Tag Archive | Roman Baths

Last stop…

…London! Were you waiting for it? I told you to wait for it, so we now know your inability to follow directions if you didn’t. *Sarcasm Sign*

But it began with a day in London just us girls. Kevin and Dad went to Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and Bath so we had the whole day to ourselves. Mom and I checked into The Rubens at the Palace, a hotel full of memories for us as it was the same hotel we stayed at when we came three years ago. They kindly pretended to remember us, but we know that they don’t (except our favorite doorman Nathan who actually DID remember us!). It’s cute though. The first thing we did was take a tube to Piccadilly Circus to snag two of the last seats to that night’s performance of Les Miserables. They were in the Upper Dress Circle, aka the nosebleed seats, but they were tickets and that is all that mattered. I’m willing to suffer through a lot for the theatre.

Our first real activity of the day was going to the Victoria & Albert Museum in the Burrough of Kensington. I loved the museum, and it’s something I had wanted to do in London for a while and just hadn’t gotten the chance. It was full of decorative arts exhibits, so things like clothes, furniture, jewelry, plate ware, and my personal favorite, snuff boxes.

A snuff box, makes more sense why I like them now doesn't it?

Basically a ton of sparkly things which everyone knows I am attracted to like a fish. We lingered over the items from the Tudor era obviously, and while the ball dresses exhibit wasn’t open yet, there was a wonderful exhibit on theatre production that put us in the mood for Les Mis.

We spent a long time in the V&A and then went to the famous department store, Harrods, which nearly ruined my beautiful day. It was gaudy and crowded, hot and smelly, and not just because of the perfume counters. Everything was a disgusting shrine to excess and overindulgence. We barely walked in before we got lost and asked an employee for a map just to find an escape from the place. It was one of the lower points of the entire trip and I have no idea why anyone would want to step foot in there. And then once we ahd escaped, we couldn’t find a nearby place for tea so we went back to our own beautiful and calm–as well as tea providing–hotel for scones and Early Grey. Definitely an improvement, bringing me back to the happiness of spending time with Mom, going to the V&A, and basking in the beautiful sunlight.

Tea Time

We went back to Piccadilly around 6 pm to grab dinner before the play. Because we were on the border of SoHo, most everywhere was clubs or cocktail bars and we ate at Le Pain Quotedienne. Our waiter was awesome. He was funny, liked Harry Potter and Disney, and even watches Downton Abbey. Unfortunately we didn’t get his name and will never see him again because he really was a sweetie. But Les Mis was calling and the theatre waits for no diner.

Les Mis was even better than I could have hoped for. The singing, the staging, the singing (yes, it deserves multiple mentions). I can see why everyone becomes addicted. I pretty much sobbed the entire last third of the musical, which was problematic as I had forgotten tissues. I was stunned, speechless, and streaming tears for a while after curtain.

At Les Mis

But all good things must come to an end; all too soon we were joined at The Rubens by the menfolk and nighttime gave way to morning of our first day in London as the four of us.

Kevin really wasn’t feeling well on this new morning so he elected to forgo going to Windsor Castle with us in exchange for an extra four hours of sleep. It was Dad’s first experience with the Tube, so we were lucky that it wasn’t as crowded as it generally is so Dad wouldn’t get separated from us. We got a much later start than Mom and I are used to or wanted to, so by the time we made it to Windsor we ended up waiting in quite a long line than we would’ve if we had arrived earlier.

Windsor Castle, the Queen was in residence

And St. George’s Chapel was closed for Sunday services so no Hency VIII grave for us (thankfully Mom and I saw it last time). All we ended up being able to do was Queen Mary’s Dollhouse, the State Apartments, and the outside areas. We did all of that three years ago on our Tudor Tour, but that time we had arrived so late in the day that we had had to rush everything. This time we were able to take our time, but with the chapel closed there wasn’t much else to do. We listened to the entire audio guide of the apartments and grounds, ate lunch, and walked back to the rail station. Dad loved the castle and went on and on about how cool it was. Our first train back was cancelled so we waited around for another 20 minutes for the next one. Once at Waterloo Station, there was a lot of security ushering us out of the station; apparently there was a fire report at one of the cafes.

We ate here last time we were at Windsor

Our initial plan was to do another cream tea and then catch a Hop-on-Hop-Off tour so Dad and Kevin could see more of London without needing to walk around for four days. As the train was later than we had anticipated, in fact the whole day was later than we had anticipated, Mom and I chose to graciously give up our precious tea in favor of catching one of the last tours. It turned out that the last live guide bus was leaving from Green Park at 5 and we were at one of last stops (Victoria) so we could get on the last tour IF we made it to Green Park in 20 minutes. We ended up making it with literally a minute to spare. Then while everyone went upstairs, I had to deal with a broken credit card machine preventing me from paying for the tickets. When it was finally worked out I went upstairs and snagged a spot at the very front of the bus, prime picture taking location. The rest of the family was in the back of the bus, abandoning me to be surrounded by Mafia men (no joke).

Rare photo of Dad and me at the Windsor Governor's House

Back at the hotel, Kevin and I sent Mom and Dad off to have dinner together while Kevin was stood up by a friend who was also visiting in London and I slept. Then Dad swapped places with me and slept while the three of us went downstairs for dinner and pudding 🙂 A lot of funny moments came out of that pudding.

For our last full day together (sadness) we went to the Tower of London, one of my favorite places to visit. I’ve been there twice already, so the immediate reaction would be an eye roll because there is a theoretically finite amount of things to do and see at the Tower. I mean I can basically spew off most of the same information about the history of the Tower that someone would get from the audio guide, so it isn’t like I can learn a whole lot more by continuing to visit.

Tower of London

But Dad had yet to go there and there was a huge draw for Mom and me as well. Thinking that it opened at 9:30, we took the tube, arriving at 9:15. Turns out that the Tower wasn’t open until 10 am. I was huddling on a bench in the sun because it hadn’t warmed up enough yet and Kevin and I practiced our British accents on each other to the embarrassment of our parents. I think we are getting pretty good at them to be honest. The gates opened at 10, but the first guided tour wasn’t until 10:30 (which once again further threw off our time game plan) so we beat the crowds to the jewel house and awed at the sparkliness of the Crown Jewels. Again, bored boys, starry eyed girls. That took all of 15 minutes and we made our way back to the entrance of the fortress to meet up with the tour guide.

The tour, as it was the first of the day, was incredibly crowded, probably consisting of 75 people. Thankfully the tour guide could project, because his jokes were hilarious and his history engaging (learned some new things! See? Totally worth revisiting). But as great as our guide was, he paled in comparison to the whole purpose of taking the tour: access to the chapel. Specifically, entrance to the site of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howards’ graves (always a Tudor reason behind my thoughts). Yes, I actually got to see the graves of those two tragic women, and was completely overwhelmed, as I often become when faced with the reality of history. Completely satisfied with my time at the Tower, I waited on a warm bench (are you sensing a theme yet?) while the rest of the family breezed through some of the other Tower exhibits, and then we all left and headed for the Tate Modern.

Here is where Kevin received his reward for being an awesome brother on this trip: we all went to a modern art gallery with him despite Mom and me hating modern art and Dad’s back not really able to handle standing around galleries. But the guy earned it, so we all kindly sucked it up and allowed him as much time as he wanted to explore the exhibits. Which honestly only took about an hour as the gallery is really only one floor, so we soon moved on to the National Gallery, a place I was much more interested in. The National Gallery has over 150 hours of audio commentary, meaning that renting one for the second time was worth it. I made sure not to listen to the same paintings as before, choosing instead an entirely different genre of works, and I also made sure that I wasn’t wandering on an empty stomach! Greatly increased my enjoyment and focusing ability. This time I was the last one done, but there was a cafe downstairs so everyone had agreed to just meet there and no one got lost. Then we walked back to the hotel, where Mom and I were greeted by the wonderful Nathan holding out an envelope for us containing our incredible seats for Billy Elliot.

Obviously Mom and I have no qualms about seeing productions more than once, note our 6 time experience with Wicked, but we had attempted to get last minute tickets to the eternally sold out War Horse. Unfortunately, those did not pan out so we consoled ourselves with the brilliant Billy. Definitely one of the best productions in London, and highly recommended by, well, me. Also, tidbit for those in LA, it’s coming to the Pantages! So buy a ticket, you won’t be sorry, I promise.

Unfortunately this left us with only one more morning to share before they had to leave me in the UK for their lives back in California. We chose to spend this melancholy morning in a melancholy place, a church. Specifically Westminster Abbey, fittingly surrounding ourselves with illustrious but dead people. I took my time even more than usual here, because last time Mom and I were both able to find the resting places of some important but relatively obscure Tudor people (Anne of Cleves and Anne Bolyen’s niece Katherine Knoylls), so I was hoping that I would stumbled across more of these people if I was just patient and didn’t zip through the Abbey like Dad did. I was rewarded as well, finding Anne Boleyn’s nephew and Elizabeth I’s counselor Henry Carey. Even cooler, I bumped into a friend from UCLA! Completely random, unintentional, and kind of surreal. We started at each other for a solid minute of confusion before realizing neither of us was hallucinating and yes, we were both real people standing in Westminster Abbey. Her friend just got accepted to Oxford so she came over to visit on her spring break. But how amazing that we both were in Westminster at the same time and able actually could catch up for a bit? So bizarre how small of a world it can be!

Nathan!

Following the conclusion of Westminster, we took a massively scenic route up towards Trafalgar’s Square before heading back to the hotel for our farewells. As all taxis seem to be in the UK, my family’s ride to the airport was 15 minutes early, so the goodbyes were a little more sudden than I was expecting. I am so grateful that they came to visit and that I had the chance to spend two weeks with my dad and brother and three with my mom.

Now for a week of school work and dance and rest before I set off on another trip to Paris with my friends!

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Tripping over Cobblestones to Another Successful Trip

And for the moment you have all been waiting for…the reveal of yesterday’s trip location…suspenseful isn’t it? Okay, okay, I’ll tell you…or will I??  Yeah, I’ll be nice. We went to BATH!

And no, Dad, I can already hear the joke you are about to crack. We did not all take a bath, we went to a town called Bath, where we did not take baths either. I know you way to well and can already hear your signature giggle that you would prefer me call a snicker and can see that sneaky smile popping up. So I beat you to it ❤

Bath is a bit further away than our other excursions have been, so we had to be at the Oxford train station for a 7:45 am bus that took us to Didcot Rail Station. There we had a pot-luck picnic because, let’s be honest, we all wanted that extra 30 minutes of sleep instead of having to make breakfast before leaving. So Kelsi brought bread and smoked salmon, Jordan brought cream cheese and avocado and raspberries, and I brought cottage cheese and jam and we had an amazing breakfast sitting on the floor of the train station waiting for our next bus to Swindon. After a final train, and three hours later, we arrived in the city of Bath Spa!

At first, all we could think about was how much Bath looked like Italy, or at least for me what I would picture Italy as looking like since I haven’t been yet. It makes perfect sense when you remember that Bath was originally a town revolving around a public bath at the edge of the Roman Empire. The Romans tried to make Bath into the Rome of England (not yet called England) so they replicated much of the architectural style and layout of the city. Most of the current buildings are in the Georgian style, but the layout of the city and some of the architecture still resembles the city’s origins.

Enough of the history and architecture lesson so I’m not boring you. Because then you won’t want to keep reading and that’s no fun!

We headed over all the way across the city to the Royal Crescent, a half circle of connected townhouses where really rich people used to live. I don’t know if they still do, but it’s an architectural feat to have built so many connected houses in a circle (oops, I promised I wasn’t going to talk architecture anymore, guess I lied). There isn’t much to do there except walk across it and move on unless you want to spend 6 pound to see four rooms of a Georgian house which we didn’t want to spend so we took a super long route, through the ghetto of Bath, to the Fashion Museum. Though on the way there we did stop into the Jane Austen Centre to make a reservation for tea that we later cancelled.

The Fashion Museum had some interesting displays–my favorite was the successive cases that showed the development of fashion through the 1800s–and some displays where we were literally like they got that totally wrong! such as the “fashion” from the 90s and the Aughts and now 2011. I’m sorry but I haven’t seen anybody dressed like that, and I just went shopping the day before! We attempted to try on some corsets, but oddly enough, we were all too small for them! And they didn’t have any children’s sizes so we had to settle for imagining what it would have been like for a corset to actually fit us.

Then we did our tradition walk around the entire town before settling on somewhere to eat lunch. It always pays off though because we get to see a lot of the area and we have really good taste in where to eat. Kelsi found this shop that carried a bunch of different balsamic vinegars and liquors, so I bought some apple balsamic vinegar and convinced her to buy pomegranate. She won’t be disappointed.

After lunch we went to the Roman Bath ruins, which is the whole point of going to the city in the first place. I can’t really describe it well because it’s one of those awe inspiring places that you have to see to understand, but it really was incredible. And it made us all want to go to a spa.

Next we walked through Bath Abbey, which sits on the same spot as the original church where the first King of England, King Edgar, was crowned in 973 AD. It was smaller than the big cathedrals obviously, but just as elegant and stunning. As it was daylight, it was light and airy inside and the glass windows shone with so many colors. I lit a candle as I always feel compelled to do in a church, and then we headed off to tea.

The Quest for the Best Cream Tea Continues….

At Sally Lunn House, open for over 350 years and a favorite spot of notable figures such as Charles Dickens. It also stands on the spot of a formerly dissolved monastery from the era of Henry VIII (yay for Tudor connections!!!).

The cream tea was traditional: scone (they gave us two each, something that hasn’t happened since Blenheim Palace), Cornish clotted cream, strawberry jam, and Earl Grey tea. The scones were the best we have had yet, light and airy and not overly sweet, plain with no raisins. The clotted cream tasted like the clotted cream we all keep hoping for, though it still had the thicker butter consistency. The strawberry jam was a bit too sweet for us, but at least the scones balanced that out. Kelsi and I over brewed our tea 😦

Overall verdict: smiley faces for the scones, the cream, and the ambiance (which was like a sitting room turned into a restaurant in a small former home); blank faces for the jam and service; sad faces for the mistake of over brewing our tea.

We bought cinnamon butter from the store downstairs instead of lemon curd this time haha

We decided to call it a day at that and came home, luckily catching every connection in perfect timing and making it back to Oxford within 2 hours.

Next week will have to be our last outing for the term as I have ballroom competitions at Nottingham and Warwick the final two weekends.