Baths:

Here is the main bath:
The main bath
We wound up latching on to a tour guide, who explained that the green water is no illusion: it's a bit sludgy from the stuff that grows in it due to the open air. In the Roman period, this was covered with a roof, and the water would likely have been nicely clear. I found myself very much wanting to jump in, but the greem slime does dissuade one.

Obligatory Technology Tangent: getting the tour was a good compromise, as it turned out. The Baths *mainly* work with a system of self-guiding tours. You get handed a little thing sort of like a smartphone, with a number pad and personal-size speaker. As you wander around, nearly every exhibit has 1-3 numbers displayed on it, which you punch into the device to get a recording of what the exhibit is about. (The first is the main announcement; the second is a more living-history-focused discussion aimed at kids; and the third was an Eminent Poet describing how this exhibit makes him feel.) I pretty quickly came to hate the little device: it was distracting, and moreover isolating -- since we weren't in synch with each other, it felt less like seeing the place *together*, which was the point. So we gave up on the things just before encountering the tour group.

Anyway, some more pics:

Here is the modern balcony, constructed in place of the long-gone original roof:

The balcony is lined with a set of Victorian-era statues of famous Roman leaders. (Except for Julius Caesar, whose statue was apparently found swimming in the pool below some years back and had to be replaced.)

The underground of the place has a lot of reproductions and exhibits, such as this model of what they think the complex originally looked like:


They've rebuilt the bits and pieces they can, such as the front of the temple:


As you'd expect, we were pretty much chased out of the Baths by the folks trying to close for the day. So we took the opportunity to wander around historic Bath and take in the sights, such as the river view:

We found a flyer for the *new* baths -- apparently, someone has tapped the secondary spring, and is now running mineral baths from it. Very tempting to do their twilight bath (bathrobe and a course from the restaurant included), but the timing didn't work this time. Maybe the next time we're in town.

For dinner, we put in some effort to find the Sally Lunn House, which Kate had gone to herself some years ago and wanted to show me as an illustration of classic British cooking:


Sadly, the dinner was a disappointment end-to-end; Kate got concerned early on, and voiced the idea of going elsewhere, but I was a bit too curious. The service was problematic, although that seemed to mostly be due to a brand-new waitress who was under-trained and overwhelmed. (We realized just *how* under-trained when she served Kate a glass of white wine that was not only room-temperature to begin with, but was then poured into a hot glass right out of the dishwasher.)

The food was okay, but no better. To be fair, the famous Sally Lunn Bath Buns were quite tasty (even if the garlic butter spread on top was surely inauthentic). But I had been intrigued to try the mains, which were supposedly served on trenchers. The reality was nothing of the sort: they actually appeared to be supported by the same buns, just toasted, which was almost but not quite completely unlike my understanding of a period trencher. (Reasonably tasty, mind, likely moreso than a real trencher -- I had just been hoping for something more authentic.)

The real disappointment was dessert. Kate has been telling me, for about as long as we've been together, that American chocolate cake just isn't as good as a genuine English Fudge Cake: moist, chocolatey, rich in chocolate icing. What we actually got amounted to the same generic chocolate cake you can find anywhere in the States: dry and insufficiently iced. The one saving grace was that it *also* came with clotted cream, this time a gooier variation well-suited to cake, which helped moisten things a bit. It appears that proper Fudge Cake has fallen out of fashion across much of Britain, which is sad. We're going to have to hunt for a decent alternative, or possibly I need to learn enough to make one.

All that said, it was a fine day overall -- just a reminder that the tourism trade can be cruel, and a lot of places can't cope long-term with the rigors of being excessively popular. It looks like the Lunn House has gotten so distracted by being a museum that they've lost track of making good food.

Tomorrow, off to Bristol to meet the grandparents...

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We are very fond of Cream Tea around here, and keep trying to find a place locally that serves an acceptable variation. Sadly the closest one I know of that really does it justice is in Peekskill, NY...

I'm fond of the Dunbar Tea House in Sandwich. jducoeur has been there with me a couple of times, I don't know if he can say whether or not it begins to stack up. Sadly I haven't been since 2010.

Well, until now I haven't had anything to compare it to, so it's hard to say. One of these days, I'll bring Kate there, and she can provide a more informed opinion...

Bath! Bath was one of my favorite parts of my trip to the UK.

Just a correction, the third commentator was Bill Bryson who is a comedic(ish) writer who does many books about various parts of the world that are quite funny. He was very serious in his commentary on the Baths, which was something of a disappointment.

If you are inclined and can get pretty good non-homogenized cream (Shaw Farms or somesuch), clotted cream is dead easy to make at home, and then you can have as much as you want!

This may or may not be a good thing...

Intriguing -- I'll have to keep that in mind. Thanks...

I'd love to learn this, since scones are a bit of a hobby for me...

This is basically all there is - take good quality cream with a high butterfat content, desiccate it at a very low heat for a long time, consume.

Hardly surprising that Bath is a tourist trap, since it's pretty much *always* been a tourist trap as far as I can tell. Certainly since the late 18th century...

You're reminding me of this review of Le Cirque in Manhattan that I read this morning:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/dining/reviews/le-cirque-in-manhattan.html

Scones and clotted cream

I could have told you that they were wonderful - Marian used to make both. Her scone recipe is in her cookbook, War Fare, and I can tell you how she made clotted cream. Basically, it involves heating cream over a very low heat for a number of hours - she used an electric frying pan at its lowest temperature to serve as a water bath for a bowl that contained the cream, but a yogurt maker might also serve.

The main catch is that you have to make sure to buy cream that has not been homogenized and has not had emulsifiers added; most supermarket cream has suffered both indignities and will not clot properly. Garelick's natural cream (not their regular cream) will serve in a pinch; you can get better cream at Whole Foods, at the dairy bar next door to Kickass Cupcakes, and at many other places that sell natural foods. The label will usually reveal whether the cream has had the unwanted things done to it.

Re: Scones and clotted cream

Hmm. Bit of a project, but now I know what the outcome looks like. Thanks...

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