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2003 Discovering Britain & Ireland – Day 4

LONDON to STRATFORD – the Insight tour begins

Wednesday – 7am wake up call comes at 7.30am. Seems to be a ‘Hilton’ thing, but I must admit they are getting better – only half hour late today. More words when I check out and more apologies. Another forgettable continental brekkie which is not very filling and the bus – sorry – COACH – has arrived.  As I am travelling alone I have been allocated a seating partner for the tour –a girl who I reckon is in her late twenties, travelling with her mum and dad.

A rather large lass to say the least, she is already in the seat near the window and I end up with less than ¾ of my seat and up the back of the coach. Unfortunately the tour is full and there are no spare seats and things are not looking good.  Our Tour Director Paul Fisher explains that we will be rotating two rows of seats forward every day. OK – I can handle that – what I cannot handle is that I will have less than my share of the seat.  Insight really should look into this. Three weeks on a bus cramped up is definitely not my idea of fun.

Paul is busy getting all the bags and people on the coach and trying his best to keep everyone happy. Our driver’s name is Kenny and he is Scottish and his big black coach has been chartered from Parks in Scotland. Not a word of Insight anywhere to be found. There are lots of Aussies and Kiwis and surprisingly only 2 people from the US. Finally on our way out of London and heading north-west we arrive at Oxford.

Before I left Oz I did a lot of research on the places we would visit and what would be the best things to see.  I do not want to waste any time wondering about such things when we get there.  In Oxford there are lots of interesting things to see and do, loads of history including the university.  When we arrive Paul leads us on a small orientation tour around the university and the town so that we get to know the place a bit and then we can do our own thing for 2 hours.   I will try and keep the history lessons to a minimum and just put the link in so that you can learn for yourselves.

 This is the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ at Oxford University.  It is a stone, Venetian-style bridge of Hertford college, spanning New College Lane.  If you notice a resemblance to another famous ‘Bridge of Sighs’ it is a ‘cousin’ of the famous one in Venice.

This university is incredible and to think that it is virtually the whole town.  Wandering around and around I decide to climb to the top of the Sheldonian Theatre (in the university) – cost ₤1.50.  Loads of steps but definitely well worth the effort.

Arriving at the top – out of breath and legs killing, the views of Oxford and the spires are spectacular. Weatherwise, a little bit hazy but good enough to take photos. Trying to remember I have only 2 hours here I race around but at the same time enjoy the views and the history of the place.

Little bit of trivia for those who love the Harry Potter stories and films – some of the sequences were filmed at this University.

My legs seemed to have recovered enough for me to walk back down the stairs and I head off to the town and discover a cute little arcade where I buy some lunch. Walking up those stairs must have given me an appetite.

The arcade is called ‘The Covered Market’ and was built in 1772 to rid the streets of ‘untidy, messy and unsavoury stalls’. It is a wonderful quaint little place that has lots of shops.

Butchers, bakers, shoemakers are all together in this jumble of smells and sounds.     I find a really great sandwich shop but they have so much on offer it is hard to decide what to get. Everything looks great but I finally decide on a huge roll with brie and mango. Yum !!!

Taking my lunch, I try and find a place to sit. I decide to sit on the steps of the monument in the square and watch the world go by.

The picture on the left is the Main Street of Oxford and the Monument is the one with the spire in the middle of the road. What a great place. No-one seems to mind that I am sitting here – in fact I am joined by others who are enjoying their lunch break.  After munching on half the roll it is time to press on.  Wrapping up the remainder of my lunch and stoshing it away in my bag for later I head back to our meeting place.

Of course there are the mandatory ‘late arrivals’ and we all hope that this is not going to be an ongoing thing.  Paul explains that if you are late – then we do not wait!  I make a mental note as I do not want to get stranded somewhere along the way.

Back onto the coach for a little less than ¾ of my seat as she has now bought stuff and it’s all over the place.  This is only the first day of the tour and already deep breathing and meditation is planned.  I also have a plan that tomorrow morning I will get up early and be on the bus first to get the window and put forward the plan that we can swap window seats every day and that way it works out even.  Sounds fair to me.

Anne HathawaysWe continue north driving through the area known as The Cotswolds and arrive at Stratford–upon–Avon where our first stop is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. What a fabulous place. A thatched roof and a wonderful garden.

For those whose literary skills have not advanced further than Superman comics – Anne Hathaway was married to William Shakespeare and more about him later.  We do not have time to go in and have a look around as Paul is busy organising the group photo.  Apparently every Insight tour takes a Group Photo.

We all stand in a group – the whole 40 of us – while we smile and I secretly wish we could explore a bit more instead of standing here like idiots.  If you want to buy it cost is ₤5 – I didn’t.  Whilst, this group seems like a nice bunch, I would rather spend my money on something I like instead of a photo of people most of whom I will not remember the minute the tour ends.  On into the town itself. Very Elizabethan – just like the postcards. The coach drops us off and takes our bags to our accommodation for the night – the Thistle Hotel. (it is now known as The Arden – Nov 2015)

Paul gives us a very informative talk about the town, its history and of course William Shakespeare and then we are free to wander around and discover it by ourselves. But – – – before being left to our own devices we are told we can walk back to the hotel as it is not far – heard that one before – or we can get the bus back in a couple of hours. Not wanting to take any chances I opt for the bus.

Shakespeares BirthplaceI immediately head off for Shakespeare’s birthplace. It is all set as if his family are still living there. I get to walk around the inside up the staircases and see all the rooms and you can take photos! What a magic place.

The rooms in the house are so small and the beds are so short that you wonder how on earth they slept without being all scrunched up.  Speaking of beds, it is a fact that the four posters with the canopy were used to stop any animal faeces dropping onto you while you slept. As the houses had thatched roofs, many a four footed friend used to make themselves comfortable in the warmth and of course animals being animals, well, we won’t go there.  Time to leave William and the family and discover a bit more of Stratford.

I discover the local sweet shop – what a treat.  Very old fashioned shop and a few bags of lollies later I head off to buy some postcards and stamps. The plan is to write them out tonight.  Walking down the main street of Stratford it looks as if it’s going to storm any minute when black clouds start to come over but the day is hot and it doesn’t rain.

So on we go – walking down to the river which is really ‘English’ with little boats and very relaxing.  There is a park that has many statues of Shakespeare’s characters – Hamlet, Lady Macbeth etc and also a memorial to The Bard himself.  There are lots of tourists around, but it is not uncomfortable.

Time to get back on the bus for our drive to the hotel. Paul was right – it took about a minute and a half. Really quaint hotel right on the river and opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. My room is small but very clean and there is a big bath. That will come in handy for a total relax later in the night.  It is still early and there is still much to do before dinner.  Drop off my goodies in the room and head for where William Shakespeare is buried – Holy Trinity Church (see photo below right)  – just a little walk from the Thistle Hotel. The Church closes at 5pm and I get there right on closing. I must look sad, flustered and forlorn because they take pity on me and let me in. Such lovely people.

Holy Trinity StratfordThe tomb is inside the church behind a barrier so you can’t get really close – and no photos allowed. But it is still interesting to see the tomb of ‘The Bard’. Outside, the church grounds are very serene – and there are old headstones which make for interesting reading. It is late in the afternoon but the sun is still shining brightly.  What a serene place. I think Shakespeare is content here.

I walk back along the river to the hotel. Time for a relaxing bath and get ready for complimentary drinks before dinner. Go down to the bar and because I could do with a drink I take a glass of wine from the trays already lined up.  No-one says anything about a limit so I have another two glasses. Only then do I find out that it was only 1 drink per guest.  Oops. Too late now but I am sure that there were a couple of people not drinking – so I had theirs!  Anyway – it is Much Ado About Nothing – and I am sure that the hotel will make up for any extras when they give Insight the account.

We get to move around and talk to everyone on the tour (that’s a Comedy of Errors if ever there was one) and then time for dinner. Into the nice dining room – very classy – – – it’s only the first day and already the big group is splitting into little groups. Oh well, I don’t mind.  Dinner was : Fanned Melon with Fruit Syrup / Grilled Salmon with Sun Dried Tomato Garnish and Jacket Potatoes / Meringue with Forest Berries & Coffee.  I am tired and so full of food that I can hardly move but I do manage to walk up the stairs to my room with the very positive attitude of writing out some postcards but alas, poor Yorrick the plan goes astray and I get into bed – All’s Well That Ends Well – decide to sleep, perchance to dream a Midsummer Night’s Dream – –

 Highlight of the day : remembering my Shakespeare from high school days.

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