When in Stratford…

Hi, it’s February. I know, me neither.

This past weekend, I went to Stratford-upon-Avon, home of the Bard of Avon himself—one Will Shakespeare, the writer of some plays that English departments enjoy over-dissecting and Theatre departments like to consider material only they can fully understand. And it was one adventure after another from the moment that we got on the *first* train.

I say “first” because, as it happened, there was more than one. Remember my awesome luck with trains? It continued on Friday afternoon.

A few friends and I got to the London train station early, because we knew (we knew) that something was going to go wrong, and we were determined to thwart destiny or God or whatever was going to try to stop us from taking our nerdy pilgrimage to Shakespeare’s birthplace. We bought our tickets and proceeded to stare at the arrival/departure board for the next half an hour, because—as destiny or God would have it—our platform number was once again unannounced.

With twenty minutes to spare, my flatmate and I ran into the station’s Marks & Spencer’s, bought tortilla chips and chocolate ginger biscuits, and ran back out to continue staring feverishly at the blank slot next to our train’s departure time, willing a number to appear. You bet I was nervous eating. No shame. That bag of tortilla chips was half-empty in approximately ninety seconds.

Eight minutes before our train was scheduled to leave, the platform number appears (WITCHCRAFT I tell you) and we’re like, “OKAY OKAY GO IT’S THAT ONE HURRY GET ON BEFORE SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENS.” We get on the train. We settle down next to another nice American group. We break into the chocolate ginger biscuits.

Then the PA system crackles to life, the voice of the conductor gurgles something that sounds vaguely like an apology mixed with a foreign tongue, and suddenly everyone is bolting out of their seats and exiting the train in a panic.

Everyone except the Americans onboard. Oh no. We were milling about chaotically, asking, “What’s happening? What do we do? Why is everyone leaving? IS IT TERRORISM?” and essentially solidifying our places as the special kids in class who can’t follow directions. *points to self*

Meanwhile, the station workers were watching us having a meltdown, which was incredibly helpful and stuff, but eventually we figured out that we needed to get off the train and follow the massive throng of British people who were speed-walking down the platform and jumping onto some random, different train. We didn’t know if it was the right train. We didn’t even know who was leading this charge. Once onboard the second train of the day, my flatmate asked the British gentleman she was sitting next to where this train was going, and he said, “I don’t know, I was just following the crowd.”

Hey, thanks, man.

But whoever we were following did lead us to the right train, because we somehow ended up in Stratford two and a half hours later. With an empty bag of tortilla chips and the fear of destiny and God in our hearts.

Once we were IN the town, the trip became substantially more awesome. We took a backstage tour at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and saw a bunch of Shakespeare-related locations, including his birthplace, his grammar school, his final house, and his grave. It was all kind of amazing to see the place in which this writer grew up and that I’m sure inspired a lot of his material… funny how our hometowns shape us.

Trains are evil.

Trains are evil. I stand by this statement.

Shakespeare's birthplace

Shakespeare’s birthplace

Shakespeare's backyard

Shakespeare’s backyard. Crazy gardens!

Shakespeare's grave in the Holy Trinity Church

Shakespeare’s grave in the Holy Trinity Church… sort of modest, even though he was at the front of the church.

A Life of Galileo by Bertolt BrechtWe also saw the Bertolt Brecht play A Life of Galileo at the Swan Theatre. The play was wonderfully acted and the cast included the marvelous Ian McDiarmid (better known as Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars films) as Galileo. Unfortunately, the play was still Brecht, so I was fundamentally aggravated by and during the entire performance—as was probably Brecht’s intention. I’m convinced that Douchebag Brecht should be a meme.

Anyway, the travel adventures continued this morning, when my friends and I decided it would be a good idea to walk a few miles in the rain to the cottage of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife. Did I mention it was raining? So it was raining, and we quickly became confused by little green signs that allegedly pointed in the direction(s) of the cottage, so I brilliantly suggested that we should double back and take a main road. This plan worked, but it also costed us around 20 more minutes of walking. In the rain.

One of my favorite parts about this day was rediscovering the fact that my boots are not waterproof.

However, we reached Anne Hathaway’s cottage alive and damp, and we stayed there for an hour before trekking back into the town center to have tea and lunch at a café called Hathaway Tea Rooms & Bakery, which was nestled in a charming building built in 1610. There, I consumed my weight in breakfast tea and left a nice puddle of rainwater under my chair.

the lovely table set up at Hathaway Tea Room...

The lovely table set-up at Hathaway Tea Room…

Amazingly enough, we had no trouble getting back on the train to London. I have a feeling that destiny or God does not want me to leave London, because almost every time I do, something unexpected happens. Unexpected train-hopping. Unexpected ticket inspectors.

I wasn't expecting this, either.

BAD JOKE HA. Sorry, I’m tired.

And next weekend I’ll be going to Frankfurt, Germany. If you think I’m having fun now, just wait until after I’ve woken up at 4 AM to take a bus to an airport to fly to a foreign country that speaks another language! EXPECTING ALL OF THE THINGS.

Samantha Chaffin


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