Our first week in London is complete! I’ve had a wonderful time not only learning about  history and culture, but seeing it up close! One person on the trip said that “London is like New York, only cleaner” and that’s probably the best way it can be summed up for you.

The architecture is simply stunning-not just historical landmarks like Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace, but I feel that every building is designed so intricately. There is literally this building outside my window at our flat:

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Also: phone booths!

Needless to say, when I pull up the blinds in the morning I feel as if I’ve been transferred to a whole other world!

I’ve also become addicted to fish and chips. They are essentially the “burger and fries” of the U.K., but BETTER! You need to try these in your lifetime!

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As for other tourist-y activities, my favorite so far has been the Tower of London. From the get-go, seeing the Tower Bridge was so exciting! The view was gorgeous. Inside, I loved seeing the Crown Jewels and all the prisoner carvings in the Beauchamp Tower. Seeing something so old and important in present day was very surreal. It was so creepy to picture the desperate prisoners wasting time away by leaving their mark on the walls.

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SO impressive. This probably took forever-but they had the time.

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Okay, this is just creepy.

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As for the coursework, we’re really learning a lot of about British history by reading literature! This week we read short stories (including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) by Robert Louis Stevenson, and this coming week we are going to read about the eerily true Jack the Ripper case. We’ll also eventually get into Sherlock Holmes. As you can probably guess, these tales are thrilling!

I have a feeling my time here will go by fast. I feel so lucky to have this opportunity! (Cheesy? Probably. Whatever. It’s true.)

Cheers!

-Melissa Binns

 

A Whole New World

“There was a house. And all the windows were broken. In the middle of Asia. Because there was a brothel in the middle of the street. And in each room there is a swimming pool. And they when they ate donuts in the swimming pool, their heads fell off. And they turned into ninjas. And the whole house burned on fire, except the broken windows. And Elvis Presley saved the house with Lily Pulitzer. But then Lily Pulitzer betrayed Elvis and the house was gone. The End.”

What kind of story is this, you might ask? Well, we made it up during our Hist 291 class with Dr. Whalen of course! But, another question you might ask is…what has this got to do with history…and London?

Easy.

We started off the class by reading some of Robert Louis Stevenson’s mystery stories, including the famous “The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. When discussing Stevenson’s personal life, we learned he was usually sick with some kind of lung trouble (be it asthma or tuberculosis) so Dr. Whalen told us “imagine him being in a bed all the time, looking out his window, his creative juices flowing, and that’s where he imagined all of his stories”. Then, he had one student start off a story with a sentence and everyone went around building on top of the previous sentence. Hence, the goofy yet prestigious tale of doughnuts and Lily Pulitzer.

Imagination was a significant factor in the modern era in Britain: all about exploring the unknown, and tales of adventure.This theme of adventure, discoveries, and the unknown we discuss in class isn’t just for Britain in the late 1800s. It’s for several students from Charlotte, NC making their way in the phenomenal city London.

Yes, the showers are weird, we have to plug our electronics in adapters, and the money conversion makes my head hurt, but the things I have seen things that out weigh.

The adventures I have done in just one week’s time include…

Seen Westminister’s Abbey, visited Platform 9 3/4 AND took a picture wearing Hogwart’s scarf with Hedwig (dreams come true), visited Kensington Palace (home of the royal family), went to the Tower of London and saw the crown’s jewels! All of the above are things people would dream of seeing and experiencing.

So, London has been fantastic and we are taking it on, one day at a time.  More adventures later :)

-Ally Rappe

our lovely group in front of the Tower of London

our lovely group in front of the Tower of London

 

 

Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to London we go!

ajtIt has been an awesome few days in the heart of London! So much has gone on and I want to cover as much as I can. First off, anyone ever hear of the World Cup?! I mean, I hear it’s kind of a big deal. Well, I have to admit I am not much of a soccer fan, but being over in Europe while it is going on is probably one of the coolest experiences.
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The restaurants, bars, and hotels are filled with the vibrant flags of all the countries competing. London is a hub for all kinds of travelers so you will see people wearing jerseys from USA to Italy. We have a couple men on our trip that absolutely love soccer (or futbol in London) so we have been trying to follow the games.
Yesterday night we decided to stay in and watch the game at the flat. It was hilarious to watch the boys hoot and holler at the TV as Brazil or Netherlands scored, but what was even cooler was hearing the cheers from the city when there was a goal. (Opening up the windows is always a must since there is no air-conditioning). The uproar kept the city alive till the wee hours of the morning.
Yes, it’s been quite a week so far. We have now visited two art museums, the tower of London, and a few shops along the way. We have tried to blend in, but I think the huge cameras and our directional challenges have given us away (Plus, our fake british accents aren’t that convincing yet). We also started our History class this past Tuesday. The class is based around British History dating from 1875-1900 which is full of artists, historians, and authors. We dived right into a few short stories from Robert Louis Stevenson. If you haven’t read Jekyll and Hyde, you must. The story will keep you at the edge of your seat.
Dr. Whalen has also touched on a bit of the artists of this time. I, myself, am a bit of an art fanatic so it was nice to explore  JMW Turner, Mallais, and the Pre-Raphaelite art.
The art really came to life when we got to see some of JMW Turner’s work at the Tate Britain Museum. Class for five hours a day can be a lot, so it’s nice to mix our class education with a little bit of London culture. We also had some fun times trying to mimic the crazy statues. 
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One of my favorite paintings from the Tate Museum.

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Ally Rappe recreating the famous statue.

Before the museum, we got to see the royal family! You always see them in magazines and on TV, but to see them in person is pretty cool. The Queens looked so elegant; she looked like one of those people that you would love to know. The experience was easily one  of best moments on this trip so far.
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Queen Elizabeth II greets the crowd.

Queen Elizabeth II greets the crowd.

 
Tomorrow we may go to the zoo! I’m excited to see where these next two weeks take us. 
 
Till then,
            Taylor Wayson

Quailing in London

Last Sunday, 12 students, 1 professor, and I arrived in London to start our JBIP! Dr. Whalen is teaching a course about turn-of-the-century England. He told us that if we wanted to sound smart, we should tell you that we’re learning about the transition from late Victorian to early Edwardian England! (Did it work?) In our first week of class, we’ve discussed CHANGE and many aspects of why this period in time experienced political, cultural, artistic, scientific and economic tumult.

DSC_0254We spend 5 hours a day in class, but it goes by quickly when your professor is extremely passionate about his subject, and when that passion is contagious! Dr. Whalen has inspired us all to be creative, thoughtful and adventurous in our discussions of English history. Through JMW Turner’s, Mallais’s, Pre-Raphaelite art; RL Stevenson’s literature, and Darwin’s research, we are getting a very clear idea of what 1875-1900 felt like. Stevenson’s “Jekyll & Hyde” taught us also how to quail! at someone’s name (ask one of us to show you how!)

"The Lady of Shalott" by John Waterhouse is done in true Pre-Raphaelite style. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded by Dante Gabriel Rosetti, met just around the corner from ACCENT in Bedford Square.

“The Lady of Shalott” by John Waterhouse is done in true Pre-Raphaelite style. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded by Dante Gabriel Rosetti, met just around the corner from ACCENT in Bedford Square.

After our time in class at the ACCENT Study Centre, we explore London. We’ve seen the British Museum, the Tate Britain, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, and even THE QUEEN! Seeing her, Princes Philip, William & Harry, Kate, & Camilla was a highlight of the weekend for those of us who made it to Buckingham Palace early this morning.

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We start Jack the Ripper on Monday!

- Kim Prucha

Plan B – The Final Mystery

It’s our last full day in Edinburgh. Our original plan was to visit Holyrood House Palace at the bottom of the Royal Mile, but those pesky, omnipresent royals decided to use their vacation house in Scotland and thwarted our entrance. So unable to see the bedroom where David Rizzio was murdered by Mary Queens of Scots’ husband Lord Darnley, we went to plan B which proved to be an excellent summary and climax to our magical mystery tour.

                    Rosslyn Chapel

Plan B was a visit to Rosslyn Chapel, a mystery in itself, which is but a few miles outside of Edinburgh to the southeast. The chapel is associated with the mysterious medieval Knights Templar and with freemasonry. It figures in the climax of Dan Brown’s The da Vinci Code as the location of the Holy Grail. It is a small chapel, founded by the St. Claire family in the 15th century. Over the years it has attracted a variety of interpretations of the enigmatic sandstone carvings that decorate the interior. There are symbols that seem to connect with the rituals of the Knights Templar and with the free masons along with more traditional medieval iconography, i.e., the seven virtues and vices, the dance of death, and stories from the Bible (the nativity, Lucifer’ fall, the crucifixion, etc.). A musical theme runs throughout, with angels playing lutes, pipes, violas, even bagpipes! There are images that appear to be maize (corn) which was not known in Europe at the time of the chapel’s construction (1456).

The crypt has not been opened for fear a legend is true that the chapel will self-destruct if the crypt’s earthen wall is breached. This leaves it open to speculation about what secret is hidden there. Is it the mummified body of Jesus, the head of John the Baptist, the Grail, the treasures of the Knights Templar, the Virgin Mary, Elvis? Who knows. It remains a mystery. The last one on our journey through the mysteries of Britain. From the building of Stonehenge to the crypt at Rosslyn, with wizards and witches in between, we have come to the end of our own grail quest, and as the Grateful Dead once sang, “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

Stool Tossing

Last night was filled with ghoulish stories of horror and the macabre, panic attacks and shrieks of terror. It was like a night with the Kardashians. The guide’s cryptic wit was sharp as a graveyard shovel. Our students were flogged, hanged, terrified and entertained. No it was not a class with Charlie Reed. It was the Mercat Ghost Tour of the vaults beneath the city.

             Outside St. Giles Cathedral

Today we recovered from the poltergeists for a visit to Saint Giles, Scotland’s national cathedral where we saw a statue of John Knox, a window commemorating Robert Burns, a bronze relief sculpture of Robert Louis Stevenson, the marvelous Thistle Chapel, and the stool that Jenny Gaddis threw at a minister who was reading from a revised Anglican leaning prayer book that was unacceptable to the staunch Presbyterians in the congregation. Jenny’s stool heave ignited a riot in Edinburgh which spread to the entire country, raised the hackles of Charles I’s government in London, and led eventually to a parliamentary response that produced a civil war that ended with the execution of the king.

Listening to the Choir. Stool in background

A very important stool. While oin the chapel we rested for awhile listening to a choir practicing for a future performance in the cathedral.

From St. Giles we walked past the café where J.K. Rowling penned Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, past the statue of Grey Friar’s Bobby, the dog that was faithful to his master long after his death, to the National Museum of Scotland with its informative history of world cultures. Students spent the evening scattered throughout the town looking for venues with local music.

Auld Reekie

We left Oxford early Sunday morning for our two-hour coach ride to Birmingham to catch our train for Edinburgh. While we were waiting in the station for our train, a drunken sot left over from the revels of the previous night attached himself first to Davis and then to Kayla and ultimately followed us onto the train. He smelled of Southern Comfort and was quickly given the less than affectionate nickname “SoCo” by the group. He first bedeviled the part of our group in coach F, and then he found his way into coach D where Kayla and Davis and others were sitting. After two stops, Davis managed to have the conductor throw him off the train.

In Durham, SoCo was replaced in Coach D by a group of loud, beer-swilling revelers continuing their bachelor party from the previous night. By Newcastle they had calmed down and members of our group engaged them in in a quiz game about what part of the states we came from followed by a discussion about how we have different expressions for the same thing, like chips and fries. This brought us to Edinburgh and a tough slog with our bags up a hill to our Hotel. It was a bright day and the Scots were a-feared of us having never seen people with dark glasses on. Little did we know but we were in for 4 days of sunny weather.

Edinburgh was once known as “Auld Reekie” because of the stench that arose from the stagnant water in the marshes between the hills on which the town is built. In fact Edinburgh is built on seven hills (not unlike Rome). A nearby town, Dunbar, is known for its whiskey and is said to be built on seven stills. But that is another matter. Actually the folks in Edinburgh prefer to be called the “Athens of the north” because of the many cultural delights the city has to offer.

             Hogwarts in Edinburgh

Right now, it is perhaps better known for J.K. Rowling  and Harry Potter. We didn’t leave Harry back in Oxford; in fact, while in Edinburgh we found the Elephant House Café where Rowling wrote much of the first Potter book, and we saw the college that was the inspiration for Hogwarts as described in the books.

On our first day we toured the Castle, perched on a volcanic slab high above the city to the west. From this castle the Scots have defended themselves against Celts, Normans, English kings, Oliver Cromwell, and Mel Gibson. The English took the Castle on several occasions and ruled Scotland from the site. In the castle we saw the oldest building, the Chapel of St. Margaret, wife of King Malcolm III (1076), the crown jewels (including the Stone of Scone only recently returned to the Scots by the English), a massive cannon, and a dog cemetery for the regimental pooches when they die.

Leaving the castle, we began our walk down the Royal Mile, stopping first at the Writers’ Museum where memorabilia of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson are handsomely displayed. Further on we took note of Deacon Brodie’s Tavern which is named for the notorious councilman who led a double life as a house burglar and inspired Stevenson’s split personality mystery novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. From here we could see the Mercat Cross next to St. Giles Cathedral where we are to meet this night for our Ghost Tour of the vaults beneath the city.

Last Call

From the birthplace we walked through the town and saw the grammar school Shakespeare attended and the site of the house he bought and lived in after retiring to Stratford around 1610. The place (New Place it was called) was torn down in the 18th century by an irate occupant who was angered by all the tourists who came to pay homage to England’s greatest author.

From here we walked past the Royal Shakeseare Company’s theatre on the river Avon, and then to Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried. According to tradition he died on April 23, 1616, the same day he was born. A group of students paused for a picture outsde the church, and then for another at the grave site.

We returned to Oxford in the late afternoon via the Rollroight Stones, a circle of stone locally connected with witchcraft. Legend has it that a Lord and his knights were walking the Cotswold hills and a witch told him if he could walk a certain number of paces and see the village in the valley below he would be king of the country.He tried, and a mound rose up to obstruct his view. So the witch turned him and his knights into the stones we now see. And it is reported that if you count the stones and ever get the same number three tmes, evil will befall you. Here is the poem the witch recited to the unfortunate Lord.

“Seven long strides shalt thou take, and
If Long Compton thou canst see
King of England thou shalt be.
As Long Compton thou canst see
King of England thou shalt not be.
Rise up stick, and stand still stone,
For King of England thou shalt be none,
Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be
And I myself an elden tree.

Queens Gets into the Act

After lunch in Stratford, we met at the Shakespeare birthplace on Henley St. for a tour of the house. It is a large four gabled affair, cross-timbered like many of the other structures in Stratford, with a number of rooms on two stories. Shakespeare‘s father was a successful businessman (a glover and beer maker) and an important member of the town council. The house reveals his wealth and position, both of which made it possible for Shakespeare to attend the fine Edward VI grammar school in town.

In the house we saw a First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, other works of the period, and pictures that flesh out the historical context of Shakespeare’s life. We saw the bedroom, placed purposefully over the kitchen on the foirst floor to provide more heat.  In the room was a ittle rocking crib in which the future bard went beddie-bye.

The real action was in the garden area at the rear of the house. Here several thespians in period costume were prepared to regale us with scenes from the plays. It turned out to be an interactive affair with our group taking part in scenes from Midsummer Night’s Dream and Davis offering a speech from Hamlet. Marcus played Pyramus and Ann played Wall in a bit of “Pyramus and Thisbe” from Midsummer’s Night Dream.

Then Davis held forth with Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is man” speech from Hamlet.

 

Ann Hathaway

At age 18 Shakespeare himself was married, to Ann Hathaway who, before Batman and Les Miserables, was just a country girl like the Bard’s mother. At Ann Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery, a mile from Stratford, we learned the origins of many common expressions. The cottage is constructed of crossed timbers and a plaster made of dab (a combination of mud, cow manure, and water) which was thrown at the waddle (a cross-weave of oak and willow branches) to fill it and form the wall. The dab often penetrated the waddle being secured by a workman on the other side, giving us the expression “Here’s mud in your eye.” The ceilings of these early buildings are low and their doors head bumping affairs because heat is more easily contained in small rooms. The early English were not a height challenged race as even their beds might lead us to believe. The beds are short because the folks slept upright propped against what we today call a “head board” in order to avoid the illness of consumption. The pillows on the beds were made of straw in a coarse woven bag and were softened by a good whacking before one retired for the night. Hence the expression “hitting the sack.” The straw mattress was supported by ropes which after a few nights with a heavy load, tended to sag. A screw on the frame could be turned to draw the ropes up, giving us the old saying, “sleep tight.”

In the kitchen we learned that the bread of a meat pie was purposely burned on the bottom to provide a plate for the diner. A dog would consume the burnt portion while the diner enjoyed the “upper crust.” To clean the chimney, our ancestors tied a rope to a rooster’s leg and thrust the poor bird down the chimney; the flailing of his wings served as a feathered chimney sweeper. There is no etymology tied to his practice, just thought you’d want to know.

Shakespeare was only 18 when he married Ann who was 8 years his senior and in a family way at the time. After their marriage they moved to the family’s house on Henley St. in Stratford. This was our next visit on Shakespeare Day.