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London 2018: Stratford-Upon-Avon

Day 12, Thursday, July 5, 2018

After Bibury and Bourton on the Water, we were nowhere near finished with our tour of the Cotswolds.  Shottery was our next destination – the village where Anne Hathaway grew up.  In case you were wondering, I’m not talking about the contemporary actress Anne Hathaway, but rather William Shakespeare’s wife.  The cottage where she grew up was a cute little Tudor style cottage, built beginning in 1463 by Anne’s grandfather, John Hathaway.  Anne was born in the house in 1556.

The Hathaway Cottage

The home was occupied by the Hathaway family for thirteen generations; the home was purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1892, and the trust arranged for the family members to continue to take care of the cottage and tell family stories.  The last member of the family, William Baker, was there until 1911.  One admission fee included all the the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust properties, including the Hathaway Cottage, the Shakespeare Birthplace Home, the New Place (where Shakespeare lived after he married), and a couple other places we didn’t have time to see.  Taryn and I opted in for the tours; the guys decided they would rather just wander the towns and hit the pubs.

It was fun to see the home, including some of the original Hathaway belongings.  The garden was amazing!  The Hathaways were tenant sheep farmers who eventually acquired enough wealth to purchase their property, before later experiencing a decline in fortune and having to sell the property and become tenant farmers once again.  What goes around comes around.  Enjoy it while it lasts, I guess – it is all fleeting.

We went to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see the Shakespeare sights next.  Shakespeare was born there in 1564, and also returned there in approximately 1613, after making a name for himself in London.  Shakespeare died in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1616, and is buried there.  The bus dropped us off and set us loose upon the town.

Taryn and I stopped first at the school Shakespeare attended, The King’s New School, which was available for free for all boys in the district.  Shakespeare would have attended there from the age of seven, after grammar school ended, until the age of 14, when he likely would have entered an apprenticeship program for another seven years.  There is no record that Shakespeare ever attended university.

Shakespeare’s School

The school tour was interesting because they had an interpretative talk where the guide explained what the boys would have learned, the expected behavior and how long they would be in school each day.  As it turns out they went to school from 6 am to 5 pm, 6 days a week!  That’s a lot of learning!  The school has the original historic headmaster’s table and several original desks, where they carved their names in to memorialize their time in school.  After the interpretive talk, in the next room they had a place where you could try to write your name with a feather quill pen.  It is tougher than it looks!

The Headmaster at Shakespeare’s school

 

Original desks at Shakespeare’s school

We had a bit of extra time so we went over to the Shakespeare New Place.  It is an exhibit on the site where Shakespeare lived with Anne Hathaway after they married and came into some money.  The house is gone, but the home next door was built around the same time period – 1530, and the exhibit went through there so we could see the style of home where he lived.  They had manuscripts of Shakespeare’s work and other interesting artifacts.

We had to meet back up with the bus tour guide so he didn’t think we had gone AWOL, but he was ok with us not staying with the group (the pace of the group was annoyingly slow).  We told him that we were off to find the next museum; Shakespeare’s birthplace home.  The original home is still standing; it was built in the 1500s.  William Shakespeare’s father Jon was a glove maker and wool dealer; the home was built with his business occupying part of it.  In 1568 John became the Mayor of Stratford.  He originally rented the home, but records show he purchased it in the 1550s.  It looks modest now, but it would have been a fine home for the time!

Me at Shakespeare’s Birthplace

William Shakespeare was the third of eight children to be born here, on April 23, 1564.  When his father John died in 1601, William inherited the house (he was the oldest son), and lived there for the first five years of his marriage.  Later he leased the house, and it became an inn, and it was an inn until 1847!  According to the Trust, when Shakespeare died he left this house to his eldest daughter, who left it to her daughter, and then it was inherited by the descendants of one of Shakespeare’s sisters.  It remained in the family until it was purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1847.  Other sources dispute that and say the home passed out of the hands of Shakespeare’s family in the early 1800s.  It is so incredible to know that England was thinking about historic preservation over 170 years ago!

We toured the home and saw where there were historic names etched in the glass from people who visited the home over 100 years ago – it has been a tourist attraction for a long time!  We also got to stand in the room where the bard was likely born!

After our tour, we had a little bit of time to wander around Stratford Upon Avon, so Taryn and I got some ice cream to cool down on another hot day.  We also poked around in a few of the shops in town.  It was such a fun visit, but soon it was time for pile back on the bus.

Stratford Upon Avon

 

Me and Taryn in Stratford Upon Avon

The bus dropped us off about 7:30 and we went to the Admiralty Pub near Trafalgar Square once more.  I had a mini-pie – the sweet potato and Stilton one (so good!) and some peel and eat Atlantic Prawns.  We got back to the hotel about 9 pm for some cider and British game shows.  They are fascinating, and so very different from American game shows.  It was another great day!

Mini Pie!

Tube Stations:  The bus dropped us off on Gloucester Road.  Gloucester Raod to Charing Cross (The Admiralty), to Earl’s Court (hotel).
Costs: Bus tour to the Cotwolds and Stratford Upon Avon – 59 pounds, Shakespeare admissions – 22.50 pounds, snacks for lunch, dinner at the Admiralty Pub
Fitbit Steps: 9,700 steps

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London 2018: Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret

Day 11, Wednesday, July 4, 2018

After Kensington, we ended up back at the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret (remember it was closed on Monday?).  This ended up being one of my absolute favorite visits in London.  The museum is located in the garret of St. Thomas’ Church, which was originally St. Thomas’ Hospital.  The herb garret was there first, and had a long history of use drying and storing herbs for use in the hospital.  When they rediscovered the space, there were opium poppies still hanging to dry in the rafters.

The Stairs up to the Museum

About 1822, the surgical theatre was opened in part of the garret and operations on women in the adjoining women’s ward were conducted (previously the surgeries had been done on the ward).  Imagine surgery during that period.  No anesthesia, no antibiotics, surgeons didn’t wash their hands prior to operating, and germs lived in the lining of the instrument box.  There were up to 150 men watching the surgery (it was a teaching hospital).  Almost all the patients were in poverty, because if you could afford it, you were treated and had your surgery at home.  Most people died after surgery.  Makes you want to sign up right?

When St. Thomas’ Hospital moved to a new location in 1862, the operating theatre and herb garret were sealed off, with items still inside.  It was rediscovered in 1957, and opened to the public in 1962 – a space that had been untouched for 100 years!

When we visited, there was a school group there for a presentation, so we got to sit in, as long as he promised to not try to answer the questions the presenter asked the students.  It was fascinating – I really enjoyed listening and seeing the demonstration of the instruments.  It was hilarious to see the student’s faces when she passed around the tool used for removing bladder stones!  The one drawback was the heat in that space.  Imagine being in an attic with no open windows and no air conditioning on a day in the 80s.  It was roasting hot!  Several people left during the presentation because it was so hot, but I wanted to stick it out because it was so interesting.  The presenter had a couple of fans, which she kept pointed at herself!

After the presentation, we had a chance to poke around the herb garret and see what medicinal herbs they used back in the 1800s.  We also looked around the operating theatre after all the students left and saw the original operating table, surgical instruments from the time, and looked out into the gallery when men watched and learned surgical techniques.  It was really cool to see!

After our visit, we went over to the Thameside Inn for disappointing nachos, but the cider hit the spot and cooled me off!

For dinner we went to the Rock & Sole Plaice in Covent Garden for fish and chips, on the recommendation of our Stonehenge tour guide.  I really wanted the rock fish, but they were out, so I ordered the calamari appetizer.  Taryn loved her meal, but Brandon thought it was just ok.  I am sure I would have loved the rock fish more!

Then we headed back to the room for an early evening.  We had done a lot that day!

Tube Stations:  Notting Hill Gate to London Bridge (Old Operating Theatre), London Bridge to Covent Garden (Rock & Sole Plaice), Covent Garden to Earl’s Court (hotel)
Costs: Old Operating Theatre – 6.50 pounds (free with London Pass), nachos and cider, dinner at Rock & Sole Plaice
Fitbit Steps: 17,000 steps

London 2018: Kensington Palace

Day 11, Wednesday, July 4, 2018

After the Changing of the Guard we were off to find some lunch.  We stopped in at the Bag O’ Nails pub, another in the Greene King chain, but the menu was different than we had seen before.  I had the tomato and mozzarella salad topped with a balsamic drizzle.  It was good, and did some good at satisfying my craving for salad…

Then we went to Kensington Palace.  Kensington Palace was built in 1605 and expanded in 1689, after it was purchased by the royal family.  A number of royals have lived at Kensington, including Queen Victoria and Albert, Princess Diana and currently Prince William and Kate.  The state rooms are open to the public to tour, and there are several exhibits inside.

Taryn and I toured the rooms and exhibits.  The rooms were plainer than the other royal residences that we visited.  You could sit on some of the furniture in some of the rooms and take photos here (no flash), and I thought the exhibits were more interesting than the rooms themselves.  One exhibit details the life and love story of Queen Victoria and Albert; it was perhaps the best love story I have heard in awhile.  I’m a sucker for a good love story.

Another exhibit shows many of the suits and dresses that Princess Diana wore during her royal life.  There was so much 80s and 90s in that room!

 

I thought the gardens were the most impressive part of Kensington Palace.  The formal garden is beautiful, and Taryn and I spent some time wandering and checking it out.

Tube Stations:  Hyde Park Corner (Buckingham Palace) to Notting Hill Gate (Kensington Palace)
Costs: Kensington Palace – 19.50 pounds (free with London Pass)

London 2018: Day Trip to Bath

Day 10, Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Today was a big day!  We were going to visit Bath and Stonehenge, including access to the inner circle at sunset!  I was so excited!

When we were booking our trip to London, Stonehenge was the one thing we all knew in advance that we wanted to do.  It’s a no brainer, really.  You can’t go to England and not visit Stonehenge, right?  We booked a tour with Golden Tours even before we departed for England.  It would include a visit to Bath and admission to see the Roman Baths, and then the visit to Stonehenge, with access inside the inner circle, timed to coincide with sunset.

We met our bus at the main Golden Tours bus depot on Buckingham Palace Road, which meant an early wake up to make sure that we weren’t late for our morning departure time.

Go go gadget tour bracelets!

Our first stop was a tiny little village called Lacock.  It was so cute!  Apparently everybody thinks so because three Harry Potter movies, Downton Abbey and Pride and Prejudice (not sure which version) were all filmed here.  We only had about 20 minutes to wander around and take some photos, before it was back on the bus.  It would have been nice to have a bit more time there, as there were a few cute shops I would have liked to check out.

Our next stop was Bath.  Bath is a historic city, perhaps known best for the Roman Baths built in the 1st century (circa 60 AD) after the Romans occupied England.  I, of course, learned about Bath from reading Jane Austen novels…  The baths are built using water from the only hot spring in Britain.  They were dedicated to the goddess Sulis, a life-giving mother goddess.  The Romans believed that the waters could heal all sorts of maladies if you bathed in it and drank from it regularly.  The original baths were in ruins around the 6th century, because after the Romans left the baths were filled in with silt and erosion.  The hot spring did continue to be used over the centuries, and were used by people in the late 1700s and 1800s for their restorative powers.  The jury is still out on that though.  More recent testing has shown that the hot spring water does contain a dangerous amoeba and a girl died in 1978 after contracting meningitis from the waters.  They don’t allow visitors to swim in the waters now – makes sense.

They have done a great job stabilizing and restoring the original baths; visitors can see what it used to look like through a combination of excavation and restoration, and technology to show what it would have looked like.  They also have artifacts that were discovered during the excavation.  It was fascinating to walk through and check it out, and we spent a while there.  At the end, if you want, you can have a sip of the (treated) water to experience what people would have tasted when they visited hundreds of years ago.  I can’t understand how people managed to choke this stuff down!  In large quantities even!  It was gross; I’m not really a fan of water on my best day, but this warm, smelly, sulfuric concoction was disgusting!

If you are interested in taking in the waters, there is a modern spa nearby where you can bath in the hot springs water – after it has been treated, of course.

After we saw the baths, we had time to wander around the city before we had to get back on the bus.  We walked around and checked out the river, and saw inside the Bath Abbey.  The Abbey is another of those churches that has a history over 1,000 years old.  This one was built beginning in 1090 AD, but lay in ruins by the late 15th century.  It was repaired and rebuilt beginning about 1616, with the interior being completely renovated between 1864 and 1874, in a vision of Victorian Gothic architecture.  It is stunning and very impressive to see!

 

We also checked out a few shops, and discovered that they have a collection of owls around town!  I love that this is a trend, and apparently not just around the United States.  In my travels, I have seen bison, horses, dogs and now owls.  Everything in the historic section of Bath is adorably postcard perfect…

We also had ice cream!  I got two flavors; salted caramel and raspberry sorbet.  It was delicious!  The service was a bit lacking though.  I eat ice cream really slowly, and it was a very hot day (which is clinically proven to make ice cream melt fast), so I asked if I could have a cone and a paper dish in case it melted faster than I could eat it.  You would have thought I had asked for free ice cream by their reaction!  You only get one or the other!!  They grudgingly agreed to give me a broken cone.  Fine – whatever…

Soon enough – it was back on the bus to head to Stonehenge!

Tube Stations:  Earl’s Court to Victoria
Costs: Golden Tours day trip to Bath and Stonehenge, with an inner circle sunset viewing – $175 (note: this price is in U.S. dollars), Roman Baths – 18 pounds (included in the cost of the tour), ice cream – 3 pounds for 2 small scoops

London 2018: The Globe Theatre

Day 9, Monday, July 2, 2018

Next we wandered over to the Globe Theatre.  The Globe is a replica of the original theatre that was built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s theatrical company.  It opened in 1997 only 750 feet from the location of the original theatre, and is as historically accurate as they could make it, accounting for the fact that they only have incomplete information about what the original theatre looked like, and of course, modern building codes.  They had to get a special exception to top the open-air theatre with a thatched roof.  The theatre once again features Shakespeare’s plays, and you can either get a seat in the gallery, a box seat, or one of the “cheap seats,” in the standing room only section.

Outside of the Globe

The original Globe Theatre was only standing from 1599 to 1613, when it was destroyed by fire.  A second version was built in 1614 and was dismantled after a City ordinance in 1642 banned theatres because of the “inappropriate” content in plays.  It was the Puritans, you know…

We went on the tour of the theatre, and had a bit of time before our tour to check out the exhibits below the theatre.  They have an exhibit on the recreation of the theatre, and the research that went into creating a theatre that was as close as possible to the original.  They also had several artifacts on display that were unearthed from the original theatre, where a partial excavation was done in the late 1980s.  There were also a number of costumes and set display items from the various plays that have been put on at the new Globe Theatre, as well as costumes from Hollywood versions of Shakespeare’s plays.

The tour explained how the theatre would have worked back in the 1600s.  First of all, women wouldn’t be there, neither as actors nor as spectators.  It was not considered acceptable for women to go to the theatre, which was essentially located in the red light district of London.  Additionally, the place would have stank to high heaven!  Bathing wasn’t much of a thing back then, and there weren’t any restrooms in the theatre.  If you had to go to the bathroom, there were buckets.  When you consider that the men watching the show would likely have been drinking a lot of beer, and the buckets were probably getting knocked over by drunk men, ewww…  There was a reason the people in the standing area in front of the stage were called Penny Stinkers.  That area cost a penny.  Only the rich men could afford the box seats.

After our theatre tour, we headed back over to the Borough Market to get lunch.  We all split up and checked out the options; I wanted to try something English, so I looked around and settled on a Scotch Egg.  If you don’t know what a Scotch Egg is, here’s the scoop.  It is a soft boiled egg, wrapped in sausage meat (you can skip the sausage if you are vegetarian) and then wrapped in bread crumbs and deep fried.  Oh my, it was sooo delicious!  My egg came with some salad greens and I bought a Ceylon Earl Grey iced tea to round out my meal.  Street food at it’s finest!  We found a spot on a curb to sit and eat our lunch, and spent some time people watching.  A nice break in the middle of the day!

Costs: Globe Theatre – 17 pounds (free with London Pass), lunch at the Borough Market

London 2018: Abbey Road and Cartoons

Day 8, Sunday, July 1, 2018

That morning, we slept in a little later, because we had been up so late the night before.  We were up at 8:40 and out the door around 10:30 am.  What can I say; it was Sunday…

Our first destination of the day was to fulfill a dream of Taryn’s.  To walk across Abbey Road and depict the famous Beatles album cover.  Of course, I have seen the cover, but I’m not a huge Beatles fan.  It did seem like fun to go do though!

Once we found the place, we set up our shot and tried to quickly get our pictures while pissing off the local drivers as little as possible.  No one honked at us; I’m sure if you live and drive near Abbey Road, you are used to it, but it was still nice to not get honked at.  In the US, you would definitely get honked at…  I do have to admit it was pretty entertaining playing the tourist in this way.  Taryn even took her shoes off to fully re-create it!  Lia offered to take the photos, which was so nice!

Our attempt at Abbey Road

Abbey Road is also the location of Abbey Road Studios, which was the recording studio that the Beatles were recording at.  Obviously, that’s why the album cover was shot right there – convenience!  The studio is closed to the public, but the wall outside has become a mecca for Beatles’ fans, well-wishers and people looking for some inspiration.  Next door to the studio is a gift shop, where you can buy Beatles items, and also sharpies for writing on the wall.  Taryn really wanted to do it, so we did…  What I wrote was truly inspirational, deep, and thought provoking – haha!

I needed some caffeine, so we headed over to a pub for a pick-me-up.  I had a Diet Coke and some avocado toast.  It was so yummy – I do love avocado toast!  At that point we got back on the Tube and headed over to the Oxford Circus neighborhood; the guys and Lia wanted to spend some more time checking it out.  Taryn and I were more interested in seeing the British Museum nearby, so we said our goodbyes to Lia and split up.

Taryn and I weren’t exactly sure where the British Museum was, but we figured that if we just wandered “that way”, we would run into it.  It is a very large building after all.  During our wanders, we saw the Cartoon Museum tucked down a side street and decided to take a few minutes to check it out, since it was included in our London Pass.  It was not a museum that I would have chosen otherwise, but it was interesting to see the cartoon art.  There was a lot of political art, and a bit surprisingly, a lot of cartoons from the World Wars.  I enjoyed checking it out!  It was a small museum, so it only took about 30 minutes to feel like we had seen everything.

On to the British Museum!

Tube Stations:  Earl’s Court (hotel) to St. John’s Wood to Oxford Circus
Costs: Abbey Road – free, Cartoon Museum – 7 pounds (free with London Pass)

 

London 2018: Trafalgar and some Pie

Day 6, Friday, June 29, 2018

After our tour of the Ben Franklin House, we walked over to Trafalgar Square.  We checked out the buskers and the chalk artists.  Some of them had a lot of talent and creativity!

We wandered through the National Gallery for a bit; I loved that London has so many free art and culture museums.  It was so cool.  We barely scratched the surface, spending about an hour wandering the galleries and checking out the art.  You could easily spend days there, but we were there at the end of the day, and you can only do so much museum wandering before you get worn out.

The National Gallery

 

A tiger at the National Gallery

After the National Gallery, we found the Admiralty Pub, where Brandon was waiting for us because he got museumed out before the rest of us.  The Admiralty had an awesome special, where you could get three sample sized beers and three pies for 18.95 pounds!  All four of us got the same special and then we all decided which beer and which pie were our favorites.  One thing is clear.  I am not a fan of English beer.  It’s too flat and generally too warm for my taste.  Mostly on this trip, I drank cider.  The pies were excellent though!

The pie trio included Steak and London Pride, with carmelized shallots, button mushrooms and thyme, Sweet Potato and Mature Stilton with wilted spinach, nutmeg, baby onions and rosemary, and Chicken Tikka Masala, with coconut, coriander and toasted almonds.  The beers were London Pride, ESB and Frontier.  My favorite was the sweet potato pie, with the steak pie coming in second.  The others favored the Chicken Tikka Masala pie. It was cool to be able to try different styles and flavors, instead of committing to just one.  It was a great meal!

My pie and beer trio at the Admiralty Pub

We headed back to the hotel on the tube and got there a little after 9; it was another good day.

Tube Stations:  Charing Cross to Earl’s Court (hotel)
Costs: The National Gallery – free, dinner at the Admiralty Pub – beer and pie trio 18.95 pounds, plus a cider.
Fitbit Steps: 14,550 (5.56 miles)