Sunday, November 12, 2006

Aquae Svlis

Aquae Svlis, as seen from our apartment
© Jeff Jones

Bath. The Spa is optional. It's where I am now and where I will be for the foreseeable future. Any soothsayers out there?

I arrived here at the end of October after packing all my Belgian possessions into Els' car and driving across the English Channel. She drove and we didn't sink. That enabled us to arrive chez Lucy and Pete in Londres. The French lingo is used for effect and general wankerishness. It also signifies (very badly) that I'm not in Belgium any more. But it sounds better than "innit?"

Our lightning visit to London included a trip to the Tate
© Jeff Jones

These fiddlers in Covent Garden were most entertaining
© Jeff Jones

A first look at Bath
© Jeff Jones

Lucy, John and Els playing silly buggers
© Jeff Jones

Driving from London to Bath on a Friday afternoon is not recommended by the AA. Don't ask me what the national insurance body has to do with recovering alcoholics, because I don't know either. Maybe they could have told us why it took four hours and change (52p) to get into the bustling metropolis of Bath, a.k.a. Aquae Svlis, where the v is actually a u.

Bath really took off in the Roman period, circa 43 AD. I suspect this was when its insane single-lane, one-way traffic system was developed. The Romans were pretty cluey, but they might not have planned for the small increase in population over the next 2000 years.

When we finally got a parking spot, we noted that the queue to get out of the parking lot had moved forward by exactly two cars in half an hour(!) Meanwhile, we had unloaded most of my junk into the office, where it still remains. Then we went in search of fine British ale. Oh, what a cruel joke I made there. Call me a snob, but British beer could be favourably compared with dishwater. And they don't even serve it cold!

I did make an honest attempt to try a few different dishwater beer varietals, but so far nothing has risen above "barely drinkable". Fortunately, we found a pub that served some Belgian beer (Duvel, Leffe, Hoegaarden, Liefmans). Unfortunately, the clientele had stolen all the Belgian beer glasses so we had to drink it out of the bottle, or in standard glasses. Els reckoned it was "beer rape", but I was thankful not to have to drink any more dishwater.

Recently, I have discovered a more upmarket place not far from here that serves Belgian, Czech and German beer in its proper glasses! OK, so it's the chain called All Bar One, but it works for me.

Pete and Lucy are very enthusiastic about English ale
© Jeff Jones

Els, having discovered that the pub served Belgian beer
© Jeff Jones

John drinking Duvel out of a non-approved glass, but still enjoying it
© Jeff Jones

While I'm on a roll, I've been in England for two weeks, and during that time I've consumed between one and four cups of coffee a day. So I may as well list the good coffees I've had in England so far:

1. An espresso in an Italian-run Café Nero in Regent St, London
2. An espresso in the Cheese Factory(?) in Bath
3. A cappuccino in an Italian-run Bar Ritazza in Paddington station, London
4. Whoever makes it on the second floor of Westgate House at work does a fair job

You do the math.

A tip for the unwary traveller: Find a coffee shop that's run by an Italian.

The positive side

About to devour a huge quantity of Thai food (the food here is quite good)
© Jeff Jones

I sincerely hope that my preamble hasn't given anyone a negative impression of Glorious England. That would be bad and irresponsible. Actually, it has been a fantastic experience so far.

For starters, Bath is an amazing place to look at. All of its buildings are built from Bath stone - a creamy limestone mined from the Combe Down and Bathampton Down Mines in the 17th and 18th centuries. Not only that, most of the city's architecture is Georgian, which bears quite a few Roman and Greek elements. You just have to look at the symmetry in one of the crescents to notice it. Yes, I can use Wikipedia too.

Spot the Greco-Roman influence
© Jeff Jones

Near Pulteney Bridge
© Jeff Jones

The weir on the River Avon
© Jeff Jones

The riding around here is fairly daunting. The city sits in the Avon valley at the southern end of the Cotswolds, and to get out of it to the north or south involves climbing a 10-15% hill for at least a kilometre. To the east, there's a 2.7 km climb at 5.5%, and although there's a canal towpath up the Avon, it's too narrow and muddy. Fortunately, I discovered that there's a very good flat and wide bike path to the west towards Bristol. It's not as long or as wide as the Schelde, but it's good for an easy ride.

Even after getting out of Bath, it's still very hilly. I have a 39x23 and it gets used an awful lot. Especially if I'm riding down the narrow lanes that are in abundance around here. I have yet to get close to averaging 30 km/h on a training ride, but that's ok. The countryside is very pretty and it changes a lot, depending on where you go. Last weekend, I went to Salisbury - a fairly challenging 150 km. I've got trips to other bits of the country planned, and I've done my first group ride with Bath CC. They know all the back roads!

Another tip for the unwary traveller on a bike: National cycling routes can be totally unsuitable for road bikes. While following one of them, I ended up riding through a field along a five-inch wide bit of muddy singletrack. The regional cycling routes tend to be better, as they actually follow non-Roman roads.

The weather has been fairly good, although there have been a few mornings where it's been close to zero. It's that time of year again. Sometimes, it's been very foggy, so I think I will stick to the Bristol path when it's like that. The canal towpath was a bit of a nightmare. I can also confirm that there's just as much mud here as in Belgium. It's just as hard to get off, too.

On the lodgings front, I'm staying with my work colleague John until he goes back to Oz in December. It's rather nice, and is costing the company a ridiculous sum of money. Then I'll find somewhere on my own. I suspect the Royal Crescent is just out of my price range. Bath being such a nice place, everyone wants to live here. Rent prices are comparable to London, and about double what they were in Gent. It's not a major concern though.

The Royal Crescent, Bath's finest Georgian bit
© Jeff Jones

Finally, there's work, which is why I moved over here. Working for Future has been a big contrast to working for Cyclingnews. Big company versus small, and a very different approach (within the constraints of a publishing business). It's been very stimulating so far and I'm enjoying it a lot. I've even attended my first course on feature writing, and learned more than I expected. And best of all, it's totally normal working hours.

Part of my job is to do a bit of writing for and Procycling magazine, and keep an eye on That's good, but the real fun for me is in another area. I can't really reveal to the world at large what that is yet. I can only say that it's cool to be working with one of the X-men.


Anonymous said...

Ahhhh yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh... Sounds cool, hope it works out superduper...

By coincidence, the word verification code I have to enter to submit this is 'yehhcd' I guess that would be Yellow album, so..

Jeff Jones said...

Oh yeah? Oh yeah. The moon. Beautiful (etc).

I'll have to get down to see youse in Spain sometime.