Saturday, February 20, 2010

What to do in Bath in 48 hours? Everything.

The Roman Baths are below street level. The rising steam from the hot water spring gives it tremendous mystique. The Romans built a very sophisticated bathing and spa complex around it. During Roman times men and women would bathe naked in this pool. I can't imagine they didn't get up to some mischief.
The fan-vault ceiling of the Bath Abbey which stands right next to the Roman Baths. It has a gift shop which sells the most wicked fridge magnets. I bought one which says, "Fridge Pickers Wear Bigger Knickers."

The Royal Crescent - a grand sweep of semi-circular symmetry built many centuries after the Roman Baths. This was the fashionable end of town during Jane Austen's time. The best time to see the Crescent is in the morning when the sun is directly across it in the sky. It lights up this honey-coloured show-piece of Georgian architecture.

 I had a wonderful time at the Fashion Museum in Bath. They have some really interesting sections like the one on the evolution of women's underwear and this one on English dress. What I still don't understand however, and I'm serious here, is how you can sit with a stiff frill on your bum?

When you go to Sally Lunn's restaurant in Bath to eat the world's best bun, remember to nip down to the basement for a quick peek into their kitchen museum.

Of all the empty seats in all the world, the woman with the whooping cough had to occupy the one opposite ours. We were on an early morning train to Bath in England, eager to get near its famed hot spring. Having just rid myself of flu germs, the last thing I wanted was to be bathed in hers.

If we were Romans visiting 2000 years ago we would have inscribed a curse on a strip of pewter and tossed it into the hot water, praying to the Goddess of healing, Sulis-Minerva, to pre-empt disease.

The only thing we could do really was jump off the train in relief when it pulled into the Bath Spa station. We crossed the new shopping mall and within less than four minutes we were standing in the heart of Bath, outside the entrance to the Roman temple and spa complex.

While the city centre still throbs because of what the Romans built nearly 2000 years ago, all around it are the layers of the centuries. We sought out the 20th c. by diving into a Costa for a bit of coffee and cake.

We took an hour to warm the insides waiting for the doors to open at 9.30. Straightaway, I grabbed the free audio guide for its interesting section with Bill Bryson’s observations and was eventually disappointed that he didn’t make any wise-cracks.

Unlike many Roman towns that came up around a fort, Bath developed because of its religious and ritualistic significance thanks to the hot spring. Today we understand the science behind the hot water but you really have to envy the powerful grip it must’ve had on Roman imagination - a dark green pool of steaming H2O curing all kinds of aches and pains. That’s why they erected a large temple and sprawling spa complex around the hot spring which continues to bring up nearly a million litres every single day at a toasty 46 degrees celsius.

The audio guide gives you so much freedom to explore at your own pace that we didn’t feel like joining the tour guide. In any case, he was so brusque with me that I lent him a cold shoulder instead of my ear.

The most entertaining section of the complex is the little museum which houses the Roman objects that were found in the spring. The Romans wished for all sorts of favours and blessings but the more colourful amongst them, threw in a fair number of curses as well, inscribed in Latin, which were later found at the bottom of the pool for the entertainment of future generations.

One guy complained, “Dacimedes has lost two gloves. He asks that the person who has stolen them should lose his minds and his eyes in the temple where she appoints.” Tough crowd!

From the Roman baths we hopped across to the Bath Abbey, which is much younger at about 500 years. We did a quick walk through gawking up at the pillars that merge with the ceiling by bursting into what look like Chinese palm fans. Its really quite beautiful but having woken up at 5.30 am that morning visions of a soft bed kept distracting us.

We decided to pack in one more thing before we retired and sought out the Pulteney Bridge. This is only one in four bridges in the world with shops on either side of it. It makes a pretty picture but being on the bridge itself felt like being on any other road in Bath. Underwhelmed, we decided it was time to check in to our B&B.

On Sunday morning we left the Roman bit of Bath behind to discover its Georgian end. This is the bit with the grand, honey-coloured buildings and where Jane Austen’s characters flitted and flirted. At that end of Bath you can quickly forget the Roman spa and I began to realize how much Bath is like Madonna. It has constantly reinvented itself.

After the Romans left, the Middle Ages, like the Middle Ages will, saw the spa complex go to ruin, till it was revived again in the 18th century and became the place to see and be seen for fashionable England. Jane Austen lived there briefly and rather unhappily and you can pick up fragments of her life around town as well as at the Jane Austen Centre. The owner of our B&B, warned us that it was the “Disney version for the American tourists” but I learnt a thing or two nonetheless.

We just walked and walked on Sunday checking out the beautiful Royal Crescent – a massive semi-circular building and the neighbouring Circus – a great big circular residential block. Bath’s Georgian architecture imitated the Italian Palladian style with its strict use of symmetry – all perfectly elegant as well.

We kept our last stop for the evening for the oldest house in Bath home to the Sally Lunn restaurant. Sally Lunn was allegedly a refugee from France who came to England nearly 300 years ago. She is credited with creating one of the most delicious buns I have ever tasted. Ever. When you tear off a piece, its like tearing off bits of cotton candy. Utterly and completely satisfied, we boarded the 8.30 train back to London with a bag full of buns, making it the oddest bit of shopping I have ever done.

Collapsing in my seat, I pulled out my list of ‘Things to do in Bath’ and found that 48 hours later, I could check off almost everything.

Trip Planner:

There are plenty of trains to Bath Spa station from London Paddington station. The train ride is an hour and a half. Tickets can be booked at You can even do a day trip just to see the Roman baths. It is well worth staying in the UK for an extra day for it.

Where to Stay:

Bath is a really small town and you can get to all its attractions on foot. If you’re really exhausted taxis are cheap. This means that you don’t really have to stay in the middle of town near the Roman baths. Hotel prices can be quite expensive. We stayed at the Grove Lodge – a B&B off the London road which is a 20 minute level walk from the Roman baths. It is an excellent Georgian villa with tastefully decorated, spacious rooms and large bathrooms. The owner, a former teacher Isabel Miles offers a great vegetarian breakfast and good local advice on sight-seeing. 85 GBP a night.

When to go:

The best time is when it becomes warmer. But going in the winter ensures that you are not navigating throngs of tourists.

This piece was published in The Indian Express on 21st February 2010.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wish Me! I’m Five Years Old Today!

Five years ago, I was a reporter with NDTV in Chennai and I had just covered the biggest story of my career – the Indian Ocean tsunami. Reporting on the tsunami from the ravaged coastline of Tamil Nadu had been fraught with a muddle of emotions – shock, sadness, pride, joy, despair, hope, anger and frustration. I was full of stories and the medium of television wasn’t enough to tell them.

I wanted to empty every corner of my soul and put it down in words. So I asked someone to teach me how to start this blog. The title ‘A Reporter’s Diary’ was hurriedly chosen and I settled down to the business of jotting.

I began with the tsunami but soon started writing about everything else. The personal side of my work for NDTV found expression here. The formal interview with Richard Gere was for them, but that he had torn his trousers was discussed here. The formulaic he-said, she-said of political coverage was for them, the outrage and the disgust over much of it was for here.

Sometimes when I go back and re-read some of that ranting and raving, I cringe. My choice of words feels embarassing and I can also see some earlier prejudices quite clearly.

But the process of writing has been incredibly therapeutic. It gave my impotent rage, from being a reporter in India, a much-needed release and improved my writing in the process.

To my complete surprise, you guys actually seemed interested in reading about it! And when you left comments, trust me, I felt and continue to feel thrilled. Some of you of course cursed me out and said I was shit, but I cunningly disabled anonymous comments. But all your legit comments became so interesting to me that often I found myself thinking harder about what I was going to write on this blog than put on air. (Future employers, please ignore.)

So today I want to say a big “Thank You.” Really. I love writing and I love that you read it. There was stiff competition for 'Most Loyal Reader' between my dad, other members of the family and Sathej, but in the end Sathej won because he is not related to me and therefore not obliged to read this blog and because he leaves more comments. Please take a very large slice of the cake above, Sathej. Thanks to everyone else as well. Sorry I can’t mention you all by name but I like you for stopping by.

The life-span of this blog also made me reflect on my own life during this time. Its been a terrific half decade. I’ve survived some awful decisions, made better ones, moved three continents, met brilliant people, felt humbled, met my life partner, felt elated, got a new family, definitely gained a few pounds, gone back to school, sank all my savings, emerged with wonderful friends, lost a debit card and travelled. I’ve also had several bad hair cuts and a bite from an unknown insect at night but I won’t bore you with that.

It seems as though more happened in the last five years than in the previous 25. (Stop trying to work out my age!). Through this time, this blog’s been my constant companion reflecting my life and my latest interests.

So happy birthday Blog and thanks for everything!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

5 Easy Steps to Build Lovely Museum (like Musee D’Orsay)

Everything within touching distance at Musee D'Orsay

View of the main hall as you enter Musee D'Orsay

Step 1: Take old, unused railway station.

Step 2: Find lots of money to convert it into museum.

Step 3: Invite talented architects to get job done.

Step 4: Select famous painters like Van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas, Manet, Monet etc. and put all their work under one roof.

Step 5: Keep all art-work within touching distance. Allow people to feel they are looking at fantastic human creations and not Crown Jewels.

Your museum is now ready for inauguration. Open and Enjoy!