For the better part of two weeks now, we’ve been walking and riding around London – stopping here, there and everywhere in an effort to learn all about London and its literary history. Tomorrow actually marks the halfway point in our trip, and it occurred to me as we were taking the ferry down the Thames this morning that when I looked at building after building, I did so with familiarity. With each building, cathedral or bridge that we passed that I recognized, I realized just how much I have learned already. The materials that we read prior to the course are all coming together now, and connecting with the places we’re visiting, and creating a literary picture. With every day and every field trip to some place of interest, that picture becomes increasingly clearer and more defined.
Today, for example, when we were at the Tower of London, getting the lesson in history from the Beefeater, I realized that I already knew some of what our expert lecturer was saying, and that tickled me. So, tonight, as we went out to dinner, and dined at “Rules,” the oldest restaurant in London – and one in which Dickens had visited – it felt as though our trip had been so productive. And, we’re only half-way done. There are still so many things left on the agenda – so much more of London to see, inside and out.
There’s something I always found peaceful about libraries, and maybe that’s why I chose to work at one. I like knowing that so many stories surround me, words of inspiration from so many years of deep thought. Before I read a book, I go through quite the process. I like to look at the front and back covers, read the little descriptions. I need to slowly flip through the pages and make sure they are of good quality, look at the text the words are printed in. Finally, I do what any crazy bibliophile does – I smell the book (but it’s true in saying that books have different scents depending on their pasts: some are musty, some smell like fresh ink, but they all tell a story). Books are one of my favorite things in the world, so naturally, I begin to swoon whenever we visit a library here in London.
Of the many we’ve seen so far, my top two now include the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and the library and study room at Kenwood House. In Oxford, the books have been there for hundreds of years, read and enjoyed by so many. The stories have touched and enlivened for longer than I can even imagine. But apart from the books, the library itself is unbelievable. The golden paint shines from the ceiling, and the magnificent windows allow for the brightest rays of sunlight to come through. In contrast, the Kenwood House library is painted a sky-blue color, with large plush furniture for relaxing. The books tower in shelves up to the ceiling with enormous ladders to reach them. While Kenwood has a more easygoing feel as opposed to academic Oxford, both places were accompanied by a certain aura of peace and elegance. In any public place, I make a beeline right for the place that sells books, and I can guarantee you’ll have a difficult time getting me to leave. I love books, and the enthralling feelings that accompany them – so to me, I couldn’t be anywhere happier. I can’t wait to see what else I will stumble upon in terms of literature here.
This morning started out with a ride on the Thames. For the life of me, I cannot remember how to pronounce the name right. It’s really pronounced like the “Tems,” but I can’t get the hang of it. It’s a beautiful river, though. We had a boat cruise that showed us the riverbanks as one of the staff members pointed out important buildings to us.
The skyline of the city is very interesting because there is a huge juxtaposition between old buildings like the Palace of Westminster, where Parliament is housed, and newer buildings like the Shard, a 87-storey skyscraper made completely of glass. This building especially stood out against the Tower of London, which was established in 1066 by William the Conqueror.
I think the Tower of London has to be one of my favorite places in London. I have grown up reading books like Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, which has opened a gateway for me to the world of 12th century England. I felt more connected to the place I was in because I had a better sense of its history based on what I read in Pillars as well as what I learned in my history courses. I felt slightly skeeved knowing that Anne Boleyn, among countless others who were named traitors, were beheaded just a few feet away from me.
I’ll try not to think about that too much when we go out for dinner tonight!
Today’s excursion was all about Dickens. I was really excited to be able to connect all of our Dickens readings to the city today. We’ve gotten bits and pieces of Dickens in London throughout the trip, but I felt like I could really connect to Dickens’s London today. Learning more about his environment helped me understand his works much better.
Our day started with a tour from Ruth, who was a spectacular tour guide. She was so knowledgeable about Dickens. Ruth was a little eccentric and very personable. I thought people in London would be really reserved and proper, but my stereotype has been broken through all of the people we’ve met through our tours and simply just asking for directions. Walking tours are usually not my favorite, but her passion for Dickens and her outgoing nature made this walking tour quite enjoyable. It was cool to see the pictures she found of what the street the workhouse Dickens worked at looked like back in Victorian times.
The Dickens House brought more connections to bridge (or mind, hah!) the gap between Dickens’s works and London. Dickens wrote a lot about young females encountering death, which was inspired by the sudden death of his sister-in-law in one of the rooms. Diana took us on a second tour of the house after we walked around to get our first impressions. I was happy she did that because she elaborated on a lot of things that I would have glossed right over.
I’m excited for our upcoming Dickens House collaboration project. Charla and I will be attending a fundraiser party on Friday to take pictures and write a short article about the even for the House’s website and Facebook. I enjoy mingling with others and am constantly on social media, so this project is the perfect fit for me!
Time is flying by. We’ve already been here a week and I seriously can’t tell if it feels like I’ve lived here for months or if we’re just so busy I don’t even realize the time has passed. Today’s trip to Oxford was amazing.
I grew up with a love of books and being able to see shelves and shelves of old books today was something I don’t think I could ever forget. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take pictures up there but it was well worth the 3 hour journey. We also got to see a bit of where Harry Potter films were made which reminded me of the countless hours I’ve spent reading those books in my lifetime.
It has certainly been a busy week and looking ahead our days are full of more tours and shows and our weekend trip to Paris!!! I don’t know how we would get through this trip without our host families. Julie and I are so lucky that our host mom is making things so easy for us here so that we are able to really enjoy our time here. Particularly the Kenwood House yesterday which was unbelievable. I could just imagine scenes from Pride and Prejudice happening all around the grounds. London is so much fun, I can’t wait for some of the trips but I’m not ready to go home quite yet!
We did our way to oxford! Exactly University of Oxford is the dream of many kids including me when I was a kid. It is the filming location of Harry Potter. It is a great attraction for Harry Potter fans. Chelsea is the biggest fan of Harry Porter in our group. You can see her smile face all the day. I was laughing when she cannot cover her over excited as soon as she saw the stairs where Harry stepped in the first movie. The oxford is great, very big and clean. The buildings are fancy. I believe that you cannot find another university with such magnificent architectures. University of Oxford is the oldest school who speak English. Personally I do not feel any strong academic feeling around the university, which is totally different from Harvard and Yale. I have been Harvard and Yale before. The two universities absolutely give people different feelings. Both of them are quiet but intense. You can even feel the stress under the peaceful studying environment. While, Oxford gives people a feeling of pleasant. I enjoy the beautiful music on the street, the briskly walking of people and the splendid bookstore everywhere. People in Oxford are just like reading! The long history and the literature culture make the university full of humanities breathing. As the Oxford is the main city over The Thames, we did enjoy boating over the Thames River in the afternoon under the sunshine. One moment I cannot imagine I am sitting on the thousands of years’ river. You do not know how many stories happened over river. It is the time I connect myself with history.
Just to show you a little insight into our recent adventures, here are a few pictures! Included are Highgate Cemetery, Kenmore House (very reminiscent of Mr. Darcy’s house in Pride and Prejudice), and an old Victorian amputation theater(re in England!).
Despite my obnoxiously pink Nike sneakers and occasionally strong Bostonian accent, I feel like I am beginning to blend in a little better. It is amazing how comprehending the tube, or London’s underground subway system, gives you a little more confidence.
Over the last few days, I have found myself constantly comparing England to the U.S. There are a few minor things I have noticed, like the British’s tendency to call trash barrels “refuse” or “litter.” They don’t even use the word “exit,” instead they use “way out.” It seems like everything here is so proper and America is England’s misbehaved, brassy younger sister.
Even the people are nicer here. There have been so many occasions in which we have had to ask for directions.People have honestly been interested in the fact that we are from America. Today, I heard some American girls talking, and I was amazed to hear words and phrases I am comfortable with and familiar with. Although British English and American English are extremely similar, they might as well be completely different languages. I feel like a true English major analyzing the two different versions of English.
Off to Oxford tomorrow!
What do I want on my tombstone? While that may not be the happiest thought, it did occur to me as we walked around Highgate Cemetary today. Seeing all the various kinds of tombstones and inscriptions made me think about what I want my inscription to say. As I walked along the heavily-treed pathways, and saw sculptures of Celtic crosses, Christian crosses, angels, and even dogs and horses, I realized that these were all representations of people’s lives. They, or their loved ones, picked these sculptures, these symbols, and these words to sum up what they believed in life. I then tried to imagine what would sum up my life. How does one begin to choose the words or symbols to represent a life?
When I saw George Eliot’s tombtone, it had her nom de plume in quotes, and her legal name beneath it, which made me wonder – what is it that defines you? Is it your life’s work? Is it your family role? Is it what you do for others? Or, in the end, are you a composite that is summed up in a minuscule inscription in stone? These are questions for which I have no answer, but I have always like the Beatles’ “The End” lyric: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Today I did at least pick up some good ideas on tombstone decor. And, perhaps I’ll take a cue from one of the tombstones we saw today– that of a popular British boxer– and have a stone sculpture of my dog placed at the foot of my grave for eternal protection and companionship.
These past couple days we have been all over the city! However, my two favorite destinations were the Houses of Parliament and John Keats’s house. The two locations may not be similar, they are both very beautiful and very influential.
The Houses of Parliament was so striking to me. The stained glass window, ornate detailing, and especially the portraits and statues of the various monarchs and Prime Ministers of the past. We were able do do an audio guided tour, and the history of how the government of England became the House of Lords and the House of Commons was so interesting to me. If I wasn’t a Psychology major I would be a History major, and British history is, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating parts of history. I could have walked around the Houses of Parliament all day learning about the history of Britain’s government.
John Keats’s house was also a sight to behold. The house is very unassuming on the outside, but it has a breathtaking garden and a lovely interior. The house is a small museum detailing Keats’s short life, and we were lucky enough to come in right as a tour was beginning. As a history nerd, I loved learning about Keats’s life and how he was influential to British romantic poetry. After, we sat in the garden and read a few of Keats’s poems, which made for a tranquil moment.
Though these two instances were quite different, they were both interesting to me because they gave me a better picture of parts of London’s culture. The Houses of Parliament showed me the part that is involved in government, that does not want to go back to the absolute monarchy of centuries past. Keats’s house showed me the more sensitive, romantic, and deep side of London. These two intertwine in the architecture of the Houses of Parliament. The decoration inside is flowing and artsy, like Keats’s poetry, but the outside is very pointed and exacting, like the more serious political side.
I’m extremely happy we are getting to experience all parts of London’s culture during this trip! Now if only I could figure out a way to look like less of a tourist while I experience it…
On one of our first days in London, we had taken an exceptionally long tour. The six of us were still somewhat jet-lagged, and by late afternoon, our feet were dragging on the streets of London. Just as we had almost reached our tube station, Diana called out from behind us: “Wait! Stop and smell the roses!” We all somewhat laughed, but obliged as she led us to an overgrowth of English roses in someone’s garden. She then explained how London was famous for its flowers and told us to notice the little things around the city, but up until now, I had a difficult time doing so. When you arrive in a city with so much to see, your senses want to capture everything, and your eyes can only find so much to look at. However, the longer I am here, the more I am understanding what she truly meant.
The photos here are from Sigmund Freud’s garden and Westminster Abbey, and although it is hard to see detail (especially in the window), I took some time to gaze at these sights. I have always loved the intricate details on flowers, but these were exceptionally gorgeous. Being at Freud’s house further peaked my interest in analysis, so I took the time to carefully examine all I could (pictures inside were not allowed). Similarly, at Westminster Abbey, it’s another place where I feel so small, yet here I felt like a piece of history, of the millions of people to step foot inside and feel the same tranquility. Again, I could only take photographs of certain things, but I absolutely enjoyed the stained glass windows. Each one tells a story, and each pane is carefully selected both for viewing purposes and for emphasis on its meaning. Since that day in the quiet London neighborhood, I have tried to notice the smaller details, and while I may feel minuscule next to some of the grander places in London, I have also begun to feel like a part of something so much bigger than myself.