{Travel Tales: Europe 2010, Day Two}

After a refreshing night of sleep (though still not quite enough!), mom and I got dressed and ready to meet Nancy and her daughter Amanda in the town of Guildford. Amanda has been attending an acting program there for the last couple of years, and is currently performing in Epsom Downs. We made the special trip to Guildford, located in Surrey, for the purpose of attending the open dress rehearsal (since the show quickly sold out and we were unable to get tickets). I knew from the moment we stepped off of the train that I was going to like Guildford much more than I like London. All my England travel from now on is going to be spent on seeing the small villages, the landscapes and the ancient castles and other buildings. While London is fun, there is something too frantic about it (you would think I’d be used to this, being a New Yorker, but something about the energy in London is different; it’s as though it’s fast paced and yet slow at the same time).

We set out from the train station for the town center. As it turns out, Guildford is a very walkable town, with almost everything accesible on foot. We made it to the high street, which defined what I usually think of when I picture England in my mind.

(At the bottom of the High Street.)

We spent much of our morning simply exploring the streets of Guildford, wandering down little alley-like streets and peeking into stores (we found a really cute hat shop at one point!). Our plan was to wait until Amanda was free for lunch, and then have a full afternoon tea at the Angel Hotel, since we were unable to have tea yesterday.

(Scenes of Guildford.)

We met Amanda for tea, which was lovely – a true English tea with finger sandwiches, scones and clotted cream. During tea, it came up that Lewis Carroll actually wrote Alice in Wonderland in the town of Guildford, and he actually died there (buried there are well, so he would be an example of one with an honorary monument at Westminster Abbey). Amanda told us about an Alice statue commemorating this fact and we made a note to find it after the show (we also found out on the train back to London that there was a second Alice statue but we missed seeing it).

From tea (which was much more reasonable than the one we would have gotten in London, I might add), we went shopping for a wedding gift for Evelyn and Gunter, which we found at a store called Cath Kinder. That was where Amanda left us, to meet her call time at the theater for the dress rehearsal, but first she gave us instructions on how to get to Guildford Castle. We were on our way once again.

Along the way to the castle, we stopped by an old church, one of the oldest buildings in Guildford, with parts of it dating back to the 1100’s. We didn’t have time to see their organ concert (recital?), but we did go inside to take a look. The staff there was very personable, and we got to catch a group of actors rehearsing for an upcoming festival of some kind.

(St. Mary’s Church, dating back to the 1100’s.)

Guildford Castle was a short walk from the church, and we found it easily (it seemed that everything was easy to find in Guildford!). It’s a small castle that sits on top of a hill surrounded by beautiful gardens. The gardens made me feel like Alice in Wonderland when she reaches the Queen’s castle (though I did not see roses of any kind). Connected to the castle was another lovely park, accessible by a stone wall with flowers spilling down the sides, and little nooks and stairwells leading to other places. This only increased the Wonderland feel of the place.

(Scenes from Guildford Castle.)

It was time for the show.  I had never heard of Epsom Downs before, but it’s an ensemble piece that takes place the day of the Derby 1977.  There are about 50 characters played by 18 people, who all did an excellent job in their various parts.  During the intermission, one of the actors came out dressed as a horse, wearing nothing but a bridle on his head and a jock strap/thong kind of thing. Surprisingly, this was actually quite convincing and, along with his facial expressions, most people really would start to see the actor as a horse. However, there was one exception, and I think this will go down in infamy as my favorite moment from the trip. The horse was clomping around in circuits around the stage, led by a horse tender (another actor, of course), and after he had completed the cycle a out ten times, a little girl in the back of the theater announced, for all to hear, “That man hasn’t got any clothes on.” (Please read that with an adorable little girl’s British accent to get the full effect.)

When the show was over, we took a walk to the Alice statue while we waited for Amanda to get her director’s notes.  It was easy enough to find and right along a lovely walk along the water to the locks.  The statue itself depicts Alice and her sister (I would imagine the real-life little girl Alice was based on), with a rabbit jumping down a rabbit hole a few feet away from them.  The girls area reading the rabbit hole chapter of the book.

(More scenes from Guildford, starting with the Alice statue.)

When Amanda was done with the dress rehearsal, we went to have some dinner before she had to be back at the theater for the evening show.  It was a nice way to end the evening, sitting outside in the shade, talking and laughing.

When dinner was over, mom and I had to head back to London so we could get out things ready for tomorrow’s flight to Frankfurt to meet Evelyn and Gunter.  Unsure of internet access while in Germany, so time will tell if you get those posts tomorrow or when I get back next Saturday!

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