I used to turn my nose down on packaged tours of any kind.
Then I rode a bus with Julie Andrew’s singing embrace plastered all over it.
I was holding my mouth shut tight lest I bust out along with the Sound of Music soundtrack as we meandered over some very alive hills, the trees where she scraped her knee, the abbey that is where she belongs, her home, her family, her life.
Yes, I took the Sound of Music bus tour in Salzburg.
And it gave me the cheapest of cheap thrills.
Oddly therapeutic, actually. Like you’re finally giving into the ease and comfort of commercial ventures. Sitting back and enjoying the show. Listening to the tour guide. Being tickled by random trivia: [like the fact that half of the scenes on the Vontrap Villa patio were actually shot at the lake where we were standing, and the other half at a studio in the good old u.s.a.].
I guess that’s why I was a much easier tourist two years later in Bath, and I even gave into the Jane Austen center. Although I have to admit it was the gimmickiest of them all, starting off simply with a British woman talking to us in a room full of chairs. Again, that vacuous, jaded, post-27 existence of mine, seeking peace and pacification in any form, lapped up all the trivia she offered about her family tree, her brother in the navy, the illness that she died of, and that she just made it into the “comfortable” realm of things since they did manage to keep servants in her house.
I have to admit, it re-sparked the nascent embryo of edwardian-era curiosity. After being inspired to download as many Austen film adaptations for maximum consumption without all the literary discipline, I was actually reading articles to investigate the vague depiction of social norms. For instance, I was surprised when in the Keira Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bindley actually walks into the bedroom where Jane Bennett is sick in bed.
That particular article also led me to pin down the whole question of toilets. Only the rich had them. I would think Mr. Darcy definitely flushed inside Pemberley. Not so sure about poor Lizzie and her sisters.
Apart from Jane Austen and the post-holiday period film reverie she inspired, Bath was a heaven-sent day to beat holiday-end blues.
Bathed (!) in edifices of fading ochre, columned Roman antiquity is mirrored with lofty rows of uniform chimneys. An imposing symmetry is found in what the Austen lady referred to as “The Circus.” As we entered the city through bus, exquisite upscale gold-hued cottages were echoed with church steeples throughout the hills. Cathedrals and churches almost never leave your vista, be it in close proximity or in the surrounding countryside.
Being lucky enough to take this one-day dip into the past with a companion who loves food as much as I do, one of my favourite moments was our first stop: post-breakfast coffee. This fresh, airy, prettily white-washed patisserie was on the corner of a bridge on the river Avon.
The flowers didn’t exactly put a dent in all the quaintness, but being a world heritage sight, there was still a bit of austerity, a bit of inaccessibility about the place. I feel like I meandered through the depressive low-keyness of a small town the evening we arrived, to pristine, solitary quaintness the next morning, to full-on tourist life by the afternoon. At that point of course some of the novelty and specialness wore off. The high-street could’ve (sort of maybe) been a very quaint London find.
What definitely could not be found in London was the Alice-in-Wonderland-esque patch of garden right in the heart of the town. Wrought-iron stair-cases wove down the sides of long wall extending from the bridge over the Avon River, descending into the most sculpted, surreally antiquated english gardens ever. Make-believe period-film set magic.
Who could blame crowds of tourists (such as ourselves) for happily thronging even the high-street of such city, especially when they were very near to …
The Roman Baths.
Another touristy venture that aerated some of my bigotry towards controlling the experience of an ancient monument / building / work.
Yes, in this case, I have to admit any reservations towards the audio tour of the Roman Baths, as well as the labyrinthine, brilliantly concealed museum penetrating the surviving structure, can be nothing but bigotry.
How else would I have known that the water we see today bubbling up from the hot springs of old, is actually what was once rain from 10,000 years ago?
10,000 year old rain-drops.
I ask you.
The double-context of an ancient Roman presence seen through a 19th century Edwardian one seems to throw the stone of history further down the well of the mind’s eye. The Baths, functioning on this site as early as 60 A.D., were only discovered in the 19th century. At this time, the decidedly Christian society added this extra balcony layer above the site, as a tribute to the Roman generals who were connected with Bath, incidentally, known then, as Aqua Solis.
All in all, a veritable sponge of moments to soak up, a hearty broth of a day, ’twas Bath.