I had another eventful week in London. This past week I went to the Museum of London, the British Museum, and the Churchill War Rooms. It was all very interesting and exciting.
The Museum of London was quite interesting and informative. It goes through the history of London from the time of Neanderthals until the present. There was quite a bit of walking involved and tons of information. It was intriguing to see all the history that I am living around. The most interesting part for me was learning about the plague. The MusuemofLondon.co.uk says that a major outbreak of the plague would strike roughly every twenty to thirty years between the years of 1348 to 1665 killing about twenty percent of London’s population each time. There were also less severe outbreaks between these dates and that the disease would sometime continue for years in a lesser form. The two most known outbreaks are the Black Death in 1348 and the Great Plague in 1665. But these were two of about forty outbreaks. I found it very scary to think that so many people could die of this disease. The museum had a short film talking about living in London during an outbreak of the plague. I had heard many references to the plague and read a few books and watched several movies that dealt with the plague, but I had no idea how rampant the plague was and just how long the plague was around.
The British Museum is massive. I thought that the National Gallery was maze-like but in comparison to the British Museum the National Gallery was easy to navigate. It was a very interesting museum. I spent a few hours there and know that I did not see everything there was to see. It was also very crowded in some of the rooms. I was not sure what to expect. After going to the Museum of London I thought the British Museum would be about the history of Britain, but in fact the British Museum deals more with the rest of the world than it does with Britain. The one thing I knew was that it housed the Rosetta Stone. I made sure that I saw the Rosetta Stone. It was quite crowded in the room that housed the Rosetta Stone, but I waded through the crowd to see the Rosetta Stone. BritishMuseum.org explains that the importance of the Rosetta Stone is that it was a valuable key in the decipherment of hieroglyphics. The decree inscribed on the stone is written in three different languages. First in hieroglyphic, then demotic, the native script used for daily purposes at the time, and finally in Greek. The Rosetta stone has been housed in the British Museum since 1802.
The Churchill War Rooms are incredible. I had heard of the War Rooms but I didn’t know that much about them. One of the interesting things I found was that the War Rooms were locked up after World War II and not talked about until many years later. It made sense once I learned this fact, but I had honestly not thought about it. The War Rooms were the wartime bunker that sheltered Churchill and his government during the Blitz. I found the Map Room to be one of the most interesting rooms in the bunker. This was mainly due to the fact that the day after the surrender was given the generals came back, tidied up their desks, and locked the room as it was. The room was full of color-coded phones that were color-coded for their different uses.
This past week was quite eventful. I visited the Tower of London, the Museum of London, and took a day tour to Leeds Castle, the Cliffs of Dover, and Canterbury Cathedral. It was all very interesting. I enjoyed all of it a lot but my favorite part had to be Leeds Castle.
The Tower of London was the first place I visited this past week. I took the Beefeater’s tour which was very interesting and informative. I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect from the Tower of London. All I really knew about it was that the Crown Jewels were housed there and they had Beefeater tours. But on the Beefeater tour I learned a lot about the history of the Tower of London. It was interesting to learn all the history though most of the history is quite gruesome. This has a lot to do with the fact that the Tower of London served as a prison for some of London’s most notorious criminals, such as Guy Fawkes. It is also where two of Henry VIII’s wives were beheaded. It was also the location where many of the traitors to England were beheaded and their bodies buried beneath the Chapel. I found the Chapel to be the most interesting part of the tour. Many important people’s bodies were buried under the Chapel and also serve as the finally resting place of the two wives that Henry VIII had beheaded. Hrp.org.uk says that the Tower was begun in the early 1080’s by William the Conqueror at the center of his London fortress.
Leeds Castle was absolutely beautiful. One of the things that I really wanted to do when I went to England was see a castle. I think Leeds Castle was the perfect choice of a castle to visit. It is one of the smaller castles in England, but I found the size very manageable to tour and it did not feel small to me. It was interesting to walk through and see all the history in Leeds Castle. It has been described as the “most beautiful castle on Earth” and I would have to agree. Leed-Castle.com says that the first stone castle was built between 1100 and 1200 by Robert de Crevecoeur. It also notes that Edward I was the first king to grant Leeds Castle to his second wife Margaret and began the pattern of the castle becoming part of the dower of the Queen of England and being retained after their husband’s death. I fell in love with the library although it was not the biggest library—it was so beautiful and cozy. It would be the type of library I would want in my own home. All the walls were lined with bookshelves from floor to ceiling absolutely full of beautiful old books. There were many comfortable-looking chairs spread about. However, I think one of the most interesting things about Leeds Castle is that most kings would gift Leeds Castle to their wife but Henry VIII did not gift Leeds Castle to any of his wives. He did live there with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
The next stop on the day tour was the Cliffs of Dover. The Cliffs of Dover were absolutely beautiful to see. The town of Dover itself had a very different feel than that of London. It was much smaller than I imagined, but you could also tell that the city revolved around the Channel. I was there earlier in the day, but the town was very quiet and almost dead. There were a few shops around but not much was happening around them. The Cliffs themselves were magnificent although we were not able to get very close to the cliffs because of time restraints. However, even from a distance they were absolutely breathtaking. One of the most interesting things that I found out about the Cliffs of Dover is that there is an extensive network of tunnels in the Cliffs. These tunnels have been expanded over many different centuries, and the tunnels were used during World War II as signal relay points to keep in contact with spies in Germany. English-heritage.org.uk explains that the tunnels were started in Napoleonic times and have been expanded and used right up to the Cold War.
The next stop was Canterbury Cathedral. I had heard about Canterbury Cathedral, but only because in high school we read part of The Canterbury Tales. I was surprised by just how beautiful Canterbury Cathedral was. The town itself looked much like any other town in England when we initially got into the town, but as I got closer to the Cathedral I could tell that everything in the town was centered around the Cathedral. I could feel the amount of history held in the Cathedral’s walls. In the crypt I saw where people had carved into the stones of the walls and at first I found it very disrespectful, but then I started to look more closely at what was carved and read some of the dates carved into the stones. Many of the dates were from the 1960’s and 70’s. I saw some that were from even earlier, and although it was still disrespectful to carve into the stone those carvings showed the history of the Cathedral as well. Canterbury-cathedral.org says that St. Augustine was the first Archbishop of Canterbury. He arrived on the coast of Kent as a missionary to England from Rome in 597 AD.
I had a lot of wonderful adventures this past week and look forward to the last few experiences I will get to have before I leave London.
This past week was full of many interesting and exciting adventures. One of my lifelong dreams as a theatre major was achieved this past weekend by going to the Globe Theatre and watching a Shakespeare play as a groundling. I also went to see Les Miserables. I also had my first afternoon tea and visited Kensington Palace and Gardens. I ended my eventful week by visiting the National Gallery.
I queued up for the evening performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of my favorite Shakespearean plays. Rick Steves say that the Globe Theatre interesting enough is the first thatched roof constructed in London since they were outlawed after the Great Fire of 1666. At the Globe Theatre if you don’t buy a ticket beforehand, or they are sold out, you can queue up about an hour to thirty minutes before the show, and the theatre resells returned tickets or people will come out and sell any extra tickets that they have. I was extremely excited to get my five pound groundling ticket. The show was incredibly enjoyable. It was a three hour show and I would recommend very comfortable shoes. My feet did start to hurt during the show, but I was laughing so hard for part of the second act that I forgot about my feet. Being a groundling is a cool experience because you are so close to the actors and the stage, but also because many of the characters enter and exit through the audience. It was a very well done production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But being in the Globe and watching it, in a way very similar to how it would have been watched when it was originally written, made the experience that much better.
I also went to see Les Miserables. It was also an incredible production. I was mesmerized by the set. The majority of the stage rotated and then massive set pieces would be rolled in on tracks while other pieces would be flown in from the ceiling. I already loved the music from Les Miserables but had never had the chance to see it performed on stage. I was so excited to get the tickets. They were fairly cheap tickets that translated to not the best seats, but I was nonetheless excited to be there.
I also had my first experience with afternoon tea. I must say I felt very British going to have afternoon tea. I went with a few of the other girls on the trip to a small tea shop, The Muffin Man, down the block from where we are staying. It is a lovely little tea shop. I enjoyed my tea, and I thankfully remembered the strainer because afternoon tea is loose leaf tea. It was a nice relaxing break in my day. AfternoonTea.co.uk explains the history. Afternoon tea began around the early nineteenth century around the time of Anna the seventh Duchess of Bedford, who complained about having a sinking feeling during the late afternoon. This was due to the fact that at this time it was usual to only eat two meals a day, breakfast and dinner around 8 o’clock in the afternoon. The solution for the Duchess was a pot of tea and a light snack during the afternoon. Later the Duchess would invite friends to join her. It soon other social hostess picked up the idea. Afternoon tea is not as popular as it once was and now tends to be only an occasional luxury.
I also had a chance to walk around Kensington Gardens and to go to Kensington Palace. The gardens were absolutely beautiful. There were many people lounging around the gardens talking. I enjoyed just walking around the gardens. I went and saw the swans that live there. The palace was lovely and very interesting. Rick Steves says that Kensington Palace was the home to the royal family from1689 when King William and Queen Mary moved from Whitehall until 1760. It was the center of the English court until then, when the royal family moved to Buckingham Palace. I especially liked the part about Queen Victoria. I knew a bit about her life because of a movie I watched in the past, but walking through the rooms where Victoria lived was amazing. I am always in awe of the love story between Victoria and Albert. I also found it very interesting to see some of the dresses worn by Queen Victoria and just how small she was. One of the room guides told us that she was four foot eleven while Albert was five foot nine.
I rounded out my weekend with a visit to the National Gallery. Rick Steves says that the National Gallery houses seven hundred years of art from 1250 to 1900. The National Gallery is huge and a bit of a maze to get through. It was absolutely amazing to see some of the great paintings that I have seen and heard about, but in person they are so much different. I almost didn’t get to see the Van Gogh section because of the maze-like design of the National Gallery but before leaving I looked at the map and saw a picture of a Van Gogh painting and went back in and found the room with Van Gogh in it. The National Gallery only has about five Van Gogh paintings, but they are incredible nonetheless. I found that the National Gallery hosts one of my favorite Van Gogh paintings Wheat Field with Cypresses. I have always loved this painting but in person you fully realize why everyone absolutely loves Van Gogh’s painting style. In person the work is full of texture and movement. Van Gogh is still quite beautiful in print, but I realized that Van Gogh is so full of texture that a flat print will never capture the beauty of the original.
I had a very eventful weekend full of new experiences in London. This weekend I went on a Tour of Parliament, watched the London Pride Parade, went to a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and went to Hyde Park and Speaker’s corner.
The tour of Parliament was incredible. At first I was a bit skeptical about the tour and was a bit worried that it would be boring, but I was actually quite wrong. The building itself is beautiful and I was amazed by how the architecture and design of the building connected to Parliament itself, such as in the House of Lords all the seats are red, the color of royalty, and all the seats in the House of Commons are green. I found it interesting that like the United States the British Parliament has two houses, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, but unlike the United States the House of Lords is not an elected house but an appointed house. The seats in the House of Lords are appointed by a committee. The House of Commons are elected seats. I was also amazed to hear about the traditions still in place in Parliament, such as when the Queen comes once a year to open Parliament she does not go any farther in the Palace of Westminster than the House of Lords. This is because King Charles I went into the House of Commons to arrest many of the representatives and the House of Commons said he had no right to do that so now the Royal family will go no farther than the House of Lords. Rick Steves’ says in his travel guide that the Palace of Westminster, the building that houses Parliament, was resident of the royal families from 1042 to 1547.
The London Pride Parade was fantastic. I have never been to a Pride Parade before. There were so many people out in support of the Pride Parade. I was encouraged to see all the different groups of people in the actual parade. There were religious groups, football teams, companies, and ethnic groups all walking in the parade.
St. Paul’s Cathedral was more beautiful then I imagined. The service and music were both beautiful. I had never been to an Anglican church before and was delighted to experience a new type of service. I was glad that a guide was given for what was happening and when I should sit or stand. For most of the service I was enthralled with the beautiful dome and the art work on the ceiling around the dome. There were mosaic-style pictures depicting different saints. I was surprised to learn when I looked in the pamphlet we were given for the service that Christian worship has been offered at St. Paul’s for over 1400 years. Rick Steves mentions the iconic dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral and notes that it is 365 ft. tall to represent the days in a year. Rick Steves also talks about how St. Paul’s is a symbol for resistance for the British people because during World War II in spite of 57 nights of bombing the Nazis failed to destroy St. Paul’s mainly because of volunteer fire watchmen who stayed on the dome.
Hyde Park is absolutely lovely. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday when I went to Speaker’s Corner. There were many families and small groups spread across the park enjoying the warm day. Rough Guide mentions how Hyde Park was first opened to the public by James I. It soon after became a fashionable gathering place. Many duels, hangings, muggings, and the Great Exhibition of 1851 have all happened in Hyde Park. Nowadays Hyde Park is more of an area for political demonstration. I went to Hyde Park to witness Speaker’s Corner. Speaker’s Corner is held every Sunday at the corner of Hyde Park and citizens are allowed to go out and speak on any subject they please. It was a very interesting experience to witness Speaker’s Corner. Most of the people I stopped to listen to for a minute or two were talking about religion, though by far the most interesting and entertaining was the first man I saw at Speaker’s Corner. The man had a stereo and was playing reggae music and dancing to it. He didn’t say anything he was just dancing to his music. Many of the people in the crowd around him were dancing along as well to his music. Many of the others around Speaker’s Corner would have people argue with them about the idea at hand.
It has been an exciting trip thus far and I still have so much to see.
I have successfully arrived in London, avoided jet lag, and begun my adventures of my new surroundings. The first day in London was a bit tough because of a lack of sleep but the highlight of my first day in London was a big bus tour of London. We had a very energetic and funny guide to point out and explain sites around the city. My favorite sites on the tour had to be Big Ben and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Our guide told us that Big Ben is not the name of the tower or the clock but the name of the bell in the tower. The bell was made by the same company that made the Liberty Bell, and like the Liberty Bell the first time Big Ben was rung it cracked. I have seen both in pictures so many times and heard about them but actually seeing them in person was absolutely incredible. They are both massive in person but incredibly beautiful. I can’t wait till I get to visit St. Paul’s for a service but also on my own so that I can climb to the top and look at London. I’m so excited for all of the sites I will see and all the new experiences ahead of me.