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Group takes great escape to England

Eight King City and Summerfield residents enjoy London theater tour
by: Barbara Sherman AWAY FROM LONDON — Members of the tour group wait in line with other tourists to enter the thatched-roofed Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Stratford-upon-Avon, which is two hours outside London.

Big Ben! Windsor Castle! Buckingham Palace! Westminster Abbey! Parliament! Harrods! First-class theater!

Throw in a royal wedding, and you get an idea of the jolly good time had by eight King City and Summerfield residents who were on the inaugural Broadway Rose Theatre Company's London theater tour April 25 to May 2.

After taking theater trips to New York City for several years, Broadway Rose signed up with Break-Away Tours for a hop across the pond to London with thrilling results.

"I thought the trip was wonderful," said Summerfield resident Mickey Chewning, who had not been to London before. "Everything went off perfectly. The weather was perfect. I have no complaints."

King City resident Donna Kloster echoed her words: "I was so impressed with the beauty of the city and the history and the cleanliness. Everything was so beautiful, and there was no graffiti.

"The old buildings were revered and kept in good condition, and the people were friendly. I had not been there before, and that was what made it so appealing."

Joan Nardi of King City, who had been to England before but not London, said she liked the idea of everything being arranged on the tour since she is not an experienced traveler.

"All the guides were so knowledgeable and helpful," she said. "I loved the tours, and the wonderful old buildings are still so serviceable. They have probably been upgraded and reinforced."

And Pat Stapleford of King City added, "I thought it was wonderful. Everything was done quite well."

Tours

The 55 people on the tour, almost all of whom were from the Portland area, were treated to several tours, four plays and the option of taking various walking tours.

London city tours included a visit to the Globe Theatre on the River Thames, which is a re-creation of the theater where many of William Shakespeare's plays were first performed.

Tours of Parliament and the National Theatre, plus a stop outside Westminster Abbey the day before the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, were also on the agenda.

Parliament, or Westminster Palace, is the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which includes the House of Lords and House of Commons.

Westminster Abbey is a huge, mainly Gothic church that was started in the 960s or early 970s A.D., with a stone abbey added around 1045 to 1050 by King Edward the Confessor.

The wedding

For the wedding, people on the Broadway Rose tour had the option of joining the approximate 1 million well-wishers on the streets; or watching the wedding on huge screens in Hyde Park, on screens set up in the hotel bar complete with a luncheon or in the comfort of their hotel rooms.

"We watched the wedding in the piano bar with the other people," Nardi said. "I thought that was probably the best option rather than stand for hours on the street. I thought, let's hang out with the crowd. My heritage way, way back is English, and the live feed of the wedding was wonderful."

Chewning said she watched the wedding on the screens set up in Hyde Park, not far away from the real event.

"I had planned to be on the route of the royal carriage after the wedding to see it, but we were told the crowds would be so huge that it wouldn't be worth it," she said. "But there were thousands of people in the park, and everyone was so friendly and waving flags with photos of the bride and groom that you could buy from vendors. Some of the guys were dressed like brides.

"One of the girls in our group brought an old raincoat that she put down on the ground, so we could sit part of the time. And using the bus to and from the park worked out fine."

Windsor and Stratford-upon-Avon

Out-of-town tours included Windsor Castle and Stratford-upon-Avon, which everyone pretty much unanimously loved.

The medieval Windsor Castle was built by William the Conqueror after he invaded England in 1066, and it is the longest-occupied palace in Europe.

The tour included some of the grounds plus the ornate, fully furnished early 19th-century State Apartments and the 15th-century St. George's Chapel.

Kloster said that visiting Windsor Castle was her favorite part of the trip: "I loved Windsor and seeing the changing of the guard," she said. "I had not seen it before - that's why it was so appealing."

Nardi also found the Windsor tour fascinating, noting, "We would have loved to hear the organ in the chapel being played."

Stratford-upon-Avon was a two-hour drive from London but well worth the trip. The original charters of the town were granted in 1196, and it is best known for being the birthplace of Shakespeare in 1564.

Tour stops included the childhood home of Shakespeare's wife Anne Hathaway; Shakespeare's birthplace, which was purchased by his father John Shakespeare in 1556; and Nash's Place, which was once owned by Shakespeare's daughter and then granddaughter and located right next door to Shakespeare's last home that was destroyed by an irate property owner in 1759.

Part of the group took a walking tour through the commercialized downtown to the River Avon and along its leafy banks to Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare and other family members are buried. Because the anniversary of Shakespeare's death on April 23, 1616, just occurred the week before the group visited Stratford, there were still fresh flowers all around his burial place in the floor in front of the altar.

Incredibly, copies of the register entries for Shakespeare's baptism and burial are on display along with the original font where he was baptised and a bible that dates from 1616 and would have been used during his lifetime.

The walking tour guide, Liz, was a favorite of Stapleford's.

"I learned so much from her," she said. "She was so good. I will remember what she said. A tour guide makes such a big difference."

Nardi also loved the Stafford trip, the drive through the picturesque countryside and "especially the driver," who in the parking lot of Anne Hathaway's cottage deftly backed the bus in between two other parked buses with about 3 inches to spare on either side, which earned him a round of applause.

Theater

Although about 80 plays are currently playing in London, the group did well seeing four of them in four days.

The first play was "Betty Blue Eyes," an uproarious musical comedy that takes place in northern England during a period of food rationing after World War II and involved the theft of a pig.

The pig ("Betty Blue Eyes") - a realistic animatronic porker with a beguiling smile, twitching ears and expressive eyes - steals the show.

"Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," is another musical comedy based on a book by two Australians that was turned into a 1994 movie about two drag queens and a transsexual who cross Australia in a large tour bus called "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."

"War Horse" is a drama based on a best-selling 1982 children's novel by Michael Morpurgo that tells the story of a strong bond between an English farm boy and his horse Joey set against World War I.

The life-sized horses, which even carry riders, are technically puppets, but audience members forget the people inside and alongside them who amazingly bring them to life.

People on the tour also saw Shakespeare's "All's Well That Ends Well" in the recreated Globe Theatre.

"My favorite part of the tour was probably the shows," Goodrich said. "I liked the variety, and adding the fourth play was good. But we froze to death at the Globe. We were in the front row, and you could get cushions, which helped.

"It was very interesting to see all the young people standing, and at intermission, they sat down on the floor. It was an interesting experience, but I wouldn't go again."

Nardi added, "The plays every night were wonderful, and each one was so different. Each one had its own intrigue."

Kloster said that in addition to seeing the plays, she loved the theater district, site of the first three plays, where members of the group was dropped off each evening about two hours ahead of the 7:30 starting time.

"The theater district was so incredible, and there were so many charming places to eat," she said. "There were so many ethnic restaurants to choose from."

A great tour

Some people in the group traveled to Scotland, Ireland and other countries before the tour, and others stayed afterwards to do more touring. And some managed to take in different sights during their free time in London, but whatever they did, everyone thought the Broadway Rose tour was first rate.

"I enjoyed seeing the castles, the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey," Chewning said. "I stood in front of Westminster Abbey - it was very, very impressive. I thought, how did they accomplish this?

"It was a wonderful trip, and I'm so glad I was able to go. It was a great group."

Goodrich also called the trip wonderful, but said that since she and Mohr had been to other European countries, they expected a little more from London. "We didn't see as much as we expected," she said.

Nardi said she found the tour of Parliament especially interesting. "Overall, I thought it was a good trip," she said.

"I'm glad I went," Stapleford said. "We enjoyed it an awful lot."