I got a sense that we were moving since we were shopping for the same practical things as we have in New York: a toaster, pillows, wine glasses, that sort of thing. My partner had finally finished renovating his old flat in Bath, this picture-perfect city in England’s Somerset County. But we weren’t settling in; this visit was still just a week off for me. There’s still the return flight to New York a few days after the New Year.
Getting lost in narrow, cobble-stoned streets is always romantic, but much more so when I realize, after a couple of passes, I won’t anymore. “
But this is exactly what I look for in a trip—to feel like I live there, to immerse myself in experiences that are the opposite of a typical tourist travel. None of the whistle stop tour of the usual traps, but rather, getting to know the city well enough to distinguish each near-identical golden Bath stone building from each other. Getting lost in narrow, cobble-stoned streets is always romantic, but much more so when I realize, after a couple of passes, I won’t anymore. That when I turn left at Margaret’s Buildings, visiting the charming clothing store Uber yet again (where everything is made in either Italy or Great Britain), I can easily find my way to the Royal Crescent, flushed with the discovery that the store owner’s lovely accent was in fact Scottish.
Bath is a small city, and it wouldn’t take long to become familiar with it. Down busy Milsom Street, the usual buskers will have taken their spots by midday to serenade shoppers. They are exceptionally good, as if carefully selected by the city council in as strict a manner as it requires all buildings to use the same kind of stone. However small in both size and population, Bath has a varied selection of cuisine, and I’ve been told it has improved quite a lot in recent years. It’s clearly evident with the presence of Yen Sushi on Bartlett Street (perfect for a quick lunch), and the impressive Thai restaurant Panasia Oriental we frequented (try the Pupu Platter!). Indian food remains to be the most popular cuisine in Britain, and the long-standing Bengal Brasserie doesn’t disappoint. There is of course Chequers, the excellent and award-winning gastro-pub that showcases the best produce of the region. If you’re yet to be convinced, Chequers will change your mind about the oft-derided British cuisine. If I may offer a suggestion: book way in advance.
While in Bath you are never far from the countryside, and for our New Year’s Eve party we were invited by a friend in Castlecary who owns what used to be a lodge built in the late 1700s. The party turned out to be the most chilled and low-keyed countdown I’ve ever experienced, perhaps the most unique and memorable thus far. Why would anyone need to have television to watch a ball or some other device drop from above as pop stars sang? Fine bubbles and high quality conversation next to fireplaces (with charming genteel accents) were all I needed. Oh, and launching lantern hot air balloons in the garden with gale-force winds, too.
Castlecary is an hour’s drive from Bath, and on our way back the following day, we were delighted by Somerset’s charm. I coined the term “hedge land” to describe a section of this countryside where hedges wall the roads perfectly. But then there are also rolling hills with out-of-the-way pubs (on a previous trip, Guinness and chips—that’s french fries for us—on top of Ham Hill), and pretty towns like Shepton Mallet to drive through. The thought of a pub seducing us, we stopped by George Inn, a pub just outside of Bath for a good, old-fashioned steak and chips. Perfect start for the year. And by the way, what is a trip to England without a hailstorm? The famously unpredictable British weather reared its ugly head all of a sudden and unleashed a cloud-full of hail.
It rained steadily that night, as it often did, but early mornings were unbelievably clear. We did not have blinds in the bedroom just yet, and because of the time difference I would wake up at four or five. On the first night I woke up facing the window and the first thing I saw was the sky, clear and absolutely packed with stars, like a child’s exaggerated fairy tale drawing. It was an unbelievable sight. It took me a few seconds to realize that this was the reality that I had been deprived of for quite sometime now. I felt somewhat cheated of something essential for living.
Two days later, we left Bath for London. It’s only a couple of hours by train, and I realize it’s such a treat to be this near to a big city, and yet far enough—and beautiful enough—for it to feel like a getaway. On the train the concession cart went down the aisle and offered drinks and snacks. I was craving for a gin and tonic, and the attendant came up with a small glass, some ice, a miniature bottle of Gordon’s and Schwepps. On a commuter train? I was amazed. “This is very civilized,” I thought.
Looking out into the countryside, I drink my gin and tonic and watch a handful of paragliders, as small as sparrows, appear from a distance. It didn’t take me long to see they are hovering above the Westbury White Horse. What a sight to behold! That’s it, I think. After being in New York City for eleven years I feel like each city I visit is an audition for the next. Bath might be a little too slow compared to New York, but then again, one leaves New York to ease up on the gas pedal. It may take me a few more visits to know for sure, but certainly, it’s up there at the top of the list.