Stratford, July 2016

Great Britain

Great Britain
and Finland



Travelogue: Stratford, July 2016

By Roger W. Reini

July 7

I had a week of vacation from work the week of July 4. How would I spend it? Half of it, I would spend by relaxing at home; the rest of it, I would travel to Stratford, Ontario for the annual Stratford Festival. The festival got its start by featuring Shakespearean plays, and that’s still a main feature of the festival today, although they do feature other works. This year, some of the other works being performed include A Chorus Line and All My Sons. I had fond memories of my one and only previous visit to Stratford in 1984. It was my senior year at Michigan State, and I was taking a course in Shakespeare; our class made a trip to Stratford to see The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet.

I would be seeing two plays on this trip; the first, Macbeth, would begin at 2 PM. I could easily leave home in the morning and travel there in time to have lunch and do some sightseeing before curtain. I left home slightly after 7 o’clock and drove eastward along Ford Road, stopping to fill up the tank along the way. After slight jogs to Oakman and to Michigan Avenue, I got on the Ford Freeway. Traffic had been lighter than usual, but not so on the freeway; traffic slowed considerably until I reached the exit for I-96. I headed “east” (really more southeast) on I-96 until I reached the exit for the bridge to Canada. The signs had Canadian flag on them to make sure that drivers got the message. The last sign had the additional statement “NO RE-ENTRY TO USA”; once you took that exit, you were committed. The exit was fairly new, allowing for direct access to the Ambassador Bridge without taking any surface streets. I did not stop for gas, nor did I stop at the duty-free shop. I did stop at the toll booth, though; there was no way around that. After paying my $5, i took the ramp onto the bridge. Traffic seemed light, and at the Canadian Customs booths, the backups were shorter than on my previous visit a month earlier.

Once I was officially in Canada, my first stop was the McDonald’s on Huron Church almost immediately southeast of the bridge. It was a familiar landmark, although it had been completely rebuilt in recent years.  I stopped for some breakfast (a burrito combo meal) as well as to attempt to get my iPhone’s data connection work in Canada; I was unsuccessful on my previous visit. I was having difficulty on this visit, too, but then I noticed a setting for allowing data roaming. It was off, and I figured it needed to be turned on, which I did. I still didn’t have a good connection, but the error messages had changed. Eventually, I would get data service; more on that later.

I drove southeast along Huron Church, past the strip malls, hotels, drugstores, restaurants, the Tim Horton’s and the closed-up tourist information center (that had moved to Tilbury) until I reached the E. C. Row Expressway. Normally, I would turn here to go to Devonshire Mall or the Indigo Books on the east side of town, but today, I stayed on Huron Church, heading to the 401. From previous trips, I thought I would have several miles/kilometers to go before I reached the freeway, yet not long after passing E. C. Row, there was a sign for the 401. It turned out that the freeway had been extended westward in anticipation of the new Gordie Howe Bridge that is to be built between Windsor and Detroit, taking strain off of the current Ambassador Bridge (the owner of which is unhappy about that). The freeway was in very good shape, although the many overpasses tended to interfere with my reception of satellite radio.

Traffic wasn’t too bad on the 401 as I drove eastward towards the service plaza at Tilbury. It was a bit slower than rural American freeway traffic, though; the speed limit was still 100 km per hour (62 MPH), unlike the 65 or 70 (or even higher) MPH speed limits on most US freeways. At Tilbury, I stopped to use the restroom, get a bottle of water, and pick up some tourist literature. By this time, I noticed that my iPhone was receiving data; I could finally take advantage of my T-Mobile data plan that offered free roaming in Canada. I continued onward towards London, then past London, and then to the first exit past Ingersoll, listening to 60s on 6 most of the time.  At that exit past Ingersoll, I headed to the northwest, towards Stratford. I drove through farmland that would have been indistinguishable from Michigan or Ohio farmland, except that the signs saying “MAXIMUM 80” didn’t mean 80 miles an hour.

Before long, I was in Stratford. I made the drive through town on Highway 7 and headed to the east side. Here, I thought I would stop at Kelsey’s for lunch. Unfortunately, when I stopped, I saw a sign: Temporarily Closed. What would I do for lunch? My options were self-limited due to my wanting something to drink that was diet and caffeine-free and that wasn’t water. I ended up having lunch at McDonald’s again; McDonald’s in Canada has the Coca-Cola Freestyle dispensers, which do offer diet, caffeine-free options. I bought a Big Mac meal with the plastic money (no, not credit card; the bills are now made of plastic) and enjoyed it. Afterwards, I stopped at a nearby Scotiabank and pulled some money for the remainder of the trip.

I had pre-paid parking at a lot near the river and the Festival Theatre; I made my way there and parked. It was still well before curtain, so I walked along the riverfront park for a bit. There were scores of birds in evidence: geese, ducks, the occasional swan and at least one gull. There were many picture-taking opportunities, and with my iPhone, I took advantage of them. At one point, I crossed the bridge to Tom Patterson Island, named for the founder of the festival. I saw a circle of trees that reminded me somewhat of the circles of trees in the Holy Land, which I had seen during my pilgrimage there. I visited that circle of trees and was moved to pray. Later, I made my way to the theater, first enjoying the gardens in front and paying a quick visit to the gift shop before heading inside. I used the restroom (more commonly referred to as the washroom) and found my way to my seat. My seat was to stage left, but I had a good view of the stage.

The play began. I remembered reading MacBeth in high school; I can’t remember if I saw a production of it back then. Today’s production was very good. What can I say about it? I’m not a drama critic. I certainly got my money’s worth from my ticket, that’s for sure. During the intermission but after my washroom break, I visit the gift-shop-on-a-cart in the lobby, where I bought a notepad and noticed an outfit for a baby with the slight misquote “Is this a doggie I see before me?”. After the play ended, I visited the main gift shop again and bought a biography of Shakespeare. Then it was back to the car and off to my accommodations for the next two nights, the Traveller’s Motel on Ontario Street. It was an older motor court, but the rooms were modern, clean and air-conditioned.

The desk clerk suggested some places for me to have supper downtown, but I had decided that I would eat at the Boston Pizza on the west side of town. I’d passed it on the way in this morning. Boston Pizza was a chain that was on the order of Chili’s or Applebee’s; it had more than just pizza on the menu. I had their spaghetti and meatballs, along with a Caesar salad; It was a good and filling meal. I later learned from the hotel desk clerk that Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez had a meal at that restaurant when he was in town a few years back (big whoop); they closed it down so they could eat in private.

As I ate, I was looking at either my iPhone or my iPad. I suddenly started receiving scores of bounced e-mail messages. What was bouncing was spam. Had my Mac been contaminated with malware? Had my e-mail account been hacked? Inquiring minds needed to know! There wasn’t much I could do right away except to delete the bouncing messages. I vowed to examine the problem more closely later. In the meantime, I went to the Zehrs Food Plus on the east side of town to pick up some pop and some cookies to snack on during my stay. The room had a refrigerator, so I knew cold drinks were an option.

Back at the room, I was able to access my Macs at home and start malware scans on them. While those proceeded, I turned on the TV and was able to watch the Tigers play the Blue Jays. The air conditioning in the room was very effective, so effective in fact that I turned it off overnight.


July 8

The hotel had muffins and coffee for breakfast; I brought a muffin back to the room but passed on the coffee. The malware scans on my Macs hadn’t turned up anything, so I changed the password on my e-mail account. That dried up the flood of bounce messages, so it would appear that my password had been grabbed or guessed. I changed the password on my iOS devices right away, but I didn’t so on my laptop at home, not right away.

The news this morning was depressing. Late yesterday in Dallas, police guarding a protest march came under attack from a deranged gunman, and it was the lead story on all of the news channels. The news channels I had access to were a little bit different than the ones at home; CNN was there, but no Fox News or MSNBC; CBC and CTV News channels were there, though, as was CityTV’s Breakfast Television.

I had several hours before I needed to leave for the matinee performance of Shakespeare in Love, and I was in need of toothpaste. The small travel-sized tube I had brought from home was empty or effectively empty, and I needed some more. I found it at the Shoppers Drug Mart downtown. I then drove to the Walmart not too far from the hotel, but I didn’t get anything there. Then it was back to the motel until it was time to leave for the performance.

It was after 11 when I started walking downtown for the 2 PM performance, as well as a pre-show lunch. It was around a mile and a half to reach downtown. It brought back memories of a previous walk downtown from the Festival Theatre, when I and two classmates from that Shakespeare class went into town for lunch or supper, I recall our stopping at a pub; perhaps it was the Boar's Head Pub, which was still present. When I reached downtown, I saw the signs for the public washrooms but had a little difficulty finding them; I eventually did, to my relief. Since it was sunny and warm, I sat on a shady park bench by the river and cooled down for a bit. For lunch, I looked around for a suitable establishment, ending up at Will's Bar and Grill, a sports bar across from the Avon Theatre. I ordered their fish and chips meal, which came with a good-sized filet of haddock. It was quite good. By this time, the play would be starting in around 30 minutes, so I paid a visit to the Theatre Store next door (and connected to) the theater, where I browsed around for a bit but didn't get anything.

My seat in the Avon Theatre, which had a more traditional layout than the Festival Theatre, was close to the front, far stage right on the aisle. Some of my view of the stage was blocked (the stage-right balcony, mainly), but I could see the main action very well. Then the show began. It had been many years since I'd seen the Shakespeare In Love film upon which the play is based, but to my recollection, it was very faithful to the movie. How could it not be? And given the structure of the play, you got to see significant extracts of Romeo and Juliet as well. Again, another excellent performance by the cast.

After the show, I went back to the Theatre Store, but I didn't get anything. I suppose the biography I'd bought yesterday was enough. And so, I started walking back to the hotel. I was carrying an umbrella because the forecast had called for rain in the afternoon, but it didn't rain a drop as I walked back. I was very glad to get back to the cool motel room, where I'd left the air conditioning on. I didn't really feel like supper, not after the filling meal of fish and chips; I contented myself with the snacks I had in the room. Later in the evening, I wouldn't have been able to go out anyway, as strong thunderstorms made their way through town. Storms in the same weather pattern also went through my home city as well, causing my lights to go out (as I would learn tomorrow) and for a gas station awning to collapse on several cars (no one was hurt).

I had been making occasional posts about the trip to Facebook. One of these posts caught the attention of a friend and classmate of mine, Stacie Bemis, who was now living in Michigan. She noted that she and her husband would be cutting across Ontario on a trip to Vermont and would be passing fairly close to where I was. I contacted her and said we could attempt to meet up tomorrow for a meal, snack, rest break or whatever.


June 9

Now that it was Saturday morning, I felt like I needed a shower. The shower in the room worked well, although there wasn't a soap dish at a convenient height. Bending down to the level of the tub is not as easy as it once was. I dried off, got dressed, had some breakfast (more of the snacks that were in the room), and finished packing. I left a tip, all in coins, for Housekeeping (Canada has the loonie and the toonie, $1 and $2 coins respectively, so that was a reasonable tip) and checked out at 9:10 AM.

On the way out of town, I stopped at a Shell gas station to fill up for the trip home. The trip to Stratford had taken a little under half a tank. Now that I had filled up, I could be sure of making it home. I stayed on Highway 7 as I left town, traveling once again through rural Ontario. I was listening to the Underground Garage and the Ko Melina program, playing good music as I drove through the countryside. At one point, I saw a sign for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame; at this time of the morning, it was not yet open. Any visit would have to wait for another time.

At the intersection with Highway 4, I turned left onto that highway, which would take me into London. Down the road, I could have been excused for experiencing some confusion about where I was, for there was a stretch of intersections with roads very familiar to Detroit-area residents: 16 Mile, 15 Mile, etc., down to 8 Mile). These intersections were all rural, though; there was no way anyone would confuse this area with the Detroit suburbs. The traffic started getting heavier, and the surroundings became more built-up, as I approached the northern suburbs of London.

I approached my first destination this morning, the Indigo Books store in north London. The chain is one of Canada’s two English-language bookstore chains; this store was larger than the one in Windsor. It seemed to be about the same size as some of the Barnes & Noble stores in the US. I browsed around for a while, finally deciding to buy a book by Robert Sawyer, one of Canada’s top science fiction writers. But I had to put the book back when I discovered my iPhone wasn’t getting a connection anymore. I had to step outside to see if I could get a good signal. It turned out that I had connected to the store’s WiFi network, which didn’t work for me in Windsor and wasn’t working for me here. After shutting down WiFi, the cellular connection resumed, and I had data again. This was important, because I was communicating with Stacie via Facebook Messenger, trying to determine where they were and where we should meet. They weren’t as far along as I thought they might be; that meant I would be staying in London longer than I anticipated. That wasn’t a big problem for me, though. By the way, I did buy that Robert Sawyer book.

I drove through downtown to the south side of town, figuring it would be easier to arrange a meeting there. There was a festival taking place downtown, TD Sun Fest; I didn’t stop for it. I didn’t recognize anything from my last visit to London in 1986 (I may have visited some record stores then). As I drove, I looked for possible meeting locations — a Crabby Joe’s at one point, a Kelsey’s at another. I stopped at the Chapters bookstore on Wellington to kill some more time. The inside front doors were covered in “brick” with a sign saying PLATFORM 9 3/4; this was in preparation for the release of the next Harry Potter book at the end of the month. The store may have been a little larger than the one in Windsor. I kept in touch with Stacie and suggested meeting for lunch at the Earl’s Kitchen across the parking lot; she and her husband agreed, being familiar with the chain.

Due to delays crossing the border, it would be an hour or more before Stacie and Scott could arrive in London. How would I spend that time? I visited the Farm Boy Organics supermarket next door to Chapters; it was a Canadian equivalent of Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s. I got a bottle of mineral water there and drank it. Around 1 o’clock, I went back to my car to have a private observance of the Bahá’í holy day the Martyrdom of the Báb. I visited the bookstore again to see if I wanted to get anything else; it turned out I didn’t. I then got word that they were 2 minutes away; time to head to the restaurant. It may have been somewhat longer than two minutes, but soon, Stacie and Scott walked up. There we were, Michigan residents meeting in Canada. We had a good meal and good conversation

It was after 3 when our meal ended. They headed east towards Niagara Falls and Vermont, while I headed southwest towards Windsor, Detroit and home. There was some rain, and at one point, it became heavy, but it didn’t last long. As I drove onward, I debated whether or not to stop for supper in Windsor; I decided not to. I drove back more or less the way I came up, not stopping anywhere except service plazas. When I reached Windsor, I headed straight for the bridge, but I did stop at the duty-free store to look around for a while. I didn’t see anything, but I was able to exchange my Canadian money for US money. There was no backup on the bridge, but there certainly was at the customs plaza. It took nearly half an hour for me to reach the agent. When he asked where in Texas I was born and I replied Houston, he mentioned having visited relatives in Dickinson. I was waved on, and once I paid my toll for the bridge, I got onto I-96 and headed home. I stopped at the Los Amigos Mexican restaurant for supper first. In fact, I’d felt like Mexican food on Friday night and would have gone to a Mexican restaurant in Stratford if I’d known of one. But that was not to be.



Back to Travels page

©2016 R. W. Reini.    All rights reserved.

Written by Roger Reini
Revised October 16, 2016