Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bath — modern era

Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its headlining main tourist sites are enough to justify a visit. But there are a lot of other reasons to go.

Your accommodations are likely to be gorgeous. As a city of around 85,000 people, Bath's permanent population is more like a small town than an urban city. But it draws more than 1 million overnight visitors, and 3.8 million day visitors, per year, so its effective population is much larger. Roughly 80 hotels and 180 bed and breakfasts accommodate those many visitors.

We stayed at the Marlborough House bed and breakfast. Unlike many of the other B&Bs, which are in Georgian buildings, the Marlborough House is a handsome Victorian era house. Its owner, Peter, is gracious and eager to be helpful he provided a map and drew possible routes for touring the city, suggested multiple places to eat, and offered ideas about where to entertain our toddler. He even provided a larger room for us than our reservation, simply because he had the space. The breakfast is vegetarian, and although we are not vegetarians it was a really nice change of pace for us. His staff was very friendly and attentive. The house sits just two blocks from the Crescent. It was one of my favorite B&Bs that we've stayed in all of our travels.

Early morning photo of the Marlborough House bed and breakfast.
Kate, Jackson, and monkey enjoyed a great (and large) breakfast. Kate is a firm believer in enjoying not just the bed, but also the breakfast, in a B&B.
Flowers are everywhere in Bath. They hang from flowerpots on the sidewalk or windows of homes and businesses. Gardens and small parks are numerous. For decades, Bath has been a regular winner of "Britain in Bloom."

Elderly and down on your luck? Come live in St. John's Hospital, an almshouse designed by John Wood, the Elder, housing around 100 of the local population.
Hastily throw a few flowers in a perfunctory small flowerbed on a street corner? Not in Bath.
Even pubs need flower baskets.
The flowers, the creamy Bath limestone, the neoclassical architecture it's a natural draw for weddings and "hen parties." It's almost impossible to spend an hour in Bath without encountering a bride and groom, or more frequently a pack of young women in festive attire for bachelorette parties.

Bride and groom trotting by.
Matching sashes, or shirts, or hats, seemed to be de rigueur for the hen parties.
Bath also has invested in making sure its youngest visitors have fun, too. Just a couple of blocks from our B&B was a massive children's park with the largest collection of outdoor play equipment we've ever seen. Ranging from a large skate park to numerous jungle gyms to a half dozen sets of infant swings, you can bring your young'uns and keep them entertained for hours. Maybe the whole day. We faced a disagreement screaming meltdown from Jackson each time we tried to leave the park.

Just in this area, there were four climbing structures of varying levels of difficulty.
Gentle climbing wall and extremely fast slide.
Jack spent his first 15 minutes at the park marveling at the deep, soft, pristine sand.
Swings can accommodate your small and *ahem* larger children.
Besides its major historical attractions, Bath also has several slightly offbeat museums, such as the Museum of Bath at Work providing industrial history, or the American Museum, which is the only U.K. museum focused on U.S. history. In our limited time, we opted for the Fashion Museum, which I entered with some trepidation. A collection of thousands of dresses? Umm, does it have swords or masterpiece paintings or ancient coins? However, I came away impressed.

Wait, did that one's eyes move?
With dresses from several centuries ago, you can get a better understanding of why the Georgian architecture featured such wide boulevards and doorways. This gives you an idea:

Although the number of dresses can be numbing, I learned some interesting things. For example, there were four stages of Victorian mourning, and widows could be expected to remain in mourning for 2.5 years. "Deepest mourning" and "second mourning" had clothes of "dull, sombre finish." The next stage, "ordinary mourning," could have "black silks and velvets" with "jet ornaments and jewelry." For "half mourning" you could add white, grey, or shades of purple.

And then, when you were done with mourning, you could display your bosoms:

If only they had the benefit of the term "nip slip" for the society pages in 1887.
The Fashion Museum also houses a "Dress of the Year" display, picked each year  since 1963 by a fashion expert. Below is the 2012 winner. I'm a bit confused. If you have to wear pants underneath, is it really a dress?

You know how some dresses make it daring to try to sit down? This one dares you to stand. Even the mannequin was too bashful not to wear pants underneath.
Next post, we'll head down to the river for a sunny finale to our tour of Bath.

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