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Saturday, May 20, 2000

We were up, showered, and at breakfast by 8 this morning. The breakfast started with a fruit and cereal buffet. We also were able to order the "Full English Breakfast". This meant we were stuffed by the time we left the table. This was probably the best breakfast meals we had on the trip. I was truly impressed with the Old Farmhouse B&B - in fact, it is the nicest place we stayed on the trip. If you are near Stow and need a place to stay, you won't go wrong here.

We left out by 8:30 a.m. and headed north to Stratford-upon-Avon. There were three sites I wanted to see in Stratford: Anne Hathaway Cottage, Shakespeare Birthplace, and the burial spot of Shakespeare. As we approached town we saw a sign for the Hathaway cottage so decided to stop there first.

Several roads were closed so we had to follow detours to reach the house. Next to the house is a small parking lot where for 50p you are able to stay as long as you like. As we were walking to the house I saw a large bird (turkey size) on the lawn of the house next door. I later asked someone what kind of bird it was and they said a pheasant. If so, it is the largest pheasant I have ever seen.

Our Heritage Pass allowed us entrance into the cottage. Outside the cottage is a beautiful garden. We enjoyed the flowers as we waited for the next tour to begin. The tour guide told us it would cost over one million pounds to re-roof the house with thatch and that there was over 20 Million pounds of thatch on the roof. Both of these figures seem way too high. If anyone knows the correct amounts, please let me know.

The tour goes through both the lower and the upper level of the house. Most of the time is spent in the first two rooms and the rest of the house is self-paced. In all, the tour only took about 30 minutes. It was very interesting. One of the most interesting items was the machine used to automatically turn the spit on the fire. This site was more interesting than the Shakespeare Birthplace Home.

Back at the parking lot, I commented on a beautiful convertible car just as the owner walked up. I really like the "classy" look that many British cars have. The easiest way to explain it is to say they have the Jaguar look.

We drove into town and found a municipal lot where we could park for 1 for two hours. The funny thing about these parking lots is you were asked how long you planned to stay and then paid the appropriate amount. The pay booth guy gave us a map of the town and highlighted where the major sites were located. We were only a few blocks from the SBM (Shakespeare Birthplace Museum). Once again our passes allowed entrance.

The SBM is well designed and has several "original" books of Shakespeare's poems. Exiting the museum we had a shock, we found ourselves in a LINE! This was shocking as this was the first real line that we had to wait in since the trip began. Fortunately the line was moving quickly. The house is a house and not really that interesting. There are people stationed in each room but I found I had to take the initiative to get information from them. The most interesting object on the tour is an old window on which people had scratched their names - this included many famous authors.

After the house we spent sometime in the SBM gift shop. Alan purchased a shirt and we got a few postcards. The street that the SBM is on is filled with souvenir shops. We looked in a few but didn't make any purchases. Pat went to the post-office located in a Hallmark store to mail some postcards.

We made our way to the river and walked along the Avon until we came to the Royal Shakespeare Theater. I stopped at the ticket office to see if any tickets were available for the night's performance. There were some tickets left, however, they were very expensive (35) and were way in the back. No, Thank You Very Much! I had just paid 5 to be at the very front of The Tempest.

We continued down (or up) the river to the church in which Shakespeare is buried. There was a small "donation" to enter the church. Shakespeare is buried near the front to the left.

It was around 12:30 as we left Stratford heading to Warwick. We arrived at Warwick Castle just before 2 p.m. and stayed there the rest of the day. There is a steep walk from the parking lot to the castle. Our Heritage Pass once again gave us entrance (buy a pass).

How to describe Warwick? First, it's huge! Second, there's tons of stuff to do. Third, make sure you have lots of energy. Finally, if you have kids, don't miss going here. We were all adults, and it was a blast. During the summer there is a permanent renaissance fair on the grounds. Some weekends they even have jousting.

Here is what we did (and there is even more to do that we didn't have time for):

1. Listened to the "Red Knight" tale, or about half of it. Kids will love it but we got bored and moved on. There are different activities scheduled throughout the day that you can attend.

2. Went through the armory rooms - where you can handle and try on different pieces of armor and weapons.

3. Alan and I went up on the wall walk. There is a notice at the beginning of the walk that there are 580 steps you must go up or down and that there is no turning back. With this in mind, we started out. There are some amazing views from the tops of the towers - but don't attempt this if you are claustrophobic, afraid of heights, or can't handle stairs.

4. While we were walking the walls, Pat got a place in line for us to go into the dungeon (one of the only other lines we found on the trip). She had reached the front but was letting others go ahead of her when we arrived. Now, I know you will want to see the dungeon, but it really isn't worth it. The dungeon is one large round room with a dirt floor and a very small side room. This was the only part of the castle I was disappointed with.

5. Pat and I went through another section of the castle that included many rooms full of antique furniture and art. Alan had gone on to the "Sword Fights" below the castle. We met up with him just as the fights started.

6. The sword fight was very entertaining with the "contestants" explaining the different parts of their armor and their weapons.

7. Attended a Longbow demonstration.

8. Attended a very bad (but very funny) magic show.

9. Went through the "wax museum" part of the castle. This is another set of rooms that has Madame Taussaud's wax figures.

10. Quickly went through the "haunted tower." This tower has a self-guided tour in which you go from room to room listening to a ghost story over a speaker.

11. At one end of the castle is a steep hill from which there is a wonderful view of the surrounding country.

12. Walked to the Peacock Garden. I had never heard the call of a Peacock until now. It sounded like something you would hear while watching a Tarzan movie.

There were many other parts of the castle that we had neither the time nor the energy to see. Alan and I quickly went to the gift shop to purchase a book he had wanted to buy. It was right at 6 p.m. as we left to return to Stow.

From Warwick to Stow is about 40 miles. We arrived around 7 and headed for town center to eat at the pub we had found the previous night. As I entered, the man I had asked directions for an ATM was exiting - so we exchanged hellos. We ordered at the bar and then found a seat in the back room. The place quickly filled with locals - obviously a good sign. The food was delicious.

I noticed something here that was repeated in many restaurants. A large basket full of sauce packages was on the table. We counted over 15 different condiments. It's the small things like this that make traveling so much fun.

After dinner it was back to the B&B. I spent some time planning the next day's activities. I also went outside to walk around a bit and snap a few pictures. The weather had been absolutely wonderful during the day and a slight rain started just as it got dark.

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