Bath Time in the Ancient Roman Citadel
It was mid-afternoon when our small rental car, drove past the welcome sign and into the city of Bath, England. The rare English sun was shining down on this Roman reminiscent citadel as I stepped out of the car, all smiles. It was our 4th Day on the road in the UK and England was turning out to be one of my favourite countries I have had the pleasure of visiting. Maybe it was the charm of English Countryside, that I had become an avid observer of while sitting in the back seat and marveling at the beauty of the mint green grass fields, on which large red barns were home to farm animals, or maybe it was the fact that I could feel the ancient ties of royalty stretching out across the country, and it called to me, through the countless historical royal novels I’ve devoured over time. A constant joy radiated through me as we hurried through the old cobblestone streets of Bath.
I took in my surroundings as we rapidly sped past numerous buildings adorned with marble sculptures. Every building was decorated like a temple for the worship of the gods, and I enjoyed playing the part of a Roman lady making her way to the baths. This city had many tourist traps, and we were priding ourselves on our knowledge of travel and how we would know what attractions were worth seeing as first timers in Bath. At the top of our list was a visit to the Baths Hot-spring Spa. Or so we thought. Just as I was watching another family take a picture with a guy dressed up as a Roman Centurion, I spotted the sign for the Thermae Bath Spa. “Hey,” I said pointing it out to Dad, “isn’t that where we’re going?”
Dad glanced at the entrance to the spa before replying to me “Oh, no, we’re going to the other baths. That one is grossly overpriced.”
“There is another one?” I questioned.
“Oh yes, it’s just across the road, over there.”
I was animated and adrenalized as we came to a sudden halt in front of a magnificent stone pillar building that could only be described as an extraordinary temple, complete with stone statues that had their hands clasped together in a welcoming way. Now, that was authenticity for you! We had arrived at The Roman Baths.
As we made our way through the entrance doors, I had to remind myself not to blink for while those statues out the front may not have wings, they still held the eerie resemblance to the deadly angels of Doctor Who. “Don’t Blink,” I whispered jokingly to Lalika as a man beckoned for us to come forward to the front desk.
“Four tickets, please,” Mum said with a smile.
“Of course,” replied the man and he began printing out the metallic colored passes.
“Quick question,” asked Mum, “will we have enough time to enjoy all the baths? We arrived a bit later than usual and do you still think it’s worth going in this late?”
The man looked at Mum with a confused expression. “You should have enough time,” he said slowly. “The tour is only in one direction.”
“Oh, ok” Mum answered, looking equally perplexed.
“Here are your tickets, have a nice time.” The man then shifted his attention to a couple behind us.
“Let’s Go!” said Lalika, “I want to go swimming!” We made our way out to the entrance of the baths where, strangely enough, there was a booth with two ladies offering audio guides. “Audio Guide?” they offered. “It’s free of charge.”
“Ok,” said Dad and we all collected a guide each.
“Wait,” I said, “Why do we need Audio Guides for swimming?”
“Not quite sure,” replied Dad.
We then entered through the glass doors and out into an open Roman courtyard. Strangely no-one was swimming in the water! I clicked the first number on my audio guide and pressed it to my ear, already suspecting the worst. An English-accented woman’s voice began to play through the audio guide. My heart plummeted when I heard the first six words: “Welcome to The Roman Baths Museum, I am your Audio Guide…” “Oh no,” I whispered. I looked at the rest of my family who had equally shocked looks on their faces. My backpack, filled with all our swimming gear and towels, suddenly became a whole lot heavier.
“How did we miss this!” I screeched. “It’s a museum, not a SPA!” Mum stuttered a few words I couldn’t make out. We were all frozen in surprise. Dad finally recovered from his shock. “On the bright side, we’ll get to explore the Roman Baths Museum!” he said trying to make light of it. A giggle escaped Mum’s throat, Lalika began chuckling, Dad began laughing in a hysterical, high-pitched chord that we like to call his Mickey Mouse laugh. A few seconds later all of us were roaring with laughter at our mistake, loudly. The other tourists who were closer to us moved about five steps away, and an older woman glared at us pointedly. If her eyes could talk, they would have said, “Seriously, I’m trying to listen to my audio guide and you are all chortling your heads off over there!” We choked back the rest of our hysterics and stepped back to assess the situation. “Now, then,” said Dad. “Let’s go explore these ancient Roman Baths.”
The closest we actually got to sample the waters, was the last exhibition for the day, the Spa Water Fountain. Here we tasted the famous Bath Spa Water, containing 43 minerals, which for millennia has attracted visitors for its curative essence. Originally, treatments involved bathing in the hot waters, then in the late 17th Century drinking spa water also came to be a recognized treatment for certain ailments. When I sipped the water, it didn’t taste at all like the treated waters most of us are used to drinking from the supermarkets. This water had an earthen flavor, and a few moments later I realized why: The water was alive. It wasn’t the dead water we get in stores, but pure water coming straight from the veins of the earth.
As we exited the Roman Baths Museum almost two hours after we had entered, I noticed that the sun was beginning to set with an intensity on the old town. I turned around and gasped. The museum was bathing in the sun’s glow, and it gave the whole temple a golden shade of light. It was magical. Despite having mistaken the Museum for the Spa, we thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon together. I don’t think we’ll ever forget our hilarious mistake. So, if you’re ever in Bath, don’t miss out on the Museum, just remember not to bring your bathing suit!