Bath and Cambridge
After spending over a week in London, I was ready to get out of the city and visit some of the English countryside. I didn't have enough time to go everywhere I wanted to go, so I settled on a couple days in Bath and a day trip to Cambridge.
Bath is a beautiful city and has been known as a tourist destination since the Romans conquered Britain. The Romans appreciated the qualities of the natural hot springs in Bath, and built Roman bathhouses there. The Roman baths are still incredibly complete, right in the middle of the town. Bath really hit its heyday in the 17th century. It became the fashionable city for anyone with money, land or a title to be seen in. Jane Austen lived here for awhile, and several of her novels are set in and around Bath. The majority of the city was built during this time. The architecture is one of the most beautiful things about the city. Almost all of the buildings (including ones being built today) are made out of Bath stone, a very white limestone that discolors as it ages. It makes the buildings look very regal and beautiful. Bath was considered on the cutting edge of architecture, and has several grand buildings to prove it. The Royal Crescent and the Circus were built specifically to house the rich and famous. Their symmetry and design are classic and still considered beautiful today. Another important building is the Bath Abbey, a beautiful church right near the Roman baths in the center of town. Its claim to fame -- it was the church where Edgar was crowned the King of England in 973 -- the first King to consolidate all of Britain into a unified country.
The hot springs were out of commission for a long time in Bath. Just recently, the city went ahead with a project to re-open the baths to the public. Apparently it was very controversial -- very late in being completed, way over budget, and a lot of people were unhappy with the final design. I thought it was absolutely beautiful. The baths were incorporated into the old limestone buildings, but refitted to be modern day facilities. The stone buildings are off-set by a lot of opaque glass and metal. Really stunning. I spent an evening at the baths and I must say that it was very relaxing! The complex includes two separate pools, four different saunas, a rain shower and a full array of spa treatments. I loved the rooftop pool, overlooking the ancient Roman baths and the Abbey. The great thing is that these baths are meant to be for the public, so the admission prices are reasonable. It is the only natural hot springs in Britain and the waters are supposed to be healing. It was a wonderful way to spend a few hours and I highly recommend it to everyone!
The next day I took a tour to Stonehenge. Stonehenge is less than an hour from Bath, so I figured I should probably see it. Who knows when I will be this close again? It really is an incredible site. The stones are huge. Really amazing to think that it was built over 4,000 years ago with primitive tools. I could instantly feel the positive energy from the place. I don't know if that is because there really is something sacred about Stonehenge, or if it is more the energy that people put off while they are there. Either way, it is a special place. I think it holds such a fascination for us because it is a mystery that will in all likelihood never be solved. The area around Stonehenge is really interesting too. It has one of the highest instances of crop circles. There are also huge chalk figures carved into the hillsides by ancient people. More mysteries!
The tour also included a stop in Lacock, one of the quaint villages of the Cotswolds. The entire village is considered part of the National Trust. It was so beautiful and fun to wander around. Apparently numerous movies have been shot here, including several parts of the Harry Potter films. I would really have loved to spend some time in the Cotswolds, but without a car and with limited time, I knew it wouldn't happen. Maybe for a future vacation -- it would be a great place to just relax for a week or two.
While in Bath, I watched the semifinals and finals of Wimbledon. It was great to just duck into a pub and watch some tennis. Of course everyone was following it closely because of Andy Murray. The interesting thing is that many of the English were rooting against him. Seems that the English dislike the Scottish as much as the Scottish dislike the English. They were all quite impressed with Andy Roddick -- as was I. That final was almost as good as last years.
I returned to London from Bath and then headed out to Cambridge the next day. Cambridge is a fairly small town, despite being world famous for the university. It was a great town to stroll through and enjoy. The university is organized a little differently than American universities. There are 31 separate colleges that make up the university. Applicants apply directly to a college, and if accepted, they will live, eat, and study in that college. The colleges all have a distinct character to them. Several of the colleges were open for tourists to visit. The buildings are really beautiful. I really enjoyed Queens College, Kings College, St. Johns College, and Trinity College. They even have a Corpus Christi College! I enjoyed high tea at a small tea shop in town. It was a great escape from the heat of London.