Tag Archive | England

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: The Cotswolds

Day 12, Thursday, July 5, 2018

During our trip, we also booked a tour to visit the Cotswolds and Stratford-Upon-Avon.  It was a bit of a last minute decision; after we so briefly visited the Cotswolds on our Stonehenge tour, Taryn and I decided we wanted to see more, so we booked online that night with the same tour company, Golden Tours.

The Cotswolds is a country area outside of London, known for its rolling hills and natural scenic beauty.  It is a general term for a collection of small villages in the scenic valley; the common interpretation of the word Cotwolds is “sheep enclosures in rolling hills.”  If you have seen the historic stone villages and cottages in movies or photo spreads, you have likely seen the Cotswolds.  Stratford-Upon-Avon a small town located on one end of the Cotswolds area – it is famous for its famous historical resident, William Shakespeare.

On our tour, we stopped first in Bibury, a historic village in the Cotswolds.  Many of the cottages there were built during the 1400s; they were so cute!  We only had about 25 minutes to wander around there though; it felt a bit rushed.

There were cute swans on a quiet stream running through the town, and a fantastic looking inn with beautiful gardens.  What a relaxing place to spend an afternoon!

Next up was Bourton on the Water, another adorable town nicknamed “The Venice of England” for its low stone bridges over the river.  We had about 45 minutes there; it was certainly someplace I would like to spend a couple of days.  There is a museum there that we didn’t have time to check out.  We wandered around, took some photos and poked around in a couple of shops. I bought a polished serpentine stone at a rock shop there too.  What a great place!

Note: When the tour guide says to be back at the bus at a certain time, be sure to be there.  One lady arrived back late – the rest of us were stuck waiting for about 15 minutes.  She got dressed down by the tour guide!  It was nice that he said something, but I do think he went overboard with the public chastising.  I’m glad it wasn’t me!

After your time in Bourton on the Water we piled back on the bus – we still had much more to see.  Next we were on our way to see the Shakespeare sites!

Tube Stations:  None – We walked to where the bus picked us up.

 

London 2018: Stonehenge

Day 10, Tuesday, July 3, 2018

After we left Bath, we went to an early dinner at the Stonehenge Inn.  It was an all-you-can-eat carvery dinner (all-you-can-eat is generally wasted on me since I can’t eat that much but I tried!) with four kinds of meat; ham, pork, beef and turkey, along with veggies and Yorkshire pudding, and ice cream for dessert.  I love the big Thanksgiving style meals in England, but I was also craving a salad!

 

 

After dinner, it was finally time to see Stonehenge!

 

Stonehenge was built beginning in 3,100 BC; it was initially a raised circular embankment.  It is theorized that the earthen embankment was originally a burial ground, as bones have been found during the excavation.  About 300 years later the blue stones were added.  Blue stones is a generic term; some of them are igneous dolerite stones.  They are believed by most to have been transported by the builders from Preseli Hills, about 150 miles away in Wales.  Approximately 600 years after that the sarsen stones were placed.  These are the 30 large standing stones, with another 30 stones capping the ring.

More blue stones were added later on, and stones were moved around over the years, although it is unknown why.  They stopped using Stonehenge during the Iron Age.  I guess it depends on where in the world it is, but the Iron Age in Britain seems to be approximately 550 BC to 800 AD.  That’s quite a bit of squish in the knowledge about Stonehenge.  Researchers can only speculate on Stonehenge’s purpose; they do believe that it was a place of spiritual significance because the monument lines up with the sun at the winter and summer solstice.  Excavations have revealed animal bones that lead researchers to believe that people gathered there in winter.

When we got there, we walked up to the site as a group before getting our pre-viewing briefing, which basically consisted of “Don’t be the jerk who touches the stones.”  “If you touch the stones, you will get kicked out and have to go wait on the bus.”  “If you touch the stones, everybody else will jeer at you and mock you and throw tomatoes.”  “Got it?”  It wasn’t quite like that, but that was basically the gist.  We were split into two groups and let loose among the stones for 30 minutes for each group.  The only drawback of the sunset tour is that when you arrive, the Visitor’s Center is already closed for the day.  I would have liked to see that.

 

 

While the other group was in the inner circle, we got to wander around the outside.

 

 

Standing inside Stonehenge and seeing it up close was incredible.  It was a very spiritual experience to see this monument built thousands of years ago, and to wonder what the makers intended it for.  The lowering light of the sun was amazing to see on the stones and between them.  While it would be cool to see Stonehenge on the solstice, it was nice to be here with so few people (there were about 40 of us on the tour).  It was really a bucket list experience, and I’m afraid words can’t really do it justice.  The photos will have to do.

 

Tube Stations:  None.  We disembarked from the bus on Gloucester Road, which was less than a mile from our hotel, so we walked home from there (you also have the choice to disembark back at the bus station where we left from in the morning).
Costs: Golden Tours day trip to Bath and Stonehenge, with an inner circle sunset viewing – $175 (note: this price is in U.S. dollars), carvery dinner – $15 pounds
Fitbit Steps: 14,022

 

London 2018: City Cruises River Cruise

Day 3, Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Tuesday we made the most of our day.  We were up at 7 and out of the hotel room by 8:30 – it was a bit chilly in the morning!  There was a bit of trouble with the Tube, since there was some sort of issue with a train on the line we wanted, but we were soon on our way to the Westminster Pier.  We were going to take a cruise on the River Thames!

Brandon, me, Taryn and the River Thames

City Cruises offers a 24 hour, hop-on-hop off pass; we boarded and enjoyed a leisurely ride up the river on the boat.  Our guide gave us lots of information on the history of the river, and the buildings and bridges that we saw along the way.  He was very funny too, and it was a beautiful day for a boat ride!   If the weather is cooperative, I would definitely recommend sitting up top – you can’t beat the view!

We departed at the Tower Pier; we were going to the Tower of London next!

Tube Stations: Earl’s Court (hotel), Westminster (at the River Cruises dock)
Costs: City Cruises River Cruise – 18.75 pounds (free with London pass)  Note: City Cruises advertises this as a 24 hour pass, but the boats only ran until about 6 pm at the latest – check the times!

London 2018: Churchill War Rooms

Day 2, Monday, June 25, 2018

After our visit to Westminster Abbey, we headed to see the Churchill War Rooms close by.  We were met with another line of about half an hour.

Taryn and me waiting at the War Rooms

History of the War Rooms

The Churchill War Rooms is the underground bunker that was used by the British Government during World War II.  They planned war strategy, ran the government, sent and received critical communications, and even stayed overnight during the bombings of London.

In 1936, the British government realized that the potential of war would be devastating for both the government and the civilian population.  They began looking for an suitable emergency location for the government and settled on a basement under what is now the Treasury Building; renovations were completed in 1938 to make the site livable, usable, and relatively safe – with a 5 foot thick concrete layer of protection.

The basement consisted of communications rooms, map rooms, typing pool rooms for the secretaries, and living quarters for Churchill, his staff and officers of the Navy, Army and Air Force.  The underground rooms were completely self-contained, with a kitchen, bathrooms, sleeping quarters and a full communications system.  The staff could stay underground indefinitely, if they needed to.

The War Rooms were in continuous use throughout the war, especially during the Blitz in 1940.  In 1945 when the war ended, the government recognized the historical significance of the rooms and preserved them as they looked during the war.  They were only open to the public on a very limited basis until the 1980s, when the government transferred the administration of the rooms to the Imperial War Museum.

The Museum

The museum explores the life of Winston Churchill, and goes through his birth to his death, focusing on the World War II period.  The exhibits are wide-ranging, with pieces from his childhood, one of his infamous siren suits, his paintings (did you know Churchill was an accomplished amateur artist?), and more somber exhibits on the war.  The museum explores Churchill’s work habits and personality, discussing how his staff felt about him.

The Rooms

The war rooms are a self-guided tour with an audio-guide (see, I told you London loves audio-guides!); the guide was quite thorough with about 30 stations.  Even I, being the museum nerd that I am, stopped listening to it towards the end.  I was most fascinated with the map room, the cabinet war room, and the living quarters.  Churchill even had a bed here; although it was explained that he never really spent the night here – he did take naps here.  The staff in the map rooms clearly got frustrated and needed an outlet at times, so they drew a caricature of Hitler that survives today.

It was fascinating to be there; at the site where critical decisions of the war were made.

Costs: Churchill War Rooms –  16.35 pounds (included in London Pass).  According to their website, photos are permitted in the war rooms but not in the museum; they didn’t seem to mind that I took photos in the museum too.

London 2018: Housekeeping and Jetlag

Day 1, Sunday, June 24, 2018

We arrived at Heathrow at 10:15 am on Sunday morning, June 24th, customs was non-eventful, although I think our customs agent was skeptical that we were all just friends…  We checked out the tourist kiosk, but they didn’t sell the London Pass that we wanted.  Once we purchased our Oyster cards (the London subway pass), and figured out which subway line we needed to get on, we were on our way!

Our room wasn’t quite ready when we got to the hotel, so we stashed our suitcases in the closet, freshened up a bit, put our suitcases in the room because it was now ready, and then headed out to work off our jet lag.  We couldn’t go to sleep too early or we wouldn’t get onto London time, which is 8 hours ahead of the West Coast!

Me, no makeup, no sleep, not bad…

Lunch was Indian at a restaurant called Masala Zone.  I had the Chicken Tikka with basmati rice – it was soooo good!  We also had naan and popadoms with mango, mint/cilantro and tomato based chutney sauces.  Our lunch was delicious, and we were tired, but we couldn’t rest or else we would all fall asleep!

Our next stop was at the London Pass Office in Leicester Square.  We had priced out the things that we wanted to do and whether it was a good deal to buy the London Pass.  There are several options for the number of days that the pass is good for, and after doing some research, we realized that we wanted the 10-day pass.

We went through the National Portrait Gallery, which is right in the neighborhood, and saw some interesting art.  They have portraits from back through history right up through modern day.

National Portrait Gallery

Next we went to Covent Garden.  We went through the markets, clowned around, bought London Christmas ornaments, and I bought some English tea for people back home.

We saw some buskers, and then went to Mr. Fogg’s Tavern for a mid-day cocktail pick me up – I had hard cider.

We had a beer and cider there

There was so much stuff going on with that ceiling!

The whole day we all alternated between fading and wanting to go to bed, and getting a second wind, each at different times. We got back to the room at about 7:30 and skipped dinner – I went to sleep about 8:45. I managed to stay up late enough to get rid of the jet lag!

Tube Stations: Earl’s Court (hotel), Leicester Square (London Pass office)

Costs: Oyster Card – 50 pounds.  London Pass – 184 pounds for the 10-day pass.  Note: the London Pass is sold at the tourist kiosk at Heathrow Airport, but they don’t sell the 10-day option there.
Other Costs: National Portrait Gallery (free), Lunch, Souvenirs

FitBit Steps: Almost 11,000 (I had to jump around on the room a little bit to get to my goal)