Monday, November 12, 2001

Some Enchanted Evening

Some Enchanted Evening

This guesthouse is very generous in the breakfast provisions. Besides the usual varieties of cereals, there were organic yogurts, fresh-diced fruit salad, peanut butter, vegemite, and other ethnic goodies. They also gave choices of poached, fried, or scrambled eggs, with brown or white toast. It has been a pleasant experience all around and we will be suggesting to Lynne and Mike that if they ever have company that needs to be put up, this is a wonderful place.

While I was finishing up in the room after breakfast, Lynne beat Ron to the phone call by calling here first. We were to meet Mike at The Pump Room at 6:30 pm. That gave us plenty of time to walk around the city on our own and get acquainted with it. Right near the abbey is our old friend the Tourist Office. While Ron is doing the questioning routine, I am browsing the goods for sale. Finally, after scouring London, Manchester, and Ireland, I found key chains with the French name coat-of-arms. This is the English version as the Irish version was not nearly as attractive. They had four of them and I bought them all. Meanwhile, Ron had finished with the tour agent and he was getting postcards of what we anticipated seeing for our album. The tour office offers free walking tours that last almost two hours at 10:30 am and again at 2:00 pm. Since it was close to the time for the first tour and is was raining heavily, we decided to test our luck for the afternoon instead.

We walked a bit with one umbrella since Ron thought his Tilley hat would be sufficient and left his umbrella at the B & B. When he acquiesced and decided he needed more, I stayed at a coffee shop and he ran back for the umbrella. When he returned he decided that he needed to try a Sally Lunn bun.

Sally Lunn was a Huguenot (French Protestant) that fled France for religious freedom and emigrated to Bath in the 1700’s. She created this bun, which created quite a stir and has been world famous or at least Bath famous ever since. Although Sally is no longer around, her memory, her recipe, and her teahouse are located in the oldest house in Bath, which dates back to 1482, although the face of the building was reconstructed in the 17th century. Sally, bless her heart, baked this bun that looks like as Ron described it, a huge version predecessor of the McDonalds hamburger bun without the sesame seeds. Why this bun was famous had to be hidden in the part that I could not discover, the taste.

Being seated in the Jane Austen room, Ron ordered half a bun with clotted cream and jam, while I chose a delightful half bun with orange curd and Assam tea. Each of our half of bun was as large as a dinner plate. With the purchase, we were entitled to visit the museum in the basement to discover how Sally gets her bun in the oven. Time was of the essence since we were taking the Lord Mayor’s Corp of Honorary Guides Walking Tour at 2:00. Sally’s secrets were still safe with us.

The walking tour starts out at The Pump Room at the Roman Bath. This is a service of the city and all tours are free. The guides go through extensive training of sixty hours and only the best are allowed to be active tour guides. Our guide, John, was a soft spoken, older gentleman, who made it clear that the tour was free and tips were not allowed. He guided us over hill and dale of Bath, pointing most interesting spots and explaining the history. Bath is one of the best preserved former Roman cities in Europe, but more on this later

Two less ancient sites, but terribly impressive none the less are the Royal Circus and the Royal Crescent. Both of these are housing complexes designed and built by the father and son architects John Wood the Elder and John Wood the younger. Both were done between the 1700’s and completed in the early 1800’s. The Circus being the first site started in 1754, it is a circle of thirty-three houses divided by three roads coming into a circular street. In the center of the complex is a large circular park, which was left treeless purposefully, but the designer to allow a complete view of the surrounding house. Later, in the 1800’s, the city put in trees that now obstruct a complete view. Each of the three sections of houses is graced with Doric columns on one level, Ionic on the next, and Corinthian on the top level of the building. Across the entire top of the first floor above the front door level, there are numerous concrete motifs of the arts and sciences. Later, this became known simply as the Circus.

Wood the Elder also designed the Royal Crescent, but died before it was completed and his son, Wood the Younger completed it. The Crescent as it is called today, is a semi-elliptical curve comprising of thirty houses of Palladian architecture. Each house is identical with the number of windows for each house being equal to maintain a uniformed and symmetrical design. It is decorated with Ionic columns. One of the former famous residents was Sir Isaac Pittman, the inventor of Pittman shorthand. The Crescent was the first of its type in England. The final house was not completed until 1810 being postponed due to a war.

Another site we walked through was Great Pulteney Street, which features all Georgian architecture. The fascinating part of this was that the houses are multileveled, but originally, the kitchens were in what we in the States would call the basement. At ground level is the sitting room and dining room, then bedrooms are on the next level with the servants quarters in the upper attic areas. At the basement level, there are storage areas that extend out to the middle of the street. In the street were square blocks of stone that had a hole in the center. The stone was removed and coal for the household was delivered through this hole. The servants would have access to this storage area through a patio area from the kitchen and carry coal to the many fireplaces in the building. It was the only source of heat. The patio area was not intended for a patio and I am only using the word for a mental image. It is an area away from the building to provide sunlight down into the basement room, since they were built before electricity. Each Georgian house has four or more chimneys across the roof creating an impressive skyline. Our friends Lynne and Mike bought a flat on this fashionable street, so it was more fun for us to have it be included in the walking tour.

At 6:30 pm, we met Mike at the Pump Room. He was as friendly and jovial as we had remembered him being on the cruise. We walked the short distance to his and Lynne’s new home where we received a warm welcome from Lynne. An added bonus was getting to meet their youngest son, who they had spoken about so often on the cruise and in the e-mails. Pete just returned on Saturday, from traveling the world for a year. He is good looking and charming, not surprising knowing his parents. The poor guy did not know that his parents were going to sell the home he left while he was abroad and more to another city entirely. He had to adapt fast and now has to learn his way around in his new environment. Just the thought of my parents packing all of my worldly possessions and tossing what they did not think was important, would have me on the next plane home. The thought alone sends chills down my spine.

It seems we picked up with Lynne and Mike right where we left off in Egypt, laughing and carrying on with non-stop conversation. Although Lynne gave us the warning that she is not handy in the kitchen, she presented each of us with a huge bowl of beef stew that looked picture perfect from a cookbook. Since I still cannot taste, I have to go on smell and it was delightful. Ron later told me that it was one of the best stews he has eaten and he swore that was the truth. Damn not being able to taste it. Mike knowing we like beers, had bought a special Hen Speckled brand beer that had a wonderful feel to it. Later, Lynne served cherry pie for dessert and then an enormous assortment of cheeses with crackers. Unfortunately, I was too full by then to partake, but cheese is one of my favorite foods. They especially went to a coffee shop and bought two different blends of coffee for our dinner. Since they do not drink coffee, they had to depend on the shop clerk to help them with the selection. Dinner was superb, but the gesture of the effort of getting the coffee since they knew we liked coffee, was really sweet.

Their flat, which is new to them, but was built in 1790, is beautifully furnished with antique furniture and other pieces that they had in the home they sold. It was like the furnishings were made for this flat. It fit the surroundings perfectly and it was very warm and cozy. It was also delightfully warm temperature wise also, since they had a fire burning in the fireplace.

There is no way that I could recount all of the things we discussed. It would take too many pages we covered so many topics. The one question they had was about a past e-mail when I stated that I could now eat chicken on St. Patrick’s Day guilt-free since I could not find any Irish relatives in my research and was shaking that part of my heritage. Lynne asked me what I would normally eat on St. Patrick’s Day? Being surprised by the question, my response was “Corned beef, cabbage, and boiled potatoes, of course.” When she asked why, Ron said it is the Irish custom. They responded that the Irish don’t eat corned beef and neither do the English. It is equivalent to our eating SPAM. They were curious where we ever got the idea for that traditional dinner for the St. Patty’s holiday. We explained that it is common in the States, but never questioned where the custom came from. We just thought it was an Irish tradition. At that point, we asked them in good humor what other bubbles they could burst.

Many of the English Christmas traditions that we thought were still common are generally no longer practiced, such as the coin in the Christmas pudding and the Yule log. It was safer to change the subject before they told us that there was never a real Bob Cratchett or Tiny Tim and really have us disillusioned. It was after twelve and a half in the morning, before we finally left for our guesthouse. Mike was so concerned about our finding the shortcut way, he walked us two blocks to point us in the right direction. The English way of saying half past the hour is the hour and a half, instead of using one-thirty, twelve-thirty, of half past the hour. It was an enchanted evening, but I did give Lynne editorial rights on this part of the piece, so there may be changes in the future, when she gets done with me. Tomorrow, we are meeting for the theater. Lynne and Mike are taking us to see “A Different Way Home” with Roy Barraclough at the Royal Theater.

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