If there was any advantage to all the driving Papa ‘Skiy needs to do to go to work this week, it was this: he saw a billboard advertising the Bristol Renaissance Festival taking place in nearby Wisconsin!
We love renaissance festivals. When Mama and Papa lived in the Tampa Bay area they frequented the local faire, known to locals as BARF (Bay Area Renaissance Festival). It was originally in Clearwater, FL, but was relocated to Tampa many years ago and has a permanent location there now, sharing property with the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI). The boys have been to BARF a couple of times as well and enjoy it. The festivals are at various locations all over the country throughout the year, and Mama and Papa had even been to one near Fort Lauderdale, FL.
But this would be our first time attending one outside of Florida and we decided to take the hour-and-ten-minute drive to the Cheesehead state. We didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity, and as luck would have it this was the final weekend.
For five years in a row the Bristol Renaissance Festival (BRF) was ranked the #1 ren faire in the entire country…and we quickly found out why!
We’ve never before seen a gathering, faire, or carnival setup that was anywhere near as massive and elaborate as this. It would easily take two, possibly three days to see all of the vendors and shows at the BRF, and the grounds itself was at least four times the size of that of BARF, six times the size of the one in Fort Lauderdale.
The amazing food, shows, costumes, actors, vendors, stages, facade… It truly felt like we took a step back in time. And Papa even commented that it was unusual to be at one of these festivals and not be sweating our butts off or choking on the dust kicked up by the dirt and gravel walkways. As a matter of fact, much of the walkways were made of brick and cobblestone and there were wooden bridges that crossed ponds and lakes on the grounds!
One show we did watch was the Mud Show, which left us in stitches. We were on the Trojan side (keep in mind a lot of the humor is adult-oriented, so you probably know where the jokes went…) and although our sons didn’t get some of the humor — thank goodness — they laughed almost as much as we did.
Then we let the boys go on some of the rides and take place in some activities. BARF has some rides — less than it used to — but here there seemed to be something for visitors to do at every turn, from spinning and swinging rides and archery to a rock wall and knife throwing.
Mama stumbled upon a BRF souvenir shop that sold marketable shirts, hats, cups, magnets, and so on. Mama picked out a cute jersey-style shirt with BRF on the front and back, and then she picked out a shirt for Papa that had the best quote on it: I come for the turkey leg and stay for the cleavage. Hey, it’s a renaissance festival — this is typical of the humor!
One of Mama ‘Skiy’s favorite stops was the blacksmith shop. There were demonstrations of iron getting forged into various items that were for sale, and it was fascinating for all of us to watch the blacksmith go to work. At first we watched him make a couple of planter hooks for somebody that had bought some wind chimes. Then we watched him make an iron rose from nothing more than a 10-inch piece of steel. After the rose was finished it was passed around in the crowd for everybody to see and touch. Mama was busy asking questions when out of the blue Papa handed her the very rose we’d watched get made. He had bought it for her!
Mama and Papa told the boys they’d get to pick out a souvenir. M wanted a wooden sword and shield, D wanted a whistle. But we had something else in mind. One item unique to these festivals is a pet dragon that can sit on one’s shoulder while a cable that moves the head around is operated by head with a twist, pull or push and runs the length of an arm. Sure enough, once they saw this amazing “toys” it was what they wanted. M chose a blue one and D chose a yellow one.
Finally, Papa needed a souvenir…or at least so Mama said. One year at BARF he had bought a silver spinner ring that he could no longer wear (it had shrunk…lol). At BRF we found a silversmith that sold silver spinner rings and he managed to find himself a new one. It’s quite nice and thin, and Mama hopes he’ll spin it around when he’s stressed or concentrating rather than continue to bite his nails. Fingers crossed that it works!
Unfortunately Papa needed to go to work that evening, so we didn’t get to stay until the gates closed. It was really neat to be able to go to a state that we hadn’t originally intended to visit, but it was more thrilling for the reason to be a renaissance festival.
And if somebody were to ask us, we’d have to say it’s probably the best one in the country and would be entirely worth the drive or flight to see it when it’s open again!