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Thursday, August 2nd:
Good morning. It is 7:40 in the morning and it’s a good thing that we decided to leave early because the 7:48 train that we were supposed to be on wasn’t there and we took a 7:18 train to Oxford instead. Once we arrive in Oxford we are going to rent a car and drive to Stratford to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Twelfth Night. It seems like the weather has finally cooled off a bit. It may even rain today. It’s not so much the heat in these places, it’s the fact that nothing is air-conditioned and when you are sitting in the hot subway for 15 minutes without any air, it’s pretty stifling.
We are now in Oxford and have rented our car. When it turned out that the maps and routes I downloaded from the Internet were horrendous, I bought a wonderful and huge book of maps for all of Great Britain from Avis. However, our first problem was simply getting out of Oxford. It took getting lost in a village with thatched houses and finding a postman to get us on our way. I am very proud of my husband for his ability to drive on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the street. I don’t think I could manage to do it unless I drove four miles an hour.
We drove to Stratford, walked through the very touristy part of town and then were able to explore things that most tourists probably don’t get the chance to do because we had two hours before the play.
We wandered into the Holy Trinity Guild Chapel, originally built in 1269.
Only part of the church dates back that far, but I’m very glad we wandered here – even the newer parts are still several hundred years old. The stained glass window is lovely. It’s tough not to get confused when talking about this as a guild church when in historic London the trade guilds had such a strong influence, but this is a religious guild, a fraternity.
Although we didn’t know it at the time we wandered in, both Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway are buried at the church.
It’s raining a bit now, but we’re still enjoying ourselves. We’ve seen the River Avon, some geese and swans, and a small working canal. I will say that much of this village is like any shopping mall anywhere in the world at this point – I don’t remember it looking like this when I was growing up. Luckily, it doesn’t take much of a stroll to be away from the Gap, Starbuck’s, and other “shopping mall certainties” that you can obviously now find anywhere in the civilized world.
We’ve just passed a building of Stratford’s Market Hall. It was wrecked in February 1643 by an explosion of gun powder during the temporary occupation of the town by parliamentary forces in the English Civil War.
Then we had lunch in a little alleyway bakery that served Cornish pasties and sausage rolls and things. After learning that the pasties had beef in them but that the sausage was pure pork, we got the sausage rolls, which were really good. We sat at a table outside and people-listened and watched. Then we walked to the theatre and went to see the play. The production is very good; this is such a fun play! The production was set in the Edwardian era and all the actors were excellent.
We made our way back to our car in the rain and drove to our hotel in the Cotswolds. We’re staying in a village named Burford at the Burford House Hotel. To get into Burford you take a one-lane bridge, which means both sides have a stop sign and you wait until the car going the opposite direction drives across the bridge – then it’s your turn. To the right is Burford’s main street.
Our hotel (seen below) is an old Tudor building in the middle of the village’s main street. It’s lovely and quite homey, and very old, dating back to the 1600’s. There’s a black cat named Mr. Jumbles on the chair in the hallway outside our room. Our room is called the Windrush Room, named for the river nearby.
After resting a bit and trying to map out our next day (I know I drive my husband crazy with all this planning!), we went to the Mermaid Pub House across the street, also housed in an old Tudor building. It took me a while to figure out that “Duck or Grouse” on the stairwell was a pun on the fact that the ceiling over the stairway was so short. Duh!
We had a nice dinner, beginning with paté. My husband had lamb and I had chicken curry, trying to relive the curry experiences of my youth (curry in England is just better than you can find in the US). I shocked my husband by not only eating the paté, but by ordering and drinking a beer. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.
I’m surprised to see that every restaurant we’ve been to offers beef, what with the BSE problem. We will not touch any beef at all while on vacation, which is harder for my husband than it is for me. Our daughter would not survive at all.
After dinner we walked through the village. There’s a beautiful Methodist Church in a very old building down the street from our hotel. There’s also a priory that’s private, but you can tell it’s a fabulous building. We saw a boarding school near the bridge that used to be a church.
We are very tired and so went to bed a little early. Hope the rain will be gone tomorrow.
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