Nearly every day on this trip we’ve gone somewhere serious and historic. We’ve been to an array of cathedrals, towers, museums and palaces. But yesterday, we decided to visit The Sherlock Holmes Museum. Tourist trap? Yes. Kitschy? Definitely. But I must admit, I was eager to go. I didn’t even care that we waited for nearly two hours, or that the place was maybe 1200 square feet of viewing pleasure after that long wait. I had ten minutes of pop culture pleasure. I took photos and bought souvenirs. I basically took the tourist bait, hook, line and sinker … and I have no regrets. I had my campy fun. And yes, it tied into our literary goals, as we read The Sign of Four, so no time was wasted on the academic front. But after a decade of watching Jeremy Brett as Sherlock, and now being totally hooked on the “Sherlock” series with Benedict Cumberbatch, I was frankly a little less concerned with the literary merits of visiting the “museum,” and turned into your garden-variety fan. So now I can say that I’ve been inside 221b Baker Street, and I can add that experience to all the other wonderful, proper, high-brow, literary destinations visited on this journey.
Stop to smell the roses
We visited Regents Park today. Right at the beginning of the park is a rose garden, a sea of blushing pinks and mellow yellows. It is amazing how many parks there are in London. Londoners are always on the move. I feel like places like Regents Park are necessary. They give people an opportunity for a mental break from the hustle and bustle of the busy city life and help balance out all of the pavement and cement buildings.
As we sat in the park, we discussed our visit to the Imperial War Museum and the Churchill War Rooms. Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of WWI. It is an amazing time to be in England. I have always learned about the wars in a history class, but now I get to see how they impacted the country on a much more personal level. Visiting the museums was a fascinating and sobering experience. I cannot imagine the horrors and heartbreak people went through during the war.
All over the city there have been memorials to the soldiers who died in the war. The Tower of London had beautiful plastic poppies flowering the lawn in front of the tower. Saint Paul’s Cathedral had statues commemorating the war. Everywhere you go in the city, memories of the war still resonate. I am truly honored to experience the 100th anniversary firsthand.
On a more lighthearted note, a few of the girls and I are traveling to Paris in a week! I can’t believe the trip is ending so soon!
Smelling the Roses
A few days ago, we went as a class to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and I have to say that it was one of my favorite places that we have visited. We had several class discussions about Victorian dress norms and the role of women, and then we viewed the artwork and sculptures in the museum. It was all interesting, and enjoyable, but when I stepped outside to head to the café, I saw a beautiful courtyard. It was truly picturesque, with a wading pond in the center, and little children splashing around. People were seated at small tables around it, with their tea and cake, and I had to stop and just drink it all in. I went and got a little spot of tea and cake myself, and joined them. The course up to that point had been very hectic, as we were going and doing so much. So as I sat there, it was as though time just stopped. I looked around at the gorgeous architecture and the children giggling as they splashed in the wading pool, and I just thought to myself that there aren’t many moments in life as picture-perfect as this, and I should really, consciously and deliberately, enjoy it. And so, I did.
Yesterday was my favorite day of the trip thus far. We went to the Victoria & Albert Museum in the morning, and it was by far the best museum we’ve been to. The exhibit of dresses from the past 300 years of British history was truly amazing. I’ve been enthralled with the fashion in London since I’ve been here. I try to keep up with the trends in America (well as much as I can on a Forever 21 budget), but I feel so far behind here!
The dresses from the 18th and 19th century were beautiful and extravagant, yet they highlighted the ways in which women were treated: an object to look at, confined by a corset, and something to be consumed. Part of me finds these dresses so interesting and exciting to look at, but as what some would call a “raging feminist” these dresses make me so angry. It seems as though England and America’s pasts are very similar in the way they treated women. There are a lot of differences between the two cultures, but the fashion exhibit showed me that English and American cultures both have very anti-feminist histories.
Nevertheless, I was mostly pleased with the fashion exhibit. It was so interesting to see British fashion, and British women, progress throughout history. The vintage bathing suits and 1950s party dresses were my favorite parts of the exhibit. I could even see myself wearing both today.
I loved the Victoria & Albert Museum, and although the fashion exhibit revealed Britain’s objectifying past, it inspired me to try and keep up with the fashion in London. I’m planning on doing some shopping here soon, so even if I can’t be as trendy as Londoners, hopefully I can bring some trends from here back to Lowell!
The Memory of War
Our past two days here have been packed with the reminders of World War I, and while of course I remember studying it in high school, I was shocked to realize how much it actually affected those overseas. On Monday, London will be celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the declaration of war, and there are reminders of it at nearly every historical site we visit. The Tower of London, upon entry, had a field of red flowers in honor of those who died. Similarly, the Imperial War Museum created a special exhibit, and had many items in the gift shop for purchase and commemoration. Below is a photograph of the book I picked up, a collection of poems from people who experienced the war firsthand. The words are tragically beautiful, but each poem tells an important story.
I didn’t take many pictures at these war museums, and not because I wasn’t allowed to. These experiences are something I don’t need photographs to remember, because I know they will be something I can’t forget. While sad, I do believe that visiting memorials such as these are important to understand history, and the grand impact that these events had. As an avid reader and writer, it is rare that I am at a loss for words, but here I struggle to put my feelings into sentences. There is something vastly different in reading about an event in a textbook, and seeing the artifacts right before your eyes. It becomes so much more real, and yet, there is a strange peace in the aftermath of the exhibits, a quiet understanding that only accompanies a descent from a terrible high.
Here is an excerpt from a poem by Rupert Brooke, who never lived to see his work published:
“There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.”
“Look up, do not look down.” This is what we did this afternoon to conquer St. Paul’s Cathedral. The overall architecture design is elegant, magnificent, and peaceful. You will be shocked by the complicated decoration of the roof, as well the height to the top of tower. Reaching the top of the tower, I wanted to try. “If you fear, you will lose the chance to get the thing you can have and you never have before.” This was what I said to myself inside then started to count the steps to the top. Although feeling a little dizzy and my legs were shaking, I felt the freshness of the wind from the sky and the great view on the St. Paul, not just from inside of the St. Paul. I wanted to shout I caught the open view of London. I am glad not because of my courage to climb to the top, I am glad of my spirit to catch the things what I want. “Once you fear, you will lose the chance.” I admire the spirit of fearless. Most great people are fearless, like Edward I, Henry VIII, and as well Mr. Putin who is the president of the Russian. Fearless people have irresistible charming and power. “If you can conquer your fear, you can conquer the world.” This insight is from my middle school teaching by the story of Columbia who discovered the new continent. The tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral gave me a lot of inspiration. I will take this as one favorite moment in my life definitely.
The V&A museum is unbelievable gorgeous. It is so big that I cannot find my way even with my map. The abundant treasures and the shinning jewellery were dazzled my eyes. I definitely will come back V&A again.
View From the Top
I always enjoyed going to plays and musicals when I was younger, and was even in a few as a young high school student. However, I didn’t know much about the history of theatres before coming on this trip. Not only have I seen some of the most famous theatres in London but have also seen some incredible shows.
The Crucible was absolutely amazing and I found myself falling in love with the tragedy of the story even though I had never read it before. We’ve also seen a concert and another show called Wonderland when we first got here. If the rest of the shows on our schedule are anywhere near as good as these (which I’m sure they are) I can’t wait to see them.
This morning we went to the V&A Museum and got to look at different fashions from the last few centuries. It was so incredible to see how women’s dress has changed in the last 150 years and just how far London has come since then. After that we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral which is absolutely BREATH TAKING. I’ve never seen such incredible views both inside and outside of a church. We walked up about 600 steps to reach the very top and see an amazing view of London. It was worth the workout! This trip has honestly been the trip of a lifetime!!
Learning “Literary London”
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.
For the Love of the Library
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.
Traitors and the Thames
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!