The small alley around the corner from where we stayed.
Because transatlantic trips tend to be pretty pricey, it had been three years since we had visited England, which meant it had been three years since most of Marcus' family had laid eyes on him. "This is unacceptable," I said one day to Marcus over the summer. "No matter what, we're spending Christmas with your family this year. You haven't seen your Dad! Alex hasn't seen her cousins! It's time to bite the bullet. I really don't care how deeply we have to cut into our savings to make it happen."
Marcus knows what I'm like when I get in one of my stubborn moods, so he was really careful when he responded. "You know, I may not be able to get the time off," he said slowly. "And to be honest, I'm not likely to know one way or the other until October."
"That's fine, you just let me know," I replied calmly. "But we're going."
Time passed, October arrived, and I began nagging him every day. "Do you think you'll get the time off? How about today, do you know today?" I asked repeatedly, and every day, Marcus would wearily shake his head. "I don't know, yet," he'd say. "I promise, I'll tell you when I do."
Finally, in mid-October, he came home in a decidedly sober mood. "Christmas isn't looking good," he said. "The end of the year is likely to be really busy. There's no way I'm going to be able to get time off."
"Fine," I said, without skipping a beat. "We're going for Thanksgiving week. We'll leave the Friday evening before the holiday week, and return the Sunday after. That's only three days off. Surely your work can spare you for three days."
His work could, and as it happens, airline tickets to London from Houston at Thanksgiving are about 1/3 of the price that they are around Christmas time. Score. I booked the tickets.
Travel logistics, however, were far from over. Marcus is from a large family: he's the first of 5 kids, a majority of whom are married, and a few have kids of their own. Furthermore, even though we were flying into London, none of them actually live there -- they live all over England. So when we visit, it generally means renting a car and then driving literally from one coast to another, spending a few days with a few of them, before packing and driving on to the next house for the next few days. And while it's always great to visit Marcus' family (seriously, you'll never meet a more welcoming bunch of folks), it can be a rather exhausting exercise, even when we have two weeks within which to do it. On this trip, we only had a week, and the prospect of spending most of it in a car wasn't too appealing.
"Hey, Marcus," I said one evening. "What if we rented a big place somewhere central, and invited your family to drive in to see us? We could have a few stay with us on the first half of the week, and a few stay with us at the end of the week ..."
"... and we could even have them all come for Thanksgiving dinner with us on Thursday night," he finished my thoughts. "That's actually a pretty good idea. Why don't we look in Bath? I remember you liked it when we did that day trip the last time we were in England."
So we began to look. Our first stop was VRBO.com, a website that features vacation rentals of apartments and homes, and one which we've used several times in the past (most memorably for a family vacation to New York a couple of years ago). We quickly found this listing, a beautiful old townhouse (almost 400 years old!) centrally located in the city, walking distance from everywhere. Marcus contacted the owners, and miraculously, it was available for Thanksgiving week. We booked it immediately.
Even though we could have taken a direct train to Bath from London, Marcus' brother, Nathan, his wife Becks and their son Theo offered to pick us up at the airport (they live relatively close to London), and drive us to the townhouse. As soon as we walked in, we knew we'd picked the perfect spot: there's nothing like a warm house to welcome you after an overnight flight. We were tired and jetlagged, but we knew we had to stay awake until proper bedtime or we'd be useless for the entire week, so I showered quickly and we set out to explore the city a bit before stopping at the grocer's for the ingredients for a light dinner before bedtime.
And so, the images that follow are of our first evening in town. I was actually planning on sharing all my favourite Bath photos with you today, but I took over 1200 shots, so with your indulgence, I think I'll be sharing them with you over the rest of the week.
Besides, it's sort of fun to relive the experience.
First glimpse of the Bath Abbey
Shots of colour in grey dusks
First pub stop (there were many more)
Marcus' younger brother, Nathan
Alex's cousin, Theo. Quite possibly the cutest 8-year-old on the planet.
Overlooking the weir, under Pulteney Bridge
I'm pretty sure I fell completely in love with Bath that very first night.