Saturday, May 19, 2012

The end of the road... trip.

Apologies for not writing for so long! There’s so much to catch up on...

Tuesday was another big day of travel: we were sadly leaving Ireland, and had to be in Dublin, three hours away from Doolin, ready to board the ferry to Liverpool at 8am. So we got up super early, headed downstairs to leave the hotel and found the front door locked, the night porter missing, and we couldn’t get out. After a few attempts to call the emergency number on the phone at reception, the night porter finally emerged from wherever he’d been and let us out – luckily it wasn’t too late!!

The West Coast of Ireland at dawn is quite spectacular. Narrow, windy roads bordered by stone walls, rolling green fields dotted with pretty white houses, it was all extremely beautiful. And it’s always nice driving when there’s no one else around. We managed to make pretty good time, however we were slowed on the approach to Dublin and I was a bit worried we wouldn’t make the ferry on time. But we did make it, we drove on board and were ready to make the long crossing back to England.

This ferry didn’t have anywhere to sit and enjoy the ride really, just a dining area and a lounge area. I went to get some snacks for the 7.5 hour trip from the information desk, where the fellow on the desk enquired about my place of origin. ‘Australia,’ I naturally replied. ‘Oh yes, I thought I heard some Australian there. Mind you your accent isn’t as bad as some, “waaah waaah waaaah” [I suppose that is his impression of what Australians sound like]. It could be worse.’ Errr... thanks? A little confused about whether I should be relieved that I don’t sound too horribly Australian or insulted, I returned to our spot at a table in the dining room to find Mads more or less collapsed with fatigue. So she went and upgraded us to a cabin which was awesome! A couple of beds, a window, our own bathroom for only 20 quid because it was a daytime crossing, and we were set. Once again we pretty much slept the whole way – I woke up once or twice with the rocking of the boat on the choppy water, which I have to say I enjoyed. I think I could happily live on a boat.

Will on the ferry in Dublin

Our awesome-pants cabin! So comfy!

Somewhere in the ocean. It felt much more choppy than it looks, I swear!

Back in the car once we’d docked to find it absolutely covered in sea salt! We drove into the first petrol station in Liverpool we could find with a carwash, only to discover ‘oh, the car wash? It doesn’t werk’. So we kept heading to Bath, having to stop at every petrol station along the way just about to re-wipe the windows as the salt kept growing back, and as it was getting towards sunset it was pretty much impossible to see. We arrived in Bath a bit after 10pm, staying in a hotel about 200 yards from the Roman Baths and around the corner from Admiral Lord Nelson’s house. Once again our room was at the top of about a zillion flights of stairs but it was a nice clean room with a comfy bed and ensuite bathroom, and what more do you need?

Poor Audi covered in salt.

The view from our window in Bath.

Wednesday was Bath day. It started out in a very frustrating manner – having completely run out of clean washing we found a laundrette, thinking it would take maybe an hour to do our washing, then we could go and explore Bath. Wrong! Nearly 3 hours later I had a very bad case of cabin fever, I just wanted to go out and sightsee and toddle around Bath and the bloody washing wouldn’t DRY!! Apologies to Mads for having to deal with my hot-headedness - those who know me will know that my anger tends to manifest itself in tears. Which makes me even more angry because I’m crying and I can’t stop and then I cry even more because I’m even angrier. Finally the washing was dry, we parked the car back near the hotel and our sightseeing began, and I was happy again!

At the bloody laundrette!

We went to the Jane Austen Centre first, which was a bit disappointing really. It started with a really interesting talk on Jane and her life in Bath – I hadn’t realised she died so young to start with, and it was interesting to hear how her opinion of Bath changed when she moved there to actually live rather than just visit: this makes a lot of sense if you’ve read Persuasion, the main character is really unhappy moving from her home in the country to Bath. The museum itself was okay, there wasn’t really anything in there, but they did have a letter written by Jane to her sister, and they also had a really nice tea shop where we had high tea: man I LOVE fancy sandwiches, especially cucumber! Yum yum yum.

A letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra

High tea! Yum yum sandwiches, we were so stuffed afterwards and had to take most of the cake home with us!

Here I am with Mr Bennett.

Next up: the Roman Baths. I’ve been here before and they are amazing, the complex is so much more extensive than I had expected when I first went there, and the Romans were just so clever with their underfloor heating! There are also a lot of Roman artefacts on display that have been found around the baths and Bath itself, my favourites include some Roman safety pins, basically the same as the safety pins we use today; and curses that have been thrown into the waters at the temple to Sulis Minerva: bits of metal that have requests for the goddess carved on them like ‘the person who stole my gloves to lose an eye’ and things like that. A bit harsh, in my opinion, but maybe they were really nice gloves. It’s also incredible to see the remains of the Roman courtyard at the front of the temple, and the temple steps, not to mention all the baths that remain. It’s pretty amazing that it’s all survived, and to be able to see where people walked and talked two thousand years ago is pretty amazing! Possibly just as incredible was my discovery of Harry Potter translated into Latin in the gift shop, which I simply had to purchase! Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis. Will be handy when I know how to read Latin... one day!

The main bath at the Roman Baths in Bath.

Ruins of the Roman temple courtyard

The Roman drain taking excess water from the baths and putting it in the river.

Ducks in the bath!

Here I am with some Romans! I was too shy to get my pic with them properly...

The King's Bath

One of the old, ruined Roman baths, with, you guessed it, old steps!

We went on a massive walk around Bath after this, from the Baths, across the Pulteney Bridge and up Great Pulteney Street, past Queen Square, along the Gravel Walk up to the Royal Crescent and The Circus. Bath really is an incredible place, because of its World Heritage Listing all the buildings are very old and have been preserved beautifully, so it almost feels like you’ve stepped back in time 250 years. The buildings themselves are very pretty, and there are a lot of parks and trees, it’s just a really nice place to visit! Back to the hotel and we had Thai for dinner around the corner, you can’t go wrong with a bit of Pad See Iew.

Bath Abbey

Mads from the side this time! Walking along Grand Parade.

The Pulteney Bridge, it has shops on either side and just feels like you're walking down any other street... 

Great Pulteney Street, the widest street in Bath, very nice leading to the Holburne Museum

Shadows on the pavement, who could it be??

A typical street in Bath.

The Circle

Carvings that go around the houses in The Circle.

The Royal Crescent

This hospital was founded in the 12th Century!! 

Thursday morning we checked out of the hotel, leaving the packed car in the carpark as we wandered back up to the Royal Crescent to see the Georgian House at Number 1 Royal Crescent, which was beautiful. The whole place is done up as it would have been in the Georgian period: the dining room, study, bedroom, drawing room and kitchen all furnished with real 18th Century furniture. I learned a couple of things here: first of all there were chamber pots everywhere including in the dining room and the study (yuck, yuck, yuck!!); and they were obsessed with reflecting light, which is why they loved gold trim so much, on books and furniture, on picture frames, even in their clothing. Aside from the chamber pot thing, I could totally see myself in a huge powdered wig, corset and lace, swanning about, fan in hand. Everything is just so luxurious and pretty, it’s all about pure enjoyment.

We had our breakfast/lunch meal at Cafe Rouge, a Parisian-style cafe, which got me all excited for our trip to Paris, then headed back to the car to head to Thornbury, about an hour and a half north. We stopped in at a very good hand carwash on the way, £6 to get rid of the Audi’s nice salty coating which I thought was a bargain. We got to Thornbury a little early to check in to our hotel so we had a wander around the town, which was very nice. I got a pretty large duffel bag, which will fit my stuff in it a bit better than my poor suitcase which has been about to pop every time I repack it. After a pretty good explore and not being able to find a single Thornbury postcard anywhere (it must be the only town in the whole of Britain to not have its own postcards), we headed to our accommodation for the night, the real life, 500 year old Thornbury Castle. It was AMAZING!! Our room was massive and it still felt like it was in a castle, with stone walls covered with hangings, carved wooden furniture, a heavy wooden door and those cross-shaped window thingys for archers to shoot through. We also had a huge bathroom, a complimentary bottle of sherry, bathrobes, sweets and the most comfortable beds on the planet: lying on one felt like you were sinking into a marshmallow. We were both so excited by the room and the fact that we were spending the night in a real castle that we got a bit squealy for a while there. AND apparently Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed at the castle too which makes it even cooler!

Outside Thornbury Castle

The door to our room!

We were in the Tudor Room, which I was pretty happy about...

Inside our massive room

Mads drops into her squishy marshmallow bed, sooo soft!

Enjoying a complimentary sherry in our room. Well, I enjoyed it, Mads didn't.

We had a walk around the grounds after we’d settled in, into the church yard next door and in to the old church, down a country lane which went through some lovely green fields, and around the castle of course – there is a ruined section of the castle we walked through, as well as in to a very pretty walled garden. We went back to our room to dress for dinner (no sneakers, jeans or t-shirts in the main part of the castle after 6, thank you very much), and headed over to reception, where we were shown in to the very Tudor sitting room for an aperitif and canapes whilst we decided on what we wanted for dinner. You know you’re in a fancy pants establishment when you’re sitting in a wing chair eating chicken liver – not as bad as I thought it would be, kind of tastes like cheese I thought. Once our table was ready we were shown into the dining room – I had beautiful pork, Mads had lamb, and we both had the most delicious, melty chocolate fondant for dessert, all served by a rather attractive waiter with a European accent. After dinner, feeling rather full and toffish, it was back into the sitting room for tea and petit fours. The whole experience was a lot of fun and we were disappointed we were only there for one night.

The old ruined, overgrown part of the castle. You can still see fireplaces in the walls.

The village outside the castle

A country laneway by the castle

The main quadrangle inside the castle gates. 

The main part of the castle, from inside the walled garden.

Heading back to our room!

Probably the coolest tights ever! I got them from Marks and Spencer, the good thing about here in Olympic/Jubilee year is you can get all this fun patriotic British stuff. 

In the sitting room before dinner

The fireplace in the sitting room

More of the sitting room

Enjoying an aperitif

In the dining room

This morning we got up early again for our last ride in the Audi, as we drove back to London. We’re staying in Hampstead tonight, so we dropped our bags off at the hotel (which, it turns out, is above a gay pub), then returned the car to the rental place and said our goodbyes to our good friend. We caught the tube to Bermondsey (Mads was EXTREMELY happy to be reunited with her beloved Tube) to put my suitcase and the stuff we don’t need for the rest of our trip in her locker there, and then headed back to Hampstead! I love Hampstead already. It is a really nice place, the houses are absolutely beautiful, and there are such nice shops all up and down the High Street. Mads took me for a walk around the place to show me where she used to work and her first London flat, then we went back to check into our room properly. It’s really nice and overlooks the High Street. My new mobile wasn’t working, so we took it in to the phone shop across the road – naturally as soon as the fellow in there glanced at it it started working, which is fine by me. We went to Mads’ favourite pub, The Flask, to meet up with her friend Sarah. It was a lot of fun, it’s a really nice pub with the most delicious food! As I say, I really like Hampstead. Maybe I’ll live here when I’m working at the British Library one day... 

Farewell to the Audi. Altogether, over the last two weeks, I drove over 1800 miles - that's more than 2900km! No wonder I was buggered...

Another one for Ben - we drove past Lord's on our way to the rental car place!

A very nice street in Hampstead.

The Hampstead High Street

Mads and Sarah at the Flask.

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