Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Day of Ancient History

As a program leader, it is my job to be the first to arrive and last to leave. With a 7am meeting time this morning, that meant a 5:30am alarm for me. But, I forget how early the sun comes up here in the summer time. It is a love-hate relationship for me, because I love the long days but when the sun rises early, your room begins to heat up and I get very vivid, often nightmarish dreams when my room is warm. This morning I had an uncomfortable dream which startled me awake and I saw that it was light outside, so I bolted upright thinking I had slept through my alarm. I grabbed my phone and saw that it was... 4:30am. Oops. There was no going to sleep after that, but some friends in Austin were awake so I was able to chat a bit on Whatsapp before getting up for the day.

While we waited for our hired bus to arrive, a frantic jogger approached my colleague and I asking if we could help him call the police because he had just had his phone ripped from his hands by the passenger on a motorbike. I hesitated for a moment, debating whether to try to have him go inside our housing agent's office on the street to use their phone, since this itself can be a common tactic to steal phones. But, he seemed earnest and desperate, so I pulled out my phone and told him that if he tried to run off with mine I would be chasing him down. My colleague later said she never would have let a stranger borrow her phone like that, but I figured helping someone was more important to me than material property and I would hope someone would do the same for me. Things can be replaced and, well, if he had run off I would have had 35 people around me as witnesses. As he gave the police his FindMyiPhone details, our coach arrived. He apologized profusely and handed mine back so I could board, then went to wait for the police on the corner. I hope they were able to recover it for him. :-(

When I boarded the bus, we used that situation to reinforce to students that the information we gave them during the health and safety orientation was not just fear-mongering, but theft and pick-pocketing is a real concern in the city.

On board the coach, our students learned why much fewer people drive in the UK than in America, as we sat in traffic for over an hour delay. Once we made it to Bath, we hurried off the coach to make sure we wouldn't lose our reservation at the Roman Baths.

Bath, known as Aquae Sulis in Roman times, is the home of the only hot spring in the U.K. The Romans built baths and a temple there and archaeologists have discovered many interesting items such as thousands of Roman coins and messages scratched onto metal, called curse tablets because people would write curses against others who had wronged them, to be read to the goddess Sulis Minerva. The hot spring water still bubbles up today and the ruins are the best preserved in northern Europe.

The water in the main bath pool is not something you would want to touch nowadays, but at the end of the exhibit they have a fountain with water from the spring that has been treated. It comes out warm and while you can drink it, it was not pleasant.

We had some free time for lunch, so I headed over to the Southgate shopping center - just a few minutes walking distance away. In 2016 they suspended a few hundred umbrellas in the air and it was so popular that they decided to bring them back this month and triple the amount.
 This year they have also added artificial turf and decorative trees to line some of the streets.

In Southgate I ate at Cosy Club, on the suggestion of my friend Victoria - one half of the fabulous blogging duo She and Hem. Not only is their dining room incredibly charming, with a huge blue wooden bar, but they also have a lovely balcony that you can opt for when the weather is nice.

I went with the 3 tapas plate, choosing patatas bravas, spinach & goat's cheese croquettes, and avocado, tomato, & chili with ciabatta. Very delicious and very filling.
I loved the decor and little touches on things, such as this envelope used to bring your bill.
I also picked up some truffles from Hotel Chocolat that were reduced in price since they need to be eaten soon. And I've been snacking on them while typing up these posts. Delicious!

Since I will likely be back in a few weeks, I didn't want to try to cram too much else into the 40 minutes I had left, so I just meandered around the city, taking in the sunny weather.

Ghost sign and false window

From Bath we headed to Stonehenge and lost the sun along the way. I had been to Bath before, but this was my first time at Stonehenge, since you cannot take a train there and trains were my primary way of traveling back when I lived in the U.K. as a student.

 Most of you are likely familiar with this view of Stonehenge. Below is the Heel Stone, which sits across from the main circle and remains in its natural state, rather than being carved like the others. We do not know exactly its reasons, but if you stand in the circle on the summer solstice, the sun will rise in the approximate direction of it and thousands of people gather here each year to witness it.

I had heard from many people that Stonehenge was underwhelming and smaller than you think it would be, but I found it fascinating. These rocks were placed here 4,500 years ago by people we do not know much about at all. They were obviously advanced to bring these massive rocks from miles away, with the bluestones (smaller stones inside the circle) coming from 120 miles way in Wales, yet we do not know exactly why these were so important to them. There are burial sites all around the site and we know that the rock placements align with astrological events, but so much of the
monument is still a mystery.


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