Thursday upon Avon

Another all-day tour today. This one also interested me. It took us into the countryside to see a medieval castle, last occupied by a real British lord in 1978, Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Oxford, where scenes from the Harry Potter films were shot. Today’s tour guide, Jason, was dressed in a nice suit and car coat, but judging by his hair he looked like he was in a rock band at night.

The tour started with a long drive on the motorway through some of the greenest pastureland I’ve seen yet. Some were dotted with grey sheep, while others were carpeted with a yellow-flowering plant known as oil seed of the rape. That’s the name. I think it’s the same as rapeseed, which is farmed in Canada and turned into canola oil (Canada Oil). Susan took the opportunity to sleep, while I read the two of the daily tabloids. Jason was a knowledgeable and informative guide. He chatted over the microphone through most of the ride giving us various interesting history lessons and pointing out important landmarks along the way.

Warwick Castle in the town of Warwick (pronounced Warrick) was the first stop. It’s completely a tourist destination now, owned by Madame Tussaud’s, and there are even wax people inside. The first part of the castle was build 1,000 years ago, along with many other things in England, and it has a real torture chamber and dungeon. Some of the scracthings on the wall of the dungeon show that people actually lived in a 12-by-16 stone cell for years. Some were even forced into a small hole no bigger than a dog house. Others were sentenced to die in hanging iron, where they would be hung from the ceiling in an iron cage that encased their trunk. They would stay there until the rotted out of it.

Other parts of the castle were more pleasant, such as the state rooms, which were decorated much the way they’ve been portrayed on television and in movies. Large portraits of dead, but important, family members crawl up the walls. Madame Tussaud’s does a good job also bringing the castle grounds to life with various daily demonstrations. And there was a sign posted on our way out that Meatloaf was scheduled to perform there soon.

The most interesting part of the tour came next, in Stratford upon Avon, where William Shakespeare was born and is buried. The town resembles a period version of Wellesley. There’s a ton of great shops, and the property values are sky high. Many homes are into the £500k, which is about $1.1 million.

Here I am at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford upon Avon. His house, from 450 years ago, is behind me. It’s an awfully creaky and uneven structure.

The house where Shakespeare was born is about 60 percent original, according to one guide. It was a nice house for the time, and it has held up well. They don’t have any true documentation that the room they say he was born in is actually the one, but they believe what was handed down through oral history because the family owned the home until the 19th century.

The next leg of the journey took us to a pub in the Cotswolds, which is a region of rolling hills and that-roofed houses. That’s it. We didn’t have any choice but to eat at this pub, and the cost of lunch wasn’t included in the tour price. We had budgeted for this, though, and the food was very good. On the way out, I stopped in the loo, only to be startled by the sound of small footsteps on the ceiling. To my surprise, I looked up and saw a dog standing on a skylight. When I got outside, I saw that two Jack Russell terriers lived in the residential portion of the pub, and they’re play area was the roof of the pub!

The Cotswolds led us to Oxford University, where we were set free to explore the 1,000-year-old cloisters and cathedral at Christ Church College. The cloisters and Tom quad, named after the bell in Tom Tower, were used in the Harry Potter films. The dining hall on campus, which was built later, was also used as inspiration for the dining hall in the film, but it was actually built inside an airplane hangar.

Our journey brought us back to London, where we Tubed to dinner in Picadilly Circus. Susan had been dying to try an Italian restaurant chain we saw all over the city. Trouble was, they didn’t serve chicken parm, Susan’s favorite, so she ordered pizza. I thought she had a lot of nerve, because we passed umpteen pizza places to get to this pasta place. Nevertheless we enjoyed our meal, then walked to the Internet cafe to end the night.

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