Don’t worry, the explanation will come later.
It was almost not fair that our first full day in England had to be an early wakeup, but that’s kind of what happens not only when you travel with me (this goes as fair warning to any of my future travel buddies) but also when you try to fit in two locations into one leg of the trip. Today’s exploration sites: Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick.
Sorry, mildly unrelated, but Kevin snores!!! Not as bad as someone else I once knew, but snoring is snoring nonetheless. Good thing I’m not trying to go to sleep right this second or else he’d be getting punched. Well, pushed a little bit. We established earlier today that I have no measurable upper body strength and can barely open doors. So punching him probably would not be very effective. Back on subject.
We took a few trains to the town made famous by the one, the only, the William Shakespeare! The town looked as if back a few centuries ago it was cute and quaint and a quintessential English country burrough, but now it smacks of overpriced tourism traps. By going early in the morning before most of the sites were opened and refusing to pay for any of the combo tickets and thus not actually going inside the sites, I think we were able to avoid feeling like we were cows being milked for our money. Seeing the outside of Shakespeare sites made us appreciate their beauty and focus on the architecture and character of the buildings themselves moreso than we would have had we been bombarded with Shakespeare wax figures, at least in my opinion. So we wandered around the little town of Stratford, meandering our way down to the Holy Trinity Church (meandering turned out to be the worst catchword of the day, more on that later). On the way, we saw the Old Thatch Tavern, the only building in Stratford still with a thatched roof after three severe fires destroyed parts of the town in the 1600s. Further down the road was a Barry’s Butcher for my dad and The Garrick Inn, a tavern built in 1594 and still with its authentic Tudor era architecture (nerd out!), followed by the Guild Church and Edward VI Grammar School, the latter being Shakespeare’s primary school and also in the Tudor style to this day. I was giddy with all the Tudor architecture because there really isn’t much left that isn’t imitations built in the early 1900s.
In the Holy Trinity Church, which looked absolutely beautiful glowing in the sunlight, is the burial site of Shakespeare, his wife, his daughters, his granddaughter, and some associated husbands. The art and architecture in these churches are just incredible. Especially when you sit there and think about how old they are, and you just kind of wonder how on earth were they made. I think someone should make a documentary or do an exhibit on that…hint, hint to all my history major friends who want to be historians!
Without paying to enter the actual houses, there wasn’t a lot to do in Stratford besides walk around and take pictures of the outside of the buildings. We stood along the banks of the Avon river, utterly stunning.
We lucked out in that the sun was out in Stratford during the morning so all the water was sparkling and the light was shining through the trees, allowing us to get some really cool photographs. We did get lost while attempting to meander to a central bus station that apparently doesn’t exist so that we could catch a bus to Warwick. We finally did catch a bus, just as the weather became gloomier and we met a family of Texans. We really needed a better map, as we also discovered later at Warwick.
Like Stratford and Shakespeare, Warwick is popular because of one thing only: its castle. And, I mean c’mon, it’s a big ass castle! Pardon the language, but there is no other way to describe it and hopefully get the scale of the place across. Built in 1068 by William the Conquerer, the castle is full of other insane history that I will add some other time once I read the overpriced guidebook. I do know that it is/was the seat of the Earls of Warwick dating back to the War of the Roses and that now it has been taken over by the same company as Madame Tussouds Wax Museum and has become a bit too hokey and touristy for Kevin and me, and also WAY overpriced. So repeating our strategy from Stratford, we did everything in the castle that didn’t scream Universal Studios like walking across all the towers and looking through the state rooms, climbing the Mound (oldest site of the original 1068 castle), and trekking down to the trebuchet on the grounds and getting into a staring contest with a peacock (we won). But with our aversion to wax figures and our individual aversions to costumed actors and Nutcracker music–guess which one of us hated which more–we were ready to leave the castle after about two hours.
There was a pretty church called St. Mary’s Church of Warwick on our way back into the town centre, so we figured what the heck? And it was such the right decision. A great thing about churches in England being open to visitors is that most of them are free or ask for a small, reasonable donation, and the employees are friendly and willing to exchange knowledge with me about any associated Tudor history around the church. Since Henry VIII began the Reformation, there is usually something cool and obscure that very few of us nerds would appreciate. In the church in Stratford, it was a chapel dedicated to Thomas Becket, an outspoken priest who was murdered because he opposed Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. And in Warwick, it was the actual grave of Robert Dudley, Elizabeth I’s controversial favorite courtier!
Like I said, I may be the only one to act like a five year old in a Mr. Simm’s Candy Shoppe when faced with these things, but I have no shame in it 🙂 It makes walking into random churches a worthwhile experience. The weather in Warwick was following the lead of Stratford and turning sour on us, so we decided to head back into Oxford, leading us to the titular story of the Bahahamama.
We needed to find a train station so that we could actually return to Oxford, and I am so walking-deprived after being at home for three weeks in a town where walking a mile will get me nowhere other than down my hill that when given the choice between a mere 15 minute walk to the train station and paying for a bus, I pushed the walking option. I still insist that the directions were unclear and just generally sucky from the man I asked on the streets because we couldn’t find the train station anywhere, not even the landmarks that the man told us to look out for! After about 25 minutes, even I had to admit that we were hopelessly lost and would once again have to rely on a stranger to point us back in the right direction.
Enter the Bahaha-mama: a very kindly woman who was actually a British Jamaican (totally random combination making for a totally awesome accent) not only told us we were in completely the opposite direction from the train station, but also offered to drive us there! This was the second time that I have gotten seriously stranded in England (first time was at Blenheim Palace with Kelsi if anyone remembers that) and again someone was willing to go out of their way to help us out. Restores my faith in humanity, it does.
Needless to say we made it back to Oxford, exhausted and a little cold, teasing each other about my inheriting micromanaging from Mom (I told him to stop complaining about it because without my simply organizing our two days in London coming up, we would get nothing done with his constant “I don’t care”s). Walking around all day takes a lot out of you, and since my only friends around in Oxford are all out of the city tonight, we are calling it an early night and going to sleep now, regardless of whether the date is December 31st or not. We have five more days of intense walking ahead of us and need our rest. So in two hours for everyone reading this in Oxford, 5 for those on the East Coast, and 8 for my California family and friends, wish yourselves a Happy New Year from me ❤