Wednesday, June 1, 2011, 6:45 am: we got on a coach (private bus) and began our journey. Everyone wanted to just sleep in the bus, it had nice reclining seats and it was 6:45 after all but that was not to be, because our coach driver named Tony was a wanna-be tour guide. He talked long and loud about who knows what, but it all sounded very knowledgeable and accurate and I'm sure if I hadn't been delirious I would have really appreciated it. The idea of taking this road trip was so that we could hit multiple sites on our way to and from Stratford. The first place we stopped at 10:30 am was Coventry Cathedral. For those of you who don't know what that is it is a very historic site because it was a medevil cathedral that was bombed during WWII and basically turned into a ruin in one shot. Normally it would have been cleared away and a new cathedral build where the old one had been destroyed but in this case they decided to keep what was left of it as a memorial. The new cathedral was instead built right next to the ruin and connected by an annex. The old cathedral has all the outside walls standing and it is beautiful in a haunting kind of way with its gothic arches gaping windowless and bare. The new cathedral by it is built in an extremely modernist way and almost the exact opposite of the old one. It has modern art huge paintings of Jesus and different saints and the stained glass windows are more angular and patternistic.
We went back to the coach after taking our fill of pictures and continued on our journey. The next stop we made was Kennilworth Castle. This is one of the most intriguing castles I have ever been to. It is a ruin now, but its most famous owner was Sir Robert Dudley the favorite and alleged lover of Queen Elizabeth the 1st also known as the "Virgin Queen." The Castle has all these crumbling walls and arches and is surrounding in a panoramic countryside of bliss. Again I lack the vocabulary to express exactly what it looked/felt like but luckily I also have pictures (thanks Facebook!) to help me convey at least some of the experience. Let me just say this images and passages from the books and movies of: I Capture The Castle, The Princess Bride, The Court Jester, A Knights's Tale, Ever After, Monty Python and The Holy Grail and Robin Hood are all true. That medevil magic, that unearthly beauty, the feasting and the splendor was all real. True that was all fettered with no indoor plumbing, illness, and vermin but that isn't the point, the point is that I stood amidst those walls made of ancient stone and my senses went wild.
Next on the Agenda was Anne Hathaway's Cottage. Anne Hathaway was of course Shakespeare's wife, and it is where she grew up. It is the cutest little thatched cottage, white Tudor style with a flower and vegetable garden. Very picturesque and quaint. The cottage is in the village of Shottery and it is pretty near Stratford. She was 26 when she married William Shakespeare.... he was 18, and their daughter Susana was born six months later! Interesting coincidence? Haha.
Mary Arden's Farm was next... Mary Arden was Shakespeare's mom. We got to see a falconry show there and all the animals that are present on a working farm, because it IS a working farm. Complete with staff in time period attire, it has sheep shearing, mild cows, chickens for the eggs, pigs for the pork, a garden and orchard. It was cool but not as cute as Anne Hathatway's cottage. The house was made out of waddle and daub... yeah look that up I don't want to explain it. haha. The house was severely crooked though, and I found out this wasn't just because of their primitive carpentry skills it was also because they built with green wood, they didn't let it dry out first so as it dried and warped it totally wonked out the house. Inside it was hard to walk because the whole room would be tilted like a room in a fun house.
We got to Stratford finally at about 5 pm and checked into our different bed and breakfasts. The program had us split into three different b&bs. I and my normal roomates stayed in one called Green Haven Guest House and it was very comfortable and quaint. After checking in we went to go find some dinner quickly before we had to go to The Merchant of Venice that night done by the Royal Shakespeare Company. We decided to eat at David Garrick's Inn. Why he is significant is because he was an actor that told the world that Stratford Upon Avon was important. He is the one that made it significant as the birthplace of the Bard. The food there was delicious, I had a Beef and Ale Pie and it tasted like a huge delicious pot pie. Then we went to the play. It was Merchant of Venice.... set in Vegas, in present day. It was a creative concept.... but pretty much a flop. They made the search for Portia's husband a reality TV show reminiscent of The Bachelorette, and they had lots of evidence for Antonio and Bassanio being in a gay relationship... which totally killed the vibe with Portia at all. The only good part was Patrick Stuart as Shylock the Jew. He gave a good performance. The rest was very forgettable.
The next day we woke up in our extremely comfortable beds with the sun shining in our bay window and we smelled our breakfast being cooked. We had a lovely cooked English breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, baked beans, fried tomatoes, toast, and cereal. And on that full stomach we were off to Shakespeare's birthplace. It was the home and workshop of Shakespeare's father John Shakespeare who was a glover, and rather well to do at one time... although he lost it. Anyway the coolest thing about this place was the fact that many, many, MANY famous people have been there and lots of them have scratched their names into the windows of the supposed "birthroom." We then went to the location of New Place, Shakespeare's big fancy house that he bought in Stratford after making it rich in London. It isn't even there anymore it got torn down hundreds of years ago but it is an archeological dig now. Kind of boring honsetly.
We went to Hall's Croft next. John Hall married Shakespeare's daughter Susana, he was a doctor and evidently a super good one for the day. His meticulous medical notes are the reason we know so much about medical practices of the day.
Me and Ellen and Katie went to dinner at this little Indian Resturant in Stratford and I had the best Chicken Balti I have ever eaten. Stratford, by the way, is quite the small village. Everything except the theater closes at about 5pm. After we ate we went to the Holy Trinity Church.... and (drum roll please) that is where Shakespeare was BURRIED. That's right. I saw his grave! I saw the place wherein the hand is laid that held the quill. I was in awe. There is a bust of him above his stone crypt in the church and it is said to be one of the few likeneses of him made by someone who actually knew him.
After more exploring of Stratford and a brief naptime we went back to the Royal Shakespeare Company to see their production of Macbeth. SO INCREDIBLY AMAZING. It freaked me out, creeped me out, shocked me, showcased acting in a much higher sphere, and forced me to love it. I have never seen a production of Shakespeare that I so admired. They took a lot of liberties and changed some stuff up, super risky, but it worked. Instead of opening with the witches they opened on the Captain reporting on the battle. And the witches weren't even women... they were creepy little ethereal CHILDREN who were lowered into the scene on ropes and at first I thought they were dummies... until they twitched! The killing scenes were done so skillfully with so much power and suspense, and LADY MACBETH WAS SOOOO GOOD. Her eyes alone conveyed cruel ambition and slight insanity all the while looking uncertain and scared, it gave me chills.
After the show we all wanted to talk more about it so we walked down to the river Avon and sat on the dock looking at all the twinkle lights on the water and talked. To be perfectly blunt it was a truly romantic setting, and very peaceful.
The next morning we got on the coach, and headed to Blenheim Palace... a living, working palace, and home to The Duke of Marlbourough. It was exorbitantly wealthy looking and historic. We got to go on a tour of the inside and most of the intricately carved ceilings were covered in 22 carat gold leaf. That and the portraits and the gardens were the very best part of the palace. And the fact that the Duke still lives there with his Duchess as his private residence just adds to the splendor.
There is more to tell, much more, but it is late and my wrists are cramping. I'm going to eat some pineapple and go to bed, but you get the gist of the trip. Right? It was a road trip in England... how could it be bad? I loved it.