Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Travel Journal: Stratford Shakespeare Festival

If you're a Shakespeare fan, nothing on this continent can match the experience of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. After a mere eight-hour drive, you'll find yourself in a quaint Ontario farming town that lives and breathes Shakespeare.

At the festival, you can see two shows per day (2 p.m. and 8 p.m.). The festival puts on about a dozen plays each season, about half of which are by Shakespeare. In between shows, get dinner at one of the town's fantastic restaurants, which are boosted by the talents of students from the local culinary school.

You can also take a backstage tour, explore the costume warehouse, attend lectures and discussion groups, or attend a performance about Shakespeare's life and times. And, if you get tired of learning, you can shop: Stratford is home to dozens of unique shops and boutiques.

Can you tell how much I love the place? This past weekend, on my annual pilgrimage, I squeezed in six shows in three days: "All's Well that Ends Well," "Love's Labour's Lost," "The Taming of the Shrew," "Romeo and Juliet," "Hamlet" and G.B. Shaw's "Caesar and Cleopatra." The performance of "Hamlet" was outstanding, so much so that I'm already itching to go see it again.

The festival runs through October, so there's still plenty of time to make a weekend trip. If you go, plan to leave early on Friday morning. That way, you can catch the 8 p.m. show on Friday and both shows on Saturday, then head back home on Sunday.

My favorite place to stay is Bentley's, which is freshly renovated and right on the main street downtown. If Bentley's is booked, look for any other hotel on or near Ontario Street downtown; you want to be able to walk to the restaurants and theaters.

Also make time for a few other great experiences: Getting a cup of coffee at Balzac's; strolling along the Avon River; browsing the town's outstanding bookstores; shopping for antiques in the nearby town of Shakespeare; and finding your inner child at several clever toy stores downtown.

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