Sunday, 9 January 2011

What a very fine week-end!

Bob and I went to Stratford-upon-Avon yesterday (Sat 8th Jan 2011); we delivered Cadi to our friends, Nigel & Jill, then hit the road by 11am. A very quick drive up the M40 - with lots of happy nattering along the way - meant we got there by about 12.30. We left the car at our B&B in Shipston Rd, then took a rather a long - and BITTERLY cold - walk into town along the route of the old tramway.

First stop, the new RSC theatre, in search of lunch at the restaurant on the top floor, hoping for fine views while dining. Despite the best efforts of an annoying v large group of wrinklies, who seemed intent on 'bumping' us, we got a table (whereas they were turned away - ha!).

Sadly our table was sans view (there's an outer and inner circle and we had a wall between us and the windows (but I went a few steps to take in the INNER view - on the other side of us - of the sheer drop right down to the foyer - yikes! Bob chose not to look....) Nonetheless, it proved a good choice of eaterie. For starters Bob had sophisticated leek with blue cheese soup and I had a delectable salmon salad, then for main course I had an amazing vegetarian pearl barley risotto, while Bob had faggots (!) which he said were delicious. Couldn't resist dessert as well - I had a very modern version of lemon meringue with honeycomb mess (all in a little glass tumbler) whereas Bob just had vanilla icecream. Coffees to finish ofcourse.

We went to try to buy tickets to go up the theatre's tower, but I overheard someone in front of me in the long queue at the box office being told that the next timed ticket for the tower wasn't for at least 90 minutes, so we scrapped that idea and headed into town for a wander around instead.

I've been to Stratford many times, but it was Bob's first time. We didn't want to pay to go into any of the Shakespeare properties, but enjoyed seeing the many elizabethan buildings from the outside. Window shopping soon turned into actual shopping - and then some!

It's quite a haul:
First I got a lovely new necklace of polished stones (not cheap but reasonable) plus a pair of inexpensive silver celtic knot earrings in Past Times. Due to the cold, we then bought a hat for me - in Fat Tuesday I think. Next Bob bought a couple of books in Waterstones (one on unusual places in London, the other about the diet of early homo sapiens. We browsed the street market but managed not to buy anything there. Later, we sought a thank you gift (and a few souvenirs for ourselves) in the shop attached to Shakespeare's birthplace: I bought a fridge magnet, a thimble, several greeting cards, a Shakespearean canvas bag (!), souvenir sweets BUT DIDN'T BUY the cheesy Romeo & Juliet snowglobe: I thought Bob was joking, but he's been going on about not being allowed to get it ever since (although that may still be him teasing me, I'm not sure..)

A few doors up, we bought some typically touristy biscuits to take back for our dog-sitting friends. On the same (pedestrianised) street, a busking juggler's pet rabbit - called (predictably I suppose) Thumper - was roaming rather further than he was supposed to, but without ill effect.

Heading back down the main street, the gravitational pull of a couple of clothes shops advertising their January sales proved too strong. In the end, (after a trying on session, with Bob in traditional position sitting at the changing room entrance, giving his verdict on each item) we bought me: an embroidered cardigan, 2 tops and a long scarf. Like a child with new shoes, I switched as soon as having paid and wore the cardigan and scarf for the rest of the day.

Cup of tea and a bit of a rest in an ok tea room (the elizabethan building itself was lovely, with sloping floorboards, but the victoria sponge was horrid, unfortunately). This was followed by a browse in a fantastic second hand book shop - Bob found a very reasonably priced 1st edition of some book he knew, while I bought quite an expensive book about Morcembe and Wise (Bring me Sunshine).

Next was the search for a pre-theatre light meal. Old Town House, and the place next to it, had no space, so we just headed straight for the Courtyard Theatre and ate in the little cafe there - didn't really want a big meal anyway, after our big meal at lunchtime- baked potatoes with filling (and a glass of wine for me) was just right.

Had a little look in the theatre's Matilda shop - I bought a Matilda fridge magnet and an RSC canvas bag - and then we found a chair (one between the two of us) to wait in the foyer.

The show itself was wonderful - we were sitting in the circle, although right round at the side. I liked seeing everything from above this time, although I wasn't crazy about the side-on angle, and it seemed much harder to make out the lyrics of the songs this time, which I thought was due to the sound being not so well balanced for that part of the auditorium. Bob was tired and feeling slightly under pressure, cos he was aware that I was really hoping he would like it. Nonetheless he did enjoy and like it - 'just not as much as you do', as he put it.

A quick icecream at the interval, but no chance of getting a drink from the bar (I'd forgotten to order anything beforehand). By the end, Bob and I were both swelteringly hot and rather thirsty. Narrowly avoiding Bob's tiredness-tetchiness turning into out-and-out grumpiness, we rather enjoyed the quite long walk back to the B&B in the cold night air, with a totally clear sky filled with stars, pausing only to identify a few constellations, and to pick up a couple of soft drinks from an all-night garage.

To sleep, perchance to dream.... Nice comfy bed in a perfectly adequate B&B - but Bob had been spoilt by his (discounted) night in a lovely hotel (The MountPleasant) in Malvern last week (which I had also booked for him & Wynn, I might add!), so he was intent on teasing me for my penny-watching ways. Next week-end away, he says, we must go for the posh hotel option (yikes!)

The next morning, we enjoyed a nice leisurely start to the day, and had a full English breakfast, to set us up for the day. We then had to do lots of ice-scrapping before setting off in the car by a different, more scenic, route home - via the Cotswolds. We hadn't planned on much of a stop, but when we saw the signs pointing towards the Cotswolds Wildlife Park, we decided to go & have a look. Not cheap to get in, but we went ahead - and I'm very glad we did - we thoroughly enjoyed our visit, and plan to go back sometime in the summer months as well. Despite the bright sun it was jolly cold, and Bob (in true gentlemanly fashion) lent me his hoodie as an extra layer. As a result he was barely warm enough (despite his 4 remaining layers!). I was cosy, except for my toes.

Can't begin to remember all the cute, the ugly, the fascinating and the bizarre creatures we saw. I was surprised by how active so many of the animals seemed to be - they seemed to be enjoying the sunshine as much as we were. I think our joint favourite was the group of Pallas Cats - an ancient species of wild cat that looks like a particularly cuddly but slightly grumpy domestic cat. But the Red Panda came a close 2nd. Oh and the penguins, the meerkats, the lemurs, the warty pig (!), the giant tapir, huge snakes, fruit bats, white rhino, cameleons.... The wolves were amazing too, but rather sad and disturbing, as they were pacing in a repetitive, institutionalised fashion - and were in an enclosure that didn't really seem large enough for them.

We had a spot of lunch in the little cafe - just soup and a roll was enough after such a big breakfast. Having indulged in a final bit of retail therapy (just another thimble, Cotswolds honey for our friends and some sweets for later) we took to the road and the drive back to London didn't take as long as we expected - we were back shortly before 3pm! Having helped Wynn to find his passport number, I collapsed and had a post-drive nap for an hour before going to collect the dog and then taking Wynn to the tube (too tired to drive him all the way to New Cross!)

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