Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bath, Ironbridge and Oxford ERs

Wednesday, we headed off to Bath, which was once the Social Center.  Anyone who was anyone was seen in Bath-- as we know from Jane Austen (in addition to others).  It's gorgeous-- and though we spent a whole day there, there was still lots we didn't get to see (and lots we did), so I would like to go back. 



We started in the Bath Abbey-- it's hard to get a picture of the exterior from up close.  It's actually more impressive when viewed from inside the Roman Baths (which I'll get to...but this is what it looks like from there-- the Abbey is the building in the background). 


And, of course, the inside of Bath Abbey is beautiful-- we have yet to really go to a simple church, abbey or cathedral (and why would we-- except that it's hard to believe that every single place of worship in the UK is amazing and so I would like to know if there are some basic ones...)






I am getting a little tired of having pictures with people's heads in them-- or bodies-- obstructing the view. But, all of these places are such tourist attractions it's basically impossible to get unobstructed pictures-- someone always seems to walk in front of my shot right as I'm taking it.  In a way, that is amazing itself.  We were in Bath on a Wednesday-- in September when most schools have started back (universities in the UK don't start back for another week or so, but still... most everywhere else in the world, colleges have started up again) and these places were quite crowded.  I am getting a little better at snapping pictures quite quickly (which is why some of them come out a bit oddly framed).  I haven't decided which is better-- well framed and aligned photos with random strangers walking through them or quickly taken, slightly off ones which are relatively unobstructed.  So, I have a collection of both.

The Roman Baths are incredible-- and the museum/site is really well done. We spent close to an hour and a half there and I didn't get to hear even half of the recordings about the different people who used to come there or the way in which the civilization developed around the bath (the museum provides a device to walk around with-- there is a wide variety of ways to listen to information about the baths including recordings produced specifically for children as well as a tour guide done by Bill Byrson, which I think I'll listen to if I go back.  And, there's the audio tour produced by the museum-- in many languages.).  Most of what I listened to was the information about what each part of the Bath was for.  I need to go back just so I can get more of the history (it's a lot to absorb-- there really is so much information there). There are, of course, the iconic images of the Roman Baths which is the large pool that still has water in it (it really does bubble and steam, though I don't think you can tell from the pictures).



The iconic part is really only a small part of what's there.  The inside of the museum is preserving the other parts of the baths.



These are other rooms people would make their way through on their way in or out of the baths as well as cornice pieces (the first of the three pictures) that decorated the baths. This doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what is at the museum-- though, it is hard to take pictures of the inside.  And, even harder to remember exactly what each one is of (I can't-- and it's only been a few days since I took these). 




From the Roman Baths, we went to lunch at a hospital-- but hospital in the sense of place of hospitality, not place to care for sick people (though, this hospital is now something of a home for the elderly, kind of like a retirement community for those who need some medical attention/assistance).  It's St. John's Hospital-- the courtyard was really pretty.

And, it's again centuries old.  From lunch, we walked around Bath's shopping area for a while-- I had the best hot chocolate ever at a small shop located right next to the abbey. It was like drinking a dark chocolate bar-- so good (and, admittedly, a small part of the reason I want to go back to Bath.  There was a chili hot chocolate available and I want to try that. I seriously considered having a second hot chocolate while I was there-- it just seemed like that was too decadent or fattening or something.).  Bath is sort of a small shopping mecca-- there is a variety of shops from the familiar clothing stores (like Banana Republic) to independent shops, lots of jewelry stores (some with really unusual pieces) and then a sort of open market (covered with a roof-- kind of like the covered market in Oxford, only not as nice) with a wide variety of interesting products and vendors selling what seemed like junk (like plug converters or pens).  And, then the usual touristy shops--Bath is a giant tourist draw.

Bath is also a good example of architecture as it developed over the ages-- from the Roman Baths through about the 1800s.  We took a sort of architectural tour of the city. We passed the Jane Austen Center as we went (I want to go back.)



The man is a real person.  The statue of Jane is not.  Then we visited the Queen's Circus (named for the shape, not because there were clowns in cars or elephants doing tricks).


You can see how it's built around a circle. Those are (were) all houses that faced into the circle. The we walked up to the Royal Crescent (there's a lot of stuff named for royalty-- it was an way to show loyalty and gain favor).

It too is sort of built around a circle-- but it's more of a half circle of houses, rather than a full one, so their view was nicer and made them feel like they were living on an estate.


The architectural details of the Queen's Circus and the Royal Crescent are also different, though you can't tell from the pictures. We also went into 1 Royal Crescent, which is a museum house set up to look like it would have in the 1800s.  It was very cool-- but there were no pictures allowed.  The kitchen was the most interesting room, especially since it contained a spit with a wheel (think hamster wheel) attached-- dogs were used to make the wheels go to turn the spit. There were also apparently devices like this for things like butter churning-- and any other activity that could be powered with a giant spinning wheel. (The informational guides also acknowledged that this historical information was likely to be shocking to dog lovers.) 




I returned from Bath and took one of my students to the ER (minor injury-- all fine).  There are no pictures of that either-- the emergency room in Oxford is as institutional and unattractive as any emergency room on the US.  And, as slow when it's busy-- it took us about 2 hours from walking in to leaving, but I think those with broken bones who had to be seen by x-ray, etc. were there a lot longer.  There was a sign that said the expected waiting time was three hours, so we actually got through pretty fast. As advertised by the NHS, we were seen for free-- no bill in sight (and, no way, really, for them to send us one later).  I'm hoping that's my last trip to the ER, not just because I don't want anything happening to anyone that requires one, but also because it's not that much fun-- and the vending machines don't offer any good selections (I ate crisps-- potato chips-- out of desperation.).

Friday, we headed out to Ironbridge, which is just what it sounds like-- a bridge made of iron.  It's the first one-- and its building heralds in the industrial age.

It's built over a gorge-- the view from Ironbridge is more attractive in a traditional sense than the bridge itself (though, the bridge really was a spectacular accomplishment when it was built in 1779).


The whole of the area-- which includes a lot of little towns all of which made up on industrial project-- is built on a really steep hill, which is why the houses are all built into the sides of the mountainous terrain (we didn't go into the church that is in the picture-- but I'm sure it's beautiful too).



From Ironbridge, we went downhill to Coalport (the town areas are basically named for their function--so, think port for coal) to see the China Museum. It's kind of amazing that in this area that was largely industrial, created around the production of iron and mining of coal, there were also people making these amazing pieces by hand.






It was all being created in workshops like this.



The museum also has demonstrations on site-- it's unusual because some of the artists work for the museum, but some of them both work for the museum and use the space as their own personal workshops (so, basically, they seem to be working on their own projects, but are also available to answer questions from guests walking through).  We were all memorized by the woman making china flowers.  It's amazing how quickly she can create one.  She's creating a rose in this video.


She'd made all of these in a couple of hours.




And, then, it takes days to go through the whole firing, painting, glazing, etc. process, but this is what they end up looking like when they're finished.


From the China Museum, we headed up to Coalbrookdale to see the Museum of Iron, which is where all the iron was produced. 



These are the remains of the factory (the cars ruin it a bit since they are obviously not original-- but it was hard to get a shot of the whole thing from anywhere other than the back of the parking lot).  There's also a part of the museum with exhibitions of things made from iron, like the table which was made for exhibition purely to demonstrate what craftsmen in the 1800s could do with iron.




There were also more practical exhibits there, like stoves, both old and modern.


The ones on the left in the lower picture are Asa stoves-- they're modern even though they look old fashioned.  I want one (I've been told they cost about 5000 pounds. I'm also starting to wish I had a pound symbol on my keyboard.).

After the museum, we went to the Darby house.  The Darbys ran the iron factory for generations.  They lived on a hill above the factory.




 We were allowed to take pictures inside the house (without flash), so this is what 19th century interiors looked like.



There was also a medicine chest encased in glass (which made it really hard to take a picture of-- it's got a lovely reflection of me in it).


It didn't come out in the picture, but all the bottles are labeled-- I wish it had come out because some are labeled as medicine and some are labeled as poison because, I guess, sometimes you want people to get better and other times you just want to finish them off.  There was also a room filled with clothes of the times to play dress-up in. So, my students did.



Last, we visited the Quaker Cemetery, which is basically the Darby family cemetery. I think the converted to something other than Quakerism eventually.  Mostly, it's interesting because it's one so plain and two built on such a steep hill (I don't think the picture does the steepness justice). There are more people buried there than the markers would indicate. And, I was told the tree is a redwood, which seems pretty out of place.


Thus ends the planned excursions en mass with the students (though certainly not the end of traveling around for me-- or them, I'm sure).  So, I'm sort of back to the questions of "living" in Oxford (rather than being a tourist).  That means making myself meals (we've been fed pretty well on all these excursion days) other than yogurt for breakfast (For those keeping up, I have tried a few new flavors. I'm not a big fan of hazelnut-- at least in that context. It just doesn't seem right as a yogurt flavor. I did finally find something other than plain Greek yogurt-- coconut.  It's pretty good.  I'm becoming partial to rhubarb flavored yogurt, which I'm pretty positive I'm going to have a hard time finding when I get back to the US-- we should get it there though. It's surprisingly good.).  I'm trying to figure out how to make the heating work in my flat (it was in the 30s here Wednesday night-- and I was quite cold by the time I got back from the ER since I was dressed appropriately for the day, but not the nighttime since I was expecting to be back home by about 6.).  The landlord's son came by-- apparently it's not that I don't know how to work the heat, it's that the heater in the living room doesn't work. (There is no central heating-- every room has an individual heater so that I just heat the room I'm in.)  I think I'm getting a space heater for the living room (or, I guess, a working heater if someone can figure it out.).  At least it's not just that I'm a dumb American who can't work a heater; it legitimately doesn't work (or, might be on a timer so that it only works at night...though I tried to turn it on after 9 pm on Wednesday, so I think it just doesn't work)-- so that makes me feel better.  Instead, I just run the risk of being a difficult tenant (which somehow seems better).

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