Friday, October 28, 2016

England: The Cotsolds and Stratford-Upon-Avon

 After we left Avebury, we drove straight up to The Cotwsolds and checked into our hotel at the Stow Lodge in Stow-on-the-Wold. The Cotwsolds are a cluster of small towns nestled in some rolling hills that were booming during the wool trade due to their famous breed of wool-sheep. When cotton became popular, the wool market crashed and so did the economy in the Cotswolds. But due to some strict building codes, all of the towns have remained frozen in time, just as they were during the wool boom. The Cotsolds are also one of the places that city-dwellers go to "get away from it all," for a week of country, slow-paced living. We found the place quaint and beautiful!

Our hotel in Stow on the Wold used to be the rectory of an old church (located next door), that has been converted into a hotel. It was very quaint and bed-and-breakfasty.

The view out our window -- of the church next door and the cemetery.
Our room key! Every hotel we went to had actual metal "keys" for each room. I can't remember another time anywhere in the world or the US that I've ever had a real key at a hotel.

Sitting in the town stocks. Our town (Stow) consisted of one main street, that took about ten minutes to walk. It was so small! And so quaint. There was an amazing chocolate shop on the street, that sold chocolate-covered everything. One day we skipped lunch and just ate chocolate. I intended to bring some home...but none of it made it. Ha ha!

 I found the muffin man.
 The view down our street. So cute and tiny.

 The skinniest little house in Stow.
We got settled into our hotel, took a walk down the main road in Stow to familiarize ourselves with the town, and then drove to dinner in another town nearby. The pub was called The Fox Inn. I got this baked cheese masterpiece as an appetizer and it was one of the top five best things I ate on the whole trip. Amazing!

The next day we drove through all of the nearby Cotwsold towns -- Northleach, Bourton-on-the-Water, Upper and Lower Slaughters, and Kineton. Each was more beautiful than the last. The landscape was so beautiful and green, with rolling hills.
We passed manor after manor that reminded me of all the Jane Austen books I've read. They're all still in use!
We passed people on horseback in full riding gear, and people heading to the fields with guns, hunting attire and a hawk (is it hawks that they use to hunt with? I don't even know) tethered to their arm.
This is the Stanway House in Kineton. It's an old manor that is still in use and is open for tours during the summer, but it was closed when we were there (October). Still, the outside was lovely, and the church next door with the cemetery were also lovely.

After driving through those other towns, we came back to Stow to walk around some more. There was supposed to be a huge horse-trading fair held by the Gypsies the day after we left Stow, and rumor had it that they would start filing in by the hoards soon. So we walked down to the end of town and saw some of them setting up their camps in this huge open field. The city was crawling with police offers too, ha ha. The next day on our way out of town when we drove by, I didn't get a picture but this field was completely FULL of trailers and campers. Walking through town I couldn't necessarily tell which people were locals/tourists and which were gypsies, except that their accents were different than the English somehow. Maybe Irish? I don't know.
Then we hopped in our car and drove North through Moreton-in-Marsh up to Stratford-Upon-Avon, which is where Shakespeare was born. Here was our first little view of the city.
We found a longterm car park on the edge of the city near the river and then headed up the main drag towards Shakespeare's birthplace and home. The architecture was unique and the city was cute and lively. Lots of tourists and lots of souvenir shops -- much different than Stow and the other sleepy Cotswold towns.
Selfie time on Shakespeare's street! Can you tell Chris is starting to be done with the selfie stick? Ha ha ha.
All the gift shops had some hilarious Shakespeare souvenirs. I thought of all my lawyer relatives when I saw this magnet.
But the Shakespearean gift shop next to his birth home was my favorite -- I kind of loved these Shakespearean insults.

Here we are in front of Shakespeare's birth place -- the home his parents owned when he was born. His dad was a glove maker and sold his handmade leather gloves out of the shop window to the right of me. The room Shakespeare was born in is right above Chris's head.
We took a tour of the inside, which was fascinating. They had volunteer guides in every room who could tell you stories and all sorts of interesting things about the time Shakespeare lived. It was probably one of my most favorite tours we took on this trip. Here is the view out the upper bedroom window where Shakespeare was born.
After the tour they let you out into the backyard. As you walked through the garden, there were volunteers there in full costume who asked us if we wanted to hear some lines recited. They even let you choose which play. Then they sat you down on a bench and gave a dramatic recitation of a piece of one of Shakespeare's plays. I thought it was fantastic and so neat! I was totally into it. Chris thought it was awkward and didn't know where he was supposed to be looking, ha ha. Weirdo.
After we toured the birthplace, we walked around the town a bit. We needed an obligatory photo by a phone booth.

We toured Shakespeare's New House (the house he bought after he moved to London as a playwrite and then moved back to Stratford), as well as his daughter's house (which was HUGE. She married a doctor.).
Then we headed towards Shakespeare's resting place in the Stratford church. The walkway up to the church couldn't have been more beautiful. Fall in England is so magical!

It really struck me how much of a family man Shakespeare was. Even though he moved to London and became fairly famous during his lifetime, he valued his roots and moved back to Stratford. This is the church he was Christened in, married in, and buried in. I thought it was so neat.
 His grave, next to his wife and other family members.
 The stained glass in this chapel was gorgeous.
After we left the church, we walked along the River Avon towards the Globe Theater. It was beautiful, with weeping willow trees and swans swimming in the water, just like I'd seen in pictures.

The Globe theater was huge and modern, and I don't think I took any pictures of it. But we walked through the gift shop and browsed a bit before we headed back to our car. On our way home from Stratford I was so tired that I fell asleep in the passenger seat whilst I was supposed to be navigating with the GPS, ha ha ha. In my defense, this had been a LONG day.

On the way home we stopped in Chipping Campden to see the city. It is another tiny Cotswold town with one main street. It had a really neat WWI and WWII monument in the center of town with the names of all the fallen soldiers from Chipping Campden. There were so many, it must have been a big blow to such a small community.

In Chipping Campden we found a small grocery/drugstore that was open and bought our first batch of Kinder Eggs to bring home to the kids, ha ha. It took a lot of effort to keep them unbroken on the rest of our travels.
 A beautiful stoop in Chipping Campden.
We left Chipping Campden and headed back to our hotel in Stow. I consulted my trusty Rick Steves' book to find us a place to eat for dinner. It suggested a fish restaurant and an Indian restaurant. We decided on the Indian place, and walked down the road to it.

I got probably the biggest shock of my life ever when I stepped inside and looked across the restaurant to see my best friend from growing up, Camie, and her husband John eating dinner together at a table! I seriously did a double take and then squeezed Chris's arm. I couldn't even verbalize to him what I was seeing, ha ha. I walked right over to them and gave her a huge hug. Needless to say, they were also in shock to see us there!
We ended up joining them for dinner and catching up. It turns out that Camie and John were there for the week, hunting. Many of the manor owners in the Cotswolds will allow tourists to pay to hunt the game on their land, so that's what they'd been doing. They were staying in a different hotel in town, and were also using the Rick Steves' guidebook to get around, which is how we ended up at the same Indian restaurant for dinner.

Can you imagine? We live three miles apart at home, and we ran into each other halfway around the world, literally in the middle of nowhere, in an Indian Restaurant no less. It was just so bizarre! And so fun to catch up.
We ate breakfast at The Stow Lodge (getting a little tired of sausage and beans at this point, ha ha), checked out of the hotel and headed 35 miles East towards Blenheim Palace.
 The front gates.

It felt like we passed through like three gates before we finally got into the courtyard for a view of the palace. It was a little overcast when we first got there, but by the end the sun came out and the pictures were a little better.
Blenheim Palace was built in the early 1700's by the Duke of Marlborough, and has been passed down to each next Duke of Marlborough through the years. Currently the 12th Duke of Marlborough still lives there. Sir Winston Churchill was also born here.
Looking from the front steps out towards the Column of Victory, waaaaay out in the distance. The grounds of the place are just HUGE, and they were actually our favorite part. Wait til you see the gardens in back.
The interior of the palace is not nearly as fancy as Versailles (I'm not sure anything will ever rival it), but it was HUGE. I really loved the library.
I also loved the huge pipe organ.

Unfortunately, there was a modern art exhibit happening during our visit, and each room had this huge modern monstrosity in the center. I just was not a fan, and I thought it ruined a lot of the enjoyment for me. For example, one room had two GIANT piles of laundry in the center of the floor. One pile was all whites, one was colored clothing. And that was it. Huge piles of laundry in the center of the state room. REALLY? It just wasn't my thing, so I didn't take very many pictures inside.
The gardens, however, were GORGEOUS. Just beautiful. We spent a lot of time walking through them and enjoying the landscape.

Some views of the back of the palace from the gardens.

Hey there, sun.

After we finished walking the grounds, we ate lunch in the little cafe near the back fountain area. Then we hopped in the car and headed North three hours towards York...

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