Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Shakespeare Week Memories In Stratford-Upon-Avon

celebrating Shakespeare week

Last month, the team from stationery brand Viking very kindly invited me to a Shakespearean themed event. The evening was meant to celebrate Britain's most famous Elizabethan writer and his contribution to literature and culture including a poem writing workshop and learning some badass calligraphy skills. Silly me double booked herself so had to drop out very last minute, however, as I've studied literature at university for many years Shakespeare certainly has been a part of my life. 

About ten years ago, I went on a very special Shakespeare course trip with my literature class from university. My lecturer at the time had excellent connections to the RSC, so she treated us to a full week of Shakespeare hard-core experience in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Each day would be filled with interactive literature workshops at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, followed by visiting the sights of the town and the day would end with a performance at the RSC Theatre. It was bliss!

I remember as if it was yesterday. I had just finished my academic ERASMUS year at Lancaster University. My bag and suitcase were packed, the keys to my student room handed over and farewells to friends have been made. I was ready to leave an amazing place behind and travel south into a brand new adventure. In Stratford, I would meet with my classmates from my home university which I hadn’t seen in over a year.

It was a warm, sunny spring day in early June when I left Lancaster. One last time I would take the bus from the university down the green lush grounds into town for the train station. I had booked my tickets in advance and knew I would have to change in Birmingham. The journey itself was smooth and straight forward for about 2h. There was one minor interruption in Wolverhampton when the train got to a halt and passengers had to board a slow service into Birmingham New Street. Luckily the delay was only a few minutes and I caught my connection train from Birmingham Moor Street.

In the heart of england lies idyllic stratford upon avon

By then it was early afternoon, the sun was heating up and the train literally stopped every ten minutes. It felt like forever.  However, when the train was moving, it would go past golden wheat fields and green dark forests under a bright blue sky. I felt like I was going to the most idyllic place in the countryside and Stratford did not disappoint. I remember in the late afternoon, the train came to its final stop: Stratford-Upon-Avon. Back then the station hadn’t been renovated yet, so all you ever saw and knew you were in Stratford, was an aged sign with letters peeling off under a golden late afternoon summer sun. In the middle of nowhere everyone had to get off the train. It was quite a hot day and though I was prepared with notes (back then there were no smartphones so I researched instructions beforehand) I had to freestyle it somehow and find my way. In the end, I ended up in a very quiet and leafy residential area and found the address that my lecturer had given me.

I knocked on the door of a lovely pale green house on Shottery Road and…..

There was no answer.

So I knocked again.

No answer.

This went on for a bit till I found the phone number from the B&B and gave it a ring on the house phone. After a while, a lady picked up and informed me she would be “over” in a few minutes. Sure.

So I waited.

And waited.

And then she finally arrived and gave me access to the house. It turned out that the B&B my lecturer had booked for us had two houses, one on Shottery Road and the main house on Rother Street. The house in Shottery Road was entirely booked for my class so we had the house to ourselves. As I was the first to arrive, I got to choose my room. And I literally went up to the third floor and worked my way down, checked every room, which I would like best. I ended up with the one on the ground floor away from the kitchen and entrance at the back which led onto a nice stone terrace with the most adorable British garden ever. The birds sang outside and I’ve never felt so calm and relaxed. This was gonna be a great week.

And it was! As soon as my classmates arrived, we had the best time ever. We would have breakfast together and cook dinner in the evening, sat on the terrace and enjoyed the evenings before the performance at the theatre would begin. It was a wonderful reunion with friends and new classmates and it was one of the main reasons why I have this Shakespeare Week in such fond memory.

historic building in stratford
My study group inspecting shakespearean documents
Hall's Croft Graden

Our first day started off at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Here we had interactive workshops, even met the cast of the RSC theatre group or got to view important historical documents and first folio editions. The learning centre made sure, we would take something valuable out of each session and be fully prepared for tonight’s show. Whilst in Stratford, I remember we watched A Winter’s Tale, Julius Caesar and As You Like It. The longer I stayed in Stratford, the more idyllic and romanticised I made this place. Every house there is simply gorgeous and boasts full of history. There's always a hint of literature in the air and every corner carries culture. I really fell in love with Stratford and to this day it would be the only place in the UK where I would consider buying a house (but that's a story for another time).

After class, we got to venture out to explore the sights, so each day we visited a different building. A very memorable day was when we all went on a quest to Anne Hathaway’s cottage which lies a bit outside of town centre and leads you through residential areas of Stratford and partly through unspoiled nature. Our group had a wonderful dynamic and we truly enjoyed our time together, hence why each day felt pretty adventurous.

Apart from the sights, we also ventured out and about in town. Stratford has a lovely shopping mall in the North with all the High Street shops you could think of; the surrounding fields and woods around town hold something magical and especially the river is of incredible beauty. Let me just say: the golden hour by the church - what a magical moment! When we saw the As You Like It performance which is placed in the fictional forest of Arden, we all felt like we’ve been there as we all had experience Stratford’s charm and had been under its spell. After the performance, we would have drinks at The Dirty Duck pub and reprise another incredible day.

my study groupshakespeare performances by the RSC in Stratford
the courtyard theatre in stratford
shakespeare's study at nash house
My study group outside nash house

The last day was quite sad, to be honest. My class would head back to the airport in London and I was off to Marylebone station in Central. One last adventure was yet to come. As I mentioned earlier, my Stratford visit happened before they renovated the station, so at the time, it was in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by dusty sandy pathways. On the day of departure, there was heavy rainfall so the road had turned into a muddy disaster with a massive deep puddle blocking the way to the station. I couldn’t get a taxi to take me over the puddle, so the only way to get around it was to walk back up the street, up to the bridge for the underpassage for the train and walk down the steep hill to access the station. Actually, I slid down the hill as it was raining and muddy and I was in ballerinas with a 20kg suitcase in tow. It was quite adventurous and I certainly never forget how I sat on that 2h train journey down to London, wet, muddy, a bit cold but with a heart filled with lasting memories.

Thank you for reading today's post.
Till next time,
Carolin
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