Monday, July 25, 2011

Benbow Farm, Gadfield Elm Chapel, Tintern Abbey, and Double Rainbows :)

I was really sad to leave Stratford-Upon-Avon. I didn't want to leave the Hollies! But there were many more amazing adventures to be had. :) For the next two nights we were to spend the night in Bath, which  I was super excited for. It's one of the main places in my favorite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion, so I was really looking forward to it! But we made some pretty great stops along the way. The first of which was Benbow farm in Herefordshire.  

It was a really amazing place. Here, Wilford Woodruff preached to hundreds of people. The pond above is where he baptized over 300 of them. On top of that, he and other missionaries helped to convert over 1200 other people in the area. There was a really special spirit there. This is one of the original  homes of the gospel in Europe! I loved being there.

The farm is privately owned and working farm, and the people who live there aren't members of the church, but they let us see the barn where Wilford Woodruff and his fellow servants of the Lord preached to the people. It was really nice of them to welcome us into their home! They even let some of my fellow pilgrims use their bathroom.
After we left Hill Farm, we headed to Gadfield Elm Chapel. It was equally cool. The chapel was originally built and owned by a group of Methodists called the United Brethren. In 1840 Wilford Woodruff came along and met with some of its members. A few months later almost all 600 members of the United Brethren were baptized. So they gave it to the church to use as a meetinghouse. Later the church sold it to pay for the members' emigration to America. I think it was also the first LDS meetinghouse in England. I'm glad that we made a few stops at church sites. I learned some really cool church history that I didn't know, and I learned that Wilford Woodruff was really amazing. One of the girls on the tour with me was his direct descendant, and she didn't know about any of this stuff either. It was really cool to see her connect to her grandpa even further.

The little tree on the right of this picture was planted by Gordon B. Hinckley in 2004 when he rededicated the chapel. It's so cute!
 After going to the two amazing church history sites, we dipped back into Wales for a couple of hours to see Tintern Abbey, one of the churches that Henry VIII had destroyed.

It's pretty impressive right? I don't know what it is about me and old ruins. For some reason I really really like seeing these places. Tintern Abbey was no exception. There is just something magical about it. Seeing the old gothic architecture against the sky with grass growing in the middle- it's blends the creations of God and the creations of man. The result is just... gah. Places like this are truly awesome to me.

There are those funny illustrations again.

How could anyone not be in love with this place?!
 We had the coolest experience ever at Tintern Abbey. There was this room, called the warming room, that had a curved ceiling. It was the only place there that still had a roof. The acoustics were crazy! So, being the little Mormons that we are, we went into the warming room and started singing hymns. In all my years singing and being in choir, I don't think any of my amazing experiences in choir could live up to this moment. Not only did we sound amazing together without countless hours of rehearsal, but the acoustics were so amazing that you could evidently hear it everywhere in the Abbey. Other tourists who were there came and filmed us singing, and some even said it was like bringing the Abbey back to life again. Others said it sounded like a heavenly chorus descending down on it. It was the best. It's moments like that that makes me love music so much.

Before leaving Wales for the very last time, we made one final stop in Cheddar Gorge. It was a really impressive canyon complete with mountain goats. Unfortunately I was half asleep on the coach when we stopped there, and I didn't think to take any pictures. But I pulled a picture off the internet so you could get the idea of how amazing it is:

And thus ended my adventures in Wales. I hope to go back someday, but I feel really grateful for the very little time I had there. Besides, it was time to go to Bath! Yay! When we got there we checked right into the Bath YMCA, aaaaaand no, it is NOT fun to stay at the YMCA. But, that being said we did have a rather incredible view from our room! A lot of people went out to see the city a little that night, but a few girls and I opted to stay in and catch up in our journal writing. We were really glad we did! It had been raining a little on and off all day, but when it stopped for good, I saw the most beautiful rainbow of my entire life. There were little breaks in the cloud, so there were sun rays coming down on the steeple of a church and not one, but two full rainbows lighting up the sky. 

The brighter rainbow had way more layers than the typical ROY G. BIV, which, hopefully, you can see in this picture. It was seriously the best rainbow ever. Anyway, I guess a lot of people who went out totally missed it. I felt really blessed to see it. It made me happy. :)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Stratford-upon-Avon and The Merchant of Venice

I have been kicking myself ever since I got home for not taking more pictures in Stratford! It was an absolutely beautiful town! There were houseboats lined up on the river and swans all over the place and cute little shops and this amazing open market. It was so incredible. But, I did get a few pictures. Even though we spent four nights in Stratford, we didn't really get a chance to enjoy it until our last full day there and the night before after we got home from Kenilworth. That night Kaity, Emily, Becca, Juan, and I took a nice little walk around town. No agendas or plans to see anything, just a nice leisurely walk. Later some other girls, Brooke and Haley, joined us, and it was a ton of fun. After our walk we went back to the Hollies and watched some British television. :) It's pretty crazy. Very different from American TV. Anyway, the next day is when we really got to explore Stratford. The first thing we did that morning was walk about a mile to Anne Hathaway's (the wife of Shakespeare) childhood home.

It was really cool! The inside of the house was crazy old. But the best part, as usual, was the gardens. Sooo beautiful. There was a cool willow hut and flowers everywhere and wisteria (of course). But the best part of these gardens was the Woodland Walk. It is what it says it is- a walk through the woods- and it was absolutely amazing. It was whimsical and amazing.

 Something I really liked about it was all these cool art projects from a local grade school.

Especially these wire fairies. :) There were dozens of them around. I thought they were really cute.

After we finished up at Anne Hathaway's Cottage, we walked back into town and went to the open market. I bought a sweet pestle and mortar made out of olive wood- it's really pretty and supposedly way better than marble or stone. We also went to Thornton's, a popular British gourmet chocolate company where I got the most delicious chocolates of my life. Sooooooooo yummy. We spent the rest of the day seeing the other Shakespeare properties around Stratford. We saw the house where he was born and the house of his son-in-law and daughter's medical practice. We also got to go to the church where Shakespeare is buried. It's really pretty.

I'm kind of obsessed with stained glass. The stuff in this church was particularly amazing. But just wait until I get to Paris...

The crowded room where Shakespeare is buried.

That's him! I almost didn't get to see Shakespeare's grave. They were charging a "donation" of £2 to see it, which Kaity and I were not willing to pay. It was the principle of the thing. :) We almost left but Kaity decided to ask if it was a donation or an entrance fee. They said it was a donation, so we got in for free... sneaky sneaky. I felt kind of bad, but why would I pay the equivalent of $4 to see the grave of a person I have never been a huge fan of?

That night we added the perfect frosting to our Shakespeare cake by seeing the Merchant of Venice at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Normally, I would not be excited to see this play. It is definitely not one of few Shakespeare plays I love. But, I was willing to overlook my own opinions and become excited when I found out (that morning) who was playing Antonio and Shylock:

That's right! Scott Handy and PATRICK STEWART, respecitively (see IMDB for Scott Handy. He's big in the British world- you've probably seen him in movies like A Knight's Tale). I was seriously SO excited for Patrick Stewart. I grew up watching him as Jean Luke Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, thanks to my Pappa Stu, and love him in the X-Men movies! I have always loved him. And let me tell you, he did NOT disappoint. He was the best part of the entire play. He played the bad guy, but at the end I caught myself rooting for him... oops. In fact I was pretty mad at the end of that play because of how everything turned out for his character.
It took the whole show for me to get used to him with hair.

Besides the amazingness of Patrick Stewart being in the show, the play was pretty enjoyable. They actually turned it into "The Merchant of Vegas" and set it in, well, Vegas in modern times. The whole time they made fun of American pop culture and accents, which was pretty hilarious at first, but it got a little old :). They also completely butchered the ending, in my opinion. They pretty much made all of the main characters go crazy and hate each other in the last scene, which is not how it's supposed to go. But it was still cool. How many people can say they've seen not one, but TWO plays by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, Shakespeare's home town! I feel pretty special. :)

Warwick Castle and Kenilworth Castle

So, back to my amazing adventures abroad, in the midst of our stay in Stratford-upon-Avon we took a little day trip to two different castles! It was a pretty fun day. :) You know how I love my castles!!! The two places we went were polar opposites of each other. The first was Warwick Castle.

Warwick has a pretty interesting history. It was built in 1068 by William the Conqueror (who, by the way, I am a direct descendant of) on a bend of the River Avon and was used as a fortification until the early 1600s. At that point Sir Fulke Greville turned it into a country home. It has been involved in a lot of important events of British History. It held some prisoners from the Battle of Poitier, Then during the  15th century, it was used to imprison King Edward IV.

As I said, Warwick has a cool history- lots of wars and stuff. :) But in the 17th century it's focused turned from war fortifications to a tourist location. It was still occupied by the different Earls of Warwick, most of whom allowed visitors, until 1978. At that point, it was purchased by the Tussauds, of the Madame Tussauds wax museum, and it was turned into the ultimate tourist trap. It was a really fun place to visit. One of the coolest things about it was its peacock garden:

There were two female peacocks and a LOT of male peacocks. The whole time we were there the boys were fighting over and trying to woo the females. It was pretty interesting to watch. Plus, they're pretty. 

 Inside the different towers of the museum, you can definitely tell that it's owned by the Tussauds. First of all, because of the insane admission prices. All the cool stuff costs extra. The atmosphere of the place kind of feels like Disneyland without the rides. Like, if Disney had a land centered around the Sword in the Stone and Robin Hood. Oooh that would be cool. :)

Here I am with Queen Elizabeth. She and I are pretty tight. She offered to make me a Duchess, but I turned it down. Too much responsibility...

Ah yes, and here we are with our buddy Henry VIII. I didn't like him as much as Queen Elizabeth. In fact, it was kind of weird and creepy to see him life-sized. I wouldn't want to be around him when this museum comes to life at night. 

Yeah, so Kaity, Juan, and Becca gave good ole King Henry VIII the lip and this was their punishment. Tsk tsk tsk. They almost didn't make it out alive.

Anyway, I've discovered that I'm pretty creeped out by wax figures. They're so lifelike. Maybe it's because of that one old episode of Twilight Zone where all the mannequins in a department store come alive at night and turn some of the customers into mannequins too. But man, they were creepy. This tower was called the Kingmaker, and you go down into the basement at the beginning. When we first walked down the stairs, he was just sitting there at the end of the hallway. I wasn't expecting him to be there, so I may have jumped ever so slightly. :)

This horse made noises and flicked its tail around. He was creepy too.
My night in shining armor. I had to share him. >:( I think he kind of looks like Keanu Reeves...
This lady was creepiest of all...
As much fun as seeing the creepy demon wax figures was... my favorite activities at Warwick Castle took place outdoors- surprise, surprise.

That little dark line in the sky is a bald eagle. They have like five American bald eagles that they use to breed and show in the bird show. They were really cute. My favorite part was when they flew about 5 inches over my head. Yeah!

This was my absolute favorite part about all of Warwick! This thing is the world's largest working trebuchet. It's 59 feet tall and weighs 22 metric tons. It takes 8 men and a half hour to load and release. See that little wheel in the center? It's used like a hamster wheel for humans to pull back the lever. Then, once it's cocked and loaded, they had to run on it the opposite direction to unwind the rope from the wheel. It was a LOT of work for one shot. But it was really cool to see how it worked. It was a little more complicated and impressive than the one I made in 9th grade out of bamboo skewers. 

The weather on this day made me feel like I was in Idaho. There would be torrential downpour for like two minutes, then out of nowhere it would be totally sunny and like a million degrees. It was pretty confusing.
After spending most of the day at Warwick, we spent some time at Kenilworth Castle, which I absolutely loved! It was probably one of my favorite castles that we went to. Up to this point the only time I was ever alone on this trip was in the shower- so, about 5 minutes a day. :) But at Kenilworth I got to spend the entire time by myself. It was a beautiful place. I wandered around the dungeons alone and found a lot of secret passageways, then I went and stood on the tallest towers and felt like I was at the top of the world. There was also this really cool tree trunk. It was absolutely HUGE, and it was cut in a way that gave it the basic shape of a bench. I think I probably lied there for about twenty minutes just watching the clouds. It was really peaceful and amazing.

Kenilworth had some pretty amazing history, too. It was built as a stronghold in the 1120s. The walls are up to 20 feet thick to serve as an "unconquerable fortress." There were streams around it, but they were dammed to create a big lake that surrounded it. It's the largest manmade lake in England. The fortress became a royal castle under Henry II. Over the years it was expanded more and more, even the lake was made bigger until the castle was on an island. In 1279 it became one of 5 licensed Knight tournament grounds, after the Round Table of Knights and their ladies first assembled there to celebrate and compete. Another thing about it that I think is really cool is that in the 1560s, Robert Dudley (the Earl of Leicester) took over. He was one of Queen Elizabeth's (the "virgin queen") many suitors, and he built her a huge residential block that overlooked the lake, including a dancing chamber that was specifically for her use.

Something that I loved about Europe was it's hilarious signage.  Warning signs like this always had hilarious illustrations.

Another thing I loved about Kenilworth was its completely random works of art all over the grounds. This  thing is made of plastic toys and tupperware. There was also a giant chess board and a Scrabble board that said, "The fairies did it." It was really random.


Before I end this post, I need to add a little appendix to my post about the previous day. In addition to Blenheim Palace and Hidcote Manor and such, we also made a quick stop at Bourton-on-the-Water, which was a really cute little town. But the best part was this sign, located on the building where I bought the most delicious ice cream cone of my life:

Hee hee, it's so funny! I love British humor! Especially when they make fun of themselves.