Traveling with Friends: Part 1 - Stratford upon Avon

December 20-21, 2015

We had spent a day wandering around London the day prior, and now the big day had come. Kathryn and Brandon, our wonderful friends from back home in the good ol' U-S-of-A, were due to arrive at London Heathrow just before 7am.

Just for clarification purposes for those of you who don't know them personally, Kathryn and Brandon are brother and sister. I met Kathryn at the University of Central Oklahoma as we were both English Education majors and had several classes together; then I kind of forced myself into the arena of friendship (that's a funny story...), we realized we had a lot of really, really weird parallels in our lives, and we've been super close ever since. Kathryn and Brandon are quite close, so it was just going to happen that Brandon would become a good friend as well. Tyler, Kathryn's husband, had to stay home over the holidays for a few reasons, and I was saddened that he couldn't come visit - he's a gem! But let it be known, I was quite happy to steal these two away for the holidays. They made our first Christmas in a foreign land an absolute joy, as well as an experience that I will always remember. Okay, moving on. Too many feelings. I'm not prepared to cry while writing this post.

Patrick and I were quite tired from the previous day's explorations, so it was lucky that we got up in time to have a hurried breakfast in the hotel. We checked out of our room first, then we hastily scarfed down our morning meal with our small overnight luggage at our feet.

We left about 20 minutes later than I had wanted, but we still got to the receiving area for K&B's arrival in time to greet them as they exited. I remember being slightly nervous for some strange reason, but a good nervous mingled with excitement. Would I see them first or would they see us? Would I recognize Kathryn with her new haircut? Silly, really. I didn't need to recognize them anyway because Brandon was sporting his American flag hat - a decision that, we're pretty sure, solidified his long and rather stressful discussion with the passport security lady. Ha! Once I spotted her, Kathryn couldn't walk fast enough down the railed passenger-funnel for me, so I practically tackled her and her luggage when she got close enough to make it acceptable for me to enter. There were definitely tears in my eyes, but we won't go into that too much. They were here!!!

We had our train tickets from London to Birmingham booked for somewhere around 10:45, and we would have been up a creek without a paddle if we had booked them for much earlier. It took a little over an hour to get from the airport to the train station via the tube (gosh, I really do love London's public transit). Once we arrived in Brum, we mainlined it to the apartment. Thankfully for all parties involved, all of our roommates were gone for basically the entire time they were staying with us, so Kathryn and Brandon got to settle into their respective couches in the living room; Brandon promptly took a nap. Those overnight transatlantic flights can be rough on your body when you don't sleep much, as we very well know, so we were glad to let him sleep it off for the afternoon while the three of us just hung out and enjoyed each other's company.

That night, we had planned on going to a pub to meet up with some of our local friends from Patrick's college - we really wanted them to meet each other, and a British pub or two on the first night of your first international vacation (obviously talking about K&B there...) is a good start to the journey in my book. We started at our local haunt, The Shakespeare, and ended up at The Brass House. Having our worlds collide like that was so surreal but also extremely satisfying, and we had a great time with everyone just chatting it up. I don't even have a single picture from that night - we simply enjoyed our company and soaked up every second of it.

The next morning, December 21st, the four of us headed to Shakespeare's hometown for the day. Even without a fellow English major in the midst, there is so much to see and do in Stratford (you can read about our previous visits to Stratford in much more detail hereherehere, and here. There are tons more pictures to go along with them). We couldn't stay too late, though, because we had to catch a flight from Birmingham to Dublin that night - but more on that later.

After breakfast, we hopped on the train to Stratford and hit up Anne Hathaway's cottage and the woods located on the property, town centre for lunch at The Garrack Inn and Shakespeare's birthplace (with the adjacent museum), and ended at his grave at Holy Trinity Church. For the record, while I really love these old churches and cathedrals all of the time, they're especially stunning during the Christmas holiday season - truly a sight to behold.

Kathryn loved the sheepies.

Our day in Stratford, although cold and damp, was lovely. But it was just the first of many adventures to come in the next week or so. Next on the list - Dublin!