July 12, 2020

Travels abroad: London Part III

We took advantage of a day off work to get in the car for a short jaunt out of town, this one an hour and a half drive west to Bath. Before making our way to the historic Roman Baths we made a quick stop at a pub for a bite and a pint of the Bellringer ale produced at Abbey Ales, the only brewery in this world heritage city. (In the event that you’re not familiar, as I wasn’t, UNESCO’s World Heritage List “includes 911 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value.” One week in London and I’ve heard more about such sites during this time than in the sum of my life thus far.)

This photo was taken from one corner of the famous Roman Baths complex, with the large hot pool in the foreground looking up to the Bath Abbey and the late afternoon sky. Built in 43AD by the Romans in one of the corners of their far-flung empire, this primary building and the ones that surround it were constructed around the only thermal spring in Britain and functioned as a destination spa for the ancient world. It was dedicated to the goddess Minerva, though during Roman times retained its original Celtic origins through the name Aquae Sulis or “waters of Sulis,” the goddess to whom a shrine on the site was originally dedicated. It’s really a beautifully done museum, somehow built around and over the ruins, with projections of how the Great Bath and Roman Temple would have looked at the time. I particularly liked the audio tour, where at various points in addition to the official narration you also had the opportunity to hear commentary by the very pithy Bill Bryson.

Friday was the big trip to Borough Market, an experience recommended to me by other people who enjoy food as much as I do. My mother went just before I arrived, and in order to give me a frame of reference gleefully described it as “Pike Place Market on steroids” and she wasn’t kidding. Divided into three different sections of farmer’s market-like stalls and tables, you’ll find every kind of fish, fowl, sausage, cheese, bread, fruit, and vegetable you might need. So in that respect, it’s an every day market outing. But it’s also a destination and a half, with an entire section of prepared food, not to mention all of the carts dotted here and there as well as the fixed-location shops all around the market itself. We picked up a number of things for an eventual “one plate meal,” a favorite of my sister’s that I think she cultivated the first time she lived in England. Some of the images from Borough Market:

Shaving off Parma ham, in the company of sausages and a tower of cheese

Just a few of the olives available at this stand, along with marinated artichokes and stuffed this and that

Check out the selection of fowl hanging up top, and the rabbit down below

The fabulous Neal's Yard Dairy, started as a creamery in 1979 in Covent Garden making their own cheese, but eventually relocating to this storefront near the market

The lovely Andrew at Neal's Yard spent all sorts of time with my sister and me, explaining all about animal rennet and its origin in the lining of a cow's fourth stomach (!)

The spoils of our trip to Borough Market: a little venison salami peeking out at the top left, red pesto, English cheddar, Irish smoked salmon, tapenade, the last of the season's goat cheese from a particularly good producer, black forest ham, and a few scotch eggs for good measure

It pays to know the right people, and in this instance knowing the right people landed me that evening at the Tower of London for a short tour and the just-pre-10pm Ceremony of the Keys. The ceremony is basically the locking up of the tower for the night and is a ritual that has been performed as such for some 700 years. The tower itself is enormous, a complex of multiple buildings — including a chapel — that has been used variously as prison, fortress, armory, and menagerie throughout its history. While all of that history is fascinating and wonderful, without a doubt the best part of the evening was the time spent in the private pub of the Yeoman Warders, also known as Beefeaters, the guards of the Tower of London. All former armed service members, they live at the tower with their families and perform mostly ceremonial duties. My pints of Guinness tasted especially good when consumed in a pub not open to the public, listening to Yeoman Warder Terry tell us about his favorite celebrity meet-and-greet, the one with Ozzy Osbourne. I loved it!