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Our Magnificent Journey
Chapter 5
Europe 2003
Paris, London, Provence


David and Carol 2003 
Day 13
We woke early at 6:30 am in order to play the roles of total tourists today. We are taking the bus tour of Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Castle. Having been a Shakespeare fanatic and major in college, I am anxious to see his birthplace, although my own opinion as to who Shakespeare really was is different than what is generally accepted (see a previous journal.)
We walked around the corner from the hotel to a coffee shop (Coffee Republic) for coffee and muffins while we waited for the tour bus to pick us up.
The "pick-up" bus came for us at precisely 8:30 and wound its way past Sloane Square and Kings Road in Chelsea until it arrived at Victoria Coach station where we found the Evans-Evans tour bus to Stratford, Oxford and Warwick Castle. It is a gray, cold, autumn day in London. Perfect to be on this modern cozy bus heading into the heart of England.
Our guide was James, the perfect, proper English gentleman, down to his bowler hat and bumbershoot. Our driver, Pat, was friendly and funny and could muscle her way through traffic like nobody's business. We traveled north and northwest through Westminster, past Hyde Park to Marlybone, through Paddington and its great train station and canals. There are 33 boroughs in the city of London. We passed BBC headquarters. We passed one of the many large Guinness Breweries. I waved at my money as we went by. Passed by the art deco Hoover building. We saw many neo-tudor homes. Followed the M25 past the Royal Airport. To the north are the Chiltons, the great chalk hills of central England. Whizzed past many small "shires" and pastoral, rolling, green hills and fields dotted with lazy sheep and horses as we travel northwest towards Oxfordshire and the center of England. We become surrounded by ancient brooding forests, dark and inviting.
No matter how often I come to Great Britain, I always find the driving disconcerting. Here we are on the M25 on the left side of the massive 6 lane freeway (if we were on the right side of the median we would be flattened in seconds by the oncoming traffic). We are in the extreme left lane, used by slower traffic. In the states this is the "express lane". We are being passed by faster traffic on the right side. Now that I come to think of it, this is not at all unlike the experience of driving on Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix...
James leads the gourp at Oxford.  Carol with her omnipresent water bottle.
Pat drives the Magic Bus
Carol and David enjoying the trip to Oxford/Stratford/Warwick
An hour and a half northwest of London, past the Chilton hills, we arrive at the University city of Oxford, full of wonderful architecture and history. The town began in 700 AD, and was established by a woman. Here the Thames is known as the Isis. Religious miracles happened here. It was a monastic culture early on, then became a center of learning, because the universities of Europe were closed to English students due to the beliefs of the English King. Only the rich could afford to send their sons to the early colleges. Today's University is actually made up of 39 separate colleges/campuses. Only the "cream of the crop" of students make it into Oxford now. The earliest colleges were founded in the 1200s. It is still very exclusive - only 9,000 students. "Town and gown" differences over the centuries led to physical disputes between the townsfolk and the students. Christ Church College was founded in 1500s by Cardinal Woolsley. Some of the finest architecture in all of England can be seen here. Henry VIII created the Protestant church but his daughter Mary (Bloody Mary) tried to "reconvert" England back to Catholicism. Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, Protestants against Mary's drive to reconvert, were tried here and burned at the stake. Oxford was temporarily the capital when there was no king or queen after Charles I was beheaded for treason in 1649. Lewis Carrol, J.R.R. Tolkien and William Golding all studied and/or taught here. Parts of the Harry Potter movies were filmed here.
 Oxford memorial to Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, who were burned at the stake for their religious beliefs
Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer were burned alive on this spot.
We spent about an hour and a half in the center of Oxford, saw ancient libraries and colleges and the actual spot where the three Church of England martyrs were burned at the stake. We stopped at the Oxford University store where we bought official Oxford University t-shirts for myself, Chris and Dan. I spent some time chatting with our guide, James, who enlightened me about the work of being a tour guide; they are free-lance and must be trained and registered.
A house in Oxford
Building at Oxford
Building at Oxford
A replica of Venice's Bridge of Sighs
Building at Oxford
Oxford gardens and buildings
Signs at Oxford
Cemetery at Oxford
Leaving Oxford, we passed through the quaint Cotswolds - a medieval agricultural area. The buildings and markets are built from the local limestone, and are crowed with lovely thatched roofs.
Homes in the Cotwolds
Home in the Cotswolds
We passed John Churchhill's Blenham palace, the only English palace not built for a king or queen. Winston Churchill was born here in 1894. The principle contribution to the English economy from this area for a thousand years has been wool. The many "dry stone" walls still enclose innumerable sheep.
Walls (no mortar) in the Cotswolds
At Blenham Palace we passed through the charming medieval town of Woodstock. We are following the same path that Shakespeare would have taken on his journeys into London and back to Stratford.
This trip to Stratford is indeed a pilgrimage for me, having become enamored of the great writer when I was fairly young, thanks to two wonderful and important teachers I was privileged to have known and studied under at a relatively early age. En route, James' narration provided us with welcome, knowledgeable and helpful information about the life and work of the great Bard.
We spent an hour and a half in Stratford, which is touristy with a capital T. We saw Shakespeare's final resting place at Holy Trinity Church (which was "off the tourist trail" and worth the walk and the 1 pound.) We grabbed a sandwich, baked potato and fudge and then walked through the restored house that Shakespeare was born in, which was quite touristy but interesting. I am glad to have made the pilgrimage and to have paid my respects to my most favored writer.
The business of "selling" Shakespeare...
House in Stratford
House in Stratford
Shakespeare's "new" house was here.  The new owner tore it down because of all the tourist traffic.
House in Stratford
The church where Shakespeare is buried
Shakespeare's grave
Shakespeare's birthplace
David and Shakespeare's birthplace
Shakespeare's birthplace
We left picturesque Stratford-upon-Avon as James prepared us for our next stop with interesting information about Warwick Castle. The tower of Warwick was built in the Dark Ages. In England, during the Dark Ages, the Angles came after the Romans left, and then were replaced by, or rather, assimilated by, the Saxons. The first Warwick castle was built in the 900s. After the Norman invasion in the 11th century, the new stone castle/fortress proved to be a mighty barrier to invasion. Richard II and Richard III lived here at Warwick Castle.
Warwick Castle
The tour of the castle was fabulous. We walked through the dungeon and torture chamber, then the dimly lit rooms of the common laborers, then the grand, formal state rooms, then the ghost tower. At the end we climbed up the 539 steps to the top of the Guys Tower and had a 360 degree view of the town of Warwick, crowned by tall St. Mary's Church. Nearby we could see the Avon river and the surrounding hilly countryside. So much history happened right at this castle.
They came out to meet us at Warwick Castle
David and wax friend at Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle
The ramparts of Warwick Castle
The Main House at Warwick Castle
The Queen of my castle...
Warwick Castle
All in all the tour, with James guiding the way, was well worth the cost and the time. We highly recommend it, or any of the other Evans-Evans tours.
The 90-minute ride back to London on the M40 from the midlands took us through some very serene pastureland and rolling green hills dotted here and there with dark forests and quiet streams. It is gray, cold and drizzly - perfect English autumn weather. I spotted a rainbow over the Chiltons.
All too soon the tour was over and we were back in Londontown as Pat quite skillfully maneuvered our large, red Evans-Evans bus through the congestion that seems eternal in this city. Pat and James were kind enough to drop us within a few blocks of our hotel at 6:30 pm, and we said our thanks and goodbyes, snapped their photos, and then walked arm-in-arm through the cool gray drizzle to the Regency.
Carol and James at the end of our tour
After freshening up at the hotel, we walked down Queensgate Road south to bustling Kings Road in trendy Chelsea. We passed several pubs full of revelers beginning their weekend. Along Kings Road we window-shopped for our dinner until we decided on New Culture Revolution, specializing in Chinese noodle dishes. I ordered a tong mein dish of noodles with broth of fresh Chinese leaves, mangetout, dong chai, spring onion, carrot and coriander. Carol ordered lao main - noodles tossed in a sauce containing prawns, squid, octopus, fresh coriander and Chinese vinegar dressing - a blend of hot and sour, with Chinese leaves and chili. Both dishes were delicious, fresh and light.
As we left the restaurant it began to pour. Even though we had our bumbershoot (umbrella,) we soon were soaked, so we made it back to the hotel in about 20 minutes and decided to call it a night at 9:30 pm. It had been a long day full of exploration, and we could use the rest. Tomorrow, thankfully, is another day.

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