Monday, October 29, 2012

To Market

My intention this past weekend was to simply give in to the predicament my horrible washer/dryer combo is putting me in by alternately shrinking and putting holes in my clothing and go to London and shop.  (Also, I've looked back at many of my photos-- I'm pretty much wearing the same thing in all of them. It's sad.  I don't know why I thought I had packed a lot of clothes.)  It was a fantastic cultural experience but, *spoiler alert*, it yielded no clothes.

There was a whole plan for this shopping excursion-- a carefully thought out route that would take me from vintage and thrift shops early in the day to the trendy, new fashions of Top Shop by the end.  So, I took the Oxford Tube (a coach service that runs between Oxford and London) to the Notting Hill Gate stop and started walking.  I envisioned meeting the coach later that day, laden down with all my fabulous purchases which I would then spend 2 more months protecting from my washer/dryer so I could show them off once I returned to the US.  That didn't happen--the whole experience was overwhelming from the start.

I did manage to find my way to the main shopping drag of Notting Hill-- it's not that hard really. There were a lot of people (lots of people was the theme for the day) headed in that direction.  It was hard to even move on the sidewalks or to push through to get into the stores.  I'm not generally a thrift store shopper-- I was when I was a teenager and that grunge look that could only be gotten by wearing old clothes was in.  But, I haven't really gone to one to buy clothes since my college days (though, I do make a Goodwill run to donate once or twice a year. It may not happen this year-- I don't know that I would wish the clothing I'm currently want to get rid of on anyone.).  However, I had read a lot about the upscale treasures to be found in Notting Hill where thrift stores are supposedly filled with brand name cast offs that once graced the pages of Vogue.  What I most wanted was a Burberry raincoat.  I can't afford a new one (they start at  $800-$1000 and go up  from there) but I do think they're quintessential England both for being one of the most famous English brands and because they are designed to help one brave the British weather (which has taken another turn-- I don't think it's getting out of the 40s again while I'm here.  The British fascination with the weather does extend beyond their own-- the "frakenstorm" hitting the east coast in the US is second behind the lead story on the news here.  The lead story is about Jimmy Savile, a radio and TV personality and DJ who died last year. It has recently come out that he was a pedophile, perhaps even molesting the children he visited in the hospital as part of his extensive charity work.  But, none of this came out while he was alive. There's a huge investigation and it's apparently really heartbreaking to the Brits who spend decades lauding how fabulous this guy was.  There's news everyday about new people being questioned and/or arrested-- I'm guessing because there had to be some massive coverup.  You don't spend more than 40 or 50 years in the public eye while being, what the British papers are now calling him, one of the world's most prolific pedophiles withough some people covering for and/or helping you.  He had offices at the BBC and so the BBC is being heavily investigated.  It's a big mess. You can read about it everywhere.  This is just one paper's coverage: 

Burberry was nowhere to be found-- there was a lot of fur though.  I'm guessing a lot of it was fake fur, but I doubt all of it was (especially since I was in vintage shops.  Real fur wasn't always so anathema.).  In fact, there was fur-- fake, mostly, I guess-- everywhere I went. Fur, even fake, seems somewhat impractical to me-- yes, it's warm. But, I can't imagine it stands up to the rains well.  But, it seems to be very popular-- "then" and now.  There were some very high end brands in the thrift stores.  Especially in the shoe cases-- though, while the clothes were generally in pretty mint condition, the shoes were quite worn.  And still priced pretty high considering-- Louis Vuitton shoes which were certainly too worn out to go with the kinds of dresses they were intended to be paired with were still 80 pounds or more.  Most important and frustrating, the stores themselves were very small and the clothes were packed onto hangers and even just a few other customers in the stores made it impossible to get down the incredibly narrow aisles to look at what was on the racks-- I'm sure that patience and tenacity are rewarded in these places, but I didn't have the fortitude for it.  And, it was still early in my shopping day, so I headed deeper into Notting Hill towards the Portobello Market (named for the street it largely runs along).

The Portobello Market is rather famous-- and this fame was proven by how many people were there. 

That was my best attempt to get a picture of the street with all its stands set up-- there are so many people, you can't see them. The stands go on for miles though.  And, I walked all of it. There is a progression to it. It starts with antiques of all kinds, both in stands on the streets and in stores.

There was stuff I couldn't even get close to because I was sort of being swept along with the crowd.  But, the array of antiques was amazing-- there was actually a lot of stuff I would have wanted, especially some furniture pieces which seemed reasonably priced, but I couldn't figure out how I would get them back to Oxford let alone back to the US (and, I wasn't supposed to be shopping for furniture).

From antiques, the Portobello Market moves to food. It is both a farmer's market and a food festival. The different kinds of street food available is amazing.

Those are giant cauldrons of paella (which I saw after I had already gotten something to eat or I probably would have had this for lunch-- I was quite hungry by the time I got to the food section.).  Near the end of the food section, and right before the "new goods" section begins, there's a small break in the stands and people.  So, I could at least finally appreciate the fun architecture in Notting Hill (I think this is also veering into being Chelsea, but I'm a little unclear on how neighborhoods are designated).  I like how colorful the houses are.

It's hard to tell in the second picture since that side of the street was in shade, but the houses on that side are largely all shades of blue, purple and grey, as though the residents planned a gradation of color.  There does seem to be a logical progression of color on that side of the street.

The new goods area of the market is once again an array of anything you can imagine- though slightly less crowded.  It was a lot of jewelry. And, most of the clothing for sale there were kitchy t-shirts with wry sayings on them (like, "No, I'm not on f$%#ing Facebook).  Not really the thing I was looking for.  There were some handmade sweaters-- they were all kind of shapeless and large though.

I think it took me more than 2 hours to get to the end of the Portobello Market (and, I rushed through parts of it where the crowds became too much to take, especially in the antique section). If you simply walk the length of it, as I did, rather than turn around and head back to Notting Hill Gate, you arrive at a totally different tube station. This one happened to be on the Hammersmith and City and Circle lines-- which is fine, except that there are repairs/upgrades happening on both lines on weekends, so the Circle line wasn't running at all the Hammersmith and City line was closed in some places.  Fortunately, there are few places in London which are accessible by only one tube line, so it wasn't that hard to navigate around the construction (though, I also wasn't trying to use the Circle line- that would have made it a lot harder).

From the Portobello Market, I headed to Camden Town where the Camden Market and Camden Lock Market are located (as is the Camden Stables Market which isn't advertised as a separate market for some reason-- I think it's considered an extension of the Camden Lock).

That it's called Camden Lock makes sense-- there's a portion of river and a lock there.

The riverwalk, however, is the only area of Camden Town that isn't, like Notting Hill, a throng of people.  The river picture is deceiving-- most of the time, I was walking through crowds like this.

Camden is the (somewhat self-proclaimed, but with reason) home of the punk movement. The first Doc Martin's store was in Camden. And, it retains that character-- which means the signs above storefronts are fabulous.

It also means it's a haven for every kind of person you can imagine-- and it's a stark contrast from Notting Hill which was a fairly preppy, touristy crowd.  I'm sure some of the people in Camden were tourists-- I couldn't be the only one-- but what people mostly seemed to want to do was stand out from the (incredibly large) crowd.  The fashion is wild-- and eclectic.  There are tattoo and piercing parlors everywhere.  Lots of people wearing leather-- it's the first place in London I've seen drag queens wandering around.  There's every hair color you can imagine. Oddly, though I wouldn't think it would be a top place for tourists to go, there were a lot of stores selling tourist crap. (Note: if you're in the market for touristy crap-- or, London themed souvenirs-- I would suggest heading to Camden.  It has the same stuff that is in the shops located around major tourist attractions but seems to be priced a bit cheaper.  And, there's a lot of it.) 

In fact, once again, there is a lot of everything.  The Camden Market is a relatively small space packed with items like novelty t-shirts and other relatively cheap clothing. 

Actually, quite a bit of what is in the area marked Camden Market is junk.  (It's also the only place besides Buckingham Palace I've been so far that had a sign warning to look out for pickpockets.) 

The real treasure troves are in the Camden Lock Market and the Camden Stables Market.  Especially if you're hungry (which I wasn't because I ate in the Portobello Market.  If I had known what awaited in Camden Town, I might have allowed myself to starve for a while.  Seriously-- if you can think of the ethnicity, its food is represented in Camden Lock or Camden Stables. Or both.  It kind of makes me want to go back just to spend a day eating-- like, order food, eat, walk around until I'm hungry again, order more food... and keep going until the market closes. Or I can't eat anymore.)  Additionally, if you order food on the side with the river walk (pictured above) or carry it over there, you can eat on motorcycle seats.

Why? I have no idea.  It just adds to the fun and wackiness that is Camden.

There are also great architectural features around the Camden Lock and Camden Stables-- parts of each are indoors.  The Camden Lock indoor section looks like more traditional architecture amped up with color.

And, the Camden Stables are named that because the indoor section was clearly once actual stables (vendors are set up in the old stalls).  The statuary in it celebrates this.

There is also statuary in the stalls that have nothing to do with horses.

That's the entrance to a bar/club.  There are a few of those located around the Lock and Stables markets as well.

Beyond the food, there is great shopping in Camden-- lots of very cool handmade jewelry.  Fabulous leather goods.  Clothes.  Lots of hookahs and bongs.  And, like in Notting Hill, I was so overwhelmed, I couldn't buy anything (I did try on one fabulous ring-- and I would have bought it if the woman had made one in a smaller size. I have thin fingers-- the ring I tried on was even a little loose on my thumb). There were people everywhere-- even after it started raining.

Eventually, I gave up on trying to do any actual shopping in Camden (I did walk around for a while hoping I would get hungry again so I could justify eating at at least one of the stands.  Didn't happen.), and headed towards the more conventional shopping to be found in Oxford Circus-- namely at Top Shop.

Exiting the Oxford Circus tube station, you can already tell it's a more traditional shopping area-- it's already gearing up for Christmas.

That there is already a sign for the kick off to the 12 Days of Christmas confuses me-- this seems amazingly premature since we're a ways off from that particular countdown. However, in the absence of Thanksgiving to mark the kick off to the true Christmas season, Halloween seems to be the marker.  Santa arrives at Harrod's at the end of this week-- just two days after Halloween.  But, if Christmas would start anywhere, Oxford Circus-- with all of its familiar and popular shops-- seems like the place to start.  And, there is some sort of shopping rush there too because it was as crowded and hectic as all the markets I had been in earlier that day. 

I specifically went there to go to Top Shop-- there's a small Top Shop in Oxford, but nothing like the famed one in London and I figured any shopping excursion should include this iconic store.  It was like shopping in a night club.  Music was blaring, the lighting was dim (which actually makes no sense for a clothing store-- that seems like a place where you want to be able to see) and, again, masses of people packed in.

So many people, in fact, that it was hard to even get near the clothes.  And, the lines for the changing rooms were impossibly long.  It was past 5 pm by now-- and I was exhausted.  Not that I had done anything all that hard, but I had been mingling with and fighting against crowds all day and I really had no desire to do that for another couple hours (and, I would have been waiting in line to try clothes on for that long).  So, I left and headed to meet the coach back to Oxford.  

Because of the tube outages, it was easiest to get to Victoria Station to meet the coach.  The area was much less crowded (the first time all day I didn't have to push through people to move on the sidewalks)-- but no less in a holiday spirit. At least it was the right holiday.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sometimes, It's Good Not to Have Photos

The past two days have been ones when I've been glad there's been no one to take a picture for me; they mark two firsts.  My first haircut in England (which isn't necessarily daunting, but there's a bit of an unknown to it) and my first "real tennis" lesson.

I had this idea when I came here that I would let my hair grow out and see what I thought after four months (I have pretty short hair); I made it two months before I remembered why I've stopped having long hair (and frankly, it wasn't that long).  I had scoped out my neighborhood for places to get my hair cut; I had also looked online for reviews of salons, but online reviews don't seem as popular here. (Hotel reviews seem to be the one exception, though even most of those are written by non-Brits. My favorite hotel review so far, clearly written by someone not from the UK, was a whole rant about who they couldn't get table service in the hotel pub.  They had to order at the bar and then their order was brought to them which seemed to be a source of great consternation for these reviewers.  Obviously they hadn't read a single travel guide-- there is no pub that I know of in the UK that works in any other way.  In fact, table service [i.e. having your order taken at the table an all the other normal waiter functions we're used to in the US, like drink refills] is sort of a new concept in the UK-- though it is becoming more common at restaurants [table service. Not drink refills.  Don't expect a free refill. Anywhere. For anything.]. But not pubs-- there is no table service at pubs.  If lack of table service is a big deal, you really shouldn't visit the UK.) So, online reviews being no help (and, a glance at the Tony and Guy service list demonstrating that a haircut there-- the place was recommended to me by the woman who cuts my hair in the US-- was out of my price range), I decided to go to the place in my neighborhood that always seems busiest.  Busy seems like a good sign; I tend to avoid restaurants that never have anyone in them (I assume the locals are avoiding it for a reason-- though this doesn't really apply in Oxford.  There aren't too many restaurants that aren't busy.), so I figured a salon should work the same way.  After much deliberation (this actually went on largely before the day I picked a salon because I had been thinking for a while that I wasn't going to be able to take the whole growing out process), I went to Fusion.

It turns out that asking for an appointment at a salon in the UK is more complicated than asking for one in the US.  There are the regular questions-- what do you want done (cut, cut and color, etc.--thankfully, I didn't want color because that would have been followed by half or full and I haven't figured out what that means yet. I only know there are distinctions because I've seen price lists which have both.), what time and day-- and then there is the question of what kind of stylist you want.  There are levels to choose from: graduate stylist, stylist (also called classic stylist), creative stylist, and senior stylist.  Sometimes the manager counts as an additional level as well.  And, how much a haircut costs depends on which kind of stylist does it.  (It can also vary depending on length of hair, but this wasn't really an issue for me.)  I went with a graduate stylist, which is the most inexpensive option (I was assured that the graduate stylists had been well trained... though I'm not sure what that indicates exactly. Trained by whom? Where? "Well trained" seems like a relative term.).  A basic haircut by a graduate stylist in Oxford is still about 30 pounds (this seemed to be a pretty standard base price at every salon I looked at in Headington-- it only went up from there).  I was able to make an appointment for a couple hours later (which was surprising, but I guess Wednesday afternoon isn't ever a really busy time at a salon), so I went to run errands and then returned.

My stylist was Laura.  She was really methodical in explaining how much hair she was going to take from each part of my head (I am still trying to grow my bangs out-- or fringe as it's called here-- so there was a discussion of how to make that blend a bit while they go through this somewhat awkward in-between stage), making sure that almost every cut she was going to make was pre-approved.  This might be because she's a graduate stylist which means she's only been out of school (she called it college which I think indicates she's had some pretty formal training beyond the basic beauty school) for a short while, less than two years.  (The terms seem to indicate both how long the stylist has been out of school as well as how much additional training a stylist has had.  Basically, the more complicated a cut or color job wanted, the higher up the ladder you would go to ensure it's done well.)  It might also just be how the salon works since no one seemed to be in much of a hurry. (That might be a cultural thing too.)  She might have been that methodical because I looked nervous.  I generally have the opinion that it's hair and it'll grow back-- then again, I've been taking a lot of pictures and I don't really want to create lasting memories of me with a terrible haircut.  And, the whole booking process was just different enough that it threw me a bit (for all I knew, they were laughing at me in the back for being dumb enough to go with graduate stylist) that I was a little worried about what was going to happen.  When I think about it though, their system does make more sense, even if it is more complicated-- the levels of experience aren't nearly as well denoted in the US. 

It all turned out well. I got a lovely head massage while she was washing my hair. And, the haircut is really quite good-- a tiny bit shorter than I probably would have wanted (the "fringe" got cut a little to make it blend which means it'll be that much longer growing it out-- and now it's just slightly too short to tuck behind my ears as I had been doing) but that's not a bad thing in the end.  It might mean that I can make it another couple months before getting my hair cut again which is good since getting a hair cut in England is more expensive than in the US.  I can't afford to do it as often as I would there.

I'm glad not to have photos of my hair cut since no one looks good in progress; but even happier that I don't have photos (or video) of my first "real tennis" lesson.  I've written about going to watch real tennis-- and in lieu of being able to play actual tennis (or, lawn tennis as it seems to be differentiated here-- even if the court isn't a lawn court. Just saying tennis works too-- unless in the context of a "real tennis" lesson when it all starts to become confusing), I've decided to learn how to play the game which is its origin.  I think learn might be optimistic-- there's only one "real tennis" club in Oxford and that club only has one court and that court is booked a lot.  And, I think it would take much more than the few lessons I'm going to be able to fit in to really learn to play.  But, in just one lesson, I did get some of the basics.

I had a one hour lesson scheduled with Craig-- my somewhat distractingly cute instructor.  He was really encouraging and kept telling me I had good from, but I suspect he was exaggerating a bit.  I will say that the fact that I play tennis helped a bit-- mostly because aim seems to be incredibly important in real tennis (I should stop using the quotation's not like that's not the real name) and I do know how to hit a ball with a racquet and make it go in an intentional direction. However, that is made harder by the fact that the racquet head is much, much smaller and the racquet itself is much, much heavier.

It's also asymmetrical-- flat on one end so that it can better scrape along the floor.  Because the ball often bounces that low. (I think you can see the asymmetry better in the second picture.)

The ball itself is also heavier. They are all handmade-- and this means that the stitching creates a ridge on the ball.

So, not only does it tend to not bounce up, the ridges mean that it doesn't necessarily take a true bounce. Of course, the fact that it's coming off the walls like it might in racquetball doesn't help that whole bounce predictability either.  So, while I can aim pretty well when I actually get the racquet on the ball, the potential for missing altogether is pretty high.

Craig started me off with forehands-- but that doesn't just mean hitting the ball from the forehand side.  No-- it means that he would toss the ball towards the dedans overhand, let it roll down and then I would have to hit it.

It's much harder to hit a ball when it's coming from behind, especially when not only do you want to hit it, but also aim it towards the tambour and/or grille.  The tambour is a section of the wall that has an angle to it-- if the ball hits it, it tends to shoot off wildly, making a return quite difficult. The grille is a small section of the wall, an inset box really, which if hit is an automatic point. (I hit it twice!  I managed to hit the tambour quite a bit-- it's a bigger target.)  In my head, this translated to having to go down the line with my forehand a lot.  (There is no "line" to go down, but that's the direction.)

From here, Craig when to the other side of the net and fed me forehands-- this was unfortunately the point where spectators showed up.  They got to watch the part where I missed the ball entirely.  (It took me a few feeds to get the sense of how low the ball would bounce when simply coming off the floor rather than rolling of the overhang.  I was swinging above the ball for the first few tries.)  Then, the two guys who had been standing in the dedans decided they were "putting me off" so they left-- and totally missed the moment when I actually did hit the ball and get it over the net.  I'm sure they were in the lounge talking about the silly American girl who couldn't even hit the ball-- but maybe it was them being there.  I was better once they were gone.  Being able to hit the ball flat is a great advantage in real tennis-- and flat is my natural shot, so that also helped me though there were some times when I hit with topspin (which is funny because I don't really have a topspin shot at all in actual tennis). Topspin shots have the opposite effect in real tennis of what an actual tennis player would expect; rather than create net clearance, it sends the ball into the net, pretty much at the bottom of it.  It's not so much that I was intentionally creating a topspin shot-- I think it's that the racquet is so much heavier that sometimes it was hard to keep in the correct position and so the resulting motion made me come over the ball. But, I think Craig has the impression that I have a pretty good topspin tennis shot, so why delusion him?

We did the same process with backhands, only the goal here was to hit cross court (a term which makes more sense than down-the-line since there is a court to cross) since that again aims the ball towards the tambour and grille.  Craig kept commenting on my backhand technique and how good it was-- surprisingly better than my forehand (I think my forehand is my better shot in actual tennis...). It might be that hitting cross court is an easier shot than going down-the-line in general.  My forehand cross court did look pretty good-- it's just that that's not the smart shot in real tennis.  And, I have a pretty big follow-through on my forehand-- the follow-through is not a help in real tennis.  Hitting a real tennis shot is a lot more like hitting a volley-- and, I do like my backhand volley better than my forehand one.

From forehands and backhands, we moved onto the serve.  The serve is strange in real tennis-- it doesn't really matter how you hit it. Underhand, overhand-- either is good.  What matters is that you have to hit the overhang on the opposite side of the court.  And then the ball has to hit in the service box, but that's really not a problem since it's so much larger than the service box in actual tennis.  Getting the ball in the service box was easy for me.  What isn't as easy is that the idea on the serve is to aim for the crevice between the wall and the floor pretty close to the service wall side.  That makes it almost impossible to return the ball.  (Craig put out a basket where I was ideally aiming-- I did manage to hit that twice as well. And, I came close a lot-- close created a pretty good serve.)  Once I got used to tossing the ball lower than I would for my actual tennis serve, I was pretty good.  Serving is probably the strongest part of my real tennis game (though, my shoulder was quite sore later. I haven't served at all in a couple months and doing it with a significantly heavier racquet than I'm used to was clearly not something my poor shoulder was prepared for.  Fortunately, some extra-strength ibuprofen seems to have fixed that.).  Returning serve, on the other hand, I'm pretty awful. (Again, interesting since I think the return of serve is the best part of my actual tennis game.)  Ideally, when returning serve, you would take the ball as it comes off the wall.  It turns out, it's really hard to predict where a ball is going to be when it's coming off a wall and is coming from behind you.  For a while, Craig was serving to me so that the ball was falling from the service wall overhand and landing in front of me-- that I could return.  But, no one would serve that way intentionally in real tennis (at least not on a first serve-- there are two serves in real tennis as well, though not nearly as much need for the second serve) because simply rolling the ball of the overhang makes the serve a pretty easy shot to return.  No-- the server would ideally create a shot that rolls off the overhang, bounces on the floor and spins towards the back wall necessitating taking the ball out of the air before it bounces a second time on the floor (which would be a winning point).  I can create that serve, but I can't return it.  Frankly, when it looks like tennis (the ball hitting the floor and bouncing in front of me), I'm pretty good. But, since that happens rarely (really, only when Craig is intentionally feeding it to me that way), overall I'm not a natural at real tennis. It's really unnatural to think about spinning around to take a ball from behind-- which is why when we played one game at the end, Craig beat me at love (He didn't even try to let me win a point, which on one level I appreciate since I don't really want to be given anything, but on the level where I'm competitive and don't like losing, it kind of sucked to not even be able to get a point, especially since I don't think Craig was having to work too hard to beat me.).

On the plus side-- Craig does keep insisting I have good form. I'm going back for another lesson in a little more than a week and we're going to start by playing actual points so I can get used to the completely random bounces. I guess if he were lying to me about technique, we wouldn't be starting with actual game play next time.  And, this could actually have a good effect on my actual tennis game-- "watch the ball" is a mantra in actual tennis, but there's just no way to play real tennis without constantly keeping an eye on the ball, especially since it's bouncing off overhangs and walls and moving in unpredictable ways.  So this should help my focus. And my footwork-- the unpredictability means you can't be flatfooted. Ever.  And, it may help my volley as well-- or at least my half volley (there isn't much rushing the net to take a volley out of the air in a traditional way-- while taking the net in actual tennis is often an advantage, it is a serious disadvantage in real tennis since it leaves the corners, grill, tambour and walls all vulnerable.).  At the very least, it felt good to hit a ball again-- which I managed to do more than I missed.  That probably makes it a successful first real tennis outing.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Historical Renovations

This week, I returned to Stradford-upon-Avon to see the historical houses my mom, sister, and I hadn't gotten to and went to London to visit Henry VIII's place,  Hampton Court Place-- and in both places, I found myself incredulous that these historical sites had been renovated.  We use different adjectives to describe what happened because it strikes many people as history being destroyed rather than homes being remodeled.  But, it's really no different from what any of us do to homes today-- so why does it seem like such a crime that others were doing it in the 16th and 17th centuries?

Because my friend Judy hadn't been to Stratford at all, I returned to Shakespeare's birthplace house with her.  We went in the middle of the week during a tourist down time for the town (the Royal Shakespeare Company is dark for about another week, so there are no plays to see.  And, it's mid-October.)-- so it was easier to enjoy at a leisurely pace this time.  And, just because there was nothing on at RSC didn't mean there was no performance to be had.  Outside of Shakespeare's birthplace were three men who would perform scenes on request-- it's much the same way a cover musician will take song requests, only more impressive since it was Shakespeare.

The pamphlet says this "Shakespeare Aloud" is performed all year, though there was nothing like this when I went the first time. Of course, the first time I was there, my mom, sister and I were distinctly told that our tickets to all the Shakespeare sites were good for 7 days (I remember this clearly because I was thinking I wanted to go back and finish seeing the homes and that it was a shame I wouldn't make it within the week); this time, I was told my ticket is good for a year (and, it says on it that it's good for a year).  I've discovered that some other rules relating to tourist sites have changed (like where you can and can't take photos) as well which makes me wonder about how these rules are made and if those "in the know" know that they only apply sometimes.

From Shakespeare's Birthplace, we went on to New Place and Nash's House.  This is, by far, the most confusing of sites, not only in Stratford, but that I've been to so far.  I didn't really understand what we had been looking at until we had gone to another Shakespeare House (Holl's Croft) and, after being given giant laminated information sheets, remarked to the docent there that this kind of thing would have been helpful at Nash's House (apparently, these sheets exist in other languages at Nash's House, but not in English-- it may be the only place where those who didn't speak English left more informed).  What is confusing-- because it's largely unexplained (the "poster" in the house doesn't make it clear)-- is that it is no longer the house that Shakespeare's family is associated with.  New Place was Shakespeare's last home (he bought it for 60 pounds-- a house for 60 pounds!)-- it's where he died in 1616.  However, what stands there now (I think-- it's a bit unclear what the part that is left actually is) is a part of  Nash's house--New Place itself was leveled.  Nash's house was where Shakespeare's granddaughter lived. Unlike all the other houses, this site really only has one room "set up" as it would have been. The rest of the rooms have displays, though they're pretty mediocre and not well explained.

New Place, after Shakespeare's family, was owned by the Reverend Francis Gastrell who, frustrated by the fact that people kept coming to his house wanting to see where Shakespeare died, annoyed by protests to renovations he wanted to make (like tearing out a Mulberry tree supposedly planted by Shakespeare), and angered by the high taxes he was being charged, demolished the house (which seems horrible to us now-- though I'm pretty sure it was horrible even when he did this in the late 1700s. He did seem to do it largely out of spite.)-- and then left the rubble sitting there because he didn't want to pay to have it removed.  It's this rubble and the remains of the foundations which are currently being excavated. 

Most of it lies under gardens, like this, which were built over the remains.

The irony is that it seems like now gardens are being destroyed in order to find the remains of New Place-- so something else is being destroyed that might later be deemed "historical."

However, as I learned from overhearing a conversation with an archeologist who happened to be there, those doing the excavation are working on borrowed time-- while they've discovered more remains of the Shakespeare home in the "backyard" that no one new was there, they were only given permission to dig for a year, and when the weather gets colder, it'll become impossible to dig, so it's not clear how much further than this the work is going to go (though, I would guess that they wouldn't just leave it sitting like this forever).  This is in the "back".  It's what they think is part of an outer house associated with New Place-- you can see from the green grass how they are digging in what is a fully developed garden.

From here, we went to Holl's Croft (which is where a lot of what I wrote above was explained to us) which was the home of Shakespeare's daughter, Susanna.

Susanna married a wealthy doctor-- it's pretty clear from the furnishings (and, the size of the house) how wealthy they must have been. And, I was able to take pictures inside the house-- something I was told by the docent was new.  Photos had just started being allowed in the last two weeks. I'm not sure if that's because high tourist season was over and when high tourist season resumes, photos will again be prohibited or if this is a new and permanent thing.  At any rate-- I have pictures of places like their bedroom and dining room.

The back garden is really pretty too.

From Holl's Croft, we headed out to Anne Hathaway's home-- it's a bit of a trek, about a 25 minute walk that takes you through the field of a school.  If it weren't for the signs, placed along the route at intervals that come right as you're beginning to think you've gotten off the path (it's like they knew where tourists would pause and think "am I going the right way?"), you would never know you were headed in the right direction.  Eventually, you do get to the home.

And, again, photos are allowed, so I could take photos of where Anne Hathaway's family ate and slept. Originally, the house was just this room and one other-- and it didn't include the fireplace.  It's hard to imagine such a large family (there were multiple children and, of course, the parents) living in such a small place.

But as the family grew in wealth, they added onto the house to include more living space and bedrooms (and chimneys, so that there could be actual fireplaces).  It's one of the few "renovations" that made historical sense-- in the sense that it didn't seem to change the integrity of the place or "ruin" history.  And, you can tell how old it is just by the uneven and sagging floors upstairs (It does make me wonder how long people will be able to tour, at least without some kind of structural renovation-- it seems like at some point, it'll become unsafe to walk on the upstairs floors.).

We also had time to walk around the gardens and woods at Anne Hathaway's house-- since there are schools nearby, these areas are decorated in conjunction with school projects, like the Woodland Faeries Walk.  Basically, children have placed these "fairies" all along the trail through the woods. It's very cool that there is so much engagement with the local schools, but the whole thing, especially if you walk it as the sun is going down, is a bit creepy since it doesn't so much look like fairies are flying around the woods as that they've been executed in various ways, like by hanging.

 Or crucifixion.

 There are mutli-ethnic fairies, though they too look to have been hung.

It was a strange walk.

Despite how much tourist activity there must be in Stratford, trains aren't particularly frequent. We didn't make the trek back from Anne Hathaway's house in time to catch the 5:40 train, so we had about and hour and a half to kill-- which seemed like the perfect amount of time to duck into a pub.

This is the first pub I've been in that I would really compare to a "hole-in-the-wall" bar in the US, though it still seemed nicer that the comparative bar.  It clearly had regulars-- and it doesn't serve food. But, the beer was less expensive and the bartender was really nice to us-- I get the feeling American women don't wander in too often.

What I had been looking forward to in Stratford was the Teddy Bear Museum-- there was a sign for it when my mom, sister and I had been there.  However, when I asked about it, I was told I was too late-- it closed down in 2008.  All that remains is the Teddy Bear Shop, which sells stuffed animals, and this giant teddy bear dressed in Elizabethan clothing.

The next day was off to Hampton Court, the overwhelmingly large palace of Henry VIII (and, other subsequent kings and queens).

That's not even the whole thing-- I couldn't get it all in one picture.  The Palace shows signs of the renovations it underwent as well-- it was given to Henry VIII by Cardinal Wolsey (who had been given it by the Pope) and Henry clearly built on. But then, as it passed into the hands of other kings and queens, they tore down and rebuilt portions of the castle to model it more to the fashion of the day-- and, to demonstrate their wealth and power.  In fact, Henry's original palace probably would have been totally torn down if some of the wealth hadn't run out on William and Mary making it impossible to finish their Baroque plans (I'm sure there have been countless jokes about how going Baroque made them broke...).  So, the place is half Tudor, half Baroque. (The picture above is really the Tudor part. It's easier to see the Baroque style from the interiors.)  Given the posted description of Henry VIII, the grandeur isn't surprising--I'm guessing pompous and extravagant go hand-in-hand with tyrannical and vicious.

The scale of everything is amazing, but nowhere more amazing than in the kitchen display.  It makes sense; they were feeding hundreds and hundreds of people every day.  So, they needed a kitchen like this, with multiple giant fireplaces and grills to cook.

Here, I did learn about the origin of "pies" (think pot-pie, not the dessert...though that too, I think).  Initially, the pie part was the cooking device-- the pie shells were cooked and hot and then the fillings placed in them and covered with the remaining pastry to cook. And, because the pies were considered the cooking device, they weren't eaten; rather, the crust was sliced off the top and people ate out the filling, discarding the pastry which seems so strange since I often think the pastry is the best part of the pie.  (It was not explained at what point people did realize that the crust was tasty and started eating it, so I have no idea how long it took for people to catch on the wonderfulness that pie crust can be.)

In addition to there being a lot of food, there was also a lot of wine.

That's only a portion of the wine cellar-- 600,000 gallons were consumed every year.  And, that's just by the members of the court (presumably, since they considered the water undrinkable, the servants and cooks drank too.  Even kids drank wine and beer then.).

The grandeur continues in Henry's apartments-- everything, like the dining hall, is big.

Even the staircases.

A lot of stuff is dark too.  While photography is allowed pretty much everywhere (exceptions are the Chapel and the room with Henry's crown), pictures are hard to take because the lighting is so dim.  That might have been partially due to the weather-- it never stopped raining the day we were there and so it was pretty dark outside.  But, I'm also guessing good lighting wasn't too much of a Tudor or Georgian concern; this meant a lot of my pictures didn't really come out, even with flash.  It's sort of a shame because the opulence deserves to be captured on film.

There's an audio guide to listen to while walking through all the sections of the palace, even the outside courtyards, like Clock Court.

And Base Court (I'm unclear who named it this-- I don't know if this is what it was named in Henry VIII's time, but I'm guessing it's the modern name since this is the court around which most of the separate touring areas are centered, making it the "base" to get back to in order to start exploring another part of the castle.).

Despite the fact that the audio guide often told us that William didn't really like the attention and public displays that went with being king, his apartments are no less grand than Henry's-- though they are often smaller.  There's a great hall to enter into first-- it has one of the most artistic weapons displays ever and I tried to photograph from every angle and with every variation of flash I could.  This is the best I could get-- you can see the drums under the round window. On the other wall are guns hung in really interesting and decorative patterns, but it's impossible to see in the pictures.

 The receiving rooms were a bit better lit, but not much.

That's one of the thrones William sat on to receive petitioners.  We walked through successive rooms of chairs-- apparently, the farther through the rooms a person could get, the more important he or she was. Interestingly, the last chair-- where the most important people were received-- was the most plain. It kind of looked like a regular arm chair.

The audio guide tells us that William much preferred to spend time in his private rooms, like his study.

His study was attached to his "necessary room."  (It's not really crooked-- it's in a really narrow, roped off space so I was taking the picture around a corner.)

In theory, since the study (and the bathroom, obviously) are not meant for the public, it's less "showy." As is this private dining room.  But, it's hard to believe this is "plain."

William and Mary's rooms are the part of the palace which were rebuilt-- what stood here before in Henry's time no one seems sure of.  Other "renovations" were part of the Georgian apartments which were a bit brighter (that's a relative term though, as you can see)-- with furniture of equally impressive scale.

And, with impressive ceilings that show some attempt to let a little light in.

William and Mary were also largely responsible for building the gardens at Hampton Court-- this was a passion of theirs, and so the gardens have flowers and plants from around the world. They asked for these varieties as gifts and collected them when they traveled. (I like that the trees look like giant mushrooms.)

While not pictured here, there are also quite a few large cacti.  Neither Judy nor I could figure out how they survive (since cold and wet doesn't seem like the ideal conditions for a cactus)-- we asked and were told that many of the plants are brought inside right before the first frost and tended to in a greenhouse. (In fact, if you are a tourist who speaks English and ask the docents any question at all, you can learn a lot-- they really like to talk about the places where they work.  They're clearly not just people who are there to keep you from touching all the expensive art-- they know anything and everything about the place.  So, near the end, Judy and I were going through the exhibit dedicated to Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragon, and asked one question about the royal line and then were treated to a personal guided tour of the paintings hanging there which, when explained, really do tell a lot about the history of Henry's early life on the throne.  We learned stuff you couldn't possibly know just by looking at the painting-- unless you had spent a lot of time looking at them and were immersed in Henry VIII scholarship, which our impromptu guide clearly was.  She was also really excited to tell us about what she knew and I'm pretty sure we only heard a small fraction of her knowledge.  It's really amazing what these people know-- some of it is fascinating minutia that gives real insight into how these people lived.  It's well worth engaging with the people who work at all these sites-- it adds a lot.)

Where the plants and trees are no longer kept is in the Orange Hall which William had built as a place to bring in the orange trees and other plants to keep them safe.  Now it holds statues.

So, there is a long tradition of cultivating plants and flowers.  Hampton Court is also home to the world's largest vine.

You can tell just from the root bundle how big it is.  Grapes are still harvested from it.

It is the only indoor grape vine I've ever seen.

Hampton Court Palace is amazing-- and overwhelming.  By the time we left, which was basically as it was closing (we were pretty much the last people there), we were on information overload.  And, ready for dinner. We went back to the Piccadilly Circus area and ate at Il Cucciolo-- a fabulous Italian Restaurant.  Really, so good-- I took a picture of my spaghetti bolognaise, but it doesn't do it justice.  The restaurant itself is warm and inviting.

It is also home to a wide assortment of differently sized pepper grinders-- not because there are different peppers in them, but because different sizes are required to reach the tables, depending on where they are located.  It's a bit of a tight squeeze in some areas of the restaurant-- but there are very long pepper grinders to accommodate this.

Since there was no pub crawling on this day, we went to get fancy desserts instead. 

The dessertery was up the street from where we had dinner, but located in the same area where stores like Versace are, and the prices did reflect the sudden change in shopping.  We discovered Caffe Concerto when we were looking for a place to eat-- there is a clear divide in Piccadilly Circus. One side of the circle has stores like the M&M store and Cool Britannia (a store with every piece of tourist junk you could want) and reasonably priced restaurants-- and the other side has Versace and exorbitant (and very fancy) restaurants where desserts like these cost about 5.30 ($8.50 American.  Our entrees at Il Cucciolo didn't cost too much more than our desserts.).  But, it was Judy's last night here-- and we'd been touring the opulence of King Henry VIII's palace. A little splurge seemed warranted.