Saturday, May 29, 2010

Walking Among the Scholars: Bloomsbury/St. Pancras

I actually did this walks several weeks ago before the program even began, but I was too lazy to put it up on time. First up on the walks was the University College of London. Yes, the University College of London. I can’t tell you why it hasn’t decided to be either a college or a university, but it definitely is bugging me. I headed into the South Cloister to find the “auto-icon” of economist Jeremy Bentham. You may not believe me, but his skeleton is actually sitting, fully clothed inside of a box at the university. Apparently his mummified head kept falling off, so it’s in the college vaults. I guess that’s one way to be buried. My picture came out super blurry, and I felt a little weird taking a picture of the mummy man anyway, so here’s a shot from the internet:

I made my way to Travistock Square, where Charles Dickens lived for a while. The park there has a statue of Gandhi and a plaque to pacifists.

Next up was the British Library, which is a dream come true for any bibliophile. I looked around a little on the day of the walk, but I came back last week with Natalie, Chelsea, and Kathryn and found all kinds of treasures. This place has the original manuscript of Jane Eyre, the Magna Carta, a Gutenberg Bible, the papers that the Beatles first wrote their lyrics on, and the earliest known copy of Beowulf. It’s incredible.

Right around the corner from the library stands St. Pancras and Kings Cross Station. I’ve come through St. Pancras for the Eurostar a few times now, so I’ve had a chance to check out its crazy Gothic Revival architecture. You would never guess it’s a train station by looking at it. King’s Cross is the more famous of the two stations, though, thanks to Harry Potter. I finally made it to platform 9 ¾ on Wednesday, so pictures will be coming soon.

The walk led me to the Coram Foundling Museum next. Thomas Coram was a sea captain who created a home for deserted children in the 18th century. He gained the support of George Frederick Handel, whose original scores and keyboard are now stored at the museum.

I still had a little time left, so I found Dickens’ house (after passing it about 4 times), and went through. The home doesn’t have as much original furniture as I might have liked, but it definitely taught me a lot about the author’s life. It also had a lot of portraits of the Dickens family and many early printings of Charles’s works. Definitely worth the visit.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Walking the Walls of Londinium

After a morning at the Tower of London, what’s the best way to spend the afternoon? A walk, of course! In this case, a walk along the walls of Londinium, the city the Romans raised on the site of modern London. We were supposed to be walking along its walls, but to be honest, we never actually figured out when we were looking at the wall.

The gate to St. Olave’s Church, where Mother Goose is buried - apparently she’s a real person.

Christ’s Church, a beautiful building created by Nicolas Hawksmoor, one of Christopher Wren’s students.

Chelsea browsing in Spitalfields Market. There wasn’t much to see since we were there on a weekday. For years the market selling fruit and vegetables, but in 1991 the produce market was moved to Stratford. Today vendors mostly sell clothing, jewelry, and craft items.

Playing wizards chess with Kathryn in Exchange Place a little oasis in the middle of the city. Too bad the photo couldn’t quite capture our magical skills.

The Broad Venus, a five-ton statue in Exchange Place that is part of the entire Broad Family collection of statues. Ummm…I really don’t have much else to say about it.

Busy Liverpool Station in the late afternoon. As you can see it’s a shopping place as well as a station.

Headstones in Postman’s Park next to the Guild and Ward Church of St. Botolph-without-Aldersgate (quite the church name). I’m really curious about why the headstones are all stacked up together, but the walks book failed to enlighten me.

Plaques in Postman’s Park honoring people who died heroically.

Friday, May 14, 2010

South Kensington Museums Walk

I feel like South Kensington is one of my homes away from home. During my eleven days between programs, I wasn’t too keen on exploring the city alone, so I spent a lot of time in the Kensington area investigating its amazing museums. Today I headed out with Tiffany, Jenny, and Whitney to do a designated walk, but I’ll include info here about my earlier adventures as well.Hyde Park chapel, where I spent my first three Sundays in London, looks something like a temple and houses a family history center. The young adults who attend Brittania ward there are super welcoming, and I came away from my first few activities there with plenty of new facebook friends (I always say you can’t be real friends until you’re facebook friends ☺). I learned from the walks book that when the chapel was built (on a site that had been bombed out during the blitz), zoning laws prevented it from using the term “gym,” so the architects coined the term “cultural hall” for the overflow area. Sound familiar, LDS friends?
Our next stop was a very different kind of church, the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, a beautiful Roman Catholic Baroque building. The altars were gorgeous (sorry, no pictures allowed), but I was surprised by how dark the church was. It only had a few small, high windows, which seemed very different from every other church I’ve been in during my time in Europe. Near the church (not a cathedral, since it’s not the seat of a bishop – thanks for the clarification, professors), stands a statue of Cardinal Newman, who wrote “Lead Kindly Light," one of my very favorite hymns. I’d say the cardinal looked like a pretty kindly man, himself.The Victoria and Albert Museum, which was next up on our walk, is one of my favorites, mostly because it currently has a Grace Kelly exhibit on display. It gave me a chance to see her dresses from High Society, Rear Window, Academy Awards ceremonies (plus her Oscar), and her life as princess of Monaco. Seeing this exhibit was absolutely one of my favorite things I’ve done since coming to Europe. Oh, and the rest of the museum is all right, I suppose (note my use of understatement, which we learned in a lecture is a typical British form of humor – I hope you enjoyed it). I was especially interested in the pock marks in the outer wall of the museum caused by World War II bombing. The Science and Natural History Museums are also worth a visit, especially the latter if you like rocks, bugs, dinosaurs, or animals.
We took a quick picture of Lord Baden-Powell’s statue outside the unofficial world Boy Scout headquarters, and then headed on toward the Imperial college of London, which even has a Royal College of Organists, and Royal Albert Hall, where I’m really hoping to see Swan Lake before the program ends.Our last stop was Hyde Park Gate, a little cul-de-sac where people like Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, and Virginia Woolf lived. I can’t get over how people still live in these homes today. Seriously, can you imagine being able to say, “Jane Austen’s old place” when people ask you where you live?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Westminster Abbey, Churchill Museum, and Cabinet War Rooms

Good golly, I love this city. And I love this program. There’s so much to do, all the time! This morning the entire group (all 41 of us) met up at Westminster Abbey to take a tour. I was lucky enough to go through Westminster this winter with my friends from the Paris program, but it’s definitely worth a second visit (or a third, fourth, or seventh), since it touches on three of my greatest loves: history, politics, and literature. Unfortunately, pictures aren’t allowed in the main cathedral, but I was in a dream wandering among the tombs of Elizabeth I, William Wilberforce, and Charles Dickens. I was especially happy to see that, although she’s not buried there, Jane Austen is also memorialized in the Poet’s Corner.I stepped into a pub (I promise we’re allowed in them) with Natalie, Chelsea, Stephanie, and Katherine for a traditional British Lunch, and we finished up just in time to join the group again at the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. How have I never heard of this place before? It was a history major’s dream come true. Apparently Churchill and his entire staff built secure offices and apartments under ground so that they couldn’t be blown up in the blitz, but they just closed everything up when the war ended. They left their maps, paperwork, furniture, and just about anything else as it was, locked the door, and didn’t go back again. When curators were setting up the museum they even found an envelope of sugar rations that one of the officers had hoarded away. It was so cool! Churchill is definitely making my list of favorite people.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Hyde Park Walk

Since I had a lot of time to kill in between programs, I pretty much lived in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens for a week and a half, mostly because I’m nutty about squirrels. I love them! My second day here I bought a huge bag of peanuts, so I spent all kinds of time reading in the park and making squirrel friends. They actually come and eat right out of my hand! I need to figure out some way to capture one and take it home with me. I’m sure smuggling a squirrel into the U.S. won’t be a customs violation.Okay, end of squirrel tangent, back to the walk. In my excitement to feed the squirrels, I forgot my camera, but I’ll try to add some photos from earlier visits and other people’s cameras. I was glad to do this walk, since I didn’t really know anything about the park’s history before. It was first opened to the public by Charles I and has been popular ever since. In the 19th Century, Prince Albert had the Crystal Palace built there to house the first World’s Fair (the Palace was dismantled during World War II).
A big group of us started out at the famous Speaker’s Corner, where anyone can get up to share their thoughts on Sunday mornings. Since it was a Monday, nobody was up ranting, but I’ll have to come back some weekend. We did see the rather undressed statue to the Duke of Wellington, however, and took a picture of ourselves looking properly scandalized (I’ll figure out who has those pictures eventually) before going to Wellington Arch, which is topped by a statue of the Duke on Horseback. Earlier that day, most of us had also explored the Wellington’s home, Apsley House, so I’m feeling particularly knowledgeable about him right now. Ask me a question; I might just be able to answer it (might being the operative word).
Next up was the ironically flower lined Rotten Row, which brought us to the edge of the Serpentine. We stopped along the water’s edge to see the swans, geese, and ducks, who are just starting to bring out their babies. Fuzzy little ducklings can almost compete with squirrels for cuteness. Too bad they don’t like peanuts.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Theatre Walk

Yup, walk time has come again! It didn’t take much consideration to figure out where I wanted to take my first walk of the semester – the theatre district. Honestly, half of the reason I came to London was to see as many plays as possible.
A group of us started out along the Thames after dinner Thursday evening and walked along the river until we came to Cleopatra’s Needle, another obelisk that I suspect the Egyptian government would like back (there seem to be quite a few of those around Europe). Mohammed Ali gave it to Britain in the early 19th century. I forgot my camera, but somebody got a picture of me with the sphinx next to the obelisk, so I’ll try to add it and some others later.
We couldn’t go through Victoria Embankment Gardens since it was closed for the night, so we headed up to the Strand for a bit before stopping for pictures in the courtyard of Somerset House, which rulers like Elizabeth I, James I, Charles I, and Charles II (my great-great-great-great-great- granddad, or something like that) have called home. Today it houses Impressionist art, so I’m going to have to come back to get my Monet fix. The courtyard was beautiful, especially all lit up for the night.
Continuing up the road, we saw the official church of the Royal Air Force, some of my favorite people in WWII history, as well as a couple of theatres. On a side note, I headed back with Chelsea and Stephanie on Friday to see Legally Blonde, which was SO much fun. I’ll try to blog about it soon.
After passing by the home of the BBC and the London School of Economics, we turned onto the muffin man’s street (a.k.a. Drury Lane). This was exciting to me for two reasons: first, it really is the beginning of the heart of theatreland, and, second, it was once home to Nell Gwyn, Charles II’s mistress and my great-great-great-great-great-grandma, or something like that. Here's what she looked like:We headed home at that point since it was getting pretty late, but we started up the second half of the walk this morning at Covent Garden, one of my favorite places in the world. Every time I’m there I get a picture with the “noble architecture of these columns” at St. Paul’s church so that I can be a disgrace to them like Audrey Hepburn was in My Fair Lady. We split up for a bit to get breakfast and then came back to explore the church itself (where I made a cat friend and saw Vivien Leigh’s plaque), talk to a friendly bobby, and take pictures with the cherry blossoms.
Next up was Leicester Square, where I got a glimpse of the Valentine’s Day premiere this February and where the famous TKTS booth sells discount theatre tickets. We then worked our way out towards St. Martin’s in the Fields, which inspired the design of most 19th century American churches, and Trafalgar square. As you can see, the weather was gorgeous!

We eventually worked our way passed the Golden horses of Helios and into Piccadilly Circus, the London Times Square, and tonight I’m planning on heading back with Chelsea and Stephanie to see 39 Steps there. Yay for the theatre! We then walked through China town and headed home. What a walk!