Monday, May 07, 2012

Bath, UK (The Roman Baths.)

Bath, must be pronounced Bahhhhhth.
Bath is easily recognized by the "bath stone" that the buildings are made of. It is a form of limestone, and when it was quarried, they found that the stone could be angled into any shape, unlike slate, that separated into layers.
The whole city was the honey color that you see here.
The stone was porous, you could scratch it.
Some of the older buildings were a darker patina, like soot and exhaust had stained the stone.

We saw these guys.
I am pretty sure they were death-eaters.

The biggest tourist attraction in Bath, are the Roman Baths.
They are the only hot springs in the UK, and were estimated to have been built in 836 BC.
It was hard to wrap my brain around walking on stone that the ancient Romans laid.

We walked down the streets of Bath towards the pump house.
Have I ever mentioned how much I love my husband?

Right there, on the streets of Bath, there was a camera shop.
"Let's go in and look." he said.
I knew that the dollar to pound ratio sucked, and there was no way I was dropping a wad of cash on a new lens in the UK.
We walked in, and looked around.
This nice store guy came over and I told him we were on "holiday" and my lens broke.
That nice bloke went in the back of the shop, and brought out a used Canon lens.
He sold it to us for 50 pounds!
Sam insisted. He was sad that I was sad.
I was back in business, baby!

We found our way to the pump house, where the Roman Baths are.
It started to rain a little, on and off, just a nice mist.
The rain, when it hit the hot spring water of the baths sent up plumes of steam.
It made for some pretty photos.
You will see those later.
England was very accommodating for me and my new lens!
Here is inside the Bath house, from the upper level, looking down.

Now I need to clarify here.
The bottom portion of the Bath house is original...from the Romans.
You can see the more gray colored stone, and then the bath stone that is on top is from the late 1700's.
I ran into this cute little tour guide who told me that the original bath house was in ruins when it was discovered.
They cleared out most of the original rubble that had fallen down into a central area, so they could re-build the general structure.
That rubble pile is in a big warehouse building where they keep broken projectors and whatnot.
He said occasionally archaeologists will go through the rubble and pull up carved relics.
He thought it was silly that "We are so concerned about keeping the tourists away from all of the statues that are new (built in the 1700's) and the real treasures lay in a rubbish heap."
I laughed at the fact that he thought the statues built in the 1700's were new.
Dude. That is older than MY WHOLE COUNTRY.
What might this be? A smile on my face, and a camera with a working lens!
Bath spa water fell as rain up to 10,000 years ago up on the Mendip hills above the city. Then it ran underground, until it found the limestone fissures and fault-line up to Bath.
There are many legends surrounding the waters of Bath. They are said to have healing properties that included curing of paralysis, palsy and gout. There are also stories of barren women becoming instantly fertile due to the healing properties of the spa water.
This is a photo of Gorgon. It was thought that those who looked at Gorgon would be turned to stone.
I guess I should have warned you about that one.
Internets, you still there?
Okay, good.
See the lovely steam?
The water in the spa is a balmy 115 degrees year-round.
They allowed people to get into the water and swim around up until the 1970's.
Then the FDA or someone came in and said the water wasn't safe.
It may have had something to do with the chick who DIED after swimming in the water from some form of fungal meningitis.
They tell you not to even touch it.
The water contains over 43 minerals. And who knows what else.
Of course we touched it.
Don't be a fool!
When in Rome, and all that.

I would have jumped right in and swam around. It was warm water. And contrary to the way it looked, it wasn't stinky.
The ducks weren't dead.
We figured it if was good enough for was good enough for Wadley's.
Seriously, how smart are those ducks?!!
If I am ever reincarnated as a duck I want to live in the Roman Bath houses.
All the kids, as always, very interested.

Incidentally, Jayden was easy to spot in a crowd. That jacket of his was pretty eye-catching.
You can see in this photo where the original bath house was. The brick wall is original up to the crumbly part as well as the bottom of the pillars. Here is a closer look:

You can imagine with thousands of years of use, the stone floors got worn down. When that happened, the Roman's just threw new stone slabs over the worn ones. The floors were uneven in parts.
Behold! Bahhhhth! Me and Heidi.
They had a bath area for women. A bath area for men, and then later, they just had a free-for-all bath room. A lot of naked parties happened there.
Good luck if you dropped your soap.
Inside the museum area, they had partially excavated areas.
They are still discovering areas of Bath.

This area has turned into a sort-of wishing pond for tourists.
There were coins in the water from many countries.
Sam wished he had his metal detector for the billionth time.
Which I am not sure why?
The money was visible.
I don't know why you would need a detector.
I guess loot is loot.
We all made wishes.
I used a really cheap coin.
Heidi said it was worth less than a penny.
Maybe that is why my wish did not come true.
I guess you have to use larger denominations.
I probably offended the coin gods.

More cool shots:
I had a hard time leaving the Bath house. It was warm there.
We bought a couple of things in the gift shop, and moved on.

Family group shot!
It was a long, fun day.
We all went back to the cottage and took baths to warm up.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Cheddar the Town (and incidentally the cheese.)

Our next adventure was in Cheddar.
The town was a pretty one, nestled at the base of Cheddar Gorge.

Cheddar Gorge is a limestone mountain range, where caves were discovered in the 1900's.
Photo Credit

According to archaeologists, cheddar cheese originated here, hence the name of the town.
I love me some good cheddar!
Way to go, cheese caves!

Cheddar Gorge had two caves that you could walk through.
Those caves were where the cheddar was stored to age.
The caves maintain a steady temperature year-round--the perfect temperature to safely age cheese.

We got tickets for the tour and got to ride these open top buses up the canyon to the cave openings.

The view was awesome from the top.
Hello, Heidi!

I do have to say, it was butt freaking cold that day. I was on the verge of miserable. Lucky for me, Heidi threw in an extra scarf and let me take it. Who knew that scarves made such a difference?
Thank you, Heidi.
I am a scarf convert.
I also keep gloves in my camera bag.
Thank you, self.
Here is a self-portrait of Sam and I.

I include this photo for several reasons.
At that strange angle, it was a miracle that there are no visible nose hairs.
And my white strips appear to be working.
Also, it is a good shot of the gray in Sam's beard.
I love the gray.
He is maturing well. Like those rounds of cheese in the caves we are about to see.
But the most important reason you are looking at this photo, is that this is the last smile you will see on my face possibly for the rest of the trip.

My camera broke.

No lie. Right there, on the bus to the Cheddar Caves.
The lens died.
She was having a hard time zooming in and out for a couple days.
Sometimes I was stuck on zoom, until I wiggled the lens back in.
Well now, it was toast.
This was the second to last photo that I took:
See how it is all blurry and blown out?
No bueno.
And here is the last photo my lens could muster for me.

Oh sad. I was so sad!
Sam tried to tell the kids how devastating this was to me.
"You guys, it is like if you were invited onto an historic site, to metal detect, and your coil broke."
(This will not be the first time you will hear of Sam and his references to metal detecting.)

As a side note, I worry about Sam.
Gray beard aside, I feel like he has prematurely aged himself.
You decide for yourself.
Here are his hobbies:
Metal Detecting
Coin Collecting
Crossword Puzzles
Jeeping (basically driving around)
Collecting Skulls
Internets, there is nothing left for him to do when he is truly an old man!

Anyway, I guess the metal detecting explanation worked for the kids.
They avoided me and my cloud of sadness.
Every once in a while, the kids would cast me a sympathy glance.

I had the option of my telephoto lens.
Which meant that if I wanted to get a photo of a beetle on the top of the mountain, I was good.
However, to get a photo of what was right in front of me, I would have to back up into the neighboring shire to get that shot.
I had thrown in the point and shoot camera for the trip. I gave it to the kids to have them take photos from their perspective.
And also to get some photos of ME, to prove I was actually on the trip as well.

I had to commandeer the point and shoot.
Needless to say, it was full of photo gems like this:

Thanks kids.
So the the whole Cheddar Gorge experience, and the rest of our time in England would be captured with the point and shoot.
Our first cave was Gough's Cave.
This is where they discovered The Cheddar Man.
That poor sucker was DNA tested to be over 9,000 years old. They are not sure how he died, just that he had "died violently."
I bet he was trying to steal cheese.
Here are the big rounds of cheese, just happily aging away:
The way they set the cave tours up was pretty cool.
You were given this electronic recorder thingie.
There were numbered points of interest in the cave, and when you stopped at those points, you would type in the corresponding number on the placard.
Then you would get a recorded message that would give you information about that point.
That is Sam with the recorder thingie.
If you didn't care about an area, you could just move along. All self-guided.

The kids are morons.
They discovered they could punch in random numbers on their devices and the recordings were in a foreign language.
I thought the kids were really getting something out of the cave tour, with how intent they were listening to the recordings.
The cave was awesome!
We have a limestone cave by our house, Timpanogos Cave.
We have made the 3 mile hike to the cave and back a few times.
It is cool.
Gough's Cave makes it pale in comparison.
Cheddar Gorge is like Timp Cave on steroids!

Plus you don't have to hike to get to it, you ride a posh bus.
Well played, UK, well played.
Here are some of the more interesting things to see in the cave.
With a point and shoot.
This was a wishing pond. I threw my broken lens in it. Kidding.
Ferns that grew in the pitch black. Photosynthesis? Anyone?

When we finished touring the cave, we took a break for lunch.
Heidi and I had fixed sandwiches back at the cottage for us to eat.
Right outside the caves was a pretty little stream where we ate.

Mike, in the spirit of "making sure we had a full English experience" bought us some "Pork Scratchings'" to try.
He put one in his mouth and said "Oh man, these are terrible."
They were.
We asked him if it was just a bad batch.
"No," he said "they are pretty much always awful."
So unless you like to chew on teeth achingly brick-hard chunks of lard flavored bark, then skip the Pork Scratchings.
Trust me, your English "experience" will not suffer.

We stopped into one of the shops in Cheddar and got to sample some honest to goodness 18 month old aged cave cheddar.
The holy grail of cheese.
Words can't really describe the depth of flavor.
I have watched enough Food Network to tell you that it had a tangy bite, it was earthy, and creamy.
Gol-durn, it sure did put the Velveeta to shame! 

It was some good cheese, Internets.

Mike and Heidi buying a wheel to take home.

Behold, CHEESE!
After the cheese tasting, we walked over to the museum. They had some interesting artifacts.

Like this rotating head of death.
My boys were mesmerized.
This thing was situated in mirrors so you could see the skull from every angle. And it rotated. But that eyeball?
The lone eyeball?
It followed you at every angle. Creeptastic.
It was supposed to show how everything connected, the optic nerve, and the jaw...

I was more interested in other things.
Like the cave paintings:

And these fertility goddesses:

And if you look at that uh, "thing" behind the plump little goddesses you can see a...yep.
It is what you think it is.
Those dirty Ice-Age Europeans!

After we had our fill of Cheddar, (no pun intended) we started out for Bath.