Friday, 25 July 2014

Visiting Bath's namesake: The Roman Baths

With Easter fast approaching, my mum and I decided to make full use of the long weekend by visiting Bath.

A mere hour and a half away by train from London, we arrived in the city on a perfectly sunny day. After checking into our accommodation, we headed straight into the centre to commence our sightseeing.

There are many things to see in Bath, but it seemed logical to begin with the attraction that gave the city its name: the Roman baths. Even though we were new to Bath, the baths were easy to find, as they stand right next to Bath's tall, richly embellished abbey. The second visual cue was the long line of people waiting to enter the baths.

Bath city centre

The Roman baths can easily be considered Bath's most-visited attraction, drawing in over a million people every year. I, for one, had wanted to visit for many years, as I remember first watching a documentary on this historic site while I was a teenager living in Cape Town. Fast-forward to the present when, upon conquering the queue and stepping into the ticket hall, I couldn't believe that I was finally here in person.

This site has a long history, with the Celts first building a shrine to the three hot springs here in honour of the goddess Sulis. This homage to Sulis stuck, and the town was renamed as Aquae Sulis once the Romans reached this part of the British Isles.

Roman Baths in Bath, UK

It was during this Roman occupation (dating from 60-70 AD) that the baths truly came into being. Various pools and chambers were created around the hot springs, and a temple was also built. 

After the Romans left, the buildings gradually fell into disrepair, only to be rebuilt in the 18th Century. In the Victorian era, the city of Bath became a fashionable place for holidaymakers, and the Grand Pump Room was added to the bath complex. It was here that visitors could drink the springs' water, which was said to have healing qualities.

All of this context was delivered to us via our audio guides, which are free for visitors to use. There are also free hourly guided tours of the bath complex. Admission to the baths is a little bit steep at £13.50, but, given everything I've written above, it was an easy price to pay.

Plus, the audio guide includes a guided tour by none other than author Bill Bryson, which is an excellent bonus in my opinion!

We stepped out from the entrance hall onto the sunny upper level of the bath house, and there's nothing that can really prepare you for the next sight. A bright green rectangle of water is surrounded by columns that you'd normally find on ancient temples; looming beyond are the towers of the abbey.

It's highly likely that your visit will coincide with a school trip, but there is plenty of space and just as many angles from which you can enjoy and explore the baths.

Roman Baths in Bath, UK

Roman Baths in Bath, UK

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

LfCT: A Cape Town summer staycation

Dear Kasha,                                              

I wanted to tell you about my 'staycation' summer in Cape Town and how awesome it was to be here during the festive season.

Yes, Cape Town gets insanely busy at that time, but we found ways to escape the crowds.

The best way to do this was to go to the city's 'secret beaches'. I know there are a few, and we were lucky enough to discover two of them.

The first is relatively well known but still one of Cape Town's best kept secrets: Beta Beach in Bakoven. If you drive just past Camps Bay you'll come to this sweet little suburb. Park your car, walk down some steps, and the next thing you're on this gorgeous little beach with a stunning view of the Atlantic Seaboard. It is almost like a cove, with only a small strip of sand and white calm sea, protected by big boulders. Of course I had to go swim even though our ocean is freezing! That was great. The vibe at the beach is so chilled - everyone does their own thing and it's a lot less pretentious than other beaches on the Atlantic Seaboard. I would love to take you there when you're next in CT! 

The other secret beach doesn't even have a name and it is much less well known. We just spotted it off from the road and decided to go check it out. It is also just past Camps Bay. You walk down some relatively steep steps through quite a lot of reeds and plants- it's a bit scary but worth it! It's another gorgeous cove and we swam about six times - the sea was so lovely (but still cold!). People just have to discover this one for themselves...

As you know, I love eating healthily, and Cape Town has really outdone itself on this front. A new health food cafe, , opened on Sea Point Main Road in the St John's centre, and it is a dream for me to eat there! They offer lots of gluten-free, sugar-free organic options and all meals look and taste fantastic. It also really was the 'place to be' for all our Gauteng visitors and queues got quite big! I actually went there for brunch on my birthday as their breakfasts are particularly amazing - like a gluten-free, sugar-free protein pancake with nuts, bananas, blueberries and cinnamon, or the Bircher quinoa, which is both delicious and healthy. A little bird told me Nü might open a branch in Joburg - watch this space! 

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Exploring Cantabria: Cabarceno Nature Park

The sun was shining through the wooden shutters of my room's windows, and I woke up to my first full day in Spain's Cantabria region. Realising where I was and why I was there, I couldn't help but feel excited for what the day held in store for us.

As someone who loves animals, nature and conservation, the morning's itinerary was perfect. That day, we were heading to Cabarceno Nature Park.

Located just 15km out of Santander, Cabarceno is a popular day trip for tourists and locals alike. Over the course of the day, the reason for this popularity became increasingly clear.

Opened in 1989, Cabarceno does not consider itself a zoo. Spread over 750 hectares of beautiful karst landscape, parts of which were previously used as a mine, the park is home to animal species from five different continents. The welfare of the animals is the top priority, and all of these are allowed to roam freely in their massive enclosures.

Upon arriving at Cabarceno, we were quickly transferred to a Jeep. We had a lot of ground to cover after all; there are over 20km of road within the park, but there are plenty of walking and cycling routes too.

Our first stop for the day was at the elephant enclosure. 'Enclosure' sounds limiting in some way, yet the scale of Cabarceno is simply massive - and the park's size was what surprised me most. 

The elephants clearly knew that we were coming, as there was a row of them - of all ages - waiting for us as the Jeep approached. Getting out of the car, I marvelled at the size of the adult African elephants, as well as the multi-coloured hues of the landscape beyond them.

A baby elephant grabs a snack - loved its adorable mini-tusks!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Koh Tao, and a snorkelling misadventure

As admitted previously, I am not a particularly graceful person, and this has definitely become evident in my past travels. Instead of keeping embarrassing episodes to myself, I always share them so that others can commiserate with me - or, more likely, have a good laugh at my expense.

The scene? My second snorkelling experience ever, and this took place on a day trip from Koh Tao in Thailand.

The first snorkelling trip, in Koh Phi Phi, had actually gone rather well, and I managed not to do anything that left me too emotionally scarred.

As you might have guessed already, this was not the case for my Koh Tao trip.

I had booked this day trip in haste, so I didn't really know what the itinerary held in store for us. All I knew was that we had a full day of sun, sea and snorkelling ahead.

Ours was one of the many boat tours leaving that morning.

Our boat was packed full of daytrippers, and it took off, taking us past beautiful stretches of coastline. We stopped at certain vantage points, snapping away with our cameras. After about 45 minutes of this, we finally stopped at our first snorkel site.

The water was choppier than usual, but there was nothing unusual about this little bay. In fact, it was just as stunning as every other place we had been to so far.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Conquering castles in Caernarfon, Wales

After close to seven hours and numerous train changes due to an assortment of transport fiascoes, I finally arrived in the Welsh town of Bangor.

This was the furthest I'd been from London within the United Kingdom, and it certainly felt that way. As the train approached Bangor, I passed stations bearing some of the strangest - and longest - names I'd ever seen. Disembarking from the train, I also couldn't help but notice that all signage and posters featured two languages: English and something wholly different. Yes, I was definitely in Wales.

I came to Wales to climb Mount Snowdon, but I had some time to explore before heading to Seiont Manor Hotel, my accommodation base for the hiking adventure. With half a day at my disposal, I decided to head straight to Caernarfon.

Pronounced 'Kehr-nar-von' and with a population of just under 10,000 residents, I had done some research on this town in Northern Wales before getting there. Judging from the photos I had seen, I had a lot to look forward to.

Bangor is the nearest train station to Caernarfon, with a regular bus service (departing from outside the station) taking you into Caernarfon's town centre. The journey lasts about 30 minutes and it's a great way to see the wider area.

The final stop being reached, I stepped out into Caernarfon. I usually try to avoid using the words 'cute' or 'charming' as they can sound slightly condescending, but these were the exact adjectives that popped into my head - and they were sincere.

Caernarfon town centre
The colourful streets of Caernarfon's town centre.

Caernarfon town centre

As I made my way to my accommodation for the night, I passed through narrow streets lined with small cafes and boutique shops. Above me, strings of colourful flags moved along with the wind and the air was so fresh - I knew that water couldn't be too far away.

I abandoned my luggage and quickly made my way to the nearby promenade, which hugs the bank of the River Seiont. This riverside walk led me to the attraction I knew I really wanted to visit.

Looming above everything in its immediate vicinity, Caernarfon Castle may look rather intimidating. Rightly so too - the town became the administrative centre of this part of country back in the 13th Century during King Edward I's conquest of Wales and upping Caernarfon's defences was the number-one priority.

Caernarfon town centre
The riverside walkway.

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