On Tuesday we went to Stratford-upon-Avon, which was Shakespeare's birthplace and home until he moved to London. On the way there we stopped at Warwick Castle.
Warwick Castle was built on an ancient site on the River Avon over a period of about 200 years, starting around 1000 years ago. It's the most "castley" castle that I have yet visited. The grounds are beautiful, and there is lots to do there.
Some of the castles we have visited are just old, out-of-the-way structures that no one pays much attention to. Warwick Castle, in contrast, is quite a tourist attraction. Not long after we arrived the staff fired the castle's trebuchet, which is a huge medieval slingshot. The trebuchet at Warwick Castle is the largest working trebuchet of medieval design in the world. They shot a 30kg stone several hundred meters.
We also saw a birds of prey demonstration, where they had two kinds of eagles (including a bald eagle), a vulture, and a few other birds. It was amazing to see how much the handlers could control the huge birds.
We arrived in Stratford in the afternoon and checked into our hostel. That evening we got dinner at a pub. My whole table got hamburgers, and Kasey's was green in the middle. We weren't sure if that was standard operating procedure around here, so he asked a waiter. The waiter just apologized and brought him a huge bowl of chips (aka french fries). Seemed a little sketchy to me, but I got some of the chips, so I didn't mind too much.
That night we saw the Royal Shakespeare Company's performance of King Lear. It's the first play that I've both read and watched, and I really enjoyed seeing the performers' interpretation of what I had read. Seeing it on stage was much more intense than reading it in a book. Ian McKellen played King Lear. (He's Magneto in X-Men and Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.)
The next morning I went on a four-mile run from Alveston (where we were staying) to Stratford and back. Later we visited Shakespeare's birthplace, a 500-year-old building that's still standing. I'm not very versed in my Shakespeare history, so I learned quite a bit.
We had a few hours free, so six of us went down to the River Avon to rent some row boats for an hour. On the way there was a fountain that someone had put soap in, and it was brewing huge quantities of bubbles, which we played in for a few minutes.
There were three of us in each row boat: one on the oars, one on the rudder, and one to enjoy the ride. We had a good time going down the river, and we traded off jobs so that everyone got to row. On the way back, the people in the other boat rammed ours from the side. A canvas strap on their bow got caught over the metal loop that held one of our oars in, so our boats were stuck together. We had a hard time unhooking our boats, and we were pretty sure that the people at the rental (or "hire" as they call it here) place were laughing at us. Jeffrey eventually jumped into our boat to unload his enough that we could lift their bow and unhook it. We were under a bridge at this point, and we had trouble getting away because the oars would hit the bridge when we tried to row. We finally got away from the bridge, only to discover that a dinner boat was coming right through the bridge arch that we were now under. They blew their horn at us and looked pretty annoyed. We finally got out of the way and made it back to the dock. Whew!
That afternoon we went to the family home of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife. It wasn't super exciting except that some workers were re-thatching the roof.
On Thursday I had class and did homework. Woo hoo!
On Friday we went to Greenwich, home of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich Mean Time (called Universal Coordinated Time these days), and the prime meridian (0º longitude) that divides the western and eastern hemispheres. They also have a market, a university, and a maritime museum.
Almost more interesting than all of the things in Greenwich was how we got to Greenwich: by boat. We took the tube to Westminster and then got on a boat that took us east on the River Thames for about an hour. It was really fun to see the city from the river, especially since the captain gave us an audio tour as we floated along.
In Greenwich we visited an open market (just jewelry and stuff--boring!) and then got lunch at a bakery-type place. I got a tomato and mozzarella focaccia sandwich for less than £3, and it was really good.
I only had a couple of hours to spend in Greenwich since I had to get back to write some papers, so Jeffrey and I headed up to the Royal Observatory for a quick visit. We stood across the 0º line and took some pictures, saw some clocks, and looked at a few astronomical instruments. There's really not a ton to do there.
I was a little disappointed that my first steps into the eastern hemisphere were unmarked. I unknowingly crossed into it as I climbed the hill to the observatory, and I only realized it when I noticed that I was on the eastern side of the prime meridian at the Royal Observatory. They should have warned me!
I took the boat back to the Tower of London and then hopped on the Tube to get home a little quicker. I didn't finish my papers on time, but that's okay, because I decided before I came here that I was going to experience London first, and do schoolwork second. It wouldn't have been worth it to skip the boat and Greenwich to get a bit better grade on my papers.
Today I finished up my papers and went for a run in Hyde Park. It was really warm (in the high 70s Fahrenheit), but I hadn't been running for a while so I decided to go anyway. I ran almost 8 miles in about 1:15--not really fast, but I took it slow on purpose since I had never run that far in my life. I'm thinking about entering a half marathon race later this year, so I'm trying to get in better shape. I'm also going to run a 3.5-mile race this Thursday in London.
Tonight I'm going to Hard Rock Cafe for some American food (and free refills!). Tomorrow is stake conference, and I'm planning to go to evensong at St. Paul's in the afternoon.