London Calling

By: Olivia L. ’21

My first memory of our London trip begins as we made our way onto yet another long bus ride, soaking in the sights and information along the way. After that rainy ride, we arrived at Warwick Castle­ — a location that had not been visited on the London Trip for ten years. Despite originally feeling uncertain about what was to come, Warwick Castle was a kind surprise, and one that is now many student’s favorites. We first walked through the gate that gave us the rather grandiose view of, not only the Castle itself, but the world it was laid upon. A mix of everything from dungeons and weaponry to portraits and elegant dining halls, Warwick Castle provided a full experience of the Tudor-Stork period (the era it represented.) The highlight of Warwick was surely the haunted hallway where fear and history came to play. Along with a few of my friends, Mr. Weissman and Mr. Crane accompanied us. Nothing seemed to frighten Mr. Crane in the slightest, and Mr. Weissman was chopped to bits before we were able to leave the maze (not literally, of course).

Stratford-upon-Avon, the next stop in the London Experience, proved to be a spot brimming with history. The town came to life as much of what we had learned about in school was displayed there. We toured Shakespeare’s birthplace and the cramped house he lived in with eight other family members. A replica of the infamous “second-best bed” could be found before making our way out into the courtyard, where reenactments of Shakespeare’s most famous plays were performed, and even some of the students joined the actors on stage! In Stratford, we briefly toured the Guild Chapel, known with regards to William Shakespeare because John Shakespeare had whitewashed the paintings inside of it. Many of the murals inside are still being restored to their former glory. It is lucky they were not destroyed at the time, but it was decided to only cover them for the time being because the accepted religion by the Church of England was constantly changing from Anglican to Protestant.

The streets of London were becoming ever so quiet as our group walked briskly to what would be one of the best dinners in London. We had eaten Italian style, and the sound of the pan sizzling was a faint reminder of how hungry I had been after all of the walking. It was well worth it, as most of us easily cleared out plates. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Twelfth Night came next on our list, and some of us were familiar with the high school’s production of it only last fall. Though confusing at first, with Mr. Weissman’s help, we all had a grasp on the story by the end. With mistaken identities, cross-dressers, and even a character named Olivia, the plot of this comic play never fails to amaze.

Wednesday, on what undoubtedly felt like the longest day, our class ventured far and wide throughout the city of London and beyond. Beginning with Trafalgar Square, a wide expanse of sculptures, fountains, and other aesthetic monuments, we split into groups to head into the National Gallery. We had already prepared for the paintings we were about to see, as each student was assigned a painting to present. Intermittently, between presentations, we sketched some of the paintings. From Monet to Titian, painters from every walk of life could be found in this museum.

The Mall…no, not the one you’re thinking of. You can’t buy Jordans or a lipstick at Sephora here. In the City of Westminster, between Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace, The Mall has been historically used for royal events, as it sits right outside of the palace. In direct connection with Buckingham Palace, the center for many British celebrations, The Mall has been a place for crowds of people to wait for the Royals public appearances. According to the flag positioning (raised in this case) indicated that the Queen was in Buckingham Palace for the time being, though unfortunately, we did not catch a glimpse of her.

On our way to Westminster Abbey, on the south side of The Mall, we walked through St. James’s Park. Along the path, a lake can be seen on one side, and a history of the royal guard museum on the other. During James I’s reign in 1503, St. James’s Park housed exotic animals, including crocodiles, elephants, camels, and a variety of wild birds. Having finally arrived at Westminster Abbey, we split into groups and began our tour of the coffins of some of the most famous figures in history. Kings and Dukes, poets and authors could be found throughout. A special section was set aside called “Poet’s Corner.” Here, after each of us was assigned to one of the authors buried just below our feet, we saw the epitaphs inscribed on our poet’s grave and sat down to sketch some of the magnificent architecture.

The highlight of the day was the London Eye. At this time, it was just dark enough for the London Eye to illuminate off of the South Bank of the River Thames. As we made our way up to the top, we stopped for pictures. At the highest point, we looked down below us and tried to fathom the enormity of it all.

On Thursday, we ventured to the Roman Baths in the city of Bath, England. The entrance was tucked into a building in a complex of restaurants and shops. We walked through the entrance to a museum about the history of Rome and its connection to the Baths. Ancient artifacts like coins, bronze heads, and replications of ancient sites could be found throughout the museum. After learning about much of what we were about to see, we stepped outside of the second floor overlooking the Baths. My first observation was how unclean the water must have been as it was a deep shade of green, indicating it probably wasn’t cleaned regularly. As I looked to either side, I saw the architecture that would have been the center of social gatherings during Rome’s height. At the floor below, we interacted with Roman characters acting as either slaves or masters. The slave we talked to provided us with yet another layer of understanding as if we were a character, and not an onlooker, as well.

Passing by pastures of cows and sheep, our class journeyed to the most tucked away parts of London. However, when we arrived, similar to the Roman Baths, we learned the history of Stonehenge through the ages and the impact it has had. Stonehenge, what appears to be a random series of rocks, has bewildered archeologists and historians for years. Neither the “what” or the “why” has been determined for certain. The utter mystery of the placement of these rocks has made it a well visited tourist site. While most students took pictures of the Stonehenge rocks and each other, other students took interest in the “possessed bird” as they called it, providing ­– what they claimed was — further evidence of the unsettling mystique surrounding Stonehenge.

Our last stop before returning to the bus was the Salisbury Cathedral. Before this, we had dinner and an unexpected show. We just happened to eat at a restaurant on the outskirts of a tree lighting festival. Although we didn’t stay long enough for the end, we took pictures with floating angels and danced to songs from the Sister Act. Although we did not walk into the Cathedral, as there was a mass going on, we observed the Gothic elements of Salisbury Cathedral and ones similar to it, marking a new era in architectural design that allowed larger windows and more light.

Trinity Square Garden was located in Tower Hill, London and was preserved as a public park around two hundred years ago. It currently houses Memorials for the Tower Hill War, WWI, and WWII. After visiting this site in the morning, we took pictures of London’s famous Tower Bridge. Paul Daley, our tour guide, recited all of the kings of England flawlessly before entering the Tower to see the changing of the guard and the Crown Jewels. The jewels were truly magnificent, some dating back to the 1500’s and still intact and in use for coronations. We then split into groups and walked through halls of armor, torturing devices, weapons, and even churches. The hall of weaponry featured artillery that would have been used by guards in the Tower of London, and for the Royal Guard, through the Ages. Some military personnel still live and serve on the property. Those that have served for at least 22 years were eligible.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and the Tate interactive modern art gallery could be found across the way. We visited the Tate briefly and were immediately immersed in modern art exhibits like the three-person swings and the constantly mobile swinging ball that gave the illusion that it could hit the people walking below, but never did. The stripes on the path below it added yet another layer to this optical illusion. A street down from there, a recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, was built on the piece of land that would have been where the original most likely was. The new Globe acts as a spot for tourists and students, but also for performances as well. With limited modern technology and seat prices set as close to the original theatres equivalent as possible, everything at this theatre is meant to be in the likeness of one at the time of Shakespeare. We were able to sit in the audience, walk on stage, and go backstage as well. On stage, it felt as if we were the performers, and backstage gave us a glimpse of what tech crew’s responsibilities might entail. After this, we had a discussion in a lecture-like room. In the shape of an amphitheater, we discussed and performed.

At the British Museum, our last stop in London on Friday, we spent most of our time sketching the Parthenon Marbles. Each student in our class was assigned a frieze — a decorated sculpture with low relief — to draw during class. These drawings and pictures were taken with us to the museum so that we could sketch them and a number of others. The Parthenon Marbles themselves have sparked a controversy that continues to this day. They are also known as the Elgin Marbles, after Lord Elgin who “took” the sculptures directly off of the structures they were attached to in Greece. Lord Elgin brought them back to London to be displayed in the British Museum so that they could be viewed by everyone.

Overall, this trip brought back so many fond memories, not only of London itself, but with new friends and teachers as well. I can’t wait to visit the city again and see what new experiences it has to offer!