nablopomo day 30: more scenes from bath (and pretty much what every day looked like)

Another view of the Roman Baths.  The Romans, it turns out, were rather fastidious about personal hygiene (or, at the very least, frolicking about naked with each other).  The water comes from thermal springs, and feels like, well, a warm bath.

 

Probably the best thing about this holiday was our complete lack of schedule or agenda, a situation which we doggedly maintained.  We would wake up each morning, have a cup of coffee or tea and breakfast, then blearily think about what sights in Bath we hadn't seen yet and stagger our way towards those.  When we got hungry, we ate (God bless the English pub lunch).  And then, by the decree of any children in our party on any given day, we were required to make a visit to the biggest public playground I'd ever seen before the sun set at around 4 p.m. every afternoon.

Then the next day, we'd do it all again.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

The people who were with us each day varied, but this sort of easy daily routine is what made our time at Bath truly feel like a vacation.  And as you can see below, it made for some beautiful times.

The ornaments above were in the gift shop at the Roman Baths.  The dudes in red on the right are Beefeaters (or "Yoeman Warders of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yoeman of the Guard Extraordinary," and that right there, my friends, is why no one calls them that and instead everyone calls them "Beefeaters"), but I couldn't figure out who the silver dudes on the left were, though I thought they bore a striking (if soft and plushy) resemblance to Mozart.

A quick Google search yesterday including the words "Mozart" and "Bath" turned up the Bath Mozartfest, the 20th anniversary of which ended the day we landed in town.  Damn.  We're going to have to go back, I guess.

 

Ah, yes, did I mention the English pub lunch?  I don't even know how to begin to describe the English pub, except to say that it's not just an establishment, it's a right and proper culture.  I can't think of anything that comes close in the United States (perhaps, to a tiny extent, the coffeehouse culture, but not really); however, suffice to say that the English pub is as important a part of an English community as, say, the post office, or the grocery store, or even the neighbourhood clinic.  People refer to the pub closest to their homes as their "local," and they are the de facto place for meeting and socializing at any given time.  Pubs serve beers and ales, obviously, as well as cider and sometimes to a lesser (and frankly, less-satisfactory) extent, wine; however, many of them often also serve food: nothing fancy, just "cheap and cheerful," as Marcus would say. 

Anyway, the point is that anytime we felt hungry, it was easy to just stop in our tracks, look around, and find a pub nearby.  The one above had that sweet little garden in the back for us to have our pints and burgers.  Fantastic.

 

 

Above are my brother-in-law, Matt (Marcus' second-youngest sibling), and his very sweet wife, Dr. Helen.  They live and work in nearby Bristol, and came into town almost every evening while we were in Bath to spend time with us.  I adore them both.

 

Glorious trees in the Royal Victoria Park.  We don't get much (read: any) brightly coloured fall foliage here in Houston, so when I see it, I have to snap it.

 

 The Royal Victoria Park has this huge children's play area, to which Alex developed a huge attachment.  She had fun on all of the equipment, but she especially loved the zipline.

 

Dear God, how she loved the zipline.  The kid's fearless.

 

* * * * * * *

Even more Bath stuff to come tomorrow, friends.  But in the meantime, I was hoping you could do me a favour:  I'm in the planning phases of updates and upgrades to Chookooloonks for 2012, and I put together a very short (I promise) survey.  It should take you less than 5 minutes to complete:  could I trouble you to share your thoughts with me?  I'd be really grateful if you did.

Click here to complete the survey.

And finally and incidentally, today is the last day of NaBloPoMo, the online challenge to post every day of November.  And I officially did it!  It was fun, and a great creative exercise in stretching myself, but starting tomorrow, we're back to our regular Monday-Friday schedule.  As always, thanks for following along, friends.

 

SongHer morning elegance by Oren Lavie

 

nablopomo day 29: or how we ended up spending thanksgiving in bath, england

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.

 

SongBabylon by David Gray.  This song will always mean winter in England to me.

nablopomo day 28: the where's walrond reveal

Congratulations to all of you who guessed that we spent last week in Bath, England!  It was a glorious time, and I can't wait to tell you about it.  Right now, however, we've just returned to Houston and I'm jetlagged out the yinyang, so you'll have to wait until tomorrow to hear the story about how we found ourselves on the other side of the pond (as they say) for Thanksgiving.

But I promised I'd announce the winner of the photographs and two signed copies of The Beauty of Different today, so special congrats to Betsy, who was the first to guess we were in Bath on Day 3.  For the record, the hint in that photo was actually the shape of the building in the background -- it's the former Empire Hotel, one of Bath's major landmarks.  The pint of Guinness in the foreground was just to throw you off a bit.  Still, I thought that whole image was a bit obscure, so I'm in awe that Betsy got it right on the first image of our location!

More tomorrow, I promise, friends, with additional photographs from our trip.  Thanks again to everyone who participated -- you made the week extra fun for me and my family, really-really.

nablopomo day 27: homecoming

On Thanksgiving, we walked outside to quite a commotion:  hundreds of soldiers, marching in formation to the sounds of clapping and enthusiastic cheers of welcome from all the passers-by.

Turns out, these men and women were returning home from war.

I must admit: the scene made me quite emotional. 

* * * * * * *

Today is our travel day back home to Houston.  More about our wonderful family holiday soon.

nablopomo day 25: where's walrond? (day 8)

Happy Friday, friends!  Hope you had a great week (we certainly have), and those of you in America stuffed yourself silly with turkey and all the trimmings yesterday. Today, this is the final photo clue of the Where's Walrond? challenge.  While someone correctly guessed the right answer several days ago (based on a pint of Guinness, no less!), for those of you who are continuing to piece together our Undisclosed Vacation Location, I thought I would share the absolutely most revealing photo I've taken while we've been here this week.  This one is a dead giveaway of where we are for two reasons:

a)  This location, built by the Roman Empire 2000 years ago, appears on many (or most?) postcards from this city, and

b)  The name of the city is actually because of this location.

One more hint:  we're not in Ireland. Or Scotland.

Final guesses?  I'll reveal the location (and the winner!) on Monday's post (although I'll put up more of our photos from this trip over the weekend for you to mull over).

Thanks so much for playing along, friends -- it's been such a gas to have you virtually travel with me!

nablopomo day 24: where's walrond? (day 7)

Almost at the end of our Where's Walrond challenge, friends -- have you guessed where we are?  Even though we already have a winner, today I share with you my second-most-revealing photo:  this image is one of the main drags of the city we're in this week.  Does this confirm any of your earlier guesses?  Your guess from yesterday?  Would you like to change your mind?

(I'll give you a few hints:  We're nowhere in North America.  Also, while English is spoken here, this isn't Dublin or London.)

Remember, city and country, please -- and tomorrow, I share the most revealing image I've taken on this trip.

 

(Also, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  On this day of thanks, I thought I'd share with you a post written by my friend Andrea Scher -- and know that wherever in the world you are, I'm sending a "stealth blessing" your way.)

(Update also:  For those of you who have a nagging dread about dealing with the crowded malls tomorrow to do your Christmas shopping, here's how I avoid the malls, get my shopping done, and help small businesses along the way.)

(Update also also:  I decided to do my Bliss Your Heart post a day early -- what with it being Thanksgiving and all.  Here's everything I'm thankful for this week (including a few additional photo clues!))

nablopomo day 22: where's walrond? (day 5)

Okay, today I come clean:  we have a winner for the Where's Walrond challenge!  That said, the correct answer is not the city many of you think it is.  Congratulations, Good Guesser -- do you know who you are? 

Anyway, we've still got guesses all over the map, so I'm going to continue posting ever-more-revealing clues to our Undisclosed Vacation Location, so those who haven't yet figured it out can continue to play along (and whoever guessed correctly can confirm their answer).

I took this shot because this woman has the kind of funky-cool look I envision all young women from this town possess.  I'm not sure why that is, but there you have it.

Can you guess where we are?  City and country, please!

More soon.

nablopomo day 21: where's walrond? (day 4)

Okay, seriously, some of your guesses are incredibly good.  Incredibly good.  Still, I've decided that I'll wait until tomorrow to let you know if anyone has correctly guessed where we currently are; for now, however, I'm keeping my mouth shut, and will continue to share ever-more-revealing images.

So here's the latest -- beautiful flowers, don't you think?

Any guesses as to where we are?  City and country please, for a chance to win!

(Previous clues here, here and here.)