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Thursday, July 13, 2017

From cradle to the grave in Shakespeare Country

New Place garden

Stratford-upon-Avon (population 28,000) isn't a big town, but it wasn't easy finding our hotel while driving along the narrow center streets and keeping an eye for tourists stepping down from the curb. Eventually we found the Falcon Hotel (free parking!), and once checked in and unburdened of baggage, we set off to explore William Shakespeare's birthplace (and resting place). Naturally, the first stop had to be Shakespeare's Birthplace:

OK, so it can't be definitively said that this is the house where Shakespeare was born and spent his formative years. Still, it's worth a visit to see the restored Tudor rooms and artefacts associated with the Bard:

Costumed character actors give descriptions of the rooms and the lives of people in Tudor times. This chap also played the role of mediator, helping to keep the peace when an elderly male American tourist starting expressing anger at the equally elderly female Korean tourists who were pushing by him to get out of the room without so much as a "pardon me":

Everywhere we went in the UK, we encountered Asian visitors, or as my daughter described it, middle-aged women whose hairstyles resembled her Taiwanese grandmother's. My Asian wife wasn't too interested in the work of Shakespeare, but she did linger at this small display on Tāng Xiǎnzǔ 湯顯祖, a Chinese contemporary of the Bard's:

Back out on Henley Street:

Popping into the charming Guild Chapel:

While scholars debate over exactly where Shakespeare was born, there's no doubt where he was laid to rest. Holy Trinity Church is said to be the most visited parish church in England:

Inside you can check out the choir stalls and tombs dating from the 16th and 17th centuries (such as in the Clopton Church below):

But the main draw, of course, is the Bard's grave:

Stratford may be very English (definitely very Tudor), but Shu-E needed a break from English cooking. We had pizza for lunch after arriving in town; dinner was at a Thai restaurant around the corner from our hotel, where I rubbed the lucky Buddha beer bottle before digging into the pad thai:

After dinner, while the girls rested back in our room, I took a walk down to the River Avon:

Amber and I relaxing in the hotel garden after breakfast the following morning:

Tudor buildings on Church Street:

The next Shakespeare sight of note we visited was Nash's House and New Place. When Shakespeare retired, he returned to Stratford from London, moving into a townhouse at New Place, passing away there in 1616. The house was demolished in 1759; an Elizabethan knot garden (more like a small farm in the Bard's time) sits on part of the property:

Items related to Shakespeare, such as his signet ring and will, are on display in the adjacent Nash's House, the home of the Bard's granddaughter:

Bringing out my inner Branagh or Olivier:

The last stop before leaving Stratford was Anne Hathaway's Cottage, a thatched farmhouse located just outside the center of town:

The Bard's wife lived here before marriage. The house contains period furniture...:

...while the grounds make for a quiet stroll. My daughter gets a visual representation of the British Isles:

Back to British basics for lunch - Amber enjoys shepherd's pie at Anne Hathaway's Cottage Cafe, across the street from the house:

A horse with no pressing appointments, in a field behind the cafe:

Bidding adieu to the Bard, we left Stratford for our next destination, Windermere in the Lake District, a drive that took around six hours, almost twice as long as what Google Maps claimed. It isn't easy to cover a lot of distance in a single day in the U.K. The country roads are narrow and it isn't unusual to get stuck behind a slow-moving tractor, while the motorways can get clogged with traffic - we unfortunately drove through Preston on the M6 right as rush hour (on a Friday, no less) was kicking in. Still, the rural scenery was charming, from the green rolling hills and the fields populated by grazing cattle and sheep to the picturesque towns and villages that could be missed if you blinked while driving through them:

No connection to Shakespeare or Stratford that I'm aware of, but undoubtedly English:

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