Category Archives: United Kingdom

Bath in summer: day trip to the World Heritage city

Last summer, I spent two weeks in Bristol for a UK-Japan researcher workshop (RENKEI, which I have to write about soon!) and on our free weekend I visited the nearby city of Bath. The city is a World Heritage Site most famous for its… you guessed it, baths!

World Heritage City

World Heritage City

Let me elaborate. The city has a natural hot spring, which became historically important when it was established as a public bath during the Roman occupation of Britain in the first century.

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“In area, in grandeur, in completeness, the baths of Aquae Sulis were unequaled”

Today, Bath is a famous tourist destination not only for the Roman Baths, but for a number of other sights and activities as well.

From Bristol to Bath is an easy 10 minutes by train, so I did not encounter any transportation problems. The city was not so large and easily walkable.

Walkable city, but how I wish I had a bike that day... The weather was perfect for it!

Walkable city, but how I wish I had a bike that day… The weather was perfect for it!

The first site I gravitated towards was the Roman Baths, but not before I took notice of the nearby majestic Bath Abbey.

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

A brush with history at the Roman Baths

The Roman Baths is the main attraction of the city, so there was no way I was going to miss it; never mind the 13.50 GBP entrance fee and the long line of tourists.

The line to enter the Roman Baths

The line to enter the Roman Baths

I borrowed an audio guide at the entrance and proceeded to follow the arrows pointing me to the different sites. The first stop was the terrace, which provided a view of the Great Bath from the second level.

View from the terrace

View from the terrace

There were statues in the terrace that apparently depicts Roman governors and emperors with connections to Britain.07

After that, the arrows led me indoors into a museum depicting the Roman way of life in Aquae Sulis (lit. the waters of the goddess Sulis Minerva), the old name of Bath. An important part of the exhibit was the temple pediment, supposedly taken from the old temple dedicated to Minerva.

Remains of the temple pediment, with a projected image of what it used to look like

Remains of the temple pediment, with a projected image of what it used to look like

Animated video reconstruction of the old temple

Animated video reconstruction of the old temple

Another part of the Roman Baths showcased the preserved ruins of the temple altar, the courtyard, and even the head of the Minerva statue. It felt a little surreal walking along the temple ruins that belonged to the first century.

The remains of the temple

The remains of the temple

Another highlight of the complex is the sacred spring. The site is where hot water bubbles to the surface, which they thought was miraculous in Roman times (it’s actually a geothermal manifestation… alright, I’ll stop the geology lecture here).

Bubbles!

Bubbles!

Many items were “offered” to the sacred spring, and some of them are exhibited in the complex. Most common are the coins and gemstones, but most interesting are the rolled up lead sheets with curses written on them wishing for bad luck upon their enemies (is this the same everywhere? Because this sounds like the Filipino kulam to me).

Offerings to the sacred spring

Offerings to the sacred spring

After the hot spring area, I finally reached the Great Bath, which is the open air swimming bath that I have been seeing from the start of the tour.

The Great Bath

The Great Bath

There were costumed characters playing the role of a Roman official and a Roman lady.

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The costumed lady asked me to smell some of her bath perfumes, so I sat by the pool to check out her basket of bath goodies.

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The area around the Great Bath pool had some of the original structures exhibited, like the original roof spine and floor from the Roman times. It was pretty cool that they got to keep some of the old building parts.

Different layers of the floor (like rock layers! hihi)

Different layers of the floor (like rock layers! hihi)

At one end of the Great Bath, there is a circular pool asking for “offerings”. The money you throw in would be collected after a year(?) and used for preserving the Roman Baths archeological collection.

Pool for donations to preserve the Roman Baths

Pool for donations to preserve the Roman Baths

Before exiting the Roman Baths complex, there was a drinking faucet that offers a taste of Bath’s spring waters. The waters are believed to have healing properties by ancient people.

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I got a glassful, but I only finished a quarter of it as it tasted weird. It was slightly salty and feels alkaline; until now I could still remember the taste in my mouth so I guess it’s quite remarkable (I’m not sure if in a good way).

Getting my nerd on at the Jane Austen Centre

After the tour of the Roman Baths, I met up with my RENKEI friends for lunch at a restaurant in one of the side streets of Bath. After lunch, I left them to explore the Roman Baths while I explore the next interesting Bath attraction for me: The Jane Austen Centre. The centre is a permanent exhibition located in the same street where she lived and features Jane Austen’s time in Bath.

Walking up the street, I knew I was in the right place when I was greeted by a bearded man in a top hat and coat from the 19th century.23 Personally, I was a little bit concerned that he was feeling too hot, as it was the peak of summer and he was sweating in his coat. Anyway, I just left him outside and I entered the house. It was really just an old (>250 years old!) house that they transformed into an exhibit.

The >250 years old staircase

The >250 years old staircase

I took a deep breath of acceptance before reluctantly handing out 8 pounds for the entry fee and the guide pamphlet (it was expensive by my standards!).

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

In the end though, what matters is I enjoyed the short lecture, the guided tour, and dressing up Regency style!

Tea set and free cookies at the exhibit

Tea set and free cookies at the exhibit

Flirting, Regency style! "A Fan... expresses the caprices of the heart, nay even sometimes speaks"

Flirting, Regency style! “A Fan… expresses the caprices of the heart, nay even sometimes speaks”

This may be the only time I get to wear a bonnet.

This may be the only time I get to wear a bonnet.

Afterwards, I walked around Bath with the map from the Jane Austen Centre as my guide.Bath-004 I visited several lovely and quiet gardens, but I equally enjoyed the lively streets in the city center where buskers and small shops abound.Bath

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Bath is a quaint little city that is perfect for a day trip, and I especially enjoyed exploring it on that bright and sunny summer day.

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Conference and side trips: My hectic week in London

“There’s no place like London…” so says the lyrics from the Sweeney Todd musical. I have always wanted to go to London because some of my favorite stories are set in this vibrant place. I wanted to see for myself what I have only imagined from books and movies. I finally had the opportunity when I presented a paper during a conference of the Geological Society. I stayed an extra couple of days before and after the conference so I could do a few touristy side trips.

The reason I went to London 🙂

The day after my flight (We went to Stonehenge immediately after my arrival), my aunt went with me from Southampton to London. We arrived in the city center a little before lunch time, just in time to see the changing of the guards at the Buckingham Palace.

Waiting for the ceremony at the Buckingham Palace

We waited for quite a while in the cordoned-off area in front of the Palace for the 11:30 am ceremony, but the long wait was worth it. I enjoyed watching the marching soldiers in their tall hats and red uniforms, with their serious expressions and snappy executions.

Changing of the guards at the Buckingham Palace

After the ceremony, we walked towards Trafalgar Square and checked out the odd assortments of statues and buildings along the way.

London Red: the iconic phone booth and double decker bus

With the very tall but very friendly policeman 🙂

After that, we proceeded to the Horse Guards Headquarters to observe the stone-faced soldiers standing guard.

At the entrance of the Horse Guards Headquarters

We continued on towards Downing Street, where the Prime Minister resides, and then to Westminster Abbey and to the Houses of Parliament (which houses Big Ben) to observe some of London’s iconic buildings and symbols.

Westminster Abbey

Big Ben in the Houses of Parliament

We then crossed Westminster Bridge to ride the London Eye.

The London Eye as seen from Westminster Bridge

The slow-moving capsules were fascinating to watch from the ground, but it was more fun when we were riding in one.

London Eye from below, taken while waiting in line

The capsule next to ours

We had relatively fair weather that day so we were able to see a great bird’s eye view of the city. The London Eye was a great way to see London.

After that, we rode the Tube to get to our next destination. For me, the London Underground is an attraction in itself. I am always reminded of Neil Gaiman’s novel Neverwhere whenever I see the sign “Mind the Gap” written on the platform.

The iconic Underground phrase

We next went to the Natural History Museum. I had always wanted to visit it since I was a kid, so I was really excited when we went inside (free entrance, yehey!). We first visited the dinosaur section (of course!), where I got really fascinated with the exhibits.

Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum

The museum was too big to finish in half a day so after visiting the dinosaurs, we quickly toured the Darwin Centre cocoon and then went to the exhibit of my favorite topic: the Earth 🙂

The cocoon

Cool entrance for a geology exhibit, I must say 🙂

My grin was as wide as it  could be while we were viewing the exhibits featuring rocks, minerals, earthquakes, volcanoes and other earth features (nerd alert!!!).

Exhibits at the Red Zone

After the Natural History Museum, we walked to Harrod’s, because I have always been curious of this posh department store since the news of Princess Diana’s death. Incidentally, they had a small memorial at the elevator lobby in the basement of the building for Princess Diana and Dodi al Fayed.

The memorial at Harrod’s

After all the walking and sightseeing, we went home to a friend’s house and called it a day since my jetlagged body couldn’t walk straight anymore. But I was happy because I was able to see some of London’s more famous symbols in just a few hours. It was a successful day for the tourist 🙂

The next day found me in Piccadilly Circus, where I met my labmates for the conference at the Geological Society in Burlington House.

Discussions over lunch during the conference

The conference lasted for three days, which meant that I had three nights to discover more of London 🙂 After the first day of the conference, we just walked around Chinatown near Leicester Square until we decided to eat in Aberdeen Steak House. I had the biggest portion of ribs that I would ever have in my entire life, and I needed the help of my dinner companions to finish my plate.

Ribs!

During the second night of the conference, the participants were treated to a fancy dinner at the Royal Society. It was amusing to see (student) geologists being as uncomfortable as I am eating a full-course meal in a fancy place full of portraits of famous scientists, but it was a very interesting experience.

Fancy dinner at The Royal Society

After dinner, I met with two of my Filipino friends who were residing in Europe at that time. Our friend brought us to a gay nightclub to dance and more interestingly, to watch the weekly strip contest. Every Thursday, G-A-Y  bar has its Porn Idol contest, where anyone with the guts can strip on stage for a chance to win 100 pounds.

Porn Idol competition at G-A-Y (picture was blurred on purpose ;p)

It was a very umm, revealing experience for me. My friends and I had a grand time watching and cheering for the contestants. We stayed there until well past midnight so we missed our last train and walked home, tired but happy from spending a nice time in the company of great friends.

Good vibes, great night 🙂

The last day of the conference finished early so we decided to make the most of our time and visit the Prime Meridian.

Going to the Royal Observatory to see the Greenwich Meridian

Random (but very sweet) couple walking to the Prime Meridian

It was a bit of a walk to reach the top of the hill where the Greenwich Meridian was located, and I hiked up the hill in my black dress and heels since we came straight from the conference. People were staring and probably wondering why I was visiting the Prime Meridian in a dress, but it’s not everyday that I get the chance to visit Longitude 0 and stand in the center of world time, so I didn’t care. I was really happy to stand over that line dividing the East and the West, imaginary though it was.

It doesn’t look it, but I am standing on the Prime Meridian! (See the line?)

We stayed for a while in the park, contentedly sitting on the grass and enjoying the nice weather. It was great to just relax and do nothing after a hectic few days of running around.

Of course my London trip wouldn’t be complete without watching at least one musical at the West End, so I went back to the city to buy tickets and meet my friend. We chose Wicked, because it was the most popular show at the time. My friend and I really enjoyed the show.

Outside the Apollo Victoria Theatre

Watching musical plays is really a joy for me, so I was very happy during and after the show. My friend and I had Wicked fever for a week, belting out “Defying Gravity” every chance we get. It was one experience that will stick with me for a long time. I wish I could go back to the West End to see more musical plays.

After our Wicked adventure, we went to King’s Cross Station to see Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4. It was already closing when we arrived a little before 10:00 pm. We made our best damsels-in-distress act to the guard so he would allow us to have some photos before he closed for the day.

A quick photo at King’s Cross, because they were closing for the night

We then went home to prepare for our trip to Nottingham the next day.

So there goes my quick trip and tour of London. The hectic week I spent in this exciting city was surely not enough because there really is no place quite like it.

No place like London (taken from the London Eye)

Stonehenge: visiting a childhood fascination

One of my favorite book topics as a young adult was of unexplained phenomena. I would usually go to the library (oops, nerd confession!) to read about and ponder on UFOs, Easter Island, fairies, and the like. Stonehenge was one of these “mysterious” places that has kept me fascinated while staring at the book illustrations.

I never thought the day would come, but I finally had the chance to see it in person. I went to the UK to attend a conference, and to visit my relatives at the same time. On the morning of my arrival, my aunt and uncle picked me up from Heathrow Airport and brought me to their home in Southampton (about 2 hours from the airport). I got excited when they told me they planned to bring me to see Stonehenge that very day. Of course I had no complaints, never mind that I have been traveling for 27 hours before I arrived 🙂 I only had a week in the UK so that time should be spent wisely. So I just had breakfast and a shower at my aunt’s place and then my uncle drove us to Wiltshire, where Stonehenge is located.

Stonehenge seemed to be in the middle of nowhere (information on how to get to the monument can be found here). One moment we were driving along green grass fields with grazing sheep, and the next moment I can see the stone monument! I felt excited as i caught sight of the stone circle but since we were in the car, I lost my view of it shortly after we drove past. We drove to the parking area and paid 7.50 GBP at the entrance gate, where they provided complementary audio guides.We had to go through a sort-of tunnel to reach the location of the stone monument. When I emerged from the tunnel and saw the Stonehenge Monument, excitement filled me again. I even forgot that I was feeling cold from the strong wind. It was really true, the Stonehenge Monument was really in front of me. While I was approaching it, I was remembering all those things I read from the books. I was marveling at the fact that man can put together a monument like this. I was actually trying to figure out how they managed to bring the heavy bluestones to the site, place the stones in an upright position, and place the stone blocks on top of the upright stones, but I just couldn’t imagine how. It was really an impressive sight up close.

Well, actually it was not THAT close. We couldn’t really go near the stones and walk inside it. They put up ropes to prevent people from coming close to the stone circle. As we walked around it, our distance from the Stonehenge seems to increase. Of course, since we couldn’t go near it, we just took a lot of photos with me in it! Haha. It was a good thing I was with my aunt who was playing tour guide, as she happily snapped photos of me with the Stonehenge in the background.

I also noticed some tourists posing for pictures outside the fence. The 7.50 pounds for the entrance fee might be too much for  some, or they just refuse to enter since they couldn’t touch it or go near it anyway.

After circling around the Stonehenge monument, we went inside the visitor shop for some souvenirs. The shop has everything, from posters to chocolates and even sheep stuffed toys. I bought several postcards and some gifts for family and friends.

I felt really happy that I got to see “THE” Stonehenge. I was really thankful (especially to my relatives!) that I had the chance to visit a place that I thought I can only ponder about while reading in the library. What I thought were stupid childhood wishes can come true after all 🙂