Friday, 7 September 2012

London as a classroom

I have never seen a place like London, England. I’ve never even been to Chicago or NYC. The biggest city I’ve really ever spent time in is Louisville, Kentucky...but London, wow!
There were cultural experiences at every turn, and I learned a lot from living in the hostel and taking the Tube. People in London are much more quiet and serious than in the US, and they travel in small groups. More than once, we got nasty looks for being loud or walking in a “posse”. I tried to fit in as much as possible, though I know I must’ve committed more than a few faux pas. I almost jumped a queue, once! Fortunately I avoided this, since I am now wholly convinced that queuing up is the Brits favorite pastime. 
People in London are very polite, though! At one point I was on a double decker bus at night with some friends, and two rather shady men got into a bit of an argument...when they left, one of them apologized to us, which we appreciated, since he was responsible for causing one of the scariest moments of our lives.
London: An Anglophile’s Paradise
On Friday morning I went on the school-sponsored Literary Tour, beginning at the British Library. I have never seen so many treasures in my life. I found myself standing in front of Jane Austen’s writing desk, a tuning fork once owned by Beethoven and the original of “The Peasants Revolt” in a 15th century illuminated work.
Even better: a handwritten original of Persuasion, by Jane Austen, and JK Rowling’s notebook pages, covered with part of The Philosopher’s Stone! In their very own handwriting! Meaning, their actual hands had actually touched the pages! I couldn’t believe it! I became positively weak-kneed upon discovering a 14th century original copy of Chaucer’s, The Canterbury Tales. No, seriously. I had to use the glass case for support. Through it all, I just kept thinking, if I could only reach through and touch these pages. If I could only just breathe in some of their aura, I would reach Enlightenment. I feel a little more enlightened already.
Of course we went to see all the touristy things, like Big Ben and The London Eye. We also went to an Evensong Service at Westminster. The music was beautiful and the church even more so—and so many famous people are buried under the floors!
The Tower of London is a must. Our tour-guide, a sturdy beef-eater named Barney, showed us all the torture-devices and chopping blocks, all the while cheerfully spouting jokes in a smashing Cockney accent. We also walked over the Tower Bridge all around Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. We explored everything from Soho to the West End, and boy, were my feet sore! But it was so worth it.
I also saw the Equestrian event in the Paralympic Games, at Greenwich.  At that point I was by myself, so I felt proud that I was world-savvy enough to get there. I had a nice little solitary picnic on the grass in front of the old Naval Academy, by the side of the Thames.
While visiting Hampton Court Palace I reflected that ancestral homes in England seem much more accessible than in the US—visitors are more free to ramble. Perhaps because there is such an abundance of old architecture here?
Everything was so new and exciting! I always love visiting a city. I equally love returning to the country afterward. This time, however, I returned to a stately mansion in the British countryside, which looked especially inviting after a weekend in a hostel!

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