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.
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.
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.