Whilst kings battle history rivers runneth crimson*

If you wanted to have glorious sunshine all the time you should’ve stayed back in Jakarta. In England, you should be thrilled to experience the wet weather, mixed with the cold, freezing your toes, noes, and everything in between. We did. The Mop left town in the dead of night, and the town square was restored to its former glory.

Walking around Stratford

The river that shone in the sun before could barely be seen, though the energy of the swans and ducks continued unabated.

Walking around Stratford

We ran into a Sunday market outside the RSC:

Walking around StratfordWalking around Stratford

Then it was time to pack and bid goodbye to the charming town of Stratford-upon-Avon, especially our hosts, Sue and Simon at the adorable Adelphi Guest House.

Walking around Stratford Walking around Stratford

Our friend, Jamie drove us from Stratford to our next destination, Warwick. Our first stop was Warwick Castle, their biggest attraction. The words ‘attraction’ and ‘theme park’ put a fear in my heart, and this one is owned by Tussaud’s. To our very pleasant surprise, not only is the castle very attractive, that is, well preserved and impressive, but the scenes depicting life in the medieval times are done beautifully, and you can see the stamp of Tussauds in the expressions of the models. Climbing up the turrets in the castle, you can see the beautiful views of Warwick town and the landscape beyond. The river below is Avon. The theme shows we saw were fun too, especially the Trebuchet launching the fireball.

Did you see the very realistic expressions of the wax models above? Hah, one of them is a real person. Can you guess which one? He appears in a couple of different scenes.

Warwick Castle was first built in 1068 by William the Conqueror, then rebuilt in stone in the 12th century, and fortified over the years. Click the link to learn more about its history. The visit took up a good 3 hours, plus some more with kids I suppose. We loved it!

*Title credit – guess who!

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Beware lest the swan’s trumpet doth betray its tranquil plume*

The people from Stratford Walks inspired us to go to the top of the tower at the RSC, mainly because there was a great discount, and a lift to the top. The views from the top were predictably breathtaking.

The sun was determined to peek out, and when it did, it was the perfect time for a walk along the river Avon, admiring the landscape and the greedy swans.

A swan thought it would be cool to check out the Mop nearby, and had to be put back in its place.

Walking around Stratford

By which time I was chilled cold, and our only hope was to dart indoors at Dirty Duck for a pint and some food, a beef and ale pie for Souvik, a bean chili and jacket potato for me. We needed to walk off the food again, took the long way back home, via the Mop.

The Mop is an annual fair whose reputation is as old as Shakespeare’s in this region. It used to be a job fair in the old days where prospective job seekers offered their services and employers did the buying. Job hopefuls stood around with a display of their skills (maids with mops), hence the name. After the deals were done, the rest of the day was free for merriment. 2 weeks later, there’d be a smaller fair called the Runaway Mop where people who were dissatisfied with their jobs ran away for better opportunities. The hiring activities no longer exist, but the fair stuck around, and became more popular with the railroad services where more people from other villages could visit. We were amused to see how busy the fair was, with shooting targets, hooking ducks, candy floss, fortune telling, and the like. Crowds in a small town like we’ve never seen before. Poeple of all ages enjoying the rides and the music. The tantalising smell of fried onions.

Walking around Stratford Walking around Stratford Walking around Stratford Walking around Stratford

And the best attraction of them all? This old-world carousel that still looked like the prettiest ride for all ages.

Walking around Stratford

*Title credit: Souvik again. He’s been let loose.

Rejoice the sun,’cause shadows are ne’er distant*

Day 2 in Stratford began at the dark hour of 4 am, as we were a little jet lagged. Coffee and breakfast sorted us out nicely 4 hours later, and we set off chasing Shakespeare, praying for the sun. His birthplace, which is also his parents’ house, is the centre of the town.

It’s the weekend, and we were expecting moderate crowds, but this is the weekend of The Mop, an annual fair that has been held in town since the 14th century. This is how it impacts this medieval city:

Walking around Stratford Walking around Stratford

Walking around Stratford Walking around Stratford

More on the Mop later.

Shakespeare’s birthplace is a well preserved and well-exhibited piece of history. I’ve never read or watched any of Shakespeare’s plays, only excerpts and adaptations in movies. So naturally his work seems alien to me, until I saw this poster:

Walking around Stratford

There’s a bit of Shakespeare in everyone’s lives!

Check out the house he was born and brought up in:

William’s father was a glove maker, and it is believed that William left school to join his father when he faced financial difficulties. The house is mostly bare, except for the essentials. There are no trinkets and baubles and decorative stuff around. It’s wonderful to see that the lack of material possessions is no barrier for creativity, and that the son of a glove maker became one of the most famous people of all times.

After the tour of his house, we were in time to join the Stratford Walking tour. John, our guide, took us around town, showing us the most interesting sights. It was more than a walk, as John made the town come alive with his dramatic flair, right from stories about young William going to school, to the origin of the Mop Fair. My favourite was how the town got its name – on the river Avon, the site of a strat (street) at the ford (a shallow area with good footing to cross the river). We came off from the walk more knowledgeable and highly entertained!

All this before lunch – a well deserved meal of Cornish pasty (oh yum!) followed by a spot of tea with maple pecan pie and lemon cake (slurp!!).

*Title credit: Souvik, in Shakespearan fervour

Walking in Stratford-upon-Avon

There’s something about being in the birthplace of William Shakespeare that makes me self-conscious about blogging. But the town of Stratford-upon-Avon is so charming that I’m setting aside all inhibitions and a fair bit of sleepiness to post a new one. Sorry I fell asleep! We’ve ticked most of the cliché check boxes – the accents, the fickle weather, the polite conversations, and admired the pretty cottages, well-preserved over hundreds of years, the aura of Shakespeare, and gushed over the food, all in the span of half a day.

We barely checked into our room at the Adelphi Guest House that I wanted to set out right away, having learnt that places would shut by 5 pm. The weather stayed lovely all afternoon, and we had energizing walk to Anne Hathaway’s family cottage. This is not Anne Hathaway of Hollywood fame, but Anne who was Will’s wife 400 years ago. The circumstances of their wedding were as probably fit for drama by themselves. Anne was 8 years older than William, and 3 months pregnant with his child on the wedding day. William was a minor and had no means to support his wife, plus he needed his father’s permission to marry. A little scandal is a must in every creative person’s life, I guess! The cottage itself is pretty; I loved the shape of the roof. Anne Hathaway cottage Anne Hathaway cottage Anne Hathaway cottageAnne Hathaway cottage Anne Hathaway cottage   There’s a nice lady who tells you some of the stories of the Shakespeare and Hathaway families, and interesting origins of some English words and phrases. Like the ‘dining’ table in the house had the top board completely separate from the trestle below. As furniture was precious in the old days, only the head of the family got to sit in the proper chair with armrests, and that was the origin of the term “Chairman of the Board”. The table top was also used by kids to amuse themselves with ‘board’ games, in which all hands had to be placed on the top edge to show that they weren’t cheating (hence “aboveboard”). Cool, huh? Ok, back to the quaint cottage, and its lovely gardens with the lavender maze (not in full bloom, sadly, because it’s October), and the little hut where Souvik enjoyed a few sonnets.

We had a delicious coffee and cookie at the Garden Cafe, at which point the weather changed from bright and sunny to quick shower just as we were chatting about what a nice day it had been. Thankfully it cleared up again, and we walked back via the nearest rainbow, towards the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre to be or not to be in the audience that evening. Hunger and jet lag took over, so Sheep Street was next, to Vintner, for a fabulous meal of ale and goat cheese pastry for me and lamb shank for Souvik. Walking around Stratford Walking around Stratford   It was a long day, and our shadows were longer. We’ve never been so tall and thin, and never will, but where there’s a Will, there can be a ‘play’! Walking around Stratford