Sunday, June 25, 2017

UK Day 3–In Which There are Baths, Biggus Dickus Appears, There are Very Large Buns, and We Stop by Jane Austen’s Place.


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a large empire in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of more land. And so it was that that from 43–410 AD, the Romans (no, no, ‘Wo-mans’) occupied what they called Brittaniae and what we call Britain. Archeological evidence of their occupation is all over the country in the form of Roman roadways, bits of old walls, fantastic mosaic floors of ancient villas, and hoards of Roman artifacts found in farmer’s fields across the country. One of the most spectacular sites can be found in the city of Bath, where the Romans took full advantage of three natural hot springs that bubble up to the surface, by building a huge spa, complete with various pools and a complex system of pumps, piping and drains.

The pools were built in 50-60 AD under the emperor Claudius and were named Aquae Sulis after the Goddess of dark damp places. They fell into disrepair after the Romans buggered off in 400AD and were gradually buried over the centuries by whatever it is that buries Very Old Buildings until being rediscovered sometime in the 1800’s. Today it is possible to see the original Roman structures, including original lead pipes that are still functioning (come for a swim, get lead poisoning too!), and a lot of what I like to call Very Old Stones. It’s impressive enough on its own but in true British fashion, an elaborate museum experience has been created around the pools, replete with an annoying audio tour system that aims to be as complicated as possible. Still, it’s interesting stuff, and one never ceases to be amazed by what the Romans have done. If you need more detail, you should watch this:

Anyway, in an attempt to help us all feel like we were actually in a Roman bath, there are a series of hilarious video scenes of Roman life projected on the walls. I say hilarious even though I don’t think they were meant to be hilarious, which of course makes them even funnier. At one point during what appears to be a discussion between what looks like Mother Theresa in sandals and bare legs, and a friend, the friend leaves and a man shows up wearing what can only be described as a large phallic symbol on his head. I kid you not:


We can’t hear the discussion but I imagine it went something like this:

Mother Theresa: This is the fifth day in a row that you’ve worn that hat, Biggus.

Biggus: What hat?

Mother Theresa: Think of the children, Biggus, think of the children. And their mothers. You’ll upset their mothers.

Biggus: They seem to like it when…

Mother Theresa (interrupting): I don’t want to hear it, Biggus, just get a new hat. And fast.

Biggus: I think it’s quite fetching. And beside, I have a wife you know.

Mother Theresa: Yes yes, Incontinentia, I was just speaking with her. She doesn’t like it either. Asked me to speak to you about it.

Biggus: Well that’s part of the problem. I find that when I wear the hat…

Mother Theresa (interrupting): Biggus, I don’t want to hear about it, I told you. Now, why don’t you go for a swim or something. And take off the hat, for goodness sakes.

Biggus: How about a massage?

Mother Theresa: Fine! Just take off the hat!

We later come across Biggus and his friends getting a rub down by three men wearing what look like terry towel loin cloths. Thankfully, Biggus has taken off his phallic hat for the time being. That’s him in the middle.


I’m not sure what they were thinking when they made all these silly movies, but I suspect it has something to do with lead exposure. It is very damp everywhere and a bit mungy and the water, all 1170000 litres/day, comes out of the earth at 46C (which is a very hot hot tub). All that moisture makes things a bit slippery. No one is allowed in the water due to high concentrations of lead, and the presence of bacteria. Plus, it’s green. Green plus swimming pools equals not good. Still you are allowed to sit right beside the pools as long as you obey the signs, like this one:


  1. Do not dip your hands in to the spaghetti
  2. Do not climb the walls
  3. No feet in the spaghetti either
  4. Ice creams, French fries and sugary drinks are bad for you
  5. You are permitted to fall backwards on to the uneven ground, but only if you are careful

After all the museuming, we sat by the pool just long enough to avoid inhaling any odd amoeba or flakes of lead that were floating by.



It was time to leave and obviously, time for a giant bun. Fortunately, Bath is home to Sally Lunn’s Bunn Shoppe, which has been in existence in Bath since the 1680’s. The house is even older: 1482 to be exact, but it’s been a bunn shoppe and specifically Sally Lunn’s Bunn Shoppe since 1680. A Sally Lunn bunn is slightly Brioche-like and slightly Giant-Hamburger-Bun-like and is served toasted and slathered in basically whatever you want: jam, lemon curd, smoked salmon etc. I highly recommend them.


There was a bit of a line at first so we went downstairs to the museum which was equal parts creepy and awesome:


They don’t make the bunns down there anymore, I hope, but you can buy a bunn in a box, which of course we did.


When we got back upstairs, the line was gone (pro tip: just wait it out – it’s fast moving) and so we sat down and enjoyed bunns and tea, while looking out the window and making Zombie faces at the people down below:



After disrupting everyone else’s tea, it was time for me to drag everyone to see Jane Austen’s house. If you didn’t know, 2017 is the 200th anniversary of her untimely death at the age of 41. Jane and her family spent 4 years in Bath. Her house, at #4 Sydney Place, is nondescript and is now, I think, a vacation rental, but I loved the idea of walking the streets that she walked and knew so well. As it turns out, Ms. Austen was also a regular customer at Sally Lunn’s.  I will admit to having a giggle at the thought of Jane Austen enjoying Sally Lunn’s Bunns. Or something like that.

I digress.


Bath is a beautiful city and very easy to walk around. Unless you can’t read a map, like, it would seem, all four of us. And so it was a circuitous route that we took back across town, taking in the sights along the way including the Cathedral, which is gorgeous:


and this random old abandoned abbey which just happened to be in the middle of town:


There is great shopping in this town (Pro tip – check out Southgate where there are outside sitting areas with lawn chairs and beer stands for those of us who prefer to people-watch instead of shop) and the Georgian architecture is really stunning.




I also spotted the Queen having a bit of a read and a cup of tea in the window of her flat.


On the drive home I spotted another dead badger and so it’s Jane 3- Travis 0 for the dead badger game, but Terra is out in front on the pub legs game (first to spot a pub where the name indicates a certain number of legs ie: The Two Goats would get you 8 points) with Zoe in second place and Travis quickly moving up the ranks (although that’s not going to help if he keeps being the first to see pubs like The Slug and Lettuce, like he did yesterday). We had dinner at the local pub which was delicious if slow and was complete with appearances by the local villagers out in all their finest for a Friday night at the pub. They are all caricatures of themselves without knowing it and make for excellent people-watching. The highlight of the meal was an excellent sticky toffee pudding for dessert, which I think contributed to another night of blissful sleep in the deep dark countryside.

Thanks for reading and come back tomorrow for donkeys and fossils.



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