I’ll be the first one to admit I’m not immune to post-travel depression. I love the excitement and the uncertainty of being on the road, but being a homebody has never really been my thing.
After spending a couple weeks on the West Coast, immediately followed by an extended weekend on the East Coast, followed by my 31st birthday, I found myself seriously struggling to settle back into routine life.
Instead of getting down in the dumps and taking the notion of “routine” too literally, I opted for a dose of fantasy instead. It was the last weekend of the Renaissance Fair in Bristol, Wisconsin, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday.
A Renaissance Fair is like an amusement park for history buffs, fantasy freaks, and costume nuts across America. The first of its kind was the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Agoura, California, and that kicked off back in 1963. Ronald and Phyllis Patterson, both school teachers, are credited with developing the fair as a simple school project, and dozens of replica events have popped up from coast to coast since that time.Renaissance fairs are set up resemble a fair or market day during the Renaissance Era, and they do a darn good job of doing so. Actors and actresses position themselves around the fair grounds singing, playing music, and engaging with festival-goers in wonderfully awkward ways.
Unfortunately, Renaissance Fairs don’t exactly offer Renaissance Era prices. Although everything is enticing and presented in clever ways, the event is a total money suck and there’s no way around it.
Regular adult admission tickets cost $23.95, but I was able to snag an online discount for $19.99. As as you make your way through the “town,” you’ll find more souvenirs, fair games, and food and booze stands than you can shake a valiant sword at.
First stop: the hookah tent! Who would have thought that a Renaissance Fair would have a comfy spot for flavored tobacco smoking situated right next to the entrance? In this shot, I’m patiently waiting for my watermelon hookah to arrive and sneakily people-watching between the tent poles.
This was an optimal people-watching spot because the lively Bristol Pub Crawl had gathered nearby. For $35 per person, fair-goers could join a raunchy Rated R pub crawl that comes with a traveling bartender, four drink tickets, and plenty of dirty stories and jokes along the route. There were about 20 beers on tap, as well as mead and a gluten-free cider.
Maybe next year?There were plenty of trolls around for sale, but no gnomes in sight. What a crying shame.
Of all the adorable booths selling unnecessary things, this one tempted me the most. How awesome would it be to walk around drinking beer out of a horn attached to a satchel?
Alas, my better judgment won out and I talked myself out of buying one. So sadly, my mediocre beer was drank out of a plastic peasant cup.
Now this I didn’t expect to see…a climbing wall! The scene seemed to be dominated by very small human types and I winced at the never-ending line. So I simply observed the spectacle that lay before me and critiqued the youngsters’ climbing skills…harshly.For whatever reason, turkey legs are a big deal at Renaissance Fairs, and it seems almost like a requirement to messily chomp away at one. Meat on a stick doesn’t really appeal to me, so I bought one for my carnivorous boyfriend and chose an artichoke for myself.
I had totally forgotten about the whole concept of artichoke, and they really are delicious when drenched in garlic and melted butter. As are most things.A feast fit for a king and queen, perhaps? Despite the crowds and the lines, I found myself incredibly relaxed and at ease strolling around the Renaissance Fair. Performers walked timidly across tightropes, ate burning flames atop sticks, and flipped around wildly in the air.
This type of sensory overload experience was exactly what I needed to feel alive and excited about the world around me.And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did.
I FOUND A GNOME.
According to pretty much every historical account in the books, gnomes weren’t around during the Renaissance. But here they were…selling mushrooms.
I asked the man behind the counter if he knew of any other gnomes lurking in the vicinity. He revealed to me that he used to run an entire shop full of gnomes at the fair. After I picked my jaw up off the dusty ground, I begged him to bring it back.
Maybe next year?
In other noteworthy sightings, someone had put together a really extensive medieval Lego village. How anyone possesses the patience for all this is beyond me.One of the most intriguing characters that I encountered at the Renaissance Fair was the Dragon Hatchery lady.
Here’s how it works: A kid puts a token into a box, it rolls around for a bit, and POOF! A puff of smoke fills the air and a dragon egg emerges into the world. I did always wonder where dragon babies came from.
It wouldn’t have been a complete Renaissance experience without attending a joust. Several sets of jousters battled it out on the field as sections of the audience joined forces and chose sides.
My section’s knight didn’t win, but I must admit he was pretty hot for a Renaissance dude. Eye candy is a form of winning, right?
So in the grand scheme of things, my Renaissance Fair story is more about a story of coping with things staying the same and remaining unchanged. Had I confined myself to my Chicago apartment on that Labor Day weekend Saturday, I would have drowned myself in sorrows of restlessness, discontent, and probably a couple bottles of wine.
But instead, I forced myself to keep exploring and to find unfamiliar things in too-familiar places. I took incredibly fond memories away from my first Renaissance Fair, and the only thing that would have made it better is a kick ass costume.
Maybe next year?