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Cats, Cathedrals and Ciders: The South of England: Day 8

Thurs. May 19, 2016:

It was so hot in our room, I barely slept all night. We saw the fellow Canadians from the day before at breakfast. We had seen them checking in the day before. We both had almost the exact same breakfast as last time: Brent with the full English breakfast, me with the fruit, yogurt, granola and strawberry jam toast. But this time around the bacon was way better and the beans were optional.

Apparently at our afternoon tea the dress code specifically said no jeans, therefore we would have to be in our dress clothes for the morning. The plan was to visit the Roman Baths and then visit Bath Abbey. There was no way I would survive in my heels. I really did not want to have to carry them around in my bag all day, but I did not want to risk not being able to find a crappy pair of sandals at Primark or H&M. The idea of showing up to afternoon tea in my running shoes was too much, I packed my heels and lugged them around. At first I was wary of being seen in public in a black maxi skirt with a dressy top and running shoes, but I quickly forgot, I was so comfortable.

We started at the Roman Baths because we figured that was the more popular of the two attractions and it was only going to get busier throughout the day. We got there just after 10:30am and already there was a huge crowd. Oh no, I thought, we will have to wait forever to get in! Luckily It was just a tour group amassing outside. It was still really busy inside. More than once we found ourselves in a human traffic jam, barely able to see the exhibition cases. The audio tour guide was partly to blame. A mass of people would be walking and then suddenly everyone would halt. I did not really see the point of the audio tour guide, all the info was right there on the panels. From what I could hear (there was one lady who did not have headphones) it was a narrative presentation, with fake actors. It was so cool to see that the mineral and hot springs were still active, the surface of the water periodically broken by bubbles. Some of the original stonework was also preserved and the stuff that had been thrown into the spring was presented in cases. The coins were kind of neat. But the real interesting display was about the notes written to the gods. There were some hilarious complaints of thefts and insults carved on pewter. At the end of the self-guided tour we got to try some of the mineral water. It was awful. It was warm, slightly salty and metal-y with a sulfur end note.

Bath Abbey was not as cool to see. It was rather ordinary and nothing really stood out. I had to wait for communion service to finish before being able to take pictures. The abbey took way less time than had been expected. We now had two hours of time to kill before afternoon tea at the Royal Crescent Hotel. Primark and H&M did not have any crappy sandals that met my standards. The sandals at Marks & Spencer were way too expensive for non-leather sandals. While there though we picked up some crackers, as our next stop of the day was the Fine Cheese Co.

I was overwhelmed by the amount of cheeses. I asked for a recommendation along the lines of a nice camembert. He suggested the British version of camembert, how could we go wrong? This sounded great! For a second he seemed taken aback that I took him up on the offer. I wondered just how expensive this cheese was going to be. It wasn’t. Why was he so surprised I wondered?

We still had some extra time. What to do? Go to a pub for a quick pint of course! We went to the Star Inn, it had been on the list of potential pubs to visit from the previous night. It was a great pub, nestled in an old hotel, it was very cozy. At first I was worried, it seemed they only had Thatcher’s Gold cider on tap, and I had already tried that one. I was about to order a bottle of Reveller’s cider, the one with the pig on the label when Brent noticed that they also had Thatcher’s Cheddar Valley cider on tap. Thus saving me from having to drink more than a half pint (it was barely noon). The cider was citrus-y and almost sour, much less fizzy than other ciders I had tried before. We read the Times of London and tried to do the crossword puzzle. It was impossible, the clues were so difficult and I was not having it.

We took a long round-about way to get to the Royal Crescent Hotel and managed to get there right on time. I changed into my heels and immediately started pining for my running shoes. By the time we sat down my feet were already hurting. We ordered the traditional afternoon tea service that had sandwiches, scones and mini-desserts. It was too early in the day for champagne. Once again, I got to choose both teas. For Brent I selected the Golden Assam because it sounded super fancy. For myself I ordered the superior oolong, the clue as to why is in the name. The description also called it a rare tea. We started with the scone and “Bath bun” (which was really just a scone with raisins and orange peel) because they were warm and therefore the butter would melt. Up next were the sandwiches, providing us with a much needed break from the sweet, in order of best to worst: salmon, egg salad, roast beef, chicken). The macaron was way better, not nearly as dense as at the Pump Room. The guy at the table next to us was in jeans, what is the point of a dress code? Why was I suffering through wearing heels?! I was annoyed from early on because I got strawberry jam on my finger and it was sticky throughout the meal. At the other table next to us was a family with an infant. When I looked back, the child had fallen asleep in the high chair, with his head resting where his food would have been. I changed my shoes in the bathroom, rather than outside of the hotel, there was no way I was going to spend one extra minute in those damn things. As we walked we passed a girl who was walking barefoot and carrying her shoes, the cobblestones being a bad mix with high heels. I felt smart for my less-than-fashionable shoe choice.

The drive to our next hotel, the fancy Ston Easton was not great at times. There were small tight roads, one of which had the speed limit of 50mi/h! We passed a field of cows near the hotel, I wished I could photograph them but they were far from the main entrance and there were no sidewalks and it would be too far to walk anyways. As we unpacked the car I could hear a rooster off in the distance, I really wanted to go find it. The hotel had a resident cocker spaniel named Oscar, I was anticipating a lot of cute. Alas he was not there when we checked in, someone had taken him for a walk.

There were rain clouds looming overhead, but that did not stop us. Once I changed out of my dress clothes and into jeans we went for a walk around the grounds to see the estate. There was a nice little creek running behind the house, with lush rolling hills and even a mini forest. We could hear a sheep bleating like mad. We went to look and we saw him peering down at us from the top of the hill. We could not tell if he was stuck in the fence or just being loud. We could not get any closer as the hill was steep and full of trees. Further along the trail we saw the rest of the field. It was full of really loud sheep. Turns out this was just a really vocal flock. We could not find the old icebox but we did find the ruined grotto. A cat emerged from the bushes, he was a beautiful grey but it looked like he had a tumour on his right shoulder. It was a sad sight to see. He was so friendly and cute and lovable, he followed us around, rubbing against our legs. He stuck with us for the rest of our walk, even going so far as to venture alongside Brent into the estate’s pet cemetery. He enjoyed making biscuits on our feet as well. Eventually we came across an old building that had a water dish, a food dish and a kennel cage. This was a cared-for outdoor cat it turned out. The cat stopped short at the edge of the parking lot, he seemed to be afraid of cars. At least we did not have to worry about him following us back into the hotel or getting hurt.

At the front desk we asked for a butter knife and a beer opener. They brought it to our room instead. The guy opened our beers for us, because this was the only beer opener in the hotel. For some reason they included a plate of butter with our butter knife.  As we unpacked our bags we noticed a rather funny smell. Turns out it was the cheese and it dawned on us that without a fridge we would have to eat all the cheese that afternoon. The Turnworth Soft Cheese was only like a camembert in texture, in taste it was like a camembert but with a lot of corn flavour to it. It was weird and I could only eat so much, washing it down with the Stella Artois raspberry cider.

Apparently the hotel had a helipad but I had not seen it on the walk. Maybe it was the grass lawn beside the parking lot? We had time before dinner, so we settled in and watched TV, periodically complaining about the cheese. It had started stinking up the whole room. The internet was being wonky, so we alternated between streaming Silicon Valley on the computer and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on the iPad. It was a brilliant plan, watch one while the other buffers and alternate.

We were having dinner in the hotel and I had to get all fancily dressed up again, even though they had seen me wandering around in jeans and a sweatshirt earlier. Again I was mad about having to wear heels. My feet were throbbing as soon as I had put them on. We were seated at a small table facing the windows, looking out onto the back lawn of the house with the forest and the creek in full view. It was only after ordering that we were walked into the main dining room, to a more reasonably sized table for dinner. It was a tad confusing. We had quite the debate over the menu. We had two options: a 5 course prix-fixe or a la carte with a two (starter and main or main and dessert) or all three. I had wanted the quail, but that was a starter and with a main (there was no way I was passing up dessert) it would be too much food. Brent ended up ordering the 3 item option with the quail starter, of which I stole a few bites. His main was the lamb shanks, so I did not trade him the pork cheeks and belly main halfway through. For dessert I had the espresso-based sponge mousse option, who can say no to coffee-based and with a side of ice cream? Brent went with the 5 Somerset cheeses. I was still not convinced that England was any good at making cheese. Brent gave me two to try. The first one was goat cheese, an immediate flop. One was OK, and the other three looked so unappetizing I could not even sample them. Alongside my dessert I had a small glass of Bristol cream sherry. The dinner was delicious, one of the best of the trip so far. Plus we had made a bet with the wager being a bag of Skittles, dinner is always more exciting that way.

We tried to check out the library but there were people in there having dinner, making it really awkward for us to play chess. We never did end up finding the billiards table. On our way back to the room we stopped in the front hall. Oscar the dog was resting in a chair, the perfect opportunity to pet him.

The internet was still being crappy, we weren’t sure if we would be able to watch Game of Thrones online. I wrapped the stinky cheese in a plastic bag and threw it in the garbage. I was so mad that it tasted so bad and had now stunk up the whole room. I walked into the bathroom and realized that before we left for dinner I had not turned off the light in there. And the window had been re-opened. Apparently the hotel does turn-down service without leaving a treat or a note on the pillow. I had to settle for reading my book without a snack.

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Posted by on June 27, 2016 in Adventures of Pinka!, Travel


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