I'm leaving tomorrow for a week at my sister-in-law's in Saint Raphael. The Garçon is already there, hanging out with his aunt and his big brother, but big brother comes back tonight so I'm heading down to take the next shift -- and I'm bringing one of the Garçon's buddies with me so he'll have someone to play with. Georges has to work so it's just us two grown-up women and the two boys, for a week of sun (oh, please let there be sun), beach time, good food and fun. Maybe I can get a bit of work done on my first chapter rewrite? Let's hope so.
Since I owe you guys some details on my British trip last month, and since I've been really lax with posting this month in general, I figure I owe everyone a monster post. So buckle up, because here it comes (in several parts).
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England, Day 1: Travel Day, and a great barbecue!
My first day in England wasn't really a full day. I took a mid-afternoon Eurostar to London (because it was only 44€, about 70% off the cost of any other train that day), then hopped in the Tube to go a short distance from Kings Cross/St Pancras to Paddington station.
From there, I caught a train to the university town of Oxford!
I arrived around 7pm and boarded a bus to cross the town to Cowley Road, a part of Oxford with a lot of pubs and restaurants and night-life. I wasn't so much interested in any of that, but I had booked a 2-night stay via Airbnb at the home of Mark and Isabel, an Australian-Portugese couple who are absolutely two of the nicest people I have ever met in my life!
When I arrived, they gave me a glass of champagne that they were already enjoying for themselves, invited me to hang out on their patio with me, and eventually they talked me into staying for some grilled salmon which Mark cooked on the barbecue. The room was comfortable, quiet (back of the house, view of the garden) and spotless, not to mention beautifully decorated by Isabel and with a half-bath located just out in the hall. The shared bathroom downstairs was clean and updated. If you're going to Oxford and need a quality room for a very reasonable price, look them up and tell them Lisa from Paris said "Hi!"
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England, Day 2: Stratford-upon-Avon and Oxford
The next day, I was up and out of the house super-early, to catch a train to Stratford-upon-Avon so I could commune a bit with the Bard. Shakespeare's home town is delightful and my only regret was that I only had a half-day to explore, and that most of that time I spent on a tour bus that got me to the two major attractions which are located outside of town (too far to walk, trust me), the Anne Hathaway House and the Mary Arden farm. On the way back to town from the farm, we got caught in a massive traffic jam -- yes, in the middle of the English countryside -- because there was a big antique car show in Stratford and it was a bank holiday and it seemed everyone in the southwest of England decided to show up in Stratford on their extra day off. It sucked a full hour out of my schedule, so that when I finally got back to town I had to speed-tour Shakespeare's birthplace and childhood home, and missed seeing the other two Shakespeare houses and his grave altogether in order to catch my train back to Oxford. Well, I'll just have to go back another time and plan to stay longer.
Scenes from Shakespeare's world:
Next, I hopped the bus again to go to the Mary Arden farm. Mary Arden was Shakespeare's mother, so I imagine he spent a lot of his time there as a youth and young man, visiting his grandparents and spending time on the farm. I was very impressed with how large the farm was, and the Arden family were clearly properous for those times.
And upstairs, who did I find, scribbling away quite intently? He didn't reply, look up or even so much as flinch when I said, "Oh, hello!" Was he actor... or ghost? You decide:
After the traffic-jam, I was back at the center of town on a delightful street filled with half-timbered buildings, pubs, shops and antique cars. Shakespeare's birthplace is smack in the middle. They have what are probably some very informative presentations you can see before you get into the actual house to look around, but I had no choice but to skip all of that and head straight for the house so that I wouldn't miss my train.
Finally, a rare photo with me in front of the camera instead of behind it... with Shakespeare's house behind ME:
I had really hoped to have had more time to take in everything and "commune" with the spirit of the greatest English writer the world has ever known, but was just too pressed for time to browse through the town or to stop and reflect much. I did, however, score big at the gift shops in all three of the houses I visited.
In the next part of the story, I'll tell you all about my short tour of Oxford (another place I'll have to explore more thoroughly at a later date) and how much I LOVED the town of Bath.