Tuesday, December 10

‘Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath!’


You can’t visit Bath without visiting Aquae Sulis, as the baths were known.

WHEN Bath was planned as one of our holiday destinations, I was praying hard that this UNESCO heritage city will not introduce the ‘tourist bed tax’ and place me among the first to be taxed for the privilege of visiting the city!

In January, it was reported the local council is considering to collect tax from visitors staying in a hotel or B&B to help offset the 37 million pounds of expenditure cuts it is facing over the next five years. According to statistics available there were approximately one million overnight tourist visitors and 4.8 million day visitors to Bath in 2015.

While European cities such as Rome, Florence, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona and some others are imposing tourist taxes – and Scotland has been toying with the idea – the levy has not been introduced in the UK.

Thanks to David James, the CEO of Visit Bath, who told The Guardian he wouldn’t want Bath to be the first in the UK to introduce a tourist tax.

He reportedly said: “I’m not against considering it but I wouldn’t want us to be the first. We will be labelled the tax city of the UK. We market ourselves as the UK’s most beautiful city and that’s what I would like to keep as our accolade.”

Well, you could call it the kiasu mentality which is very prevalent in Malaysia and Singapore, but David James has stood by his conviction and the pride he holds for his city. Indeed, Bath is exceptionally beautiful with its sweep of honey-coloured Georgian buildings. My heart was already racing as we drove into the city where one of my favourite authors Jane Austen had lived.

My children were naturally curious to know what was in store for the city dubbed the “British Miracle” and it was personal because their father had a short stay here, studying in University of Bath. They gathered a few tips on how to spend our two and half days in this ceremonial county of Somerset, England.

As the name attests, Bath was originally a Roman spa town with traces of their bathing areas still visible.

It picked up the UNESCO honour in 1987 not just because of its waters but the architectural wonders as well.

The UNESCO website noted: “The City of Bath is of Outstanding Universal Value for the following cultural attributes: The Roman remains, especially the Temple of Sulis Minerva and the baths complex (based around the hot springs at the heart of the Roman town of Aquae Sulis, which have remained at the heart of the City’s development ever since) are amongst the most famous and important Roman remains north of the Alps, and marked the beginning of Bath’s history as a spa town.

“The Georgian city reflects the ambitions of John Wood Senior (1704-1754), Ralph Allen (1693-1764) and Richard ‘Beau’ Nash (1674-1761) to make Bath into one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with architecture and landscape combined harmoniously for the enjoyment of the spa town’s cure takers.”

Bath was founded upon natural hot springs with the steaming water playing a key role throughout its history. Roman Baths were constructed in AD 70 as a grand bathing complex.

In Pompeii which I visited three years ago, I learned of Roman baths as nicely decorated rooms for a good steam with rooms for males and females, and even a gym. The men’s sections were considerably better furnished than the women’s.

The Roman baths got to be a luxurious part of the day-to-day lifestyle in Ancient Rome. It was a gathering point, serving a very useful community as well as a social purpose whereby people can relax and keep abreast of the latest talks in town, apart from the most important function of keeping clean.

In the UK, the audio guide had been my pick. I preferred walking at my own pace, listening to the fascinating commentaries, to a guided tour with movements pretty much controlled by the tour guides. Walking by yourself offered more personal space for pauses, thoughts and observations of all things Roman and their baths which are now one of the best preserved Roman relics in the world.

Unlike walking the rough and tumble of Pompeii which I ended with a big poster of politician calling for votes, in Roman Baths I was led to a drink of spring water for what it is. Nearby is a signboard with a statement (by Dr William Oliver, 1707) that reads: “If they can’t be cured by drinking and bathing here, they will never be cured anywhere.”

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the impressive landmark of Royal Crescent, now home to a five-star hotel, a museum of Georgian life and some private housing.

The harsh strong winter winds did not deter us from a walkabout to marvel at the city’s iconic sights – Pulteney Bridge, The Abbey and Royal Crescent which are magnificent and picture-perfect attractions.

A week before we arrived in Bath, there was reportedly a protest against a controversial park-and-ride development which the critics claim will put Bath’s UNESCO status at risk, if given the go-ahead. The protestors marched through the city in a last ditch effort to see off the development which, they said, will ruin the views from Solsbury Hill which are both scenic and important to the World Heritage city.

The children said the other recommendation in Bath was a must-have British breakfast. Naturally, we went for one at a laid-back and slightly bohemian café with pretty much a Manglish or Singlish name – Same Same but Different!

Whatever Bath decides, its tourist tax is unlikely to come close to the fine we had to pay for over-parking by 20 minutes – 25 pounds and a sinfully RM123!

Jane Austen had her heroine Catherine Morland exclaiming “Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?” when she first entered the city of Bath in the 18th Century.

No qualms about it, it was the same question I asked myself when I left Bath.