The journey is finally coming to an end. I leave Liverpool on August 4th, stay in London for the week then fly out to Melbourne on the 10th. Arrive on the 12th - damn international date line!
Mixed feelings at the moment. There's so much I still haven't seen, especially in Europe. But... when sightseeing becomes a bit of a chore it's probably time to go home. Jaded is me I think. Also jaded is the bank balance - another reason to call it quits.
I had a call from Expedia.co.uk today. You might remember a recent post, from Scotland, about the hotel from hell: the Stewart Hotel. I wrote to Expedia saying I thought they should remove the hotel from their listings because of the atrocious service, etc. They asked for details so I gave them. I've received a few emails since telling me they're still investigating the complaint. I thought they were just generic emails and thought nothing of it. Today they called me personally. They've been trying, all this time, to get some co-operation from the hotel manager but have had no joy. Calls not returned, obfuscation on the few occasions he actually spoke to them, etc. The Expedia guy was totally sympathetic to my case. He'd read TripAdvisor and had got a good overall picture of the hotel. The manager, apparently, is trying to get all the bad reviews removed - hahaha, that'd be 95% of all their reviews. Anyway, the guy said the matter was being bumped upstairs to managerial level.
An hour or so later he rang me back. Management had agreed to remove the hotel from their listings and, even better, refund me 50% of what I'd paid for my stay there. I wasn't expecting any sort of refund, hadn't asked for one; I just wanted the listing removed so other travellers weren't tempted to book the place.
An unexpected but very pleasant bonus :)
This weekend, 22nd-24th July, is the centenary of the Royal Liver Building in Liverpool. I'm off into town tomorrow, weather permitting, with camera to record some of the celebrations. Should be fun.
From Cambridge I headed to Bath. The whole City of Bath is a World Heritage site and much of the surrounding countryside is owned by the National Trust. I didn't know that until I took the open top bus tour.
There are two bus tours: the Skyline and The City tours. I took both while I was there. The Skyline skirts around the city and goes up into the hills around it. It's supposed to give good views of the town but the damn trees get in the way. The City tour is better value as it gives you a good look at the main parts of the old town.
Bath is built in a big bowl, I think maybe it's an old volcano. The hot springs are what attracted people there of course. Back in the day people would go to Bath to "take the waters" for their health.
The first thing I noticed about Bath is the architecture.
Pretty much everything is built from Bath limestone in the Georgian style. A guy called Ralph Allen pioneered the use of this stone and made a fortune in the process. It's soft as cheese before it's cured so is easy to quarry. It's very porous though. I was told that it costs an average of 10 to 15 thousand pounds to clean the outside of just one house. The dirt has to be sprayed lightly so that the water penetrates only the dirt and not the stone. Then sprayed again and again until the dirt can be taken off without damaging the stone. At that price I was surprised that the place looks quite clean!
Even though Bath has been settled since pre-Roman times, the architecture is almost exclusively Georgian (circa 1700s). Gets a bit samey after a while. In 1704 Beau Nash was made Master of Ceremonies in Bath and turned the place from a small spa town into England's most fashionable place to be and to be seen.
The oldest house still standing in Bath is the Sally Lunn tea room which dates back to 1482.
Sally Lunn was a French refugee who started a bakery there in 1680 and became famous for her buns. They're still made there to the original recipe. I stopped in for lunch. The buns are basically oversized bread rolls with a little bit of a croissanty texture. Not bad.
The Avon River runs through the city, but it's not the same Avon that runs through Stratford. There are several Avons in England apparently. The Romans, so the story goes, would ask the locals what their river was called and were told "the avon", so that became the river's name. Turns out that "avon" is the old Celtic word for "river". River River.
The Pulteney Bridge spans the river in the centre of town.
It's one of four bridges in the world that is lined with shops.
Two of the others are the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and the Rialto in Venice, both of which I've seen. Damned if I can find out what/where the fourth one is though.
There's a weir just below the bridge and another one a few miles up river at the village of Bathampton. I took the boat cruise which wanders from one weir to the other and back. Just for a change the sun was shining which made it a very pleasant hour's journey. There were lots of people punting and canoeing along the river too.
This guy had lost his punt pole - it got stuck in the mud. Raised a few chortles from us on the big boat :)
The bridge at Bathampton is now a main thoroughfare but is privately owned by a local family who've had it for centuries. Due to a medieval Royal Charter they have the right to charge tolls to cross the bridge but don't have to pay tax on the earnings. We were told that an average of 4,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily, all paying a tax-free toll. Nice little earner!
Much of central Bath is pedestrian only zones. There are more than enough shops and plenty of other stuff to look at.
The Abbey dominates the city skyline. It was quite badly damaged in WW2 but has been extensively restored.
It's lovely inside; very Gothic and great stained glass.
Of course, no trip to Bath would be complete without a visit to the Roman Baths complex.
The Baths were, obviously, built by the Romans. An inscription on a stone pedestal has been found from 76AD so they've been there at least since then. Only two of the baths in the complex still have water in them. The large open air bath, in the photo, is the main one. The circular cold plunge pool is also still wet. The other baths in the complex are pretty much archaeological dig sites. The Sacred Spring has water of course. This is the source of the bath water. It comes out of the ground at an average temperature of 46C and only ever varies by one or two degrees.
There's an overflow stream from this spring and you can see the steam rising from the heat of the water. The whole complex is quite amazing to wander through. The Romans really were impressive engineers. It's easy to imagine the place full of Romans; bathing, gossiping, doing deals, etc. Now, of course, it's all just a tourist attraction. In July and August the complex is open in the evenings and lit with torches. I was a week too early for that spectacle.
While in Bath I did a day trip across to Cheddar Gorge. It's the home of Cheddar cheese. The town is at the bottom of a large gorge with massive cliffs rising either side. If I hadn't just come back from the Scottish Highlands I probably would have been more impressed. The town itself is very pretty, despite the rain. I bought some cheese of course. Absolutely yummy! I also ventured into Gough's Cave. This is where they found Cheddar Man.
He's Britain's oldest complete skeleton, dating back to 7150BC.
The cave is nothing special at first, unless you like limestone. But inside is the most wonderful little rock pool in its own little cave.
The water is so crystal clear. Amazing. It took ages to get this photo - water kept dripping into the pool, sending out gentle ripples which, though lovely to watch, spoilt the perfect reflections.
From Bath I headed back to Liverpool with one day to spare. The car I've been using has run out of road tax, as of July 1st, so can't be used anymore. I'm not going to pay for another year's tax and insurance as it's horrendously expensive. So my days of touring the UK as I please have come to an end. It's just about time to go home I think. I'll spend some time in London, maybe do a day trip or two by train across to Bruges and places like that. Then I'll be ready to go home.
Cambridge is a lovely town. It's dominated, of course, by the University and its many colleges. The architecture of most of them is superb. Sadly they were all closed when I got there - end of year celebrations following end of year exams. You'd think, after all this time I'd be better at doing some research before I go anywhere. But no, I'm still blundering about in a fog of my own making. However, most places opened up again while I was still there so it turned out alright in the end.
I stayed in a pub in Barton, a few miles out of Cambridge and took the Park & Ride bus into town each day. Cambridge is not a car friendly town - narrow streets, pedestrian only zones and horrendously expensive parking. Most people, sensibly, ride bikes.
Have I mentioned Park & Ride before? It's a wonderful invention found in most English towns and cities. You park you car at the P&R and catch the bus into the town centre, and then back to your car at the end of the day. In Cambridge it cost me 2 pounds 40 for all-day parking and 2 bus rides; some places are cheaper, some charge a bit more. To park in Cambridge itself for a day costs 22 pounds. No brainer.
The first thing I did in Cambridge was take a punt ride along the River Cam. The trip goes from the Magdalene (pronounced Maudlin for some reason) Bridge at Quayside to the Mill Pond and back. It passes through the part of the river known as "The Backs" as it runs past the back of many of the colleges. It's the only way to see this part of town, if you're not part of the University, as the riverside land is all privately owned, by the colleges, and not accessible to the public. The same goes for many of the bridges that span the river along here - college property.
One such bridge is Cambridge's version of the Bridge of Sighs.
This bridge, built in 1831, is part of St John's College and is supposed to be modelled on the original in Venice.
The oldest bridge is the Clare College Bridge. It dates back to 1639. Older bridges were all destroyed during the English Civil War. Silly men.
You get good views of the colleges from the river, although the temporary fencing and huge marquees set up for the college balls spoilt it a bit. I think the fencing was to stop drunken students falling in the river.
The best view is of King's College Chapel - a really imposing structure whether seen from the river or from town.
The punt trip goes as far as the Mill Pond where you'll find the Anchor pub.
This was a regular haunt of Syd Barrett. Both Syd and Dave Gilmour were/are Cambridge natives. I listened to a lot of Pink Floyd on the iPod while I was in Cambridge and still can't think of the town without Shine On You Crazy Diamond running through my head.
I'm glad I took the punt trip when I did because for the rest of my time in Cambridge it, naturally, rained. Fortunately, by the second day, the colleges had started to reopen so I was able to do some indoor sightseeing. The colleges are not just university buildings but also provide student housing - probably only Oxford can compete for such impressive student digs!
The two big colleges are King's and St John's. They're huge and the competition/rivalry between them is apparently fierce. From a purely architectural point of view, King's wins hands down for me. It was founded in 1441 by Henry VI but the Chapel wasn't completed until during the reign of Henry VIII.
Another of the big colleges is Queens' College: founded in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou (the Queen of Henry VI), and refounded in 1465 by Elizabeth Woodville (the Queen of Edward IV). Hence Queens', not Queen's. Two of its notable students are Oscar Wilde and Stephen Fry. Appropriately.
Apart from the University and colleges, there are plenty of other things to see in Cambridge. The pedestrian zones make it a pleasant place to wander around, although you do need to watch out for the bikes! There's a large open air market in one of the squares - everything from fruit and veg to tourist trash on offer. Plenty of shops too. I noticed lots of high-end clothing shops and tailors. I don't think there's any shortage of money in this town. I doubt I've ever seen such well-dressed students anywhere.
The Round Church is an interesting little structure.
It dates back to the mid 1100s, built by the Normans. Inside is a series of poster boards outlining the history of Cambridge: it's an old town with settlements recorded back to pre-Roman times.
There are some really nice, spacious parklands to wander through: Midsummer Common, Jesus Common are two that I strolled around. There was the Midsummer Fair set up in Midsummer Common so I went and had a look. I'd hoped there'd be market stalls and such like but it was mostly just rides. A proper old time fairground. I was too early though and nothing was open - it all takes off in the afternoons.
Still, it was all very colourful and a bit olde worlde. There were even some traditional travelling vans which were cute.
There's a nice path along Jesus Common that wanders along the riverside but that was blocked off at one point.
A body had been found in the river that morning. Local news reported that the death was suspicious and two teenagers had been taken in for questioning. Not a particularly nice way to end my sojourn in Cambridge!
On the way back to Barton one day I took a detour to Grantchester, another little village just outside Cambridge. Thatched cottages and cute pubs!
Behind the Red Lion is Grantchester Meadows about which Pink Floyd sang on the Ummagumma album.
Beautiful little spot.
All in all, despite the murder and the rain, I enjoyed Cambridge. It's a very picturesque town.