May 27, 2002

England, Here I Am!

The train pulled into Bath at a time that was morning for the British, but well past bedtime for us. The first order of business was to acquire some English currency. This we accomplished the old-fashioned way: an ATM machine. We had read this was the cheapest and easiest way to do it, and it works great, at least if you know your PIN number. English ATM keys do not have letters on them. I knew my PIN only as a word, not a number. I had to stand aside to let other people use the machine while I puzzled out the PIN (“Don’t mind me. I’m just a stupid tourist!”).

Next we did something very frugal but not exactly fun. We needed to get from the train station to the hotel, which was at the top of the hill. Rather than pay for a cab, we trudged up the hill, gamely pulling our luggage behind us. When we got to the hotel room, I could have slept for the rest of the day, but Faithful Reader would only let me nap for an hour. I don’t know if staying awake for most of the day helped me adjust to local time or if it just made me crankier. I was definitely cranky.

We stayed at a place called Brocks Guest House, a beautiful Georgian house, well kept and attractively decorated, and conveniently located between two of Bath’s most notable architectural features, the Royal Crescent and the Circus.

There we learned many more things about travel in England. For one thing, parking is tight. Looking out the back window, we could see a parking lot and every space (every single area in which you could have fit a car) was filled. Only the car at the very end could leave without having to wait for other cars to be moved.

Another thing that’s tight is bathroom space. Rooms that have bathrooms en suite are almost inevitably retrofitted. Consequently, the showers are tiny, barely wide enough to wash yourself without banging your elbows against the cold shower walls. Strangely, most of the bathrooms at the hotels in which we stayed had wall-to-wall carpeting. With the threat of nasty plumbing mishaps always looming, who would risk carpeting in the bathroom? The British, I guess. It was odd, but very comfortable for the feet, so I’m not complaining.

But the British are very generous with refreshments. I think every room we stayed at had the makings for tea and coffee, and all but one had little packages of cookies. We snacked on the cookies before leaving for our explorations.

It was probably mid-afternoon when we left the hotel. We scouted out the lay of the land and wandered rather desperately until the restaurants finally opened for dinner. Downtown Bath has suffered the intrusion of chain stores but it nevertheless has a charm that you don’t often find in modern cities. The abbey, the Roman Baths, the cobbled streets—they all add to the feeling of living for a moment in the distant past.

Bath also did not lack for restaurants serving ethnic cuisines. I looked forward to sampling some new flavors. We ate dinner at a Thai restaurant. Its only real virtue, as it turned out, was that it opened earlier than most of the other restaurants in town. I used my credit card to pay for that dinner, and I remember fretting over whether or not to leave a tip. There was a place for it on the receipt, but I had thought that the British didn’t subscribe to tipping, and that it was really more of an American thing. I couldn’t remember for sure, so I left one, just in case. I probably got ripped off.

I also didn’t know until I returned to the States that every credit card transaction in England was costing me a fee. When I got home and saw my statement, I was furious. It added up to something like $40.00, so I called up my credit card company and complained. Miracle of miracles, they took the fees off as a “one-time courtesy,” proving yet again that it never hurts to ask. Sometimes it’s good to be ignorant. Had I known about the fees while I was using the credit card, I never would have complained about them.

Having filled ourselves with food, we wandered a bit more and then went back to the hotel room to sleep (finally!).

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