This is Minay’s fourth e-mail to her sister, it’s dated 5-14-2010.
From: Minay Sirois
To: Lyndy Sherman
5/14/2010 4:12 PM
Subject: Start of Week Two – English Vacation
This was the Shakespeare phase of the trip. On Wednesday we drove from the western coast (Devon area) over to Stratford-Upon-Avon. The tiny town where we had stayed the night before, Ilfracombe, is about 5 minutes across. It took us a full hour to get out of town. As usual, we got lost. I know, how do you get lost in such a tiny place? Well, as I might have said before, the English are very private about telling you what street you are on, whether you are going north, south, east or west and what the cross streets are. Add to that nothing, but NOTHING, runs in a straight line or right angles. We asked for directions and the lady said “Just stay on this road, it’s minutes away, you can’t miss it.” Yeah. After going a couple blocks the road forks and both forks are the same size, same type of road, and neither is marked with the route. So we circled and circled. Finally got out of the town – and hit a traffic road block. Now mind you, the roads – even the main routes except for the M roads (which are like our freeways) are two lanes wide with no shoulders. One lane was blocked for construction and workers were blocking traffic from our direction so oncoming traffic had a chance to come through. No big deal, we had done this several times already. Usually after a couple minutes it’s your turn to go. Not this morning. We waited, and waited. Traffic came from the other direction, then no cars but we still waited. Then more oncoming traffic, more waiting. We watched a man trying to get out of a parking lot read his paper. After 20 minutes, no kidding, they finally let us go. It took an hour all told as I said. I told Michael if we found out we were going the wrong direction I’d drive into the sea rather than chance Ilfracombe again because we might never get out.
The drive to Stratford was nice, mostly on the M5. Not exciting, but we didn’t get lost much either. We got to Stratford around 2 and we didn’t have to check in until 6 so we decided to see Anne Hathaway’s cottage, Will Shakespeare’s wife. (He will be referred to as Will for the duration because it takes less typing.) The “cottage” is actually a pretty good sized house, charming with a thatched roof. We decided to do lunch at a little tea room across the street first. Sat in the solarium and watched two ladies eat cake on the patio with a very persistent duck. As soon as they appeared the duck was there begging for crumbs like a dog. I mean, it walked right up to them and kept hovering around their ankles. It was really funny. Finally they took pity on it and fed it a bit. On to the cottage. It gave you gooseflesh to walk on the floors where Will walked while courting Anne, see the walls and windows they looked on and through (the window part). Amazing that her family owned and lived in the house for 400 years, when it passed on to the government as a national monument. The gardens here were heart-stoppingly pretty. Tulips in bloom everywhere, wallflowers (which bring to mind snapdragons in a way, but with a wonderful honey scent), herbs, blooming apple trees, bluebells and tiny little lilies of the valley. And the most amazingly big, old, gorgeous wisteria vines with bases as big around as your hips. They also have a sculpture garden as well as a heritage orchard. Wow. Took many pictures.
By now it was 4:30 and we had to get to the B&B so the owner could get to the theatre where the Royal Shakespeare Company (which operates here of course) was showing Romeo and Juilet. It should have been simple, we were only a few miles away. We drove through town, went in circles on roundabouts and criss-crossing streets. At every intersection Michael is demanding “Which way?” Of course, I don’t know which way, I don’t know where I am or which direction I am facing or what road I am on. We have had some very tense moments driving. Also, the roads are tiny, cars are parked in your lane so drivers have to take turns driving down the one lane that is available on a two way street. If you come to a gap in parked cars you pull in so someone oncoming has a chance. They flash lights or gesture to thank you, then they have to give way for someone else half a block on. We finally got to the B&B and parking was so tight I had to crawl over the console to the driver’s side to get out. We got stuff up to the room, and decided we just didn’t want to try to go out to eat. We weren’t really hungry. So we walked into town (a short distance but cold and windy) to a small market in town where we got some great crusty rolls and wonderful cheese. That, along with tea (provided in every B&B room along with an electric kettle, real china cups, and a packet of biscuits -cookies)) was our dinner. Oh, and a wonderful pastry I had bought the day before on our wanderings.
Next day, more Will. We started with his birthplace, a very much larger and grander house than I expected. By 1800 or so they realized they needed to preserve Will’s homes and so they are still with us today to walk where he walked. There was a multimedia presentation at the Will center that set things up for you. Then more gardens. Next a little shopping, then Nash’s house which belonged to Will’s oldest daughter and her husband. The house was so-so. By that, I mean not much furniture, mostly bare rooms and some displays of medical equipment of the time since Nash was a doctor. The gardens were very nice, but partly torn up because they are doing an archeological dig of The New Place, the home Will owned when he died. In the 1700’s the man who owned it got pissed because people wanted to see the house where Will lived, and the mulberry tree he planted. So he cut the tree down. Fortunately a cutting had been taken and they grew another. Then, the town wanted him to pay taxes for taking care of the poor. He felt they wouldn’t be poor if they would just work so refused to pay the taxes. They insisted, so he called in a crew from a nearby town and in 3 weeks had torn the house down to the ground. They are now digging to see what they can learn about it. We got a very interesting talk from a guide about it all. She’s actually working on the dig. Saw Trinity Church where Will, Anne, and one of his daughter’s are entombed at the church altar. Another garden, then back to the room while we could still make it. After a rest walked back partway to town to eat at a Thai restaurant.
Today was the Cotswolds. We drove to Chipping Campden and walked around the town a bit. Very atmospheric, but not much to do. To another village called Stow-on-the-wold. These villages are outwardly almost unchanged from the late 1600’s to early 1700’s. These places are charming, but not as nice as the ones we saw from Bath with the thatched roofs. These are stone buildings, stone tile roofs. Maybe I wasn’t so in to it because again it was cold and gray weather – perhaps 50 degrees and windy. I will say, it makes the cup of tea at lunch seem doubly good. We got back to the room and crashed for a while. We did better with the driving today – didn’t get lost except when we drove into Stratford to drop off our laundry at a place that would wash, dry and fold it for us while we toured about. It cost 18 pounds, but was worth it for the time it saved. Yea clean underwear and socks! We snacked in the room again on more cheese and rolls along with some apples. Just too tired and cold to go out. Tomorrow, we head off toward the lake district. We are going to have to skip Liverpool (and the Beatles homage) because it just takes a lot longer to go the short distances than we thought and we have another Will place to see before we leave here – Mary Arden’s farm. She was Shakespeare’s mum and they have costumed interpreters, a falconry exhibit, and a working farm of the period. It is supposed to be one of the best sights here so we don’t want to miss it. The Beatles tour would take 4 hours, cost a fortune, and needed to be booked ahead. Oh well, can’t cover the entire country, try though we might.
That’s all for now. Love to all.
“In theory, there isn’t any difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” — Yogi Berra