Bath, Winter 2016: The Christmas Market Mini-break

I don’t ‘do’ Christmas, too many bad memories and I’m not a fan of the encroaching darkness or the cold weather. However I’m also really keen to change my perspective on the season and rewrite the crap memories with better ones. This includes going places with my friend, Shannon, who appreciates the chance to explore other places while living in London.

Bath has a massive three week Christmas Market and the entire city takes it very seriously. I’ve wanted to see it for years but bus trips down are expensive. Also because of Uni things were difficult (coaches and dogs don’t mix, there’s simply not enough room). I saw a three day trip advertised for over £200 and the accomedation wasn’t even in Bath! Fortunately, between us, Shannon and I are savvy travellers and knew we could do a similar trip of our own devising for half that so I sorted the train and she did the accomedation. Our normal choice of the White Hart Inn was booked up so we managed to get a room at the YMCA on the northern side of the town. It was cheaper than the inn but also a bit more of a walk.

Shannon had to work so she ended up coming in on Monday night, giving me the entire day to travel down (I was down by 2pm) from Dereham, check in and do whatever my little heart desired until she got in just before 9pm. I ended up having dinner and a pint of Somerset cider at my favourite pub, wandering the market as it got dark and going to the Thermae Spa (disabled people get in for 1/2 price or with a free companion which is a bonus). I ended up curling up in a Caffé Nero by the bus station which was, to my surprise and delight, open super late till 10pm with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

Glorious! Oh and there were even a few, magical, flakes of snow as I wandered, sipping mulled apple juice.

Tuesday was our only actual day in Bath so we decided on our own walking tour, dipping in and out of shops, having Japanese food at a kaiten sushi place for lunch. We walked around the market (I got to explain that if you say ‘let’s get a mulled cider’ in Britain before half past eleven, people will think you’re an alcoholic; Americans and Canadians think ‘cider’ is non-alcoholic. It’s not and never should be. Especially not in Somerset). But that amused me no end; for just a second I though Shannon was serious.

I got to sit in a lovely little coffee shop that could only seat fifteen or so people, right on the bridge by the weir. This has memories for us as we passed it while walking into Bath for the first time, with Uni, along the tow-path. Shannon wanted to visit a maze so I sat and had a drink while she nipped across the bridge. I spent the time percolating an idea I’d had for a short story based on a city with a visible but hidden second one beneath it; Bath has an entire network of streets and passages under the paths that you can see if you look at the houses, most of which have basement floors. It’s in full view but no one notices it, it takes a tour guide to show you (ditto the Masonic iconography). It was just screaming to be used in a fantasy story involving magic and arcane things.

After lunch and a pit stop, we headed our again, this time to look properly at the market. It was starting to get busier and had plenty of free samples when it came to food and alcohol. I’d discovered rhubarb vodka and adored it; I’m not a vodka person ever but I do love rhubarb and this was delicious (and available, cheaper, on Amazon *grins*). I also got to introduce Shannon to good, proper, honey mead; it’s sweet as fuck but delicious in small doses. Oh and cheese! So much cheese! I came home from Bath with a wheel, quietly maturing in my spare room, and some of the best cheese straws I’ve ever tasted.

Then we went to the spa and spent two glorious hours in the healing waters (seriously, my feet didn’t ache when we left though the chlorine/walking has really agrevated my still-healing, post-op scar). One of my few happy memories of childhood/adolescence is going to Center Parcs at Elvedon and spending the dark evenings outside in the rapids, watching as steam billowed off the hot water. By the time we got in, it was black as night and dead quiet too. The pool inside, downstairs, has a beautiful light display but the pool on the roof was breathtaking, stream rolling off it and a blue, almost bioluminescence to the water thanks to some well placed lights. Actually Monday night was more impressive; it was fucking freezing and the hot water/cold night combo was really impressive. I got to watch the sunset too. We floated, we swam, we enjoyed the jacuzzi bubbles and the steam rooms. It was chilled out (bar near-obsessive clock watching).

We left at nine and were in the Odeon down the road shortly after with ice cream and everything. Shannon hadn’t seen Fantastic Beasts yet so it seemed the perfect (and free) way to end the day. Actually, on the finance front I was expecting to spend a lot more than I did. I was amazed how reserved I was when it came to the stalls but much of the stuff I had no need or use for. Though it was a lot of fun to visit.

Wednesday was going home day but we were going to enjoy the morning first. Shannon was hunting Pokémon (you can tell people who do that because of how their hands move on their phones/carrying powerpacks), resulting in some interesting pictures. Bath has some weird Christmas displays from the baubles in a telephone box to a giant deck chair and several igloo-bauble things. The cool thing is wandering the Southgate area, the modern shopping complex near the station, and just stumbling on things you don’t expect to be there.

The journey home wasn’t too bad. We got coffee and I read, then we caught the train in a nice, calm manner back to Paddington. We didn’t get lost which just proves I need a dog because I can’t concentrate on walking and trying to navigate. Uni was awesome at exits and I, sadly, am not. That said, it was nice not to have to go out in the rain or the dark so she could pee and we were able to reallty maximise our time. I still want New Dog though and this just confirmed it.

Shannon and I parted at Paddington. We went into the wrong part of the station and took the Circle line so I had to change at Edgware Road (I miss the old Circle where you could go either way) which wasn’t too bad as I had my GoBag which made steps and escalators a breeze. Despite the echoes of the called-off Tube strike, it was easy to get back to Liverpool Street so I took myself off for ramen. I’d actually specifically scheduled a food break and I ended up with time to sit in Starbucks with a cold drink as well. Oh, my train home wasn’t cancelled and I managed to catch my bus perfectly.

The cats missed me (despite not starving) which was nice. They’re all being super-friendly and affectionate in acknowledgement that, sometimes, I vanish for a few days. I admit, I really should have bought that wooden plaque which said ‘dogs have owners but cat have staff’. It’s true and I’m glad they appreciate me.

I’m looking forward to going back to Bath for a writing retreat in the spring, it’s a nice place to go for a few days and it was great to be able to go to the movies for a late showing without having to worry about getting home. Bath is a tiny town compared to Norwich but it has a lot more in it, oh and all the designer stores you could want. I don’t but it’s nice to have the constrast between the modern shops and the little indie stores selling random stuff as well as the Roman and Georgian sections of town. Next time I do want to visit the Temple of Minerva though.

Overall an awesome trip. Definately some good memories to put into the bank.

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