23 June 2010

Europe 2003 recap, Days 7-8: Bath, Tate Modern, and the End

These photos showcase the end of my 2003 European stint - covering Saturday through Sunday, November 8-9th.

Saturday the 8th was set aside as a day trip to the town of Bath, situated on the Avon River near Bristol. In the UK, day trips are a very economical way to travel, due to the railroads offering a "Cheap Day Return" fare that is little more than a single (one-way) fare; given how high British rail fares are otherwise, it is important to take advantage of offers like this. Ideally I would've preferred to head for Bath smack in the middle of my British stint on Friday, but I had to settle for Saturday, the last full day, as Cheap Day Return is not valid on Fridays. For the run from London Paddington to Bath Spa, I paid £33.

Here is a look at Melia White House, my hotel.

During my stay, a Spanish culinary festival was taking place within the hotel, though due to sky-high menu prices, I did not even bother to take a look. But the hotel impressed me in other ways. I was noting that every power outlet came in sets of threes - one British outlet, one Continental outlet, and one North American outlet, with the North American outlet being supplied at 110 volts. Made recharging my electronics (especially the digital camera) a bit easier, since I needed to rely less on plug adapters. Also the lift system was very interesting; I selected my floor on a central touch screen, which would in turn tell me which lift (from a bank of A through D) would take me to my floor. Once inside the lift car, OPEN was the only button available. The touch screen could be changed to a number of different languages - including American English, which simply changes the word "lift" to "elevator."

I have now arrived at Bath. Travel time on a mainline fast diesel train was just under an hour and a half.

At the town's main square, the Bath Abbey stands as the imposing structure. This is a good place to start, since there is a tourist information office, which gave me a town map for £1.

As the name implies, the town is best known for a geothermal bath. The bath was originally developed during the Roman colonial era, when the town was known as Aquae Sulis, or the Waters of Sulis. (Sulis was a Celtic goddess the Romans associated with their own Minerva.) After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the bath was forgotten - until being rediscovered around 1800. Contemporary structures were built over the Roman baths, and Victorian-era visitors came for the therapeutic quality of the waters.

And that is the Roman bath pool. I am not allowed to dip into the water today, however. I took the photo from the Victorian-era tea room above, where I also bought the admissions ticket.

Hot water is emerging via a Roman-era arch.

The pool-level area is in the form of a museum, featuring various Roman artifacts and ruins, though there are some additional indoor baths in the exhibits area, from the Roman era of course, that could easily be put back into active use right away. Amazing plumbing.

While Bath is best known for the Roman bath, it also hosts a number of other sights. My bath ticket also allows me to visit the Museum of Costume, chronicling the development of fashion through the centuries. I could see the uncomfortable Victorian-era corsets, as well as more modern dresses making up the annual Dress of the Year collection from the 1960s on. Of course, my favorite was the infamous open-front sheer Versace 2000 dress, worn by Jennifer Lopez.

Bath was also the home of astronomer William Herschel, and the planet Uranus was discovered here. But his home, now a museum, is one sight I cannot visit due to time limitations.

I am instead focusing on the Royal Crescent and its series of townhouses, to look at the life of the English well-to-do in the 18th Century.

The No. 1 house is open to the public. I entered, and at every room, costumed elderly guides told me the purpose of each object in the room, and what the occupants would've been like. No photos to show for the troubles as photos were not allowed inside. But I do remember one memorable sight - a kitchen that featured a dog-powered mill.

And outside, the Royal Crescent itself is a pleasant space, with an open expanse of grass and some good views of the surroundings.

I wrapped up by walking down Bath's own pedestrian shopping street, Milsom Street, with British chain stores as good as any in London and other larger cities. Though I have to say, I was walking around the streets of Bath while unknowingly flashing the whole town, thanks to my mini being halfway up my derriere. Sure, I had tights on, and there was little to flash, but it was still an embarrassing moment. I refer to this moment as my "Calista Flockhart moment" - because I remembered Calista Flockhart, the original Ally McLesbian (and the reason for my own penchant for miniskirt suits), recalling at a Late Show with David Letterman appearance, one day while she was transiting through Heathrow Airport in a minidress and a backpack, and was stopped by a passer-by - because thanks to the backpack, her dress was halfway up her derriere!

I returned to London's Paddington Station after sunset, retired to my hotel, and shortly afterwards, set back out, for the final sight of the trip - Tate Modern on the Southbank, accessed via the new Jubilee Line Extension of the Tube.

Tate Modern was once a power plant, and this room used to be the turbine room. Now, that dim sphere (actually the "top half" of the sphere is simply a reflection seen on the mirrored ceiling) is part of an art installation.

I am not exactly a fan of modern art, so I didn't enjoy this place too much, but as far as modern art museums go, this is one of the most comprehensive. It also gave me a place to spend some time on a Saturday night, with its late night hours. And more importantly, I had an excuse to come out to the Southbank and look at its new, millennial developments. Unfortunately, I do have to say that some parts of the neighborhood were still beat-up, and Jamaican thugs taunted me in a reprise of the Muslim thugs of Amsterdam in 1999.

Sunday the 9th was dedicated to returning to Los Angeles. My objective of "proving" that I could once again return to Europe and enjoy myself having been achieved, but not still quite 100% at home with Europe just yet, I reluctantly made my way home, using the Tube's direct Piccadilly Line service to reach Heathrow Airport.

My return to Los Angeles will be a nonstop, leaving late morning and arriving in Los Angeles mid-afternoon. Having checked in at Terminal 3 and gone through the Harrods duty-free shopping, I am now making my way to my flight. That trusty United 777, operating as Flight 935, is it. Time to hum Rhapsody in Blue, I guess.

At 11 AM, shortly before boarding, a moment of silence was observed, since it was Remembrance Day. It also explained why so many people in and around London were wearing red poppies on their clothes for the past few days - the red poppies are used to commemorate the fallen British soldiers. Indeed, quite a few fellow passengers were wearing those poppies all the way to America.

At this time, and for a long time, Terminal 3 was the primary international terminal at Heathrow, and United and American (and Pan Am and TWA before them) were its biggest tenants. But in 2008, after Terminal 5 opened, all Heathrow airlines went through terminal re-assignments by global alliances. American stayed at Terminal 3 along with other foreign oneworld airlines, while United moved to Terminal 1 to join BMI and other Star Alliance airlines.

A few hours out of London, I am clearing the southwest coast of Greenland. Absolutely no green and all ice down there - as they say, Greenland is icy and Iceland is green.

Local time is about noon, but because of my extremely northern latitude, the sun is quite low, and it's quite dim outside. It will be pitch dark in just a few more hours.

This was a good flight, even though thanks to the bankruptcy reorganization, United's cost-cutting measures were very evident, especially with meal services.

Flight 935 continued over Hudson Bay and entered the US over Montana, entering the State of California over the Bishop area, before shooting out over Ventura County and coming back east over Santa Monica to land at Los Angeles.

After this trip, I looked forward to generating more income to allow myself to return to Europe more often. While the income did materialize, I also ended up taking on more work responsibilities to match, and it was difficult getting time off to travel. Moreover, most of my travels were taking me instead to Asia. It would not be until late 2009 that I finally found myself back in Europe, finally putting myself at ease with Europe for the first time in ten long years.