Thursday, June 21, 2018

York, England

UK Trip, Days 17-18, York, 9/28 -9/29

Fall was definitely in the air! Many trees were already changing colors by the time we made it to York, and we were seeing many different shades of red, gold, green, purple, and yellow. The train ride from Stratford-Upon-Avon to York was very long, about 4 hours. I was so happy to finally get here. Our hotel, Queens Hotel, was right in the city center, and our third story room overlooked the River Ouse (rhymes with “goose”). Several restaurants are situated on the bank across the river, with outdoor seating, and the customers and revelry last late into the night. The city has a busy, positive, and vibrant feel.

The city center of York is enclosed by ancient medieval walls, known simply as The Roman Walls. With the most complete construction of these type of defensive walls in all of England, this is a very popular place to walk, measuring approximately 2.5 miles around, and enclosing ~263 acres. Over the two days we were there, we walked over most of it.

Although there is plenty of stained glass in the endless churches we visited while in the UK, for some reason we seemed to see more than average in York. We saw beautiful examples in the Catholic Church of St. Wilfrid, which the Catholics call the “Mother Church of the city of York”. We accidentally stumbled upon St. Olav’s Church (pronounced “Olive”), something we found as we were walking around York on our own. Part of The Church of England, it is situated within the walls of St. Mary’s Abbey, and is dedicated to St. Olaf, the patron saint of Norway.

St. Mary’s Abbey is a ruined Benedictine abbey, but was once the richest abbey in the north of England. It lies in what now are the Yorkshire Museum Gardens. Another unlooked-for visitation, we sort of wandered into this site accidentally and strolled the grounds.

Clifford’s Tower is actually what is left of the now-ruinous keep (a type of fortified defensive tower) and largest remaining part of York Castle. One of the best-loved and prominent landmarks in York, the 11th century timber tower on top of the earth mound was burned down in 1190, after York’s Jewish community, some 150 strong, was besieged here by a mob and committed mass suicide.

York Minster, a cathedral church, is one of the finest medieval buildings in Europe. The official name of this magnificent structure is the “Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St. Peter in York”, and is part of The Church of England. This was just a stunning building, both inside and out. It was really hard to get pictures that captured what we were seeing. Our necks hurt from so much craning and our jaws were tired form so much “oohing” and “aahing”. Very much worth the visit.

This was the last city we visited in England, moving from here to our last two stops in Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Stratford-Upon-Avon, England

UK Trip, Days 15-16, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 9/26 -9/27 (2017)

Talk about a city taking advantage of its history and its roots – apparently the single most notable thing this town ever produced was William Shakespeare. It truly is all about The Bard here.  All the shops down the main strip cater to the tourist, and capitalize on the Shakespeare theme, in any way, shape, or form imaginable. Even though this part of being in a tourist town doesn’t call to either one of us, we did enjoy the vibe of the city center, the hub of activity, and the quaint look and feel of the surroundings.

We walked along the River Avon at different spots around the town, and enjoyed the parklike settings and the riverboat RV’ers (which is what we dubbed them – it appeared many people lived on their riverboats fulltime, much like we live full time in our 5th wheel). Especially fascinating was the Stratford-Upon-Avon canal, built between 1793 and 1816, which runs for 25 miles with a series of Locks which lower and raise the water level on the river to allow boats to pass through otherwise unnavigable shallow areas.

Of course theater is a major industry in Stratford. The Royal Shakespeare Company, a major British theater company, is based here, and employs over 1000 staff and produces around 20 productions a year.

We took advantage of the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus tour, making several stops along the prescribed route, visiting all things Shakespeare.

Our first stop was Church of The Holy Trinity, more often referred to as Holy Trinity Church, or as Shakespeare’s Church, due to its fame as the place of baptism and burial of William Shakespeare. More than 200,000 tourists visit the church each year. The day we were there, it was rather peaceful, and not overly crowded with tourists. The colors of fall were starting to show themselves, and we got a tremendously good vibe walking the grounds, and touring the inside of the church.

Our next stop was Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway were married in 1582 when Anne was 26, and William was 18, at which time she was already pregnant with their first child. Prior to her marriage, it is believed she grew up in this 12-roomed farmhouse with several bedrooms, and now set in beautiful and extensive gardens.

Next stop was Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm. Mary Arden was Shakespeare’s mother, and the youngest of 8 daughters born to Robert Arden and Mary Webb. The farm was built by Robert Arden around 1514, and the house has been significantly altered over time. Today visitors here can experience the sights, sounds, and smells of a working Tudor farm as docents reenact the everyday experiences including woodworking, crafts, cooking, falconry demonstrations, and raising animals and crops. Actors dress in period clothing, talk in period talk, and try to recreate the environment that may have existed in Mary Arden’s day.

Next stop, Shakespeare’s Childhood home. Set in the middle of the city center and tourist section, it was really hard to imagine the original surroundings in the 1500’s. The house itself is relatively simple, but for the times it would have been considered quite a substantial dwelling. John Shakespeare, William’s father, was a glove maker and wool dealer, and the house was originally divided in two parts to allow him to carry out his business from the same premises. Outside of this being historically interesting, there wasn’t a lot about the house itself or its current location that stood out.

Finally, we stopped in at the Old Thatch Tavern for a farewell pint. This is a landmark 15th century pub located in the historic heart of Stratford-Upon-Avon, and 300 yards from Shakespeare’s birthplace. It became the brewery for the town in 1470, and has been a licensed pub since 1623. It claims to be the oldest pub in Stratford, and is the only thatched-roof property in Stratford’s town center.

Farewell to Stratford-Upon-Avon, or should I say … “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow”.