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This trip is a little different than the last we took to Europe: we were traveling as part of a package tour with Lord Addison Travel, Ltd. This was the gift of a close friend, for our 10th anniversary. Consequently, most of the organizational details of the trip were arranged for us, including transportation, accommodations, even most of our meals. There would be six people taking the tour, including my mother-in-law, plus our guide and bus driver. But the structure of the tour, while arranged in advanced, was not in any way rigid; we could and did make alterations to the scheduled itinerary on the fly, to meet the needs and interests of the members of our party. More on this in the course of my narrative.
British Airways is the way to go. The First Class seats are little cubicles all their own, and convert into beds with a modicum of isolation and privacy. Of course, we traveled in Coach, but even there the seats seemed a little larger, the amenities a little nicer, and the selection of entertainment a little better than on other airlines. Decent food. Free booze. No major complaints.
The trip over was uneventful. We arrived two hours late (due to a delayed departure . . . a nuisance, but also a nice sort of one: heightened expectation and anticipation), landing about 8 AM local time. Cleared through passport control and customs fairly quickly, and after only a delay of a few minutes met up with our transportation to the hotel. The drive in from Gatwick was long and round-a-bout, but eventually we got to our hotel: The Raddison Kenilworth, just a block down from the British Museum, right in the heart of London. After a bit of confusion about rooms, we got sorted out, dropped off our bags, found a nearby ATM, and went off in search of The Globe.
The Globe is a recent addition to London, the re-creation of Shakespeare’s famous theatre on the south side of the Thames, just a bit from where the original stood almost 400 years ago. It was a project started and almost seen to completion by actor Sam Wannamaker. We got there from our hotel after a couple of tube changes and a bit of a hike. The weather was marvelously cool and overcast, a real contrast to the 100+ degree weather we left behind in Dallas. We made it in time for the last tour of the day, since there was going to be a performance that afternoon. To give us the most time inside the actual theatre, our guide did the tour backwards, skipping the explanatory material and the tour of the adjacent Inigo Jones theatre (dates about 50 years after The Globe) and took us straight into The Globe.
I about gasped when I walked inside the large wooden doors into the courtyard of the theatre. It is, literally, stunning. The gilt embellishments and massive decorations of the ceiling of the stage command your attention. Only after a moment do you start to recognize and take in any of the rest of the place. The stage projects out from one wall into the open courtyard, with the floor of the stage about 4 feet above the floor of the courtyard. Where we were standing was the "Groundling," where about 1500 people would pay a few pence to stand and watch a play (you can still do this today, though they limit the number to about 500 for fire-code reasons). The three other sides of the courtyard are where the better-off folk would sit and enjoy a performance. In period, about 3,000 people would sit in these area, though modern safety limits it to about 1,500 for current performances.
The really impressive thing is that it was all done using period construction techniques. Hand-hewn timbers, over 9,000 hand-carved pegs for joinery, even thatch for the roof. This is the first time that thatch has been allowed to be used on a building in London since the great fire, and they had to use modern fire-retardant treatments and a sprinkler system that pokes up through the thatch in order to get permission to build it. As the guide said, no one knows exactly what the original Globe looked like, since there exist no known renderings of the interior of the theatre. But based on different contemporary descriptions, matched with known construction techniques for such buildings, they feel certain that they got it about 90% right, maybe more.
We had to vacate the inside of the theatre to allow the staff to get ready for the afternoon performance. But outside, the guide told us about the lime-and-animal hair plaster used on the walls, the carved wooden doors . . . and the magnificent gate of hand-forged iron figurines, each one donated by a different blacksmith from around the world (including at least one SCA smith). Inside we saw the four huge New Zealand tapestries, all hand-sewn and embroidered by hundreds of different people in that country, and donated to The Globe for use as backdrops for different play performances. There were also displays of other donated items, such as costumes, furniture, and props, also all done in as period a recreation as possible.
After the tour, we had sandwiches there in the theatre complex, picked up some postcards, and then made our way back to the hotel. Relaxing a bit, we went downstairs to the pub in the hotel and met the other members of our tour group. There was another Martha (in addition to my mother-in-law and my wife, who was quickly designated Alix to avoid confusion), Elaine, and Jeanne, and our guide, Jan. Alix, Jan, and I were all of an age, and some 20 years younger than the other folks in our group. Elaine and Martha were from the Midwest, Jeanne from near Boston. Our guide, Jan, was an American (Virginia) who had settled in south Wales some 20 years previously and now held dual citizenship. All the members of the group had been in Britain before, most of us having also seen at least parts of Wales.
After a relaxing half hour or so, we went in to dinner in the adjacent fine restaurant, an Edwardian Carvery. In other words, in addition to appetizers (universally called "starters" by all the Brits, something I had not noticed on our previous trip), there was a buffet of salads, fish, cooked and fresh vegetable, and a Carver who would hack off a nice thick chunk of Prime Rib, Roast Lamb, or juicy Ham (or all three). Then, of course, dessert and coffee or tea. And something else I noticed about this trip that differed from the last: the coffee we had was always excellent, and fresh.
It was the start of what would be a week-long feast for the senses. We crashed, having pushed ourselves to stay up and hence to minimize jet lag, and slept deeply until it was time to get started on our journey into Wales.
all work © James T. Downey, 1993-2006
photos © Martha K. John, 1994-2006
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