It’s all about romance
The word romance conjures an image of a naked cherubic boy with wings and holding a bow and arrow. While Cupid is the God of Love, and his occupation revered by all in love, there are certain other romance(s) that have intrigued me for some time. Here’s my take on some of those that have influenced my bucket list for travel and things to see and do !
1) Matters of the heart
However cliched, this obviously tops my list 🙂 . My pick are the two greatest lovers in history. One fictional and star-crossed, the other very real and evokes a warm fuzzy feeling in the heart.
a) Romeo & Juliet
“Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”
Shakespeare immortalized Verona in the first line of his play “Romeo and Juliet” as home to one of the greatest lovers in history. While it is known that Shakespeare never visited Verona and these lovers did not exist, thousands of tourists do throng to see the Casa di Giulietta, or Juliet’s House. It is one of Verona’s main tourist attractions for couples on honeymoon and, in general, people in love !
The house was built in the 13th century. From the courtyard you can see Juliet’s Balcony. This is supposedly the very same balcony from where Juliet cried out “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” ;).
There is a bronze statue of Juliet in the courtyard, her right breast polished bright by people rubbing it, as a good-luck ritual, in the hope of finding true love.
Another tradition is of leaving a message with names on it in the hope that Juliet’s lucky spell will make their love eternal. This is a bit of an eyesore and somehow destroys the romantic spell cast by the place.
Not far from the house you can visit La Tomba di Giulietta, or Juliet’s Tomb, which is must-visit for die-hard romantics. Aren’t you one and isn’t that why you visited this place anyway ?
b) Monument of Love – The Taj Mahal
Imagine a princess, all of 15 years old, browsing through silk and glass beads at a local market (Meena bazaar), not yet aware of a prince – an year younger than her, who sees her and falls for her hook, line and sinker. Thus starts a love story – that continues to inspire millions today as The Taj Mahal.
Yes, this is the story of Prince Khurram and Arjumand Banu Begum, popularly known as Shah Jahan and Mumtaj Mahal. 5 years after their eyes met, he marries her and makes her Queen, bestowed her with the title Mumtaz Mahal , “Jewel of the Palace”. She died giving birth to his 14th child with Shah Jahan promising her a mausoleum that the world will admire. Apparently, such huge was the loss to the king that he ordered the court into mourning for 2 years. He then undertook his promise to his departed wife which took 22 years and the labor of 22,000 workers to build ! Today, the two lovers lay side by side in this magnificent monument known as “Taj Mahal” , now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Is it any wonder that people flock to this monument of love, probably to reassure themselves that true love does exist, sigh !
I visited this monument in winter and it was shrouded in mist – almost like the love that encapsulated these two lovers’ lives.
2) Romancing the Bard’s work
I was introduced to Shakespeare’s work through Julius Caesar in high school. While I loved it , I was completely and irrevocably enthralled by Macbeth – which continues to remain one of my favorite. I was fascinated by the riveting words and their everlasting truth, which are applicable even to this date.
The great English dramatist and poet William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon on April 23 and church records show that he was baptized on April 26, 1564. His date of death is known to be April 23, 1616. The assumption that the Bard was born on the same day of the month that he died is an interesting highlight to the otherwise lesser known details of his life.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the beautiful Tudor house where he was born is situated on Henley Street in the town centre of Stratford-upon-Avon England, is rightly considered “a Mecca for all lovers of literature”.
This 16th century Tudor house with low ceilings and heavy beams is well-preserved. Its hall, parlor and bedchambers are furnished as they would have been in the 1570s, when William and his siblings lived there with their father John, a glove maker, and their mother Mary. There is a large collection of furniture and household things from his time, making it easier for folks today, to visualize the context to Shakespeare’s writing and inspirations.
Fascinating costumes guides narrate tales of Shakespeare’s family life, are well-informed and enthusiastic. One could make a request, or even join the resident actors, for a play.
You can also visit William Shakespeare’s schoolroom which is now open to the public for the first time, post some major restoration. It provide insights into Shakespeare’s early life in Stratford – his education and inspiration to act and write. One is privileged to be in the very room where Shakespeare was educated from the age of seven to about 14 – learning Latin and classical literature. You can watch a short film on the kind of lessons he took and try some Tudor homework !
Was William an all-round student or had reservations about the confines of classroom and strictness of his teachers ? Was he temperamental student, as artists are perceived to be ? Guess we will never know – but to me he was a genius of words and thoughts !
Shakespeare did not go to university but at age 18 married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years his senior. A visit to Shakespeare’s Birthplace is incomplete without a visit to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, a beautiful 500 year old cottage where Shakespeare courted his bride-to-be.
It was originally a farm-house and you can see original furniture including the Hathaway bed and discover five centuries of stories in this quaint cottage. Spread over 9 acres of green woods, beautiful orchards and gardens – one can understand the effect this romantic setting would have had on Shakespeare and Anne. Though much is not available about their life, I believe the idyllic setting and their relationship greatly influenced his writing.
3) Romance and thrill of living in a famous artwork
While I can’t paint (or draw) to save my life, it is fascinating what some can do with brush and paint ! One such artist that I admire is Van Gogh. While his vivid colored paintings and their natural subjects appeal to me, his tragic life story is equally intriguing.
So how would you feel if you were given an opportunity to actually live in one of his painting ?
I stumbled upon this recently. The Art Institute of Chicago has recreating the 1888 “ Bedroom in Arles” painting to life and made it available via Airbnb. The room is in a building in Chicago’s River North neighborhood and is part of a larger apartment. The room is advertised online for just $10 and features a wooden-framed double bed in a corner with the classic red blanket making a style statement. It has two basic chairs placed as in the painting. Accessories including a towel, a blue jug, glasses, a framed picture and a peg rail are also featured in the painting. It comes with free Wi-Fi ,(ok, so there is some modernization) and a kitchen.
So, are we headed to Chicago yet ? Those in Chicago – would love to hear your experience 🙂
Things you may want to know before the travel
- To escape the crowds, visit Juliet’s House either early in the morning or late in the afternoon
- There is no entrance fee for the courtyard but you have to pay to enter the house
- Cost of Entry: €3, Opening Hours: 8.30am-7.30pm Tue-Sun, 1.30pm-7.30pm Mon
- Tickets to Taj Mahal are available from 8:00 A.M. To 5:00 P.M and is closed on Fridays.
- Ticket cost is Rs 1000/- for foreign tourists and Rs 40/- for Domestic/Indian tourists. No Entry fee for children below the age of 15 years. (both Domestic and Foreigner)
- The six-lane Expressway from Delhi to Agra, 165 km has reduced the traveling time to two hours.
- Shakespeare’s birthplace is very popular so be patient and queue up to go through the exhibition area and the house
- Stratford-upon-Avon can be reached by road, rail and airport & is perfect for vacation or short break
- If you go on the Stratford Town Walk, you can get a voucher to save 50% on the entrance to the Five Houses, which included Anne Hathaway’s Cottage & Gardens, Hall’s Croft, Harvard House, Mary Arden’s Farm, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s Grave
- There is a World-class Shakespeare bookshop in the premises of the Birthplace house
- Dogs are welcome in the gardens at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, provided they are accompanied and on a lead.
- Anne Hathaway’s cottage is 10 mins drive from Shakespeare’s birthplace
- Overall Visit time : 1 hour for the house, 1 hour for the school and 2 hours for Anne’s cottage