Day 15: Farm Animals and Roaring Girls

Our final full day in Stratford-upon-Avon was filled with fun, familiar faces, and girl power. Breakfast was a bit different this morning. When we walked downstairs to eat at 8:00 a.m., we were greeted by cereal and a woman who took down our orders if we chose to have a hot meal prepared for us. Most of us avoided the hassle and just took cereal instead, but I think it’s safe to say that those of us who didn’t order something missed our normal breakfast a few hours later. As we waited for our bus to arrive, we entertained ourselves with conversations of yesterday and today, eliciting more than enough laughter to go around. Although we all secretly hoped for another triathlon of bicyclists to cheer on this morning, we were perfectly content with talking amongst ourselves.

After receiving another horrified look (I may be exaggerating a bit) from the man driving the bus, the fifteen of us entered the already nearly-full bus and held on tight for a bumpy but short ride to Stratford-upon-Avon. After thanking our bus driver, we moved onward toward the train station where we boarded a train that took us to Wilmcote.

Within the town of Wilmcote was our main destination for the day – Mary Arden’s farm. Mary Arden was the mother of William Shakespeare. She grew up working on this Tudor farm as a young girl, performing many of the same tasks as the workers do today. This year, the farmhouse itself celebrated its 500th anniversary. As we walked through the entrance, we were welcomed by the some of the sights and sounds (and regrettably, the smells) of Iowa farms that most of us have become accustomed to back home. We saw resident Tudors carrying out their daily routines of milking the cows, feeding the animals, and “cleaning up” after the animals. Like the life on the farm back home, it appeared that the work was never truly done and more tasks were completed each day than we could ever imagine. However, most of the workers were very happy to work with the animals and were able to answer almost all of our questions.

Some of the animals that we saw today were very common in Iowa, though we still stopped by their pens to see them. Roosters, chickens, ducks, and geese ran free throughout the farm. Animals confined to the borders of their pens were cows, pigs, turkeys, and perhaps the most beautiful white horse some of us have ever seen. The sheep and goats were favorites of our group as we were able to pet and get up close and personal with them. The strangest animals by far were the Mangalitzas, a very rare Hungarian breed of pig that was originally developed from the now extinct British breed, the Lincoln Curly Coat. Picture a pig with the wool of a sheep and that will gave you a fairly accurate representation of this animal. Apparently, the Lincoln Curly Coat breed was similar in appearance to the pigs that would have been around in Shakespeare’s day. This particular animal, however, certainly took us all off guard and had us all doing double-takes! Flower beds and vegetable gardens covered the land not dominated by the animals, adding natural beauty to the farmstead.

I think it’s safe to assume that unanimously, our favorite part of the day was the falconry show in which two owls flew in front of, behind, and (quite literally) into the audience. Up first was a little white barn owl named Izzy, who was stubborn and loud at times but very entertaining to watch. The second owl was an eagle owl who was much larger than Izzy and kept us all on the edge of our seats. His huge orange eyes intimidated us at first, but we soon got over this uneasiness as he flew into the crowd several times, perching himself on the bench some of us were sitting at. When we spoke to the falconer afterwards, he said that he feels as though he hasn’t worked a day in his life because he enjoys his job so much. He encouraged us all to do the same with our own lives and to be both passionate for and committed to whatever we choose to pursue in life.

After leaving Mary Arden’s farm, we were given an afternoon of free time to do with what we wished. The majority of us went shopping, searching for any must-have items on our last day in the city. Several of us found what we were looking for and even began purchasing souvenirs for loved ones back home. We also browsed the streets of Stratford for dinner, a few of us finding just what we were looking for at an Italian restaurant just down the road from our next destination – the Royal Shakespeare Company!

All of us were ready for our second night at the theatre, having read The Roaring Girl ourselves for class. The play itself is about a man named Sebastian who is desperately In love with a girl that his father refuses to accept into the family. Sebastian turns to the one person who can help him, the “roaring girl” herself, Moll Cutpurse. Moll is the cross-dressing heroine of the story, who seems to have the world wrapped around her finger and a plan that proves her to be more than a match for any man. After an excellent discussion led by Chanelle, we entered into Swan Theatre to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s take on the play we had all grown to love. Although there were many changes made to make the play more modern, we all emerged from the theatre smiling and excited, laughing at the comedic elements long after the final curtain call.

We have all enjoyed our time in the city and having the privilege of seeing two world-class plays in the past three days. But for now it’s goodbye Stratford-upon-Avon and hello Bath!

Day 10: Arthur and Authors

After last night’s Eurovision adventures in Dr. Clark’s room, it’s safe to say that 7:30 a.m. came pretty early for a good portion of our group this morning.  As we sat down for breakfast at the hostel, several of us discussed the exciting events in store for us all.  Once we were finished eating, we packed up our day bags and hopped on a train to Winchester at 9:13.  No matter how many times we board the train, the landscape of England never ceases to amaze me.  One moment, I will look out my window and see bright yellow fields and beautiful prairies of sheep and other livestock.  The next, we will be in the city with citizens crowding the platforms and buildings as far as the eye can see.  It’s very different from the Iowa landscape that is all too familiar to us all.

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When we arrived at the Winchester train station, we quickly made our way toward the Great Hall to see Arthur’s Round Table.  I think it’s safe to say that we were all extremely excited to see with our own eyes what we have read about in the literature for this course.  Zach gave an interesting and thought-provoking presentation on Arthurian geography and gave us the historical context behind the massive table that hung on the wall before us.  The Great Hall of the Winchester Castle was built during the reign of Henry III between the years 1222 and 1235.  The cost: a mere 500 pounds.  At the time, it was one of the largest in England and is one of the most beautiful from that time period that still exists today.  The Great Hall had several functions including serving as a center for the courts of law, trading, and a place for Parliament to assemble.  Over time, the hall has changed in its appearance, mostly in the positions of the doors and windows.  The round table has been in its present position on the wall of the Great Hall since 1873.  It is thought to have originated between the 13th and 14th centuries, is eighteen feet across, and weights over one ton.  Originally, there were twelve legs used to support the table, and it is believed that the table was built in the hall itself.  The table wasn’t painted the beautiful red and white colors we associate with it today until the year 1516.  The names of twenty-four knights were also added during this time.  The table has remained in the Great Hall for 700 years.

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After we were done learning about Arthur, we walked to the house where Jane Austen passed away on July 18, 1817.  It was surprisingly tricky to find – it looked very similar to the houses surrounding it.  The only distinctive feature was the plaque in its center, declaring it the death place of the infamous woman writer.  More about her in the next blog post…

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We all got a healthy dose of Mother Nature’s mood swings today, as the weather could not seem to decide whether or not it wanted to stay sunny or drench us all in a sudden sprinkle of rain.  We didn’t let the weather get us down though, and the first half of our day was a definite success!