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Taking the Kids: Time-traveling in Bath

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

It was no contest. The kids immediately saw life wasn't much fun for slaves.

We've time traveled back much farther than the United States before the Civil War, though. We're in Bath, England where slavery was a way of life for the Romans who settled here because of the thermal waters more than 2,000 years ago.

"My slave does everything for me," the haughty "Lady," told the mesmerized kids at the remarkable Roman Baths Museum that happens to house the UK's only thermal springs and is the best preserved ancient Roman baths and temple complex in northern Europe. There is a special kids' audio guide, family activities during the summer and school breaks where kids might make a mosaic follow a family activity trail through the museum or of course meet the costumed characters who talk about life in ancient Roman Britain. (Look for the new Archway Project to be completed in 2019 with the conversion of buildings nearby to offer more interactive activities.)

The "slave" shows the kids how she would make eye shadow from ground ocher and has them smell the perfumes the lady preferred; they dip their hands in the pools.

People have been coming here to "take the waters" since the Romans first built the baths and temple here to worship Sulis Minerva, Goddess of the Thermal Spring. Thanks to 21st Century technology, visitors can "see" what life was like not only from the historical impersonators but also images super imposed on the walls and here them with the audio guide. We listen as bathers first sweat in the hot pool and then jump into the icy pool, as was customary.

Terrorist incidents -- or the fear of them -- don't seem to be keeping Americans away, especially with the dollar so strong against the pound (One British pound is now worth $1.30). According to Visit Britain, there have been a record number of overseas visits this year, including an increase of 16 per cent of Americans in the first quarter of 2017 as compared to last year; According to new data, Visit Britain projects that flight bookings from the US to the UK are tracking 21 percent ahead for July-September 2017 in comparison to the same period last year.

Some 4.6 million people visit Bath each year -- consider that fewer than 90,000 live here. It's easy to see why. Bath is just an easy 90 minute trade ride from London (we booked with Trainline which tells you how to get the best fare on your tickets when booking in advance) It's charming, picturesque -- the entire city after all is a World Heritage Site, including the spectacular Bath Abbey founded in the 7th century (don't miss the sculptures of the angels climbing Jacob's Ladder!) -- and walkable.

Many combine a trip to Bath with a visit to Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument that's a ring of standing stones each some 13 feet high and nearly seven feet wide.

Today, the water still bubbles up and people still come to take the waters -- in this case at the newly expanded Thermae Bath Spa a few blocks away from the ancient baths where people were waiting in line two hours for the chance to soak in the thermal rooftop pool and experience the New Royal Bath, the Minerva Bath named after the Roman Goddess of Health and Wisdom with grand columns a massage whirlpool and lazy river.

In Roman times people gathered at the spa to gossip, relax and do business as well as for religious ceremonies. Here at the Thermae Bath Spa it's more about wellness with all varieties of treatments and the chance to visit the new Wellness Suite with its Roman-inspired steam rooms, an infrared sauna, ice chamber and more.

No wonder on a rainy Saturday people who hadn't pre-booked spa treatments (reasonably priced starting at less than $75) were patiently waiting in line two hours to get in for the privilege of spending a couple of hours in the pools (less than $50). Some were celebrating birthdays; others bachelorette parties. There was no line to enter the museum, meanwhile. Megan Willis, celebrating her 21st birthday, grew up in Bath but has never been here.

Bath today a thriving city with two universities and some 20,000 students and is a popular tourist draw for Brits as well as foreigners.

People come to see the medieval cathedral, walk the Royal Crescent, peruse the quaint shops, all the while getting a sense of Georgian English society which Jane Austen -- 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of her death -- documented and satirized so ably in her famous books. She visited Bath and then lived here for several years and took a lot of inspiration from the rituals of "society," explained Andrew Butterworth, who oversees a student abroad program here, teaches and leads Austen courses and tours.

(Dress up in Regency costume at the Jane Austen Centre which explains how Austen's time in Bath impacted her writing) , parade in the public gardens as fashionable Bath did in Austen's time or gossip in the Pump Room where people came to drink the mineral water and now come for lunch or tea. In those days, it was fashionable for people to come to take the waters to shop, to gossip just as it is today, Butterworth said over tea. A thousand people might go to The Assembly Rooms for a dance or a concert.

We had lunch at the Roman Baths Kitchen overlooking the ancient Baths in a converted Georgian house with a warren of small rooms and where we feasted on the best fish and chips we had the entire trip along with a thoroughly modern "super salad" with quinoa, beets, avocado, sweet potato and harissa yogurt dressing.

Despite the rain, locals and visitors were shopping on the cobbled streets, wandering down the tiny alleyways to cafes and pubs.

"There's a lot of history here," observed said Mara Willis, 20, who has grown up here. "But you don't want to miss the little things!"

Absolutely! More tea -- and another pastry, please!

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(For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)

(c) 2017 DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

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