Final Day: A Bloody Good Play

The roses are blooming at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and it is time for us to bid London farewell.

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We spent the day at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, just across the River Thames from St. Paul’s (and our hostel) via the Millennium Bridge. There we went through the Exhibition and had a tour of the theatre. We got to see the theatre in a state of transition: between performances of Titus Andronicus last night and this afternoon, the company was rehearsing Antony and Cleopatra — so the stage was half-swathed in the black that dominates the Titus set, with the red walls of Antony and Cleopatra temporarily unveiled.

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For Titus, the triangular portion of the stage on the front wasn’t in place; instead, there were ramps running parallel to the stage in front. Usually the black cloths are not strung across the roof of the Globe. Those are in place specifically for Titus.

After a pleasant wait in (the very front of the) line, we made our way into the theatre. The Globe still adheres to early modern practices by having the yard as a standing-only section. Those standing in the yard are known as “groundlings” (a term that comes to us from Hamlet, incidentally). As the first ones in, we claimed spots front and center, leaning on the stage!

The performance was remarkable. Everyone warned us about how gory and violent it was. We thought, “We’ve read the play. We know how bad it is!” Many of us have also seen Julie Taymor’s 1999 film Titus, so we’ve even experienced a performance (albeit a film one). But there’s nothing like live theatre for gut-wrenching, visceral impact. At various points, many of us had to avert our eyes because the production was so shocking and violent.

And that’s much of the point of the play. Titus Andronicus, as Natasha pointed out in her presentation today, is a revenge tragedy, and its wild excesses of violence remind us how brutal and perpetually destructive the drive for revenge is. This is not a play that glorifies violence, though it features unutterable acts and ends with cannibalism. The point, always, is that Rome itself is dismembered, the body politic just as maimed as the bodies of the Andronici.

For most of the students (perhaps for all of them), today’s performance was one of the highlights of the trip, and I’m so delighted that they got to experience what a Globe performance is like. As groundlings, we were pushed and moved around to make way for the performers at various points; we were close enough that we got spattered with stage blood and the actors’ spit as they delivered their lines. A play at the Globe is interactive, dynamic, and exciting in a way that’s like no other theatrical event. We were so lucky to be able to see such a great performance!

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Tomorrow we travel back. I’m so sorry to say goodbye to this amazing group! Keep your fingers crossed for good luck, good weather, and pleasant Tube journeys, flights, and drives home!

 

 

Day 23: Treasures Tour at the British Library

Hello Everyone!

Yesterday was our penultimate day experiencing London, and we all had a lovely time. The morning and early afternoon was free for us to do as we wished, so we split off into smaller groups to explore the city.

Nicole and I started off the day going to Kensal Green Cemetery, which was gorgeous and gigantic. After waiting for a majorly delayed Bakerloo line train out of Kensal Green, we explored Hyde Park. It had a beautiful and fragrant rose garden that was just begging to be photographed. Then we found Harrod’s, which is the poshest department store I have ever seen in my life!

At 3:00, we met up with the rest of the group at the British Library for our tour of their Treasures Collection. It was incredible! We saw THE manuscript of Beowulf and heard about the history of it. It’s quite amazing that the copy survived all the centuries of neglect. We also saw a folio and a few quartos of Shakespeare. Our tour guide showed us the progression of first pages, which demonstrated Shakespeare’s rise in importance (not mentioned at all on the first several publications to other authors using his name to sell their works). One of the coolest things for me (after the Shakespeare stuff, of course) was seeing the original hand-written copies of Beatles lyrics! Each one was accompanied by a little plaque giving background information. It would take far too long to tell about all of the interesting things we saw and learned about in the Treasures Collection, but I hope you enjoyed my few highlights.

After the British Library, we went out to a fantastic Italian restaurant called Strada and enjoyed a delicious meal together. To top off an already wonderful day, ten of us got a bird’s-eye view of the city from the London Eye!

We will all be sad to leave England tomorrow, but we look forward to seeing all of our friends and family back home.

Day 21 Part Two: Mrs. Dalloway Walk

Following our high tea our class started the second part of our day with Andrea leading us on the walk Mrs. Dalloway took in Virginia Woolf’s novel. Mrs. Dalloway and her husband owned a house near parliament and Big Ben, this was the start of our walk.

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As we started the route we took a detour to Buckingham Palace to see where Queen Elizabeth II lives. Currently she is in residence at the palace so we could only look at the palace instead of taking a tour.

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After this our class continued on Mrs. Dalloway’s walk in St. James’s Park. There we discussed the reflections of the main characters including themes of death and time.

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Once the discussion in the park was finished we moved on with Mrs. Dalloway’s walk to Piccadilly Street. This is the street Mrs. Dalloway buys her flowers. Mrs. Dalloway states the city life reminds her of the hustle of life. This is where we ended our discussion. Some fellow students talked about how they likes Woolf’s use of real life places in her novel. We also discussed how what Mrs. Dalloway would have experienced on her walk would have been completely different from what we experienced on our walk today. The discussion of Mrs. Dalloway was a good way to end our day together.

Once we got back to the hostel everyone split up with some people going to Evensong and others going to find wifi. Sadly our trip will be coming to an end shortly. Seeing London is amazing and us students can’t wait for our free day tomorrow to explore London on our own! Cheers!

Day 21: Westminster and Tea

Everyone by now should know that rain and clouds are the norm for England, but it seems that someone forgot to inform London of this. We had yet another warm, sunny day in the city of Big-Brotherly love. If you do not understand that reference, then you do not yet know about CCTV. CCTV is a security system that abounds in England, but thrives especially in London. There are video cameras all across the city. These act as a security measure, mostly as a deterrent. I feel that we have been eased into this system by starting out with a small measure of cameras in the countryside and working our way up to London levels. You do get used to the cameras. That should be all for your CCTV lesson for today. We can resume our day now. We started out as we have before, and that is by the London Underground (subways). I was feeling that we were all becoming comfortable and capable with this system when our group was temporarily split. When we met to meet up after getting off of one train, we were one person short (no hints as to who it was). This did not end up being a problem, as the person arrived with the next train. This did, however, instill a sense of importance of the buddy system. Live and learn, as they say. After this minor (very minor) incident, we arrived at Westminster Abbey. If the Americans reading this are thinking that this location sounds familiar, there are a number of reasons for this. One of the recent memorable incidents at Westminster is the royal wedding. This, as you may recall (it was only a few years ago), was a grand event. No surprises there, as grand is a word that seems to dwell with the royal family. While the royal wedding is all well and good, Westminster Abbey has a much stronger connection to the royals. The abbey has been the site of coronation 1308. For those of you without a monarch, a coronation is the crowning of a royal and the assumption of the throne. The Crown Jewels are not held at Westminster, but there is a set of practice Crown Jewels. They work well (I would assume) for rehearsals. These are found in the cozy museum within the abbey. Surprisingly, the use of each of the tools of coronation is explained better in this exhibit than in the Tower of London where the real jewels are. You may be curious as to which of the tools of coronation I find to be the most interesting (ok, probably not, but I will tell you anyway). It is the Sword of Mercy. There are three swords, and the other two represent justices of some sort. The merciful sword, however, is the only one of the three that is blunt. I will let this symbolism speak for itself here. Is it done speaking? Yes. Good. Let us proceed. There are monuments to a number of important people in Westminster Abbey. Some of these are tombs. One of the tombs has a mystery guest. This is the tomb of the Unknown Warrior. He was buried here in 1920 as a memorial to the masses of fallen soldiers of the Great War (WWI). Americans should be familiar with this concept, as we have our Unknown Soldier. Within eyesight of this is the Scientists Corner. Notable names such as Newton and Faraday are honored here. Scientific achievements celebrated in an abbey, yes. Religion, science, and art come together in this monument. This seems like as good a time as any to deliver some bad news to you blog readers. No pictures are allowed in Westminster, so descriptions will have to do. This is a blog for a literary tour that you are following, though, so I assume that reading can be accomplished without pictures (what good is a book without conversations or pictures?). We will leave from the celebration of science to now celebrate literature. There are a number of people honored for literary achievements here at Westminster. Look down and you will see C.S. Lewis. On the wall is Charles Dickens. My favorite author, C.L. Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) is honored as well. I will indulge myself by repeating the quote inscribed by his name: “Is all of life, then, but a dream?”. This monument was eagerly pointed out to my by other members of the group, for I have made it quite clear that the Alice books are one of my fandoms (nerdy interests). Chaucer is also given honors here, unsurprisingly. A writer of a different sort is honored near these writers. This is Handel, a writer of music. Ok, Ok, I know you really are here to hear about the monarchs here. If you are, you will not be disappointed. Elizabeth I and Mary I are honored with a effigy. This looks impressive until you see the monument for Mary Queen of Scotts (a cousin of Mary and Elizabeth). She is literally above the others. She is seen on a slab that is raised above head level, while the other monument makes you look at eye level (or down, if you are taller). The Queen of Scotts also has a more impressive arch above her. This arch is also notable for heavily featuring images of the Scottish Thistle. For all of you Henry VIII fans out there (because he is interesting, not because he is likable), Anne of Cleves dwells here. She was wife number four. She was the second to be divorced, and she was one of two to survive the (probably diabetic) king. Our tour was self guided, and we were lead by the Doctor (one of many names that our professor seems to have acquired on this trip). I was glad to learn why some stations are referred to as crosses. This has to do with funeral processions. When these would stop, a cross would be placed. You have hopefully heard of King’s Cross, as we have been there (and Hogwarts has an entrance there). Moving on from Westminster, we ha such activities as visiting a gift shop and sighting the House of Parliament. This is where Big Ben lives (Parliament, not the gift shop). This kept us diverted until we went to Cellarium Cafe at Westminster. Here, we had high tea.
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Our tea was an English Breakfast tea. Our dainties included scones with clotted cream and jam, finger sandwiches, and four small deserts. This meal was surprisingly filling, as multiple group members will attest. The service was good, and the food was delicious. Many members of our group have noted that British scones are far better than American scones. Even though this event was on the fancier side, it did not have the posh feeling of the tea store we visited earlier. Everyone seemed to have a good experience with this. After we all had our fill (I had seven cups of tea, myself), we made our way outside for our Mrs. Dalloway walk. To hear about this and the exciting conclusion of our day, Stay tuned for part two of today’s blog…

Trafalgar Square and the National Galleries

After visiting the Tower of London, we said “Goodbye” to our “Midwest Nice” and brought out our city sides, meaning we refused to let anyone push in front of us, to make our way onto the iconic red double-decker bus, and headed to Trafalgar Square.  After checking out the Square for bit, even catching a glimpse of Big Ben, we went into the National Portrait Gallery.

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The portraits included royalty, politicians, writers, musicians, artists, actors, and scientists from the 16th century to the present day.  There were painters, sculptures, and photographs.  Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Shakespeare were just a few among the British writers displayed there.  After an hour in the National Portrait Gallery, we went around the corner of the same building to visit the National Gallery.

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The artwork in the National Gallery spans from the 13th century to 19th century and includes a vast number of well-known artists.  These artists include da Vinci, Monet, Degas, Cezanné, Renoir, Rembrandt, van Gogh, Titian, Van Eyck, just to name of few.  A few of the most popular masterpieces are Botticelli’s “Venus and Mars,” Monet’s “The Water Lily Pond,” da Vinci “The Burlington House Cartoon,” and Titian’s “Bacchus and Ariadne.”  The Gallery’s architecture is quite the site to see as well.  One could easily lose track of time and get lost strolling the halls and exploring the hundreds of pieces of art.  Unfortunately, we had only an hour and a half.  After exploring the National Gallery, we picked up food for dinner and to the bus back to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Some people enjoyed their dinner in the almost rare London sunshine and ate on the grounds of the Cathedral and others just went back to the hostel.

There’s no place like (the Tower of) London!

Today was a long and exciting day full of A LOT of walking. Sitting down to write this blog feels fantastic. I get to tell you about our morning adventure of visiting the Tower of London and Christina will post about our adventures at the National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery. We started off our day with hot english breakfasts again! I never thought I would get used to eating baked beans for breakfast, but I definitely missed it while we were in Bath. So we left our hostel (which is right across the street from St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is one of the largest church buildings in England) and hopped on the bus toward the Tower of London!

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We got there before it opened to the public, so we had time to wander the area and check out the views. The tower is right by the River Thames and the Tower Bridge. I saw so many landmarks of London today that I have only ever seen on TV and in movies, it was quite exciting.

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We also saw this logo ALL over the tower and on the uniforms of the beefeaters, which are the guards of the tower with funny uniforms on. They are nicknamed beefeaters because part of their payment for work in the 16th and 17th centuries was a lot of meat, which was very expensive at the time. Anyway, the logo above stands for “the reign of Elizabeth II” who is obviously the current leader of the British Monarchy.

The Tower of London has been around for over 900 years. There has been different buildings built and destroyed during this time, but the tower has always been right by the river, which was originally built as a defense for the city. So it isn’t exactly a single tower, as I was thinking it was, but actually multiple building that have served as living quarters, menageries, prisons, and MANY other things!

Courtney was our tour guide for the tower and told us all about the history of the tower. She informed us that before Word War II, only 7 people were actually beheaded there, one of which includes Anne Boleyn. She was King Henry VIII 2nd wife and he basically falsified charges to have her killed so he could marry another woman (and another and another….). A few of the shops at the tower had an ornament set you could buy that had Henry VIII and his SIX wives as a single pack. I found that type of souvenir VERY bizarre.

Also, there are multiple ravens that live within the walls. It is said that if the ravens leave the walls of the tower, it will mean the end of England. So, of course, to avoid this all the ravens have clipped wings. I feel bad for them, but it is also a little amusing to see these big ravens hopping around the grounds inside the walls.

After Courtney’s presentation about the tower and the poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt, a man who loved Anne Boleyn and witnessed her death while he was imprisoned in the tower, we had a couple hours to explore on our own! I spent that entire time going through galleries and even seeing the crown jewels. The craziest thing I saw in the crown jewels area? A GOLD punch bowl over 3 feet wide and so large that it can fit 144 bottles of wine in it! I can’t even picture owning 144 bottles of wine, let alone pouring all of them into one giant bowl.

Another place I enjoyed looking through was the Royal Armoury. It was in the White Tower of the grounds and it was massive. The building was full of weapons that have been used throughout the course of British history and the history of the Tower of London. There were A LOT of weapons around and also a lot of suits of armor. It was a lot of fun to see and explore that place.

After the morning at the Tower, we were ready to move on to other exciting adventures. Christina will let you know all about them in her post!

On The Road (Again Again Again Again)

Yesterday (the 17th), we had the joy of waking up at eight o’clock for a nine o’clock breakfast and any remaining time left to explore what bits of Bath we may have missed. With a train at 11:30 instead of 9:30, we split into a couple different groups and wandered our ways to the train station for a couple hours. One group found a little shop with masks of different celebrities, including the Queen and One Direction. (I bought the Queen mask, which Courtney later used to taunt Amara.) Amy, Courtney, Christina, Jessie, Andrea, Gretchen, and I found a little spot of grass (which was actually just turf, much to our disappointment) and took a little time to relax before meeting up with the group for our train.

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We all made it to the train station on time and found seats for the train ride, using our BritRail passes for the last time. An hour and a half later and we were stepping onto the Paddington station in London! Dr. Clark purchased some Oyster cards for us so we can travel the underground and use buses without paying for a new pass everyday, and then we were on our way to the hostel. Thankfully, our hostel is less than a block away from St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is only a block away from the tube (subway) station. Yay for simple travel! We dropped all of our heavy bags off in our rooms, took a little time to cool down, and headed back into the tube to head over to King’s Cross station. After a fairly long yet entertaining queue wait, we each got our pictures taken in front of Platform 9 & 3/4, the famous platform from the Harry Potter movies. Because of our long wait and the time we were able to spend in the nearby gift shop, we didn’t have time to make it to the portrait gallery. Instead, we took a train to the Trafalgar Square area and went to an extremely posh grocery store. And by posh, I mean the Queen gets her groceries there and I was scared of breaking things just by looking at them. The street views are amazing though, considering the older architecture mixed in with more modern bits.

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With all the bus, train, and underground rides we took throughout the day, we saw a pretty decent amount of London (and what lies beneath it), but it also drained us of any energy we started the day with. By the time we had all settled down into our designated hostel rooms, most of us were ready to sleep or lie in bed and just relax. We gathered enough energy to wait downstairs for some dinner from the hostel and sing Kesha in our rooms, probably earning a groan from the other group on our floor. To the dismay of room 10, the bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral ring every hour on the hour, including the wee hours of the morning. With a six o’clock wake-up call from these bells, we started our first full day in London.