My husband works for Boeing and he occasionally travels with his job, jetting off to exotic vacation destinations like Glasgow Montana, Roswell New Mexico, and Fairbanks Alaska in the dead of winter. Needless to say, I’ve never felt the desire to accompany him on these business trips. But a few years ago, he casually dropped the news that he was being sent to Venice, Italy, for a couple of weeks, and asked if I wanted to go.
When I finally finished squealing with delight and jumping up and down, I ran to find my passport, arranged for a sub at work, and began making reservations. Boeing had taken care of my husband’s travel arrangements, but I was on my own. The first thing I discovered was that there are no direct flights from Seattle to Venice. I would have to stop over, or at least change planes somewhere – Rome, Amsterdam, Berlin, or London.
London? Hmm. That’s when the wheels started turning.
In hindsight, I probably would have been better off to consult a train schedule. But, since I’m not a seasoned international traveler, I was still hoping to avoid the scary prospect of navigating public transportation on my own in a foreign country. So I signed on to the only bus tour I could find going to Bath, with the bonus that it made stops at Hampton Court Palace and Stonehenge on the way. The big plus was that it was supposed to pick me up at my hotel. Nothing could be simpler or more convenient. Right?
As you may have already guessed, my carefully laid plans didn’t work out exactly as I had envisioned. Turns out that when the tour company advertised “hotel pick up service,” they didn’t mean my hotel. But, a city bus and subway ride later, I caught my tour and I was on my way. Hampton Court was very interesting and Stonehenge captured my imagination more than I had expected, yet I was chomping at the bit to move on to Bath. I longed to see for myself the places Jane Austen mentioned in her books, and to spend the entire afternoon strolling the cobbled streets she knew so well.
When we at last rolled down from the hills into town, I craned my neck and was delighted to catch sight of the Pultney Street Bridge over the Avon. That was the first “check” on my list of must-sees. Yay! The bus parked behind the Abbey and, before turning us loose, our guide matter-of-factly informed us what time we needed to be back aboard. I gasped. I want to scream in protest. An hour and a half?!? That was nowhere near enough time!
Nothing I could say or do would change the schedule, however. It was be back at the appointed time or get left behind. So, with the stopwatch already running, I raced off.
I hurried through the Roman Baths, learning from an on-site guide how the place would have looked entirely different in 1800 (check). Next, the Pump-room (check), where I sampled the healing mineral water from The King’s Fountain (check) – warm but not nearly as redolent of sulfur as I expected. Then I crossed the churchyard for a quick tour of the Abbey (check), with its soaring ceiling and magnificent stained glass windows on all sides. I paused in a pew for a couple precious minutes, to take it all in before reluctantly moving on.
With a glance at my watch, I decided to head for the Royal Crescent. Here’s where Bath’s terrain comes into play. The oldest part of the town was established on a fairly level area beside the river. But it later spread out from there, up the slopes of the surrounding hills. So when you read in Northanger Abbey that Catherine Morland is attending a ball at the “Upper Rooms,” it’s called that because these newer assembly rooms are literally at a higher elevation than the old ones. What it meant for me, however, was that the hike to my destination would be all uphill.
Along the way, I had the presence of mind to turn and look for Beechan Cliff (check), which I could see peeking out over the tops of the Georgian-style buildings. Then I luckily stumbled across the Jane Austen Center (check) on my way up Gay Street. Wishing I had an hour to spend, I popped in just long enough to purchase a couple of informative books from a helpful clerk.
A little further up the street, I entered The Circus (check), a circle of connected town houses in three segments, with a green at the center. I wondered if the same old trees stood there in Jane Austen’s day (No, according to my research later).
Exiting the Circus to the left, I finally reached the Royal Crescent (check), with its expansive front lawn and famed gravel walk (check, check). I admired the view, took a few pictures, and then turned to run for the bus.
I’m sure I looked like a mad woman, flying down the gravel walk and cobbled streets as if pursued by an 18-century apparition. I was in a panic; I had already used up every one of my ninety minutes and now pictured the bus pulling away without me. It didn’t, but I got a reprimanding glare from the guide when I climbed back aboard, excessively out of breath and precisely seven minutes late.
Lucky thing they waited for me, or was it? Thinking back, I feel fortunate that I got the chance to see Bath, and I’m amazed how much I was able to accomplish in so short a time. But, oh, how I wish I could have stayed longer! If I’d missed my bus, I would have had my wish… and another story to tell.
Do you have a Bath story? Or have you experienced a similar humorous/nightmarish travel fiasco? What’s your dream Jane Austen vacation destination?