Stratford-Upon-Avon: A Day Trip

As prefaced in my last post, we decided on Friday evening to head to Stratford-upon-Avon the next morning. Saturday morning we gathered some things and hopped on a train.
IMG_5294 Typically Derek and I prefer to be very well planned when we go on sightseeing trips (I think vacation trips are an entirely different matter), but as this was semi spur-of-the-moment, there wasn’t time for excessive planning. Although, I’m not sure we would have planned to do much more than we did, particularly since we think we’ll return soon enough. Regardless, we knew we wanted to A) see some of the Shakespeare sites, B) enjoy the weather, and C) have a nice, non-stressful day.
We succeeded in doing all three. Go team! Sometimes it is best to get out and enjoy your day rather than sticking to an agenda.
Our first stop after getting off of the train (aside from a cute little shop we wandered into) was Shakespeare’s Birthplace. We had planned on just purchasing admission to the birthplace (which also gets you into Hall’s Croft, Nash’s House & New Place, and Shakespeare’s Grave) with a handy 2 for 1 coupon we had found in a pamphlet (score!), but when we found out that the admission ticket is good for a year, we bought a pass for all the sites with plans to return.
The Birthplace is a small, but nice glimpse into life in the Elizabethan Era. There were guides in several of the rooms answering questions about things in the room, the home, or the time period. A few things Derek and I learned:
Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway got married when he was 18 (okay, no biggie). Their daughter Susanna was born 6 months later…(oooohhhh). Shakespeare’s father was the mayor of Stratford.  There is only one letter still in existence written to Shakespeare.  Many of his works would have been lost if not for his friends publishing the First Folio several years after his death. We saw one of the few copies of this still in existence. Some more Shakespeare FAQs.

One of my favorite parts of the birthplace was that there are actors that take requests! We saw THE monologue from Hamlet  (#tobeornottobe), bits of Much Ado about Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth, Twelfth Night (my request), Comedy of Errors, and others. It was excellent entertainment while we sat and had some snacks. We left the courtyard where the actors were performing (during a lull) to see the Shakespeare’s Treasures exhibit, and when we returned we saw the end of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet – the actress had even gone up into the birthplace so she was performing from a second floor window. Brilliant! The arts educator in me loved when the some students that are studying Macbeth in school were pulled from the audience to participate in a witches scene (“Fair is foul and foul is fair”).
IMG_5308After seeing the birthplace we wandered down to the river (Avon, of course) saw some street performers, walked past the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s theater, and made our way down to the church with Shakespeare’s grave. It was such a lovely walk, even if L was getting cranky and tired.
IMG_5314 From there we saw Hall’s Croft and Nash’s Place (if you’re visiting and are short on time, these two aren’t necessarily must-sees). Nash’s place, the site of Shakespeare’s last home had some fun stuff for kids, including hands-on archeology dig experiments, computer games, dress-ups:

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And a pretty garden:

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(That is seriously how we spent a good amount of our time)

Derek and I can be terrible at finding a decent place to eat when we’re on a trip. We wait until we’re so hungry that we’re cranky and then become terrible at making decisions. Thankfully this time we stopped before we were crazy and made a lovely find. (I had a baguette sandwich with slow-cooked pork & Braeburn applesauce – a British standard. Delish).
We strolled back through town on our way to the train station and stopped to get a 99 flake with Jersey Dairy. Yum.

Next time we’ll go to the other homes, consider stopping by the market that was closed by the time we were leaving (it’s near the train station and we bypassed it in the morning thinking we’d come back), see the RSC’s costume exhibit, and hopefully, depending on a babysitter situation, see the RSC perform. I would also love to read and see some more Shakespeare before going back. My knowledge of his works are woefully limited.

A few helpful links/tips if you’re looking to travel to Stratford:
We bought our train tickets here. (These trains also go to London, but that’s a 2 hour ride).
This is a picture of the pamphlet that had the 2 for 1 coupon for entry into the birthplace. Hopefully you can find one in any hotel’s pamphlet section.
I don’t feel like we walked a ton, but we’re seasoned walkers. Wear comfortable shoes as you would for any other day in a European town. I like this advice for shoes to pack while traveling in general, but I don’t know that you’ll feel the need to look terribly chic in Stratford. 🙂

If you’re going with a baby/toddler:
We took our stroller on the train without a problem (we did fold it for the journey, but probably could have left it open). However, I wore L in a carrier or we carried her most of the time we were inside the homes. This was out of convenience – Elizabethan homes aren’t the easiest place to maneuver a stroller, but there was a place to leave it in every home.
Stratford seemed a pretty family-friendly tourist town – food, bathrooms with changing stations, grassy areas, etc. were all plentiful.

P.S. A few more Shakespeare-related things:
(Click on the picture for the source).
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To see more historical figures as they would have looked today, aside from Hipster Shakespeare, go here.

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See more silly Shakespeare memes here and here.

Happy Friday!

Today I went and saw a few more apartments, this time ones with gardens.IMG_5286 Isn’t this one lovely? I even saw a fox run through it when the relator was showing it! It seemed so British. Ha!

When Derek got home from work this evening he asked what our plans were for tomorrow, then suggested we take a train out to Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. Because, after all, why not?
So our adventures begin!

And with that, a few pinterest images that seem applicable to our current situation:
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Two Drifters source, Adventure source, Get Lost source.

New City, New System

I wrote this post after some rather disappointing and un-productinve apartment viewings, but I have a few tomorrow that seem promising. We really are getting along quite well overall!

We’ve been here less than a week and we both have had several moments of feeling  overwhelmed. I have lived internationally before – once when I was 13 for 4 months in Paris with my brother’s family and again when I did a study abroad myself for 2 months as a college student, also in Paris. But both of those times I wasn’t in charge of anything, really. My housing was taken care of for me, the study abroad program provided cell phones for each set of roommates, and I was able and content to structure my days, but not much else. Derek and I have been busy finding housing and cell phones, getting the lay of the land, and adjusting not only ourselves to a new culture, new city, new system, & new time zone, but our daughter too.IMG_5229

New System:
Cell Phones – plans are cheaper, and phones are widely available, but we’ve run into a few momentarily frustrating hang-ups. Our US phones will take a UK sim card (great! we thought) so we bought one, but then found out that the US phone would have to be unlocked. However, when we took it to be unlocked we were told it couldn’t be… We bought a UK phone.
The plans seem straightforward and we know what we want, but we can’t get a plan set up until we have a UK debit card. We can’t get a UK debit card until the bank sends us one, and who knows when that will be – we’ve been working on setting up the bank account for what seems like more than a month. We have an account number, but no card as of yet. I was amused by the EE (mobile phone company) guy who when he found out we didn’t yet have a card said, “Oh, it’ll be very difficult to set up a plan without a card.” Me, “How difficult?” Him, “Very difficult.” Me, “Do you mean difficult, or impossible?” Him, “Very difficult. I can’t set up a plan without your debit card.” That sounds like impossible to me. Enter the pay-(cash)-as-you-go sim card and inexpensive phone. Although as a plus we’re planning on hanging on to that phone so our visitors (you) will have one to use when they (you) come!

Grocery Shopping – Typically when I go shopping for our family there aren’t many surprises. I go to one of two or three stores, and I know what I’m going to get. I don’t have to make any new decisions on brands or sizes of food unless I want to. I know and understand what is priced well and what isn’t with a simple glance at the posted price, and I’m happy to make a few random decisions on produce (what’s in season, do I want this organic) and the like. Not so anymore! It is a bit embarrassing to admit, but I have felt fairly overwhelmed (I know, I need a new word – boggled, bewildered, steamrollered?) the few times we’ve been shopping. Every single item I buy is a brand new decision and I have to make those decisions during my window of happy baby time. Do I want the generic brand, or what looks like a name brand? Do I care that it costs £3 rather than £2? How much is £3 again? (kidding…mostly). Will we eat that much cheese by the time we’re out of our temporary housing? (Of course we will). Do I have enough cash? Can I carry that home? (Until we get a car there’s really only one store that is decently sized within easy walking distance).

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Some other random differences: Almost all apartments have at least a washing machine if not a combo washer/dryer (hooray!). Most bathtubs don’t have a curtain or sliding doors, but a glass ‘shower screen’ that doesn’t cover the whole tub. I’m not a fan, especially as I’m the one in our family that mops up water on the bathroom floor. There is some use of the metric system (Celsius temperatures, purchase produce in kilos), but it’s not exclusive (they use mph when driving, pounds and ounces in cooking, and for some reason cheese is labeled in either pounds or kilos, depending on the brand).

Little L is fascinated by our combo washer/dryer.

Little L is fascinated by our combo washer/dryer.

Then there are also the obvious differences – the accent, terminology, and driving on the left.

New City:
When we moved to Logan Square in Chicago in 2009 we weren’t very picky about our neighborhood. But when we moved back to the city in 2010 we were much pickier, had a friend helping us find housing, had a higher budget (one of us actually had a long-term, full-time job for a change), and we had been there before so we had a better idea of what we wanted. No such luxuries (well, besides the job part) here. We thought we wanted to live in the city center, but I have looked at quite a few apartments, and almost all of them seem to be bordering a sketch-tastic part of the city. Across the street from a Tavern, next to social housing, close to a big road with gentlemen’s’ clubs…no thank you. All of these places look lovely online and that’s even with google street view. But when I get there I can tell I won’t feel fully comfortable walking around.  As Derek has started work and as our temporary housing does have a deadline, I have the responsibility of finding our flat. Hence feeling somewhat overwhelmed. If you feel the need to cross your fingers, say a prayer, wish me luck, or whatever it is you do, you are welcome to do so. The hard thing is that we would probably be fine in most of the places I’ve seen, but I want to be happy and safe, not just fine. That’s fair, right?

In the majority of the cities I have lived in before there is something by way of a grid for the streets, or at least an structured system. Even though we have walked all over the city center I have yet to discover the system here.  I think being grid-less would be fine if all of the maps were reliable and the same. The other day I was trying to find our way on a map in my hand while referencing a posted you-are-here map and I was having a hard time, particularly once I realized that the maps had streets and canals in totally different places! And I know I was looking at the right areas! Paris may not be on a true grid, but at least if you have a Paris Pratique you can trust it to be correct! With that being said, however, we have happened upon some lovely views in our wanderings:
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IMG_5253Enough negativity.
We’ve picked up a few pamphlets for nearby things to see – and there is so much within less than an hour’s drive! Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s home), Cadbury World, Kenilworth Castle, and more. I know once we get settled in we will be able to appreciate where we are. Also, as a bonus, all of Birmingham’s museums are free!

Image of Kenilworth Castle from the English Heritage Website

Some other positivity:
I’m so glad I brought our stroller (or buggy, push-chair, or pram if you’d rather we use some britishisms). I was concerned that other moms would exclusively have little umbrella strollers, but we are not at all out of place with our sturdy/cobblestone-taking/big-wheeled stroller.
I’m grateful there is decent public transit here. I do think we’ll be getting a car, but if that was on our to-do list this week I would cry.
I’ve already met a few other moms mums with kids that have made me feel so welcome. It’s a blessing.