We debated on getting an early start, or even having a first-day destination for our trip. making the final decision to blow the hell out of town was easy, and after a bit of farting around, we decided to get out as early as possible and drive to Ashland. We took a look at the schedule, and thought that if we dove well, we might be able to get in a little bit of the Shakespeare Festival.

In the end, catching the festival mattered less than just getting out of town. When you put off vacation for this long, you literally get separation anxiety from your own stress. You know that there is just one more thing to get done, and just one more email that you need to write. Even as we drove, it was hard not to check the phone for messages and respond.

Once we hit the middle of Oregon, and lost connectivity, it was a relief. The forced separation from our data was welcome. At that point we finally began to decompress. Traffic was actually very light, and the roads were clear all the way. We made good time, and great mileage all the way down, and hit Ashland right on schedule.

Once we unloaded, we drove to the center of town, and checked the place out.

Ashland is a beautiful place, it has a cool European vibe, which is probably why a Shakespeare festival seems to fit here so well. We immediately hit the town center, passing the street stages, and crowds waiting for the night’s performance and the main theatre. I grabbed some mineral water from the central town fountain.

Apparently, Ashland had been famous for the mineral springs, similar to Bath, England. I naturally saved a bunch, and drank from the fountain. it looked like dirty lemonade, and smelled of sulfur.

I love this kind of stuff.

We went to a pub on the river walk for dinner, and then walked main street for a bit before catching a public performance on some side stage. We were too beat to catch a main show, but after seeing what a blast it was here, we decided that this needs to be the center of it’s own trip.

But tonight we were tired and headed back to the hotel.

First thing in the morning I ran over to Starbucks in the center of town for free internet and bad espresso to upload a bunch of photos and blog posts. I did a quick run around to the Royal Shakespeare Company to see what tickets were available, if any. THere were none that were any good at this point. I had thought about getting tickets a few months before, but no one was sure that they were going to have the energy to sit through a full production of Macbeth, so we let it to the fates. and the Fates farted in our general direction.

I went back to the hotel, got Yulia and Sasha, and we went over to the Birthplace and Shakespeare center instead. It began pouring rain once we got there, so this worked out well. The presentation inside the center is great, Taking us between exhibits and history, we honestly wished it was longer (the only time I have ever said that about anything involving Shakespeare), and we ran through the garden to the house. It was in remarkably god shape for it’s age, and re reconstructed bits all hid themselves well. Guides explained bits of history in various sections, which was all quite fun, then we made a mad dash through the gift shop, in a vain attempt to escape, but Sasha got caught and purchased a quill pen.

The rain had left us alone for a bit, so we went about the shops in the street, slowly making our way to the other two main Shakespeare houses in the center of town. We had a good afternoon tea at the Hathaway Tea Room, which is in a building from 1610, but the Tea Room itself is quite new, being from 1931.

That led us over to “New House” the house that Shakespeare retired to and died in, which stands out as it isn’t there anymore. It is quite literally, a hole in the ground, with archeologists and all. The presentations are in the neighboring house, which is from the same period and is done up with the exhibits and history on the missing building, along with a very large sculpture garden out back. A very beautiful setting to say the least.

Next we went over to Halls Croft, the house of his Daughter. The preserved home at this point was far less interesting than the exhibits, this hall had a great series of costumes from productions of his plays, including those from Patrick Stewart and David Tennant. I really have to see those productions now.

This was close to the church where Shakespeare and his family are buried, so we went there to complete the day’s tour. We were just in time to get swamped in a massive group of students coming in for their visit. But despite the loud crowd, it is an amazing cathedral, with an amazing memorial. We spent quite a while just looking at all the elements and reading the historical plaques. We took our time while the student groups ran in and out pretty quickly.

Four big historical stops in one day was a lot of Shakespeare, but if we weren’t so physically tired, we could have done more. But we were tired, and couldn’t keep moving, so we went back to the Hotel for a rest. Yulia and I left Sasha in the room by herself to watch TV and nap, and we headed to the Lobby to have a drink and read. Originally, we were going to sit on the patio by the river, but the rain had started again, and was windy to boot.

Later that evening, we all walked over to Royal Shakespeare Company on the odd chance that some tickets came up, and two did, but we were looking for three, so we just toured the building instead. The remodel is apparent when you see the older walls inside the building, and they even have three chairs bolted inside the upper wall to show where the last rows used to be. The newer design is a much smaller venue, with a thrust stage, and a second theater for small performances. We saw a bit of the opening of Macbeth on the video screen, and you could see how personal the new venue was. The tour was enough for us, and we were done with Stratford.

On to London.

Must. Kill. All. Owls.

It was a bummer leaving York in so short a time, we were trying to decide between spending an extra half day in York, or getting an extra half day in Stratford upon Avon. We only had a 2 hour drive or so, and that was going to leave us with extra time somewhere. We figured that traffic would be best in the morning, and eft right after breakfast, opting to take our half day in Stratford.

We were right about the traffic, and got to stratford just after noon. Our room wasn’t even ready yet. We left our things at the hotel, and walked into the town. The town is small, and though full of tourists, very rustic. The timber framed buildings are beautiful, and it looks like there has been a good local effort to preserve them as best possible.

We have been on vacation for two weeks now, and have found that across the UK, every place that we have stopped has been really beautiful, but each in a very different way. I think we have been pretty lucky in our choices of destinations, but you also just have to credit the area for being generally scenic.

The weather, however, is finally starting to turn on us. Sasha is pleased. The heat was getting to her right away, and she is happy to have some rain showers and cooler air. Can you tell she is a Seattle girl? We found a nice tea shoppe to duck into while the rain came down to get lunch. We had a view right across the street of the Shakespeare birthplace. The place is remarkably preserved. We waited for the rain to clear a bit, and checked out the tourist shops.

Despite the huge volume of tourists, it was still really charming. The Tudor architecture is really hard to beat, even with all the development. We went back towards the hotel once our room was ready, and while nothing special, it was nice to be in a full hotel for some part of our trip. We got all set up, then headed back down to the lobby, as we saw a boat tour just next to the hotel.

Apparently, when built originally, it was a Hilton Hotel, (now a Holiday Inn) and the Hiltons wanted to advertise a “Riverfront” hotel. Unfortunately, there was no way in the area to build right on the riverbank, so the hotel was built a ways back, then they dug their own canal to bring the river to the hotel. This made little sense in the long run, but now a small tour company runs out of here, and we could take a 45 minute tour of the Avon for about 5 pounds.

it was a small operation, but they had a good sense of humor, and wine. I was amazed right of by the ability of the captain to maneuver such a narrow, long boat through the narrow channel. There was little room for error, and he made it look pretty easy. You could tell that it was a small, amateur operation as they were not completely organized, but they work working pretty hard to make everything interesting. We got river views of the Marina, Local church where Shakespeare is buried, city center, local homes, and a bit of explanation of life on the Avon river. It was pretty fun.

Then the Americans spoke up.

Some days I think, “Gosh, why do Americans have such a bad rap across the world?” Then I see Arseholes like this. About halfway through the tour, some woman started giving a hard time to the guide, giving him crap about his lame jokes and interrupting to show how much better she was. Apparently trying to impress her children in front of her new boyfriend, who seemed to be pretty horrified at how she acted. Judging by her Tiffany watch and rings, she was the one with the money, and didn’t give a crap about anything else. She was loud and trying to put the crew in their place, whatever place that was supposed to be. Our guide payed it cool and she gave up after a while.

Once we left the cruise, I ran into her again in our hotel, yelling at one of the staff in the lobby. Classy. Yulia commented that it was too bad that I hadn’t had a few more drinks, as then I would started comments back at her, which would have been entertaining. Although some people actually do take offense from being called an obnoxious fat tart, but I can’t imagine why.

We got dinner at The Garrick Inn, which is the oldest continuos Pub in Stratford, operating from the 1500’s It had been gutted by fire at least once, and rebuilt, so it had a mix of original exterior, and original and updated interior. The food was excellent, and reasonable prices, surprising for a tourist town.

“Drink sir, is a great provoker of three things….nose painting, sleep and urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire but takes away the performance.”

Well said sir, Well said.