Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Great expectations

Last week was half term for my Boy and Girl. They went sailing for the week, leaving me alone in their grandparent's house with the dog for the better part of the week. Come Thursday, however, I was home free. London beckoned, with her promises of hustle, bustle and the ubiquitous sound of sirens I'd grown accustomed to, and of which there was a conspicuous lack in the middle of an honest to God English forest. But instead of giving in to the siren call (both literal and metaphorical) of my adopted home I decided to jump on a train and see somewhere new. 

Given I was in the south already it made sense to stick below London, so I took the advice of my mothers both biological and host and went to Bath.

There is no denying Bath is a beautiful town. Nestled amongst gently rolling hills and practically drowning in history, it is little wonder this area captured and stimulated the imaginations of such literary notables as Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy. And anyone who knows me will attest to my love of history. So it is little wonder I was equally captivated by my surrounds.

The contrast between ancient and modern was especially profound here, where tourists pour through corridors snapping high resolution digital pictures of buildings and monuments that out date Jesus. While I was in the Roman Baths I found myself feeling simultaneously incredibly close to and removed from the people who lived or travelled here. In some ways I - with my mobile phone, ease of travel and own digital camera - was absolutely different from a people who made month- or year-long pilgrimages to this site to pay their respects to the gods or curse their neighbours for petty theft .

But I find when I'm close to history it is so much easier to remember those people were exactly that - real people. They lived and loved and hoped and feared and finally died. And it's also easy to remember when seeing first hand the comparative level of civilisation, despite their superstitions and brutal rituals, the Romans were a formidable and supremely advanced people.

As I sat, casually dangling my hands into a pool that was once part of the ultimate day spa and listened to commentary by Bill Bryson, I considered the expectations born of my own history. In many ways the trip to Bath was exactly what I had hoped travel would be like. I was alone, so I could make my own decisions about what to do, and when; I was staying in a hostel; when I stepped outside I was somewhere. The sun was shining, the town was beautiful, and there were buskers on every corner. But as I'd gone to sleep on the Thursday night (my first of two) I was concerned. From what I'd been told of my Mum's travels thirty-odd years ago, and my friend Laura's travels thirty-odd months ago, I had expected to walk into a hostel and pretty much walk straight out again into a pub. Despite knowing how stupid it was, I felt like I was doing something wrong.

I spent the next day being a tourist, touring the Baths and Cathedral, taking afternoon tea in the Pump room (where I had fresh clotted cream for the first time - Holy moley, it was something else), scouring the markets and dining, book in hand, by the river. In all an idyllic day. But I was still mildly perturbed. The stories I'd been told made it seem like Mum and Laura barely spent a moment without company.

Happily I went back to my room that night and made friends with two Swiss girls, with whom I went out and had a drink in a proper English pub.

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