Sunday, June 15, 2014

Shakespeare country and university town

Day 11 (Thur, 12 June 2014)

Today, we were taking a day trip to Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon with Anderson Tours. We chose Anderson because their prices were reasonable and they have a very convenient pickup at Earl's Court.

Our first stop was Shottery, a hamlet within Stratford-upon-Avon to see the thatched-roof cottage of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife.

Anne Hathaway came from a well-to-do family and her cottage was large with a very pretty garden.

In Shakespeare's time, only the well-off could afford beds. They were usually four poster beds because the canopy protected the sleeping occupants from squirrels, bats and other rodents that would drop from the thatched roof. Eeks! The base of the bed was tied with rope that regularly needed to be tightened to provide a firm support. That's where the expression "sleep tight" comes from.

This was rumoured to the bench where Shakespeare and Anne Hathway cuddled at her home. Unverified though.

It's fascinating how many English idioms originated from Shakespeare's time. In those days, a table consisted of a movable board on top of a foundation (as pictured). People sat on benches around the table and the head of the household sat on the only chair, giving rise to the expression "chairman of the board." The cups were stored on a side board which eventually became known as the "cupboard".

If you were a welcome guest, you would be served warm bacon smoked over the fire, hence "a warm welcome", whereas if you weren't, you were served a "cold shoulder" kept on the rack. Isn't English interesting?

Next, we made our way to the main section of Stratford-upon-Avon, the hometown of William Shakespeare, England's greatest playwright. 2014 marks the 450th year of his birth.

We paid entry to Shakespeare's birthplace. It was here that he was born, grew up and spent the first five years of his married life with Anne Hathaway. (Incidentally, Shakespeare was only 18 when he married Hathaway who was 26 and preggers with his child. Scandalous!)

Like Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare came from a well-off family. His father was a glove-maker and his clients were from the upper crust. Only the rich wore gloves, not to protect them from the cold but as a fashion statement.

The house is preserved as a heritage trust. There's a mural on a wall in the garden, depicting all Shakespeare's plays.

The garden is very well kept and flowers were in full bloom.

In the garden, a dramatist offered to do plays, sonnets and songs on request. Lesley-Anne asked for Macbeth and the player gamely obliged. He was very good too!

This was my fourth time at Stratford-upon-Avon and I still love it. It's such a picture-perfect town.

Back on the bus, we drove by the village of Cotswold's before arriving at the city of Oxford. Most famous for its prestigious university founded in 1167, Oxford is home to 30,000 people, of which 21,000 are students.

Unlike most universities in the US, Oxford is not one large campus. Instead, it consists of 39 different colleges sited in different parts of the city. Oxford is the oldest English-speaking university in the world. Famous writers who studied at Oxford included CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. We were brought around on a walking tour and saw different buildings like the Bodleian library, Sheldonian Theatre and a church.

This is Christ Church, one of the most famous colleges, counts among its distinguished alumni, greats such as Albert Einstein and 13 British Prime Ministers. Lewis Carroll too, studied here and Alice, the Dean's daughter with her funny-toothed cat that used to sit up a tree, became the inspiration for Alice and the Cheshire cat in his classic children's tale, Alice in Wonderland.

The Christ Church meadow.

Where else would you find taxis dressed in periodic tables?

We had some free time and stopped for a spot of cream tea. Scones with jam and clotted cream, yum.

After the visit, we were dropped back off at Earl's Court station. 7pm and still bright!

Close by was Earl's Court Tavern so we went in for a pub dinner.

That evening was the World Cup kickoff match between Brazil and Croatia and the pub was all ready for the big screening.

But we were just there for dinner. Kenneth wanted to try the typical English roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and it was so deliciously tender with fantastic gravy. The pork and apple burger came not just with a juicy pork patty but was topped with slices of pulled pork and the marinade was, according to Andre, "out of this world". We hadn't expected the meal to be this good - it was a scrumptious surprise.


Rachel Tan said...

Pub food can be great value in the UK.

Are your kids now inspired to wanna study at the city of dreaming spires? :)

monlim said...

Well, if my kids wanna go overseas, they'll have to get a scholarship cos we don't have the dough to pay their way :P

Rachel Tan said...

That's a good understanding to have with the kids from the onset.