Archive for June, 2013

Last Days in the UK

All good things must come to an end. Our last two days in England have been restful and full of reminiscing. They have also been full of the expected menial tasks, like packing and taking our take-home final exam.  So it goes.

Yesterday, several of us returned to St. Mary’s church to experience Anglican worship for a second time. It wasn’t quite as special as the first time, but we all still enjoyed it very much. Just like our first experience, the people were incredibly friendly, and it was fun to worship in a style different than we get at home. For lunch after church, we returned to Spencer’s Cafe…because that cranberry & brie panini was too good to only eat once ;)  

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Today, Monday, was our final day in England. As Regan and I ran a few errands, it was a bit strange to think that I won’t be returning to Cheltenham anytime soon….possibly ever. At the same time, that realization made me want to savour every moment of English raindrops, public transportation, busy streets, aged architecture, and amazing accents all the more. These past three weeks have been exhilarating, fantastic, mind-blowing, amazing. I have seen the graves of kings and queens, dead for hundreds of years. I have walked in the steps of Shakespeare and C.S. Lewis. I have seen the Atlantic from the opposite side of the world. I have visited two castles, and seen Cotswold hillsides dotted with sheep. I have seen top-notch Shakespeare productions, not once, but twice! I have eaten delicious food, and have become better friends with a dozen people I hardly knew before this trip. I am incredibly blessed.

Tonight we had a farewell dinner. Sandy and Denise, our two Cheltenham coordinators, joined our entire Cedarville crew for a fancy meal at Copa, a restaurant here in town. Although much of the menu consisted of traditional British food, the restaurant served it in an especially classy (and delicious) manner. I had salmon niçoise (which had a poached egg on top), with a Belgian dark chocolate torte (with salted caramel hazelnuts and creme fraiche) for dessert. It was uh-mazing.

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The last meeting of our dinner club :/ It was a sad fact to acknowledge, but we compensated by having perhaps our most enjoyable meal yet. :)

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As I sit here typing, watching the sun set outside my second floor window, Cheltenham town lies silhouetted against a multicolored sky. It reminds me that yes, this has been a wonderful trip, but my trip home tomorrow will also be wonderful. I have enjoyed myself immensely, and definitely will miss jolly ol’ England…but Iowa is the place to go if you want to see real sunsets ;)

Well, friends, I am heading to bed. Tomorrow will be a very long day of travel, as we hope to leave for Heathrow by 7am. Thank you so much for reading my blog! All of your positive comments have been so encouraging, and have meant a lot! It’s because of you sweet readers that I’ve been able to stay somewhat punctual with the updates. You are wonderful!

Love,

Taylor

Penwythnos yng Nghymru :: A Weekend in Wales, Chapter 2

Regan and I began our second day in Wales with a walk along Cardiff Bay. This area of the city is newer than the central portion, and is blossoming with activity.  We were blessed with beautiful weather during our initial walk along the coast, which made my inner amateur photographer quite glad.

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Our first true stop for the day was the Doctor Who Experience. Opened less than a year ago, this nerd-mecca serves as a museum of artifacts from the BBC show’s long history. (This November, Doctor Who will celebrate its 50th anniversary.)

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The first portion of the Doctor Who Experience reminded me of a ride at Disney World. After watching a short film, lots of special-effects magic occurred to transport you into one of the Doctor’s adventures. We got to watch the TARDIS “appear” out of thin air, and venture into its “bigger on the inside” depths. Once there, we even got to help the Doctor “fly” the TARDIS!  The whole experience was definitely aimed at little kids, and was admittedly cheesy at points, but I still enjoyed myself. Regan was elated with the whole experience. :)

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The second portion was more of a museum, presenting items ranging from the very first Doctor’s sonic screwdriver to props from episodes aired less than a month ago. They also had displays where you could see how the Doctor and his nemeses had evolved over the course of the show. It was fairly interesting, especially considering how significantly fashion and special effects have changed over the last fifty years.

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After getting our fill of the TARDIS, Regan and I took a leisurely stroll along a discreet nearby avenue to discover the BBC Wales Drama Village. This nondescript warehouse is where they film shows like Doctor Who and Casualty. (I had never heard of that second show, but apparently it is the world’s longest-running emergency medical drama television series.) One could easily see the tops of tall artificial buildings peeking up from over a wall behind the warehouse, which was kind of exciting.

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Roald Dahl, the renowned author of children’s books, was born in 1916 in Cardiff to a Norwegian family. This Norwegian church on the bay had a few signs commemorating him, as well as the hundreds of Norwegian sailors who also called Cardiff home.

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As I mentioned, the Cardiff Bay area is rather new; besides the Milennium Centre (a huge, beautiful theatre…Wicked is playing there sometime next year), there aren’t a lot of places for tourists to visit on a rainy day. Thus, Regan and I decided to hike back up to central Cardiff.

As we arrived back near Cardiff Castle, we noticed a flurry of activity. As we approached the gate, we learned that we were in the city just in time for a (free!) Welsh festival. The area within the castle walls had been transformed into something vaguely resembling a medieval market day (without the animals or period clothing). Tents had been erected across the lawn and hundreds of people milled about, visiting different booths. A band was performing on the main stage, near the keep, but it wasn’t any sort of traditional music; instead, a teenage metal band was shouting/singing in Welsh. This festival was celebrating modern Wales along with Welsh heritage.

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It was a neat experience. I’ve been to an Irish festival in the States, but that seemed to celebrate Irish tradition, and emphasize heritage and olden times. This festival embraced tradition, but it also seemed to promote thinking in the present.

Unlike the signs within the larger city, most of the vendors' signs did not bother with English words. It was kind of exciting.

Unlike the signs within the larger city, most of the vendors’ signs did not bother with English words. It was kind of exciting.

My favorite part of the Welsh festival was hearing a girls’ choir sing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in Welsh. The girls were so innocent and sweet, and it was so cool to see how they got into the music. It made the experience all the more meaningful in that I knew the English version of what they sang.

After making our rounds and browsing the different vendors, Regan and I made tracks for the National Museum. However, we got sidetracked in the park just across from the museum. This area appeared to be somewhat connected with the Welsh festival, but it focused on wildlife preservation. The group Falconry UK had a booth displaying many of the different birds they use, and a man was giving a talk with some of the BBC presenters about a tawny frogmouth. This bird, both cute and bizarre-looking, originates in Australia, and is somehow related to the owl. I appreciated getting to listen to part of the lecture, and to see animals that are quite uncommon in Iowa.

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Finally, we arrived in the museum. This beautiful (and free!) resource had both a fantastic art section and an enjoyable Natural History area. 

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The Natural History section was definitely aimed at kids, but I was very impressed with its content. They had tons of taxidermied animals, a few dinosaur skeletons, and lots of exciting video presentations about seismic activity and rock formation. However, the aspect I enjoyed the most was that everything was explained in both English and Welsh. :) There’s just something fun about seeing things you know (like the water cycle) explained in a different language. :)

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My favorite part of the museum was the art. Their collection was fantastic, especially considering museum’s small size. They had an extensive contemporary area, including a few works of Picasso, and also an absolutely fantastic impressionism section. Some of my favorite works that we saw were by Monet; three of his Waterlilies paintings, Charing Cross Bridge 1902, and — the very coolest – San Giogrgio Maggiore by Twilight. These paintings had the uncanny ability of tricking one’s eye, especially Monet’s Charing Cross Bridge; when you stood close to the canvas, it looked like a lovely blur of pastel colors with a few vague shapes manifesting themselves deep within the fog. However, as you stepped farther back, the solid forms within the painting began to materialize. It was fantastic!

The museum also had some more realisitic art, like The Parisienne by Renior, The Head of Victor Hugo by Rodin, and The Stronghold of the Seison and the Camp of Kittywale by John Brett. Overall, it was an excellent exhibit, and I was extremely impressed.

After we finished our museum hopping, Regan and I caught an early train back to Cheltenham, arriving home around 7 pm. Although the weekend had been exhausting, we had an amazing time.

Penwythnos yng Nghymru :: A Weekend in Wales, Chapter 1

For our final weekend in the UK, Regan and I decided to go international! (Well, sort of.) Early on Friday morning, we hiked down to the Cheltenham Spa railway station and boarded the first train to Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Although Wales itself is a separate country from England, with its own Parliament and laws, it is contained within the United Kingdom, meaning that no passports are required to travel over the border. (This video sort of explains the differences, if you’re still confused. It took me a while to completely understand…)

Welsh is a langugage that I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around. I realized this weekend that, on all of my previous travel experiences, I either spoke the language in the country or had learned enough of it to have a smidge of understanding. But in Wales…not so much. Upon arriving, I realized that I had absolutely no clue how to say (or even sound out!) any Welsh words or phrases. I had completely neglected to do any pre-trip language research, and felt rather ignorant. We encountered no issues, because English is the country’s other official language, but I was still a bit disappointed in myself.

But, I digress. Upon arriving in Cardiff, we explored the downtown area a bit.

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Our first primary stop was Cardiff Castle. This immense, beautiful structure has evolved significantly over the years. In the 3rd century, the Romans constructed a fort here, to protect the area from pirates. In the 11th century, Norman invaders built a motte and bailey castle (you know, the kind with a keep and battlements and a moat) on top of the long-abandoned Roman fortifications.  However, because the Normans were encroaching on Welsh land, there were a few skirmishes, and eventually Duke Robert of Normandy (whose grave we saw at Gloucester Cathedral) was held captive here, for the last eight years of his life.

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As the years progressed, more towers and stronger walls were built. During the 19th Century, the Marquis of Bute drastically rennovated the manor house to suit his tastes, constructing it in a more Georgian style. This manor house remains today, in excellent condition.

The banqueting hall in the manor house.

The banqueting hall in the manor house.

Regan and I toured this manor house, as well as the rest of the castle interior. It was huge! It differed from Sudeley Castle in that it seemed more of a “stereotypical” castle, in that Cardiff Castle has huge fortifying walls, an immense gate, a large open area within the walls, a manor house, and an ancient stone keep. Sudeley Castle was beautiful, but consisted only of a manor house.

Cardiff Castle had a trebuchet! Sudeley had really, really beautiful gardens...but how do you beat a trebuchet?

Cardiff Castle had a trebuchet! Sudeley had really, really beautiful gardens…but how do you top a trebuchet?

During World War II, the owners of the castle opened up their property to shelter the people of Cardiff. In order to do this, they knocked holes into the castle’s outer battlement walls so that the public might access the hollow interior. These extremely fortified tunnels served as air raid shelters during the war.

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Regan and I also dared venture within the keep. Getting there was a wee bit tricky, as the rain made the 100+ steps slippery. We held tight onto the handrails, and eventually arrived safely at the top :)

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Within the keep.

Within the keep. The large triangular space on the left portion of the wall was once a fireplace.

Back in the day, this keep held many wooden buildings and is where the people who lived within the castle would go in times of danger. The keep is surrounded by a fairly deep moat and sits on a raised embankment to make it defendable if invaders breached the castle’s primary walls.

The top of the keep offered excellent views of the city of Cardiff. If you look really hard over the castle’s main gate, you can even see the sea!

You can also see Millennium Stadium poking up from behind the manor house.

You can also see Millennium Stadium poking up from behind the manor house.

After exploring the castle, Regan and I browsed around central Cardiff seeking sustenance. Soon, we made a lovely discovery along the main road: Cardiff Market.

Cardiff 1 023This immense indoor market began in the 1700′s as a farmer’s market, and has since evolved into a permanent home for dozens of merchants and restaurants. I was astonished by the variety of items available to buy. There were several butchers, a couple of bakeries, some sweet shops, and your usual shops selling fruit & veg. What I did not expect to find was a hardware store, three pet shops (you could come home with a kitty!), a haberdasher, a vintage clothing/costume shop, and a fabric shop. It was quite the variety!

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Turkish Delight, by the pound!

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A view inside one of the butchers’ stalls. Yep, that’s a pig face.

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After exploring our options, Regan and I grabbed lunch and some snacks from one of the bakers’ stalls. We also tried a few new desserts!

These Welsh cakes tasted like a mixture between a small pancake and shortbread. They were delicious, and I'm hoping to make some once I'm home. :)

These Welsh cakes resembled a mixture between shortbread and a small pancake. They were delicious, and I’m hoping to make some once I’m home. :)

This Eccles cake consisted of a hollow pastry dough, filled with blueberry compote. Again, delicious. :)

This Eccles cake consisted of hollow pastry dough filled with blueberry compote. Again, delicious. :)

After lunch, Regan and I explored the city for a while. We found a lovely (free!!) museum called The Cardiff Story, which offered several short, well-made video presentations on the evolution of the city. Cardiff is a port city, and has long depended both on the fishing industry and on production from local mines. The city still depends heavily on local coal mines, but has expanded its economic range, and now has a thriving financial sector.

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After this refreshing history lesson, Regan and I began trekking south to find our hotel and finally put down our backpacks. This trip was unlike any I’d previously experienced, in that all of my belongings constantly had a presence on my person. We weren’t able to check in to the hotel until the afternoon, so when our bags weren’t in the cloakroom of a museum, they were on our backs. It was an enlightening experience…I never realized how tiring that can be!

As usual, we got turned around a couple of times while trying to find our destination, but after lots of walking, we eventually arrived at our hotel. After checking in, we crashed for the evening…even though it was only the afternoon. Our hotel was located just off of a major highway, at least a 20-minute walk from any tourist attractions or shopping centers. So, after having dinner at the closest restaurant, Regan and I embraced the culture by watching British game shows. This was the first and only time we’ve been able to watch television on this trip, so I didn’t feel too bad about staying in for the evening. It’s still a cultural experience, right?

– Stay tuned for an update on our second day in Cardiff! –

 

 

 

A Day Out in Oxford

Today was our final class field trip. Naturally, we traveled to a land of literary wonderment — Oxford! Although the weather consisted of a stereotypical English drizzle, our day was still action-packed and full of adventure.

Our first stop in Oxford was the legendary Bodleian library.

Pann2Although we didn’t have time for a tour, we did stop by their new “Magical Books” exhibit. This free display featured works ranging from medieval illuminated texts depicting griffins and unicorns, to alchemist’s scrolls, to Shakespeare’s First Folio (opened to Macbeth), to the works of modern authors. My favorite part was a series of maps, of Narnia and Middle Earth, drawn by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, respectively. I was also very enthused to see dozens of Tolkien’s drawings and paintings depicting scenes from his books, many of which were not included in publication. Just as the headline indicated, the experience was truly “magical”. :)

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Next we traveled to Christchurch College, where Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland) taught mathematics. Many members of our group found this area especially exciting, because a few scenes for the first Harry Potter film were shot here.

The tower houses a bell named "Great Tom". Fun fact: C.S. Lewis named his cat after that bell.

The tower houses a bell named “Great Tom”. Fun fact: C.S. Lewis named his cat after that bell.

 

The Great Hall (aka, cafeteria) of Christchurch College. This was the inspiration for the Great Hall of Hogwarts.

The Great Hall (aka, cafeteria) of Christchurch College. This was the inspiration for the Great Hall of Hogwarts.

For lunch, we traveled to the Eagle and Child pub. Back when they taught at Oxford, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and several of their friends would frequent this pub. They called themselves the Inklings, and would come here every Tuesday at 10 am to drink beer and gossip.

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On Thursday evenings, the Inklings would convene in Lewis’s Oxford apartments to discuss their current literary endeavors. Although the pub was decently large, our little group was privileged to sit in the very corner where the Inklings gathered every week! (We were a little bit over-excited.)

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The pub included several small touches to remind people of its famous history. For instance, Lord of the Rings books were visible, sitting on high shelves behind the bar. A quote from The Fellowship of the Ring was written on a chalkboard on the wall, and a quote from C.S. Lewis was written on one of the building’s beams. In the corner where we sat, casual photos of Inklings members hung in frames near the fireplace. I appreciated these small touches — but even more, I appreciated how the Eagle & Child stayed true to itself. They didn’t try to create Tolkien or Lewis themed menu items, nor did they decorate in a manner that denoted anything except a classic English pub. Instead, the focus was on keeping the place up as a good, traditional restaurant, and the Eagle & Child did an excellent job.

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For our next adventure, we trekked to Magdalen College, where C.S. Lewis taught. Although his home, the Kilns, was located on the outskirts of Oxford, Lewis would stay in an apartment on the Magdalen College campus during the week.

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Apartments for the professors at Magdalen.

Apartments for the professors at Magdalen.

Like the rest of Oxford, the stonework and architechture here was exceptionally beautiful. Connected to Magdalen was Addison’s Walk, a gorgeous stretch of pathway that leads around in a circle, with the River Cherwell on one side and a wide meadow on the other. It was here that Lewis frequently took long walks after dinner. One night, when Lewis was still an atheist, Lewis and Tolkien and another Inkling friend had a lengthy discussion about faith while strolling along this path. The conversation was so in-depth that the men returned to Lewis’s apartment and continued talking until 3 o’clock in the morning! It was after this conversation that Lewis became a theist, and soon after converted to Christianity.

Oxford 209Strolling along Addison’s Walk was peaceful. It felt almost dreamlike, to literally walk the paths of such a great apologist and see some of the things he would have seen as he contemplated coming to faith in Christ. 

After leaving Magdalen, we traveled to Holy Trinity Church, just outside of Oxford, where C.S. Lewis attended church on Sundays. This is also where he is buried.

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It was surreal, seeing his grave. Lewis has influenced modern Christianity so significantly, and his works are still so popular…I guess I sometimes forget he’s dead. I praise God for Lewis’s life and works, and by no means want to worship Lewis. Instead, I have a profound respect for how he followed God’s leading in his life, and how he has shaped the lives of countless people over the past six decades.

Our final stop of the day was The Kilns, the home where C.S. Lewis lived for almost half of his life. (It is so named because, in the early 20th century, a working brickyard and set of kilns were located in the home’s back yard.)

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In the 1970′s, the Lewis family sold the Kilns, and the new owners decided to significantly remodel the home. Within the past 20 years, the Lewis Foundation purchased the home and have made an effort to make the house into a setting that resembles the interior of the Kilns as Lewis would have known it. However, they have turned it not into a museum, but in a location to honor Lewis’s memory. None of the furniture is original, but this also means that tourists are free to interact more with the items in the house. Because of these light restrictions, the Kilns is an extremely welcoming environment.

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(They didn’t, however, let us check to see if the wardrobe contained a portal to Narnia…)

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The Lewis Foundation now uses the Kilns as an intentional living community for Christian scholars at Oxford. Two of the currents residents of the Kilns, Matt and Nicole, gave us a private tour. It was excellent! They were extremely informative, and super friendly. Matt was even familiar with Cedarville! Apparently he is good friends with one of our professors. (“It’s a small world after all…”)

We even got to try Turkish Delight, in C.S. Lewis's dining room! Never in my life would I have guessed that I would have that opprotunity...

We even got to try Turkish Delight, in C.S. Lewis’s dining room! Never in my life would I have guessed that I would have that opportunity…

We arrived safely home in Cheltenham this evening, tired but happy after a long day of adventures. Tomorrow begins our final weekend in England, and Regan and I plan to take advantage of this free time, and go on our most adventurous trip yet! Stay tuned for more updates. :)

Love,

Taylor

Custard and a Cathedral

Today after class, Regan and I hopped on a bus and returned to the immense Gloucester Cathedral, so that we might get a closer look at this gorgeous building.

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In 679 AD, the bishop Osric founded an abbey at this location. Around the tenth century, the abbey became a monastery, and in 1089, the foundation stone of the new abbey building (a portion of what we currently see) was laid. But times would not always be good for this Gloucester Abbey. In 1540, King Henry VIII (the one with all the wives) decided that, since the Catholic church wouldn’t give him a divorce, he would create a new church (the Church of England) and dissolve almost all of the monasteries in England. Gloucester Abbey was dissolved in 1540, but in 1541, Henry VIII established the Diocese of Gloucester, with this Cathedral as the mother church. (Part of the reason he didn’t completely destroy this monastery is because King Edward II was buried here.) Since this period, the Gloucester Cathedral has been an Anglican church, and has flourished. And indeed, it is a beautiful building.

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This is where we listened to the Evensong service yesterday. We sat in the seats next to the lamps, and the choir sat in the area with the music stands.

This is where we listened to the Evensong service yesterday. We sat in the seats next to the lamps, and the choir sat in the area with the music stands.

Upon arriving, we first took a free tour down into the crypt. Much to my surprise, the crypt did not extend extremely deep into the ground, nor did it contain any graves. (Because of the high water table, the crypt only extended about 15 feet below the Cathedral floor.) The crypt did, however, contain architecture from several different periods, ranging from Romanesque to Norman to Perpendicular. Early in its history, when the cathedral was still an abbey, the monks used this area both as a place of worship as well as a place to lay out their dead before burial.

After the tour, Regan and I explored the abbey for a bit. Regan was very excited, because several scenes in the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed in the cloisters. I’m not really a Harry Potter fan, but it was still a joy to see the amazingly intricate architecture.

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We also had the opportunity to see the tombs of King Edward II, Osric (the first abbot of Gloucester Abbey), and Robert, Duke of Normandy (son of William the Conqueror).

Robert, Duke of Normandy

Robert, Duke of Normandy

King Edward VII

King Edward VII

Osric

Osric

At 2:30, we were privileged to take the Cathedral’s Bell Tower tour. Our group was small, with two guides and four tourists, but the intimacy made it that much more enjoyable.

First, we entered this small spiral staircase, which was built into the corner of the building near the nave.

Gloucester 170After climbing about 150 steps, we walked through a space between the cathedral ceiling and its roof. It was sort of like taking a behind-the-scenes tour at Disney World, except exponentially cooler and more legitimately historical ;)

After climbing another set of stone spiral stairs, we arrived at another platform – this one containing the tower where the bell ringers go to practice their art. I had no idea that bell ringing (or campanology) was so complex. For instance, a peal is not just one ringing of a bell. Instead, it involves the ringing of at least seven different bells in a specific sequence, which totals at least 5,040 individual rings. To perform a full peal takes several hours, and requires a great amount of skill on the part of the ringers. In addition, English bell ringing is a specific art, and differs from styles found in other countries.

Richard, our tour guide, first learned this art 65 years ago, at the age of 12. He was extremely informative! Here he demonstrates English bell ringing on one of the Cathedral's smaller bells.

Richard, one of our tour guides, first learned this art 65 years ago, at the age of 12. He was extremely informative! Here he demonstrates English bell ringing on one of the Cathedral’s smaller bells.

We also had the privilege of standing next to the Cathedral’s immense medieval bell as it rang the tones of the 3:00 hour.

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Even though I knew what to expect, I jumped at each tone! It was a neat experience. But — it was not the end of our tour!

We climbed yet another set of spiral steps, this one smaller and narrower than the previous sets. This slightly precarious climb merited fabulous results, however, as it safely deposited us at the very top of the Cathedral’s bell tower. This tower, built in 1450 (42 years before Columbus discovered North America!!) offered incredible views of the entire city of Gloucester. We were lucky enough to reach this part of the tour in between spurts of rain, so we didn’t get wet. :)

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On the tour, we climbed a total of 269 steps. Coming down felt more precarious than going up, especially since we didn’t make any stops in between, and we fully realized that the staircase became wider as one proceeded further down. But we eventually returned to the ground, safe and sound, with plenty of pictures and an adrenaline rush as a result. If you are ever in Gloucester Cathedral, take the bell tower tour!

After returning to Cheltenham, our dinner club group had a rather unique meal. We all quite enjoy the British television show Doctor Who. Being in England, we have enjoyed seeing cultural aspects often mentioned on the show that we don’t always understand in America. (For instance, Jammie Dodgers  and Jelly Babies have been  frequent purchases at Tesco by members of our little group.) Tonight, we decided to be a little bit more eccentric with our Whovian enjoyment.

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In the first episode of season 5, Matt Smith’s Doctor doesn’t know what he likes to eat. So, after trying lots of different (normal) foods like apples, bacon, and yoghurt, he searches through the fridge and freezer. Finally, he finds what he has been craving — fish fingers (fish sticks) and custard (pudding). He cooks the fish sticks, dips them in the custard, and is finally satiated. Would you like to guess what our dinner consisted of this evening?

Gloucester 217Yes, I know, it sounds absolutely terrible and disgusting and incredibly gross. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my lifetime, it’s to try something before you judge it. You never know…it might be your new favorite food!

Fish fingers and custard is not my new favorite food, but it was much better than I expected. The custard was evenly (but not overly) sweet, and the fish sticks had a pleasant texture. To my complete astonishment, the flavors actually sort of meshed. It wasn’t a combination I would ever serve at a dinner party (unless it was some sort of weird-food theme night…), but I actually sort of enjoyed it. You see? You never know until you try. :)

Well folks, that’s all for tonight. Tomorrow we Cedarvillians are leaving bright and early for our final field trip! And it looks to be a quite exciting one at that. :)

Have a lovely evening!

Love,

Taylor

Evensong

Hello, all!

I would apologize for not posting anything yesterday…except, nothing very exciting happened. We had class, I made chili mac & cheese for dinner, and that was really it. But now for news of truly interesting occurrences!

This morning, we had class at a different part of the University of Gloucester campus. This section of the school is much older than the area where we had class last week, and I thought it worthy of a few photos. :)

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This afternoon, several of us rode in the top of a double-decker bus to the nearby city of Gloucester. There, we had the privilege of taking part in the Gloucester Cathedral Evensong service.

A gorgeous view of the Cotswolds from our splendid spot on the bus.

A gorgeous view of the Cotswolds from our splendid spot on the bus. :)

A rough equivalent to the Catholic Vespers, Evensong is an evening prayer service of the Anglican church in which many of the prayers are sung. The Gloucester Cathedral has an excellent boys choir, and we were blessed with the opportunity to hear them sing this evening.

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Gloucester Cathedral

As expected, the service was absolutely breathtaking. It began with a long piece played on the Cathedral’s absolutely stunning pipe organ, followed by a Psalm 147 sung by the boys/men’s choir.

As the choir began its first song, my jaw fell open and a huge smile crept over my face. I have heard quite a lot of beautiful music in my life, but this service ranked near the top. The bell-like voices of the younger choir members were exquisitely balanced by the rich, deep tones of the men. The gorgeous mixes of melody and harmony danced around one another, bouncing off of the cathedral’s ornate, aging walls, falling into my ears like dewdrops of golden sound. We sat in the nave, surrounded by carvings, staring into the eyes of stained glass saints. The atmosphere was gorgeous, the singing absolutely incredible, and the whole experience — almost surreal.

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Today is the Feast Day of St. Barnabas, so the New Testament Scripture reading mentioned him. In addition to the many choral elements, the service also featured communal prayer, two Scripture readings, and a congregational reading of the Apostle’s Creed. This seemed more like a concert than a church service, but it was still wonderful to praise God in such a manner. :)

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(If you’d like to listen to an Evensong service, to get a taste of the amazing sound, I found this example on the BBC’s website. And there’s also this shorter example, in which the Gloucester choir sings the Magnificat.)

You needed to buy a pass in order to take photos inside of the Cathedral, and the office was closed by the time we arrived, so I have no photos within the church. However, it was so beautiful, and there is so much history inside that we didn’t get to see, that Regan and I are going back tomorrow. You can expect lots and lots of pictures in my next post :)

Have a lovely evening!

Love,

Taylor

Sunday worship

This morning, Regan, Michael, Dr. Calhoun and I visited St. Mary’s, an Anglican church at the heart of town. As we walked up to the church, echoes from its many bells rang in our ears. St. Mary’s was built around the year 1210, and remains one of the oldest buildings in Cheltenham. Stone walls and gorgeous stained glass made this worship experience completely unique – and extraordinarily special. As we entered, we weren’t quite sure where to sit, as this first service was more traditional and fairly small. Before I realized what we were doing, our group plopped down in one of the front rows.

Much to my delight, the music consisted entirely of hymns accompanied by a pipe organ. Although I only knew one of the hymns (which, incidentally, was written by someone from Moody Bible Institute), it was a very enjoyable worship experience. It brought such warmth to my heart, to hear people singing praises to God, in British accents, in such a classically beautiful building built for the sole purpose of giving Him glory. It made me think about what it will be like in Heaven one day, when people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will gather and sing praises before our awesome King! Mmm…it gives me wonderful goosebumps. :)

We were blessed to have the opportunity to participate in communion this morning. It was unlike any communion I’ve taken before, but it also seemed extra special. Row by row, we went up to the front of the church and received a piece of bread, and then sipped from a communal glass. Because we were sitting in the front row, we were supposed to be the first ones to go up to receive communion. Since we had never done this sort of thing before (Baptists, you know…), we remained awkwardly seated. Fortunately, one of the sweet ladies in the congregation gave us some instruction. The rector and his wife, who were serving communion, were also incredibly kind about our blunders, and couldn’t have possibly treated us more lovingly.

The entire process of communion – indeed, the entire service – was very methodical. However, because the experience was so new to me, it held loads of novelty, and I felt like I was able to see the deeper meaning in the liturgical practices. After a while, it might be easy to go through the same motions without thinking about them, but I think that issue can happen in any church. This was a wholly enjoyable and spiritual worship experience, and I felt blessed to participate.

After the service, we Americans stood around talking amongst ourselves for a few minutes. However, in that short period of time, at least five different members of the congregation came up to us, welcomed us, and invited us to the back of the sanctuary for tea, coffee, and biscuits. It was the most welcoming church I’ve ever visited! The tea was excellent (no styrafoam cups here…it was all cups & saucers & fantasticness), and the people were so incredibly kind. I’m usually a fairly quiet person, but after church today, I had conversations with at least five different British folks (and one lady from Maryland!). My favorite was a lady who came up behind Regan and I, wrapped her arms around our waists, and exclaimed (in a very happy, proper, British manner), “It’s so nice to have some people here under the age of seventy!” She was adorable. Indeed, we were almost certainly the only people in the building under the age of fifty, but that age gap added to the experience. I wouldn’t mind visiting St. Mary’s again next week, especially since I probably won’t get to many churches like that back home.

This afternoon was very chill, consisting mainly of homework and skyping family, but it was enjoyable. Now, to prepare for class tomorrow!

Blessings,

Tay

A Day of Firsts

For our second Saturday in England, Regan and I traveled a few miles north of Cheltenham to the ridiculously adorable town of Winchcombe. Though this town is about the same size as Cedarville, it is centuries older, and thus holds abundantly more history.

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Our first stop was Juri’s Tea Room, where we prepared for our day with a light brunch and some tea. I had my first-ever cup of Darjeeling, which is described by some as the “champagne of tea” for its delicate and astringent flavor. …Okay, I read that on the menu, and don’t actually know much about the tea itself. Regardless, I thought the Darjeeling was excellent, and tasted rather delicate. Definitely a tea I would have again.

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Throughout England, walking trails crisscross the countryside. It is a long-held English tradition to go out on a walking trip, trekking from one town to another. Winchcombe is located along the Cotswold Way, a 102-mile footpath that links various villages of the region. We saw many people in Winchcombe adorned with sturdy shoes and walking sticks, which gave me the itch to give this walking business a go. Thus, Regan and I were adventurous, and took a footpath through a couple of fields.

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It felt a bit rebellious…we had to go through a few different gates, and there weren’t many other people around. But, we didn’t get in any trouble, so I would call our adventure a success.

At the end of the path lay our primary destination for the day — my very first true English castle! Sudeley Castle was the home of Katherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of King Henry VIII. She was the only wife to physically survive the marriage without experiencing a divorce.

Winchcombe 130Although we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, the interior of the castle featured an excellent exhibition on Katherine’s life, as well as on the lives of some of the people who inherited the castle. Emma Dent was one of the last proprietors. She used the castle as a museum, and some of the articles she had collected were on display. These included handkerchiefs and flowers worn by Queen Victoria, menus from dinner at Windsor Castle, and pieces of manuscript from such well-known people as Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Charles Dickens, and among dozens of others.

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Regan especially enjoyed the portion about Katherine Parr. My friend is a history major, and one of her favorite topics is the Tudor period and the lives of the wives of King Henry VIII. It was fun to travel there with her, because she was able to fill me in on information that the displays left out. ;)

Winchcombe 129Like any good castle, Sudeley featured a lovely chapel just adjacent to the main building. On the day we visited, a wedding was to take place in the afternoon, so we had the delight of seeing the chapel decorated with some lovely flower arrangements.

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The tomb of Katherine Parr, inside the chapel.

The tomb of Katherine Parr, inside the chapel.

I took a short video of the chapel interior, in case you’d like a glimpse of the stained glass.

A cypress of Lebanon, just like in the Bible! It was unbelievably immense.

A cypress of Lebanon, just like in the Bible! It was unbelievably immense.

 

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The castle’s myriad gardens were absolutely spectacular, and exactly what I had hoped to find on this adventure. Unlike the gardens at Anne Hathaway’s cottage, these were meticulously groomed. A plethora of flower varieties bloomed amongst tall, shapely topiaries. Some of the topiaries were immense, and had pathways cut inside of them! (I took a video of some of our garden adventures…feel free to ignore the commentary.)

Winchcombe 219The gardens also afforded an incredible view of the surrounding countryside. With sheep “baa-ing” and a cool breeze blowing, it felt like we were truly in the pastoral Cotswolds. (Which makes sense…because we were!)

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After walking back into Winchcombe, we visited the Railway Museum. This tiny treasure appeared to be one man’s private collection of hundreds of signs and pieces of memorabilia from all ages of Britain’s train industry. It was cool to see how so much of the industry has changed over the years, and yet how many aspects have remained the same.

I think the American Pickers would be friends with the owner of this museum, if he was in the States.

I think the American Pickers would be friends with the owner of this museum if he wasn’t so far across the Atlantic.

On the bus between Winchcombe and Cheltenham, we were afforded another fantastic view of the countryside. The trip took us over Cleeve Hill, which is the tallest hill in the county of Gloucestershire. (That’s pronounced “Glos-ter-sher”. Don’t worry, it’s taken me about a week to figure out.) It was a breathtaking view! The other people on the bus probably thought we were crazy, with all of our photo-snapping…but we didn’t mind the funny looks. We felt the need to appreciate God’s creation. :)

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After returning to Cheltenham, Regan and I did a bit of walking and (eventually) found the large Tesco in town. (The version we have been frequenting is at the center of town, and is about the size of a convenience store. This Tesco was approximately the size of Walmart, though was considerably further away.) On our way, we got to walk through a new area of Cheltenham, which held some lovely treasures — Polish grocery stores and restaurants!

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Cheltenham is home to many people who have immigrated from Poland in order to find work. The two most spoken languages in Cheltenham are English and Polish, the same as in Łodz, Poland (although, I think the proportions are quite different, between the two cities… ;) ) Seeing the grocery stores, filled with old familiar brands, and letters that don’t exist in the English alphabet, made me all giddy. :)

To conclude our Saturday of fun, Regan and I visited a local Indian restaurant, for our first super-authentic-actually-in-a-restaurant Indian meal. I had some sort of lamb & lentil dish, cooked in a tamarind sauce, which was quite good.

From left to right: rice, entree, vegetables, dal, cucumber yogurt. Not pictured: naan bread. I combined the rice and the entree on the big silver plate in the middle.

From left to right: rice, entree, vegetables, dal, cucumber yogurt. Not pictured: naan bread. I combined the rice and the entree on the big silver plate in the middle.

That’s it for our Saturday adventures. A post about Sunday is on its way!

Blessings,

Taylor

A Cheltenham Composer

Our second Friday in England has been nice and relaxing. After running a few errands, Regan and I visited TangBerry’s, a restaurant near Cheltenham town center that advertised “great British food”. Their advertisement did not lie! For my brunch, I got a “half monty” – a smaller version of the classic Full English Breakfast. Even though my portion was not the largest available, it was too much for me to eat!

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(Clockwise, from left: two hashbrowns, an egg, a sausage, a rasher of bacon, a fried tomato, one slice of black pudding, sautéed mushrooms, and baked beans. Not pictured: a slice of toast, and my Assam tea)

Although it was a cholesterol-laden feast, this plate of traditional greasy goodness was certainly appealing. To my surprise, the baked beans were the best part of the meal. They had a sweet freshness that I’ve never tasted in American baked beans, which added a new dimension to the entire meal. I appreciated the novelty of the entrée, and was glad to cross it off of my Britain bucket list…but I don’t think I would eat it again. It was a bit too much meat and grease for my liking.

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Fun fact: TangBerry’s holds a world record for producing the world’s most expensive bacon sandwich. This sandwich, which costs a whopping 150 pounds, includes truffles, an egg, saffron, truffle oil, several types of rare breed bacon, and gold leaf. Though nobody was eating the “Bacon Bling” while we were in the cafe, I did get a glimpse of it’s place on the menu board. Yes indeed, it does exist.

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This afternoon, I went with some other Cedarvillians to the Gustav Holst birthplace and museum. Holst was a composer who lived around the turn of the 20th century, and composed one of my favorite orchestral pieces of music: The Planets suite. (If you listen closely to Mars and Jupiter, you can hear themes which John Williams borrowed for the Star Wars soundtracks.)

The part of the house I most appreciated came in the very first room. The piano Holst kept with him at his London home, on which he composed The Planets, was the centerpiece of the museum’s downstairs parlor. Though the public isn’t allowed to play on this gorgeous instrument, it was still a joy to see the keys from whence those wonderful melodies first echoed.

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Holst bought this piano used. The price? £12.

Holst only lived in this house for the first seven years of his life, but the curators have done an excellent job of preserving its Victorian charm. All four floors of the house are have been maintained to looks just as they did at the turn of the 20th century, and provide an educational experience for all visitors.

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Bells to ring for the servants...just like on Downton Abbey!

Bells to ring for the servants…just like on Downton Abbey!

After a relaxing afternoon, I made a throw-together lentil/pasta/tomato/spices stew thing for our dinner club (which apparently wasn’t too terrible, because we didn’t have any leftovers…). Then, several of us students got together and watched Atlantis: The Lost Empire, to indulge our inner children. ;)

That’s it for today. More adventures tomorrow!

Blessings,

Taylor

Hamlet and High Tea

Yesterday, our Cedarville crew took an outing to the beautiful and historic Stratford-upon-Avon. This town, located about an hour and a half east of Cheltenham, is where the great playwright William Shakespeare was born, raised, and buried.  Considering that half of our group is studying Shakespeare with Dr. Wilfong, this was a perfect place to travel, and has been my most-looked-forward-to outing.

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We first stopped at the childhood cottage of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife. This is known as the most romantic of all of the protected Shakespeare cottages, because it is where the couple first courted. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, the cottage was much smaller, and consisted of only two rooms; Anne’s brother added an additional ten over a period of several years, after he received the tenancy.

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The cottage and the gardens surrounding it were beautiful! Peonies, poppies, allium, and many flowers whose names I don’t know bloomed, while well-tended rows of cabbage, peas, and other vegetables sprouted nearby. Though a bit smaller, this setting was almost as beautiful as Żelazowa Wola, Chopin’s birthplace. It was touching to see how much people care about Shakespeare’s legacy, and how they have gone to so much effort to preserve the land.

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Stepping into the house was like stepping back in time. Stone slabs made up the floor in the original kitchen, and low, beamed ceilings (originally to keep in the heat) made tall visitors wary. The guides on our tour were quite informative, and provided lots of information as to how the kitchen worked and what life would have been like in the house. Although most of the furniture was from after Shakespeare’s time, all of it was still incredibly old, and told the story of a house built more than one hundred years before the United States gained her independence.

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Our next stop was Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare was both baptized and buried.

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Of the churches I’ve visited so far on this trip, this was one of smallest. Nevertheless, what Holy Trinity lacked in size, it made up for in grandeur and priceless artifacts. Like the other churches, gorgeous, intricate stained glass windows covered the walls, and graves were inlaid throughout the floor. As usual, some of the most interesting artifacts lay near the altar.

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Marked with a blue cord and located in a place of honor, just in front of the altar, lied the remains of William Shakespeare, along with the remains of most of his family. This was almost surreal to see. The body of the man who people study extensively, whose plays still draw huge audiences, who completely revolutionized the English language, was right in front of us. After almost four hundred years, the corpse is now probably little more than dust, but being in the church where he was baptized, and walking in the same places where he walked still felt significant.

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To the right of the grave stood a weathered stone baptismal, where Shakespeare was christened.

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Off to the side stood a bookstand, where an old Bible was encased. At first glance, it appeared to be simply another beautiful old book, but a closer look at the nearly worn-away words on the sign revealed the book’s true significance. Not only was this book a beautiful example of the Word of God – it was a first edition of the King James Bible. Oh man. Seeing that – a book that played such a huge role in furthering Christianity in the English-speaking world – was to me more significant than seeing Shakespeare’s grave. After all, Shakespeare was just a man, who is dead. But this, a timeworn example of the living Word of God, which God uses so often to turn people’s lives around, was so much more powerful.

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After leaving the church, we trekked down into the center of Stratford and were given a few hours to explore. Many of the town’s buildings featured iconic timber-and-plaster Tudor architecture, which gave one the feeling of walking into a fairy tale. Stratford, like almost every town we have visited, was exceptionally clean, and its stores had names that fit with historic themes. There was Iago’s Jewelers, Othello’s hotel, a restaurant called The Food of Love, and a shop called Much Ado About Toys. The entire place was clever, cute, and wonderful.

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The next highlight of our day came in the late afternoon, when our entire group had the privilege of taking high tea together. What a lovely, joyous occasion it was! The first course consisted of delicious finger sandwiches, with flavor options of cucumber, egg mayonnaise, tomato & cheese, and smoked salmon. Gee, were they delicious. Having the sandwiches cut in such small sizes made you not feel guilty for eating more than one, and gave you the opportunity to try many different flavors.

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Next, we had fruitcake, scones, clotted cream, and jam. Mmmm. (Throughout the meal, we of course had English Breakfast tea.)

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The entire experience was delicate, refined (well, as refined as you can get with a group of silly Americans), and completely wonderful.

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After tea, we made our way to our final stop, and the one I had been looking forward to most – the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, to see Hamlet! The theatre has been recently renovated, and sits at a gorgeous location along the River Avon.

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A view from the fourth floor of the Theatre Tower.

A view from the fourth floor of the Theatre Tower.

After picking up our tickets, a few of us took advantage of hour remaining free time to explore one of the costume exhibits in the theatre. It was especially neat because they showed how the costumes of the same characters (like Hamlet, for example) have changed throughout the years, as different producers do different interpretations on the same play. It was also neat to see costumes  worn by famous members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, like Ian McKellen (Gandalf, from Lord of the Rings), David Tennant (from Doctor Who), Patrick Stewart (from X-Men and Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Judi Dench (from…everything).

David Tennant's costume from the RSC's 2008 production of Hamlet, in which he played the title character.

David Tennant’s costume from the RSC’s 2008 production of Hamlet, in which he played the title character.

Finally, we sat down, ready to enjoy the show. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre has three levels, all of which are arranged in the round, and at steep angles, so that every member of the audience might be able to see the actors. (It reminded me of a posh version of the Globe.) I was in the second row on the highest level, which got a little dizzying at times…but even from there, I had an excellent view of the stage, and never had trouble hearing the actors.

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The show was simply amazing. High quality acting combined with modern clothing and special effects produced a breathtaking, fantastic play.

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The entire day was a huge highlight of my trip. Seeing Shakespeare’s hometown, his church, his grave, and one of his plays, having high tea, and seeing a King James Bible…it boggles my mind that we were so blessed, that we got to see so many fabulous things in one short day! I am so thankful.

Have a wonderful rest of your day!

Blessings,

Taylor

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