Published on June 29th, 2012 | by TLV News0
A Broad Abroad: Conclusion – London (by Sarah Reddick, from TLV #159)
Sarah Reddick traveled to the UK in March of this year. The trip was orchestrated by Beth Spencer, a professor in the English Department at Ole Miss, and it was part of a Study Abroad course called “Fantasy Fiction in the UK.”
Our hotel was right across the street from King’s Cross Station. All you Harry Potter fans know that this is the station where young wizards go to find Platform 9 ¾ in order to catch the train bound for Hogwarts. It’s an immense station filled with travelers hurrying to catch a train bound for other destinations, or turning their collars up before they head into the streets of London.
After checking into our hotel we met up again in the lobby to head to the British Library. I spent the most time with some of Virginia Woolf’s writings, and in the Magna Carta exhibit. After that we set off on foot to see London at twilight. We saw Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, the London Eye, the Thames, and the statues and sculptures in Trafalgar Square. The square is named for the Battle of Trafalgar, in which the British navy defeated France during the Napoleonic Wars. The evening sky was streaked with brilliant colors, and I was just another exuberant tourist who couldn’t believe the ground underneath me.
The following day we took a double decker bus tour of London. My group got off at the National Gallery and we spent the next three hours roaming its large halls. I found out early on that the best way for me to experience the Gallery would be to follow the docents leading various school groups who had taken field trips that day. The docents were full of useful information, and I loved listening to rows of neat and tidy children in uniform discussing various works of art.
Towards the end of the afternoon I stopped to listen to a school group discuss paintings from Van Gogh’s Sunflower series. The docent asked the children why it has been said that the paintings might be a little more complicated than they appear to be at first glance. One little girl cocked her head to the side, raised her hand, and said (in a small but strong voice marked by her clipped, sweet sounding accent), “The paintings are all done in yellows, which is a happy color, but it feels sad to look at the flowers because it looks as though they are dying.” I listened to the rest of their discussion, wishing all the while that I had gone to a private grade school in the UK.
One of my favorite parts of our stay was seeing the Tower of London. We got there early in the morning while the sun was still burning the fog off the Thames. I’d always thought of the Tower in the singular sense, one tall foreboding, blood-spattered structure, when in fact it is a castle complex made up of twenty-one different towers. I went into the dungeon where they keep the torture devices; spiked manacles, the Rack, which pulled its victims limb from limb, and the Scavenger’s Daughter, which worked in the opposite way, by compressing the body. It was surreal to go from the dungeon, to the very spot where Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey were executed, to a sparkling room called the Jewel House where the Crown Jewels are on display. I took pictures of the Tower ravens, captive birds that are kept on the grounds in a number no less than seven due to an old superstition that if they aren’t present Britain will fall.
The day we visited the Tower, we also saw Shakespeare’s Globe Theater (which has a gift shop that is designed to make you blow your budget), and Southwark Cathedral, Shakespeare’s church. I managed to take one picture inside of Southwark before a priest told me I would have to pay him £5 if I wanted to take any more. I declined, and opted instead to walk around quietly and light a few votives.
The last full day we were there was St. Patrick’s Day. My friend Julianne Jones and I wandered around Notting Hill in the rain, and then went to The World’s End, a famous pub in Camden Town. We listened to the cheers of Irish patrons who were smashing bottles and wearing plastic face masks depicting President Obama, the Queen, Lady Gaga and Elvis. After eating an amazing Indian meal at Ravi Shankar’s restaurant, we ended our last night by taking our laptops to the hotel bar and writing in our pajamas while sipping single malt scotch from the Isle of Jura off the coast of Scotland, where Julianne’s ancestors still live to this day.
As I watched the sun come up from a taxi on my way to Heathrow the next morning, my pleasantly exhausted brain concluded that it had been a life changing trip that, while somewhat costly, I couldn’t have afforded not to take.