(Note: Some of the photos in this post were taken by Megan -- I really have to pack EACH of us a camera the next time! -- and in a few days, I may add some taken by Gareth. Stay tuned.)
"Today was cold and gray all over the country," the weather reporter intoned. "Tomorrow we'll have more of the same. Frankly, we don't foresee anything different until later in the week, when we will see a drastic change…"
I held my breath, hoping for the announcement that we would finally have a sunny day.
"…when the gale winds return, bringing colder temperatures and rain."
Drastic change? I told my husband of this forecast, and he just groaned. Of course, having grown up here, he couldn't have expected anything else in late December. The days are short, the skies are gray, and the temps are as far away from Southern California as you can get.
"It's beautiful in L.A.," my sister told me on the phone Boxing Day. As usual, she spent Christmas Eve with her mother-in-law in San Pedro, before moving up to our house. (After all, why should the fact that we're not there prevent her and her family from spending a restful day at our house before driving back up to Sacramento.) "The sun is shining, and I think it must have hit 80 degrees this afternoon."
"Is it smoggy?" I asked her.
"No, it's clear and beautiful," she replied.
I sighed. I was definitely feeling a whiff of homesickness. Come to think of it, that's what usually happens after I've been away for two weeks. It's predictable.
Besides, after three days of Christmas partying, we were all getting a little stir crazy. I still cannot get used to the fact that EVERYTHING closes here from late afternoon Christmas Eve until the end of Boxing Day on December 26. That's three days of little to do but enjoy the company of your family within the confines of your home. Yes, the parks are open and we saw plenty of folks walking around Roath Park Lake, but that wasn't all that appealing to this heat-seeking Californian.
It was clear to all of us that it was time to plan a day trip.
In 15 years of travel to Britain, I've seen remarkably little of the country. For years, we've talked about taking side trips to other areas of interest: the Lake District, Devon, Cornwall, even North Wales and Edinburgh. The problem with each of those locales is that it would take more than an hour's drive to get there - and all would be more enjoyable in the summer, when we have a shot at enjoying some decent weather.
"How about Bath?" I asked my husband.
Bath is in southwest England, just about one hour's drive from Cardiff (and two hours from London). Gareth and I met friends there on my very first trip to the UK 15 years ago, and we returned with his fam ily a few years later, but we've never brought Megan there, so it would be new to her.
"I don't know. You really want to go to Bath again?" he asked.
Well, it's close. There's plenty to see and do there. And the gorgeous architecture and scenery would ensure that he would be able to take some wonderful photos, even if the weather is horrible. That last point clinched the deal. We awoke early yesterday and set out for Bath.
We couldn't have picked a better day. "What's that funny looking yellow thing up in the sky?" my husband joked.
"I believe it's called the sun, Gareth," I said. And it remained visible in the sky until it set.
Bath has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks to its spectacular Georgian architecture and the remains of baths and temple built when the town was a major outpost of the Roman Empire. However, the restorative waters of the hot spring that gives the city its name have made it a destination since the days of the Celts. This year, the city opened up a state-of-the-art new spa where modern day visitors can experience the reputed healing properties of Bath's famous hot spring.
We began our day by touring the ruins of the Roman baths, which were uncovered in the 1880's by sewer system workers. Excavation revealed one of the most elaborate structures left by the Roman occupiers. As I'm still feeling a little guilty for taking Megan out of school three days early so we could save some money on this trip, I've been determined to include some education for her. This was a no-brainer.
The tour concluded in the 18th Century Pump Room, where Jane Austen (and many of her characters) often dined. There, a man dressed in Georgian attire was handing out glasses of the fabled spring water. Gareth and I weren't going to try it again, but Megan was game.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said after her first exploratory sip. "It's not so bad." She then proceeded to drink the water and almost did a spit take. "Yes it is that bad!" she coughed. We thanked the gentleman as we returned her glass.
It was lunchtime and the Pump Room was still fairly empty, so we decided to stay for a bite. The room is rather formal, with a bill of fare to match. Fortunately, they offered a children's menu that included simple dishes like spaghetti, so everyone was happy.
Gareth and I do not usually drink at lunch, but the ambiance of the room suggested that a glass of champagne would not be inappropriate. I started my meal with a mixed green salad dressed with an olive oil and coarse mustard vinaigrette. Both Gareth and I ate the Slow Roast Belly of Somerset Pork, a small roulade of meat set on a bed of creamed cabbage and leek-mash potatoes and apple gravy. It was delicious, but I think my mother-in-law made the best choice: a vegetarian strudel of butternut squash and spinach in puff pastry.
It was after 2:00 when lunch was finished, and Gareth wanted to get some pictures of Bath's famous Royal Crescent, where people still reside. As we only had about 90 minutes of daylight left, we decided to find it - but first, we were captivated by a pair of very professional buskers, performing a juggling and unicycle act in front of the Pump Room. (Sample patter: "Oh, you're from America? Here on holiday - or studying a foreign language?")
As we made our way back down to the center of town, we passed the Jane Austen Center, and I realized that there was so much to do and see in Bath that we should have planned this to be an overnight visit. We decided to leave Jane for the next time so we might be able to tour the city's magnificent Abbey before it closed at 4:00.
It was dark when we exited the Abbey gift shop and we were feeling a little peckish, so we decided to have a spot of tea before heading back to Cardiff. We stopped at Sally Lunn's, which has been in operation for 300 years in Bath's oldest former residence (built around 1482 -- but with foundations that date back to when the Romans were there). Sally Lunn herself was a French refugee who opened a shop in 1680, where she sold buns that became the rage of Georgian England... and whose recipe is still used today. I ordered the "Victorian Cream tea," which included one-half toasted bun smeared with the establishment's own lemon curd and accompanied with clotted cream. My bun-half looked like the bottom of a giant hamburger bun -- but it was soft and fresh and yummy, as was the lemon curd. I would definitely return.
We left Bath feeling happy and full. And as we awoke this morning to a day of steady rain, we are happy to have had a sunny day in Bath.
(See more of our photos at Flickr!)