My husband and I went on an overnight trip this weekend to Kenosha, Wisconsin. It was a special trip for us as its the first time we’ve been able to travel since getting married but, more importantly, it was our first ever visit to a renaissance faire.
Bright and early on Saturday morning, amid the pouring rain and mud, we made our way to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. (After a pit stop for rain-appropriate shoes.)
As corny as it sounds, stepping through the gates of Bristol feels like stepping through to another world. I’ve always imagined renaissance faires as migratory events, “tents in a field” sort of deal and some of them may be like that, but Bristol completely surprised me. It’s an entire city. A living, breathing, permanent construction with storybook-like architecture, landscaping, winding paths, and water features. We spent a lot of time marveling at the sheer “realness” of everything around us.
We were lucky and the rain cleared up early and we were left to take in the sights in the sweltering, sweaty sunshine. There are so many colors and details everywhere that you look. From tavern signs to floral wreaths and the costumes of other visitors and staff. I felt like I was constantly gawking at one thing or another.
After we did our first full lap of the city, it was time to grab a bite to eat. In true me fashion: I had done my food-related research ahead of time and knew I had to try these faire-specific mushrooms everyone was talking about on Facebook. We headed over to Mushroom Manor, the storefront where the savory treat is cooked outside in a cast iron cauldron over an open fire. I ordered a small serving and was not disappointed. They were tender, buttery, garlicky and I even found a copycat recipe so I can make them when I’m at home!
I easily could have eaten my own weight in food while at Bristol. Their vegetarian and vegan period-appropriate food like giant dill pickles, toasted and sweetened nuts and steamed artichokes were particularly appealing but I controlled myself (… mostly).
Full of mushrooms, we made our way to the 3 o’clock jousting match. While it wasn’t quite as theatrical as a dinner at Medieval Times, there was something even more special about sitting outside, my husband clutching his turkey leg and a tankard of beer with the stands filled with rowdy (but polite) faire-goers. Our knight, the red knight of the Order of the Gryphon sadly lost to his opponent but it was an action-packed match that included some ruined helmet plumage and a lance lodged in the rival knight’s shoulder armor.
After the joust, we caught the afternoon acrobatic show put on by the Barely Balanced trio. I wish we had taken in more shows (like the Dirk and Guido’s Swordsmen or the fire whip act) while there, but we were so busy just enjoying the sights and sounds while exploring that we didn’t take much time to sit.
Looking at the schedule during the day made me realize we should have planned to attend two days and not just the one. A rookie faire mistake but hey, we’re learning.
When you’re visiting, make sure to keep an eye out for The Fantastikals. The Fantastikals are a troupe of talented performers that you can find throughout the faire grounds (and sometimes off the ground, literally). Their costumes are just beautiful and they interact with their surroundings and guests while in-character as fairies, Green Men, fauns and more.
When it comes to vendors, Bristol has them in spades. There’s a little (or lot) of something for pretty much everyone. Candles, jewelry, pottery and ceramics, toys, apparel, the list goes on. Some of it is handmade or bespoke, while some is a little more manufactured and a little less one-of-a-kind. Prices and selection vary vendor to vendor and it took me a while to find exactly what I was looking for since absolutely everything was catching my eye.
Eventually, we made our way to a clothing vendor’s called Ophelia’s where two wonderful employees helped me pick out my first linen dress, embroidered bodice, silk split skirt and fabric belt pouch. The whole ensemble came out to a little over $300 but I’m considering it an investment in our faire future.
Sadly, Ophelia’s doesn’t have an online store (or even a Facebook page) but if you’re ever in Bristol, you can find them to the right of the May Pole (… that’s a sentence I never expected to hear myself say).
One thing we didn’t get to experience while there is RenQuest. RenQuest is essentially a LARPing experience within the Bristol grounds that includes real-life quests and NPCs. Sounds fun, right? I think it would be a great way to really experience the event as a part of its world.
Before we knew it, it was time to leave but we left our first foray into the 16th century with a new addiction, a handmade and engraved tankard and a full-blown ensemble for me to wear on our next faire trip (which will hopefully be as soon as the Kansas City RenFest in October).
Bristol is well worth the price of admission ($26), and I can’t recommend the experience enough for anyone looking for a wonderful faire experience, anyone who has a passing fancy for merriment or anybody to happens to find themselves in Wisconsin at the right time.