Before Spring 2022, I had been in UK twice – both during my INSEAD MBA and both were completely restricted to London. In my third visit to the UK, I am shaking things up a bit and try to spend time elsewhere while still fulfilling my love for West End shows.
York was added to my list immediately as it was the place that inspired one of my favorite fantasy novel series Calendar Castle by Kalthida. Edinburgh was then added as I planned for a weekend getaway with my MBA travel buddy. The planned weekend with friends failed as my friend had to be abroad at the time, but I still pretty much want to go to Scotland for once.
Bath was the last addition to the list with no spectacular reason. As I was penning down my itinerary, I Googled “top 10 cities to visit in UK”, and Liverpool and Bath came up as ones of the top ten. As I am not a big fan of football (or as my American friends would call “soccer”), Liverpool was chided aside to make way for Bath, which I have also not heard of much up to that point.
Despite the random reason, if any reason at all, my short stint in Bath was still quite a pleasant experience. The city has its own unique charm that blended quite nicely the aroma of Roman history, pretty architecture, and natural greens.
Funny journey to Bath
The journey to Bath made me feel like I’m actually what Thai people say “baan nork kao krung” meaning a rural peasant coming to a big city, hence completely lost and out of place. I bought a train ticket from the machine, which spitted out two pieces of paper – one ticket and one receipt. Not knowing which one is the ticket, I stupidly inserted a receipt into a machine at the gate to the platform as I was running to catch the train. A nice officer told me that I actually inserted wrong piece of paper, and, recognizing that I am running out of time, he tapped open the gate and told me to prepare the right piece of paper for spot check on the train itself. Embarrassing…
Whilst on the train, I discovered that my firm could continue to haunt me even though I’m on vacation. I happened to find a seat close to two guys, one of which is quite chatty, and he managed to chit-chat his way from London to Bath non-stop. A bulk of that conversation turned out to include mentioning of a certain big consulting firm… Upon hearing the name, I’m completely dreaded inside… I just can’t escape the firm… can I?
Upon arriving in Bath, it would be hard to miss Bath Abbey. Although the size of the abbey is not as imposing as Sagrada Familia in Barcelona or the Duomo in Firenze, the Abbey is still the most noticeable building int the city just like any other main religious building in any other city in Europe.
The uniqueness about this abbey probably lies on something that is not quite obvious from the outside. It is one of the few major religious tourist attractions that is still quite active with communal religious activities. There are priest / pastor stepping up on the podium almost every hour to lead prayer throughout the day. Some older residents (or at least they seem to be) sat there for peace and quiet. There are also some quieter areas for people to come pray and meditate. Also, I arrived just in time to hear the organ recital, which, to be very honest, is quite an acquired taste. The sound from this gigantic instrument is quite overbearing to me. I can see why it is used to accommodate prayers to God, but I definitely don’t see this as something for personal enjoyment.
People working here are also very nice and accommodating. I was explained that the abbey is running on donation from visitors. To me, this point may actually draw more revenue than ticket sales given it is not really the main attraction in this city. The lady managing the Tower Tour ticket sales also was quite patient to explain to my dead brain (from red eyes flight) on where and when to meet for the tour – which I’m super thankful for!
One other nice touch to this place is the small corner dedicated to Ukrain War where people write down prayers, thoughts, and messages and place on the board. For a person coming from a country where religion is encouraged to remain completely secluded from politics on surface, I like this section a lot – and especially when the pastor coming up to speak about it during the prayer.
Bath Abbey Tower Tour
One of the things I love doing is to put some cardio and leg works during my travel – be it walking, hiking, and, in this case, climbing up the tower. I remember having a fond experience walking up Duomo in Firenze, and I dare say that Bath Abbey Tower Tour is equally great experience if not better.
Our guide today is Tobey, and he was one of the key reasons why I really love this tour. Tobey is very knowledgeable about the Abbey history and fun facts, and he delivered it with humor – one of the key charming characteristics of the Brit, I think.
Half way through the climb
Apparently, according to our guide, gargoyles have different name in Somerset - Hunky Punk
Bell operating chamber is one of the main highlights of this abbey for me. I have always heard the chimes whenever I visited the city, but this is the first time I actually get to see how it works, and this rooms presents multiple techniques used to create different degrees of volumes and melody. Can you believe you need years of training to actually ring the bells?
We also walked over the fan vaulted ceiling of the abbey! Once we found out that the thickness of the stone ceiling is only 10 cm, we slowly move away from the area in fear of our safety…
The look from behind the clock of the Abbey Tower
The rooftop of the tower gave spectacular view from all side. This is the part where I feel that the tower’s peak of Bath Abbey is nicer than Duomo.
After coming down, we were given a badge showing that we have conquered the 212 steps climb up the top of Bath Abbey’s tower. Yay to my only cardio of the day!
The huge stretch of identical roman-style buildings is one of the must-visit and photo spot in Bath. The grassy lawn in front is also a great hangout / picnic spot for the locals. Right under the Royal Crescent hill is also a nice park for relaxation as well. To be honest, while I think the place has a nice photogenic background, there is not really that many things to do. With that said, the combination of the park and the background, this place become my go-to morning run and handstand practice spot.
To this day, I still don’t understand the concept and business model of YMCA. The only thing I know about the organization is that it is quite famous for exercises / gyms and youth activities. With that said, the main reason I booked my accommodation here is that it is quite cheap! One own room with shared bathroom at the price of less than THB 2,000 per night! To my surprise, I was also informed at check in that the accommodation also comes with free gym access from 9 am to 5 pm. My room also came with an amazing view of the nearby church (though I don’t think this is Bath Abbey) and is spacious enough to fit a yoga mat for my morning practice / stretches after morning run. The only drawback is that the walls are definitely not noise-cancelling. I could hear my neighbor taking phone calls and coming back from night out.
Sally Lunn Bunn
My second day at Bath was a cheat day (though day become weeks later on). After finishing a full-on English breakfast, I decided that the day was too cold for me to walk all the way to Prior Park. Instead, I walked to Sally Lunn’s to taste the famous Sally Lunn Bun that received quite a lot of raving reviews – at least on Google and Tripadvisor.
It turned out the place was not as busy as I thought it would be when I arrived, though I am quite sure that the place will be quite full during lunch and dinner times. The ended up trying two half-buns – one savory and one sweet. The bun itself has a very nice texture – crispy from toast on the outside and soft but fluffy on the inside. However, I wouldn’t say that the toppings are super extraordinary – though this might be because I was quite full before eating extra portions there.
The atmosphere of the eatery is quite nice – the place supposed to be a historic eatery – centuries-old! Underneath the dinner, there is a small showcase (being called “museum”) and shop. I found out also that Sally Lunn is actually from France – of course a great baker of the era was from there! Her name was Solagne Luyon. The last name sounds like Lyon, which made me question whether or not she was also from Lyon – one of my favorite city in France.
Prior Landscape Garden
At first, I was planning to ditch this place because it was so far off from the city center. However, after a very filling morning of overeating, I felt so guilty that I decided to walk there and back – just to compensate for my uptick in calorie intake. The walk there was indeed very long as expected, though the gradient level was not mentioned anywhere. I ended up having to take 2-3 pit stop to rest along the way to catch some breathes – apparently, I was not as fit as I thought I am.
Some nice flowers along the way to the garden
The garden is very quiet despite the number of tourists in Bath. However, this gave me quite a good opportunity to enjoy a nice and serene walk in nature. This served as a good reminder for me to also remove my headphone and listen to some bird chirpings and other relaxing sound from the surroundings.
There were a few areas that were closed for construction or renovations when I was there – also a possible reason for why there were not many visitors here. However, the main photogenic bridge / pavilion is still accessible, and I even managed to get my yoga check-in there!
As a side note, as part of me rationalizing not going to the place, I did some googling to find faults about this place. There was one funny review saying the place is just full of overgrown garlic. Although this doesn’t sound so nice, I was very perplexed by the comments (and frankly couldn’t imagine how this is going to look like). However, surprisingly, I found the “overgrown garlic” quite beautiful. The abundance of white flowers turned out to give quite a photogenic scene, and the smell was not as garlic as I thought would be haha.
Some fun experience on the way back to Bath’s city center: Before entering the park, a nice gentleman that the gate told me there is a path that allows direct exit to the city. However, being a risk-averse person that I am and not seeing the exit shown on the map, I decided to just walk the longer path back to the city center despite having rather limited time between then and my entry time to the Roman Bath – the main destination for the day!
The Roman Baths
The Roman Baths is the highlight of Bath for me. I initially was skeptical about this place because I had such a great experience in Acropolis during the COVID-19 pandemic time (hence, almost like having the entire Acropolis to myself), and I thought any Ancient Greek or Roman would not be able to top that. To my surprise, the somewhat unique blend of historical lifestyle, mythology, technological enhancement, and the storytelling planning by the curator ended up making this relatively smaller venue quite impressive.
The Roman Baths is not really just a bathing pool, but I would almost classify this as a spa and worshiping complex. There is a thermal bath, swimming pool, sauna, and a temple to Athena / Minerva – all in one place. The impressive part about all these is that this place complex was built over 2,000 years ago, and the curator was able to tell quite a seamless and engaging story from the moment we enter to the end of the tour.
The building itself is fully renovated from just ruins with Bath Abbey in the background. The imposing statues of big names in Roman history such as Julius Ceasar also gave a nice touch to the building as well.
What I like about the exhibition was when we get to see the pediment of the Soulis Minerva temple. Typically, we just see a the head of Medusa whenever there is a temple dedicated to Athena. This we see the head of a man, which was later explained as a mix of Medusa – a reference to the Greek mythology – and Poseidon / Neptune – a reference to the god of water, which is relevant to the natural thermal bath and the local goddess of water Soulis. With just one pediment alone, there are so many things to dissect!
I also love the parts about life in ancient roman and some rituals at the temple, which are rarely the focus of most Ancient Greek and Roman museums. There are some sections about the burial clubs – basically burial benefits for artisans and soldiers coming to work in Bath, the hair styles and fashion of rich women, and even how people cursed those who wronged them back in the days! These snippets are often accompanied by 3-D videos to visually depicts how we imagined the life back then to be – these videos made theses sections much more interesting than just audio guide / showing artefacts alone.
Statue of a "fashionista" back then 2000 years ago. This is the hairstyle of wealthy women back then
People back then scribed pleas to god to punish enemy on brass or copper and place them at the temple - ancient curses
Pump Room: I had a tea at the place Frankenstein was originated
Walking out from the Roman Bath, I was quite ready to sit down and enjoy a bit of break. And what is nicer to do in the afternoon in UK than an afternoon tea? In front of the tearoom, there was a sign saying the author of Frankenstein sat down and wrote the book here. Now, that luxury was a big draw for me to just try out the place. I walked to the door, asking nervously whether I need to make a reservation, and I was lucky to find that there is a seat available.
The tearoom was magnificent! It seems to be more of a ball room than a tearoom in my view. It has high ceiling with a stage – live classical music being performed. I fell in love with the place immediately. The afternoon tea set costed around 40 pounds with a glass of champagne. The food and tea were nice, but the overall experience is something that I won’t forget in a long while!
Sitting there writing down my thoughts, one question popped up in my head – where do all classical musicians in Thailand go? I am pretty sure there are quite a number of graduates from the school of music every year, but we don’t have these sorts of performance quite regularly in Thailand. Given the cost of living in Thailand, I wonder how much would this experience cost in my country.
Randomly strolling around with no specific destination is something I love doing when visiting a new city. Though there is not much to see in Bath, I found the city to be quite good for street photography. The Roman-inspired architecture with a touch of greens is how I would describe the city’s overall vibe. Unfortunately, the city is still quite small to warrant that long of a walk vs other more photogenic cities of the world.
Though my trip to Bath started of quite randomly, I ended up with a fond memory of the city. Though I wouldn’t say that the city is going to be a place I visit annually like Kyoto, I definitely would want to re-visit again – at least when the Roman Baths have further expansion!