I was able to participate in the London Shakespeare Program at my university last year. It’s a study-abroad course based in London and Stratford-upon-Avon. I wouldn’t have been able to go if I didn’t get a scholarship, but luckily enough not a lot of people apply for it so I was able to get one. It was a two-week trip so I’ll try to mention the most memorable things. This was around the time the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull was spewing… canceling flights and making me extremely nervous.
Thursday, May 20
9:35 a.m. Arrive at London Heathrow Airport, collect luggage, clear customs, get train tickets and bus/tube passes. Take train to Paddington Station. Walk to St. David’s Hotel,
Thursday afternoon: explore around hotel neighborhood.
I didn’t know London was so multicultural. It was like that Skittles commercial where they show a Scottish Korean boy. Except I saw Russian Koreans, Nigerians, Indians, and so many others. The first parts of London I saw were the “slums”. I had assumed that everything in London was pure and pristine, but on the train to Paddington Station I saw so many bad neighborhoods. Despite that everything seemed green. I did notice though a lot of smokers and cigarette buds.Our accommodations were quiet and quaint, and in a great location. The only problem was climbing five sets of steep steps with heavy bags. Lots of steps and hallways that looked the same so one time I walked down five flights of steps then walked up another to go to my friends room only to find my roommate down the hall. I didn’t even know we were in the same freakin hall and there was no need to climb all those steps. Bah! One of my friends asked for the elevators and the guy looked at us and said, “you must be Americans…” o_0
Friday, May 21
10 a.m. Professionally guided walking tour of Shakespeare’s London (Southwark). Bring rain gear.
2 p.m. See production of Macbeth at Globe Theatre. We will be standing in the yard. Bring rain gear.
We went on a walking tour of Shakespeare’s London (Southwark) along the way we saw the monument built in memory of the London fire in 1666. To get to the top you have to climb 311 steps. It is the tallest isolated monument in the world. We also visited a number of churches along the way. Our tour guide Richard explained that back in the day the Southwark district was separated from the city of London by the River Thames. So the jurisdictions were different and it became the entertainment center. A lot of activities that weren’t allowed in the city were allowed in Southwark like the theaters, prostitution and bear-baiting.
Southwark Cathedral had a huge stained glass window depicting the most famous of Shakespeare’s characters, and his brother Edmund was buried in the choir loft. Another interesting fact was that this was John Harvard of Harvard University’s church. Even now Harvard University has paid for a private chapel inside.
We saw Macbeth as groundlings at the Globe Theatre. That year it was “Kings & Rogues” for the 2010 Season. We had to stand under this black tarp because it was part of the play.In the beginning the witches were running around under the tarps and scaring everyone, and they picked some guys pocket and grabbed my leg. And the guy with the pail was the Porter in Macbeth and he splashed the audience with the stuff in the bucket. We stood a little over two hours, but it was worth it.
Saturday, May 22
Visit National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square
We headed to Trafalgar Square on a Double Decker bus, and I must say it takes courage to drive/ride in London. Heck it takes courage to be a pedestrian.We went to the National Portrait Gallery and saw the early Tudors and Henry VIII’s wives and the “Ditchley” portrait of Queen Elizabeth and the only portrait of Jane Austen. Paintings in the National Gallery included Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Monet, Rembrandt, Vermeer, da vinci, and even Botticelli. We ate at Mimo’s (across the street from our B&B) and had the tortellini, but it was soccer season or something so everyone was going crazy.
Sunday, May 23
Free Day…Celebrated my birthday straddling the line between the Eastern and Western hemispheres at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich a district of South London. We were told to bring rain gear everyday, but the weather was perfect almost our whole trip. Which was why there were people everywhere and the streets were extra crowded…they were enjoying the weather while it lasted. We saw the stadium being built for the Olympics in 2012, it will be for the equestrian competitions. We also walked to the old Royal Naval College near the River Thames… on the grounds is where Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were born.
Monday, May 24
Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, free today, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.?
Visit Museum of London
8 p.m. See production of Twelfth Night at Tricycle Theatre.
Visited the Courtauld Gallery and it didn’t look like a museum and there were tons of students around in uniforms like Harry Potter. Classes were being taught. I saw Edgar Degas’s Two Dancers on the Stage. This was my favorite museum because it had a lot of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. Before I never was impressed with Georges Seurat, but I saw several of his painting and he has become one of my favorites. Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear was there. Also there were some amazing drawings from Leonardo de Vinci and Michelangelo, and paintings by Monet and Renoir.
Later that night we saw a production of Twelfth Night at the Tricycle Theatre. A lot of people didn’t like it but I thought some of the acting was better than the Globe. It was an experimental theater so there was a lot of audience participation throwing balls and taking liquor shots. I was glad we were in the back row, but it was interesting.
Tuesday, May 25
12:30-2 p.m. Workshop at Globe Theatre on Henry VIII. Be sure you know the play! Visit the Globe Exhibition (museum) after the workshop.
Everyone was scared that we’d have a test on Henry VIII and that was a tough play to read through. We didn’t though we just met up with a Globe workshop instructor named Simon and he told us about Shakespeare and the seating back in the day. While he talked to us the actors from Macbeth came out to rehearse and all the girls swooned. We were led to the rehearsal rooms located a couple blocks away and we sat in a circle and read a soliloquy from Cardinal Wolsey in Henry VIII, act III, scene II. We had to read it in many ways like while walking from one point to another, on a chair, whispering it, and saying it to the ground. We had to act out certain lines and I was glad I didn’t get the line on wanton boys that swim on bladders.
The Exhibition had tons of costumes and booths where you could record yourself saying lines with famous actors.We also saw the Tate Modern. The art was way out there and this one room had everything in red, and it felt evil. It made me wonder if it was blood or something.
Wednesday, May 26
Morning: Visit Tower of London; professionally guided tour. Bring rain gear
Afternoon: Visit British Museum
This day was foggy and as security was looking through our purses I asked them, “What are we looking for again?” (I know that was a stupid question… I was tired.) And the guard seriously told me, “Chocolate. Do you have any?” I was just worried cause I had everyone’s rain gear and junk in my purse but that made me laugh, because I was seriously considering what he said. Again, stupid I know. We saw the Crown Jewels and the place where Anne Boleyn was beheaded, and there was a little French boy translating for his class.
We went out to eat with the group and one of our chaperones paid for all of us, but I think she was testing us because she told us to sneak out a little at a time and not pay. We all just looked at her like she was crazy. We saw the British Museum where we saw a lot of Egyptian stuff (it made me think of Rick Riordan’s Caine Chronicles,) Cleopatra and the Rosetta Stone.
Thursday, May 27
Morning: Visit Westminster Abbey
2 p.m. See production of Henry VIII at Globe Theatre, sitting on benches in covered gallery.
On the way to Westminster Abbey I stood under Big Ben and didn’t even notice till someone pointed it out. Inside the Abbey were so many important graves and I wanted to see the coronation chair but it was out for cleaning. I didn’t know whether it was wrong to step on the graves, but if you tried to side step a grave you landed on someone else’s. While looking for the bathroom I stumbled upon my most favorite part of the trip. There was a memorial to Caedmon, the earliest English poet. His story is my all time favorite.
We went to see Henry VIII. The tarps had been removed and stairs were added. When we heard the soliloquy from the day before it was cool. Everyone said the actress who played Katherine was a screaming harpy, but I think I would be too in that situation. After both shows I saw at The Globe the actors did a little song and dance. I still don’t know why they did that. I think just to lighten the mood.
Friday, May 28
Most of us got tickets to visit Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Bath. We went to Windsor first, and they only gave us an hour and a half and it took us that long to get through security. Did you know all the swans in England belong to the Queen? She was apparently in residence because the flag was up on the tower. We didn’t get to see the pretty part of Windsor with the long walkway of trees, but we saw the Queen’s art collection. My favorite was Studies of Embryos by da Vinci. And all the girls stomped on Henry VIII’s grave located in St. George’s Chapel on the grounds. Did you know the royal line starts with some guy named Egbert? That picture of the little house is apparently the only house with a thatched roof in England, or one of the few. At least that’s what our tour guide said.
We then went to Bath and I was so excited because Jane Austen’s books Northanger Abbey and Persuasion took place in Bath and her characters went to the Pump Rooms. We got to actually see them, and where she lived in Bath and the park where she would write. The Jane Austen Centre was also there where everyone was dressed in Regency attire and we saw men with top hats. Jane Austen was Bath’s most famous resident but we saw where Nicolas Cage and Johnny Depp live. Even Jane Seymour has a castle on a hill; apparently real estate in Bath is the most expensive in all of England. Even Jeremy Wade of the television show River Monsters has a house here. I love that show!
We saw the Roman Bath House and it was neat, the water was naturally hot and full of lead. That didn’t stop people from touching it though, which was not smart. The last place we went was Wiltshire, and me being stupid told my mom I saw Hillshire Farm. I guess I was expecting free samples of summer sausage and cheese. But yeah, I don’t even think Hillshire Farm is a real place. The tour guide told us Pork is the number one meat consumed in the U.K. Interesting to know since I had never eaten so much pork in my life till I got there. Wiltshire is where Stonehenge is and if we looked over the hills we could see Wales. Apparently they used to let you touch the stones, but now we had to see them from a distance. Our tour guide said every solstice there is a rave there, but I’d be afraid they’d sacrifice me or something. But Stonehenge always reminds me of Tess of the d’Urbervilles and I hate that story. The name of my journal entry for that day was, “Angel Clare I Hate You.”
Saturday, May 29
8 a.m. Take charter bus from hotel to Stratford-upon-Avon (about two-hour drive). Bring rain gear. Visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare was christened and is buried.
1 p.m. See production of Romeo and Juliet in Stratford, sitting in seats.
Leave Stratford about 5 or 6 p.m. and return to hotel in London.
Unfortunately our good weather streak ended this day. It rained enough for all the days it didn’t, which was unfortunate since we had a crazy bus driver who got lost on the way to Stratford-upon-Avon. And we heard him say on the phone he didn’t know why anyone wanted to got there anyway…O_0
We walked in the rain to Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare was christened and buried. The main man there said there was no living descendant of Shakespeare, but every year they get at least two who claim so. He said he just hugs them and sends them on their way. We got a bite to eat at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Courtyard Theatre, a.k.a “The Other Place.” When we got to our seats a small girl sat next to me and I asked her if she had been there before. She said she had been there three times, and had performed on the stage in front of Prince Charles. That every year the schools get together in Stratford and do their own version of a Shakespeare play and perform it in front of everyone…including royalty. I guess there are a lot of opportunities for actors in Stratford. I loved the RSC’s version of Romeo and Juliet. It started with Romeo in modern clothes listening to an audio guide playing the prologue of the play. Out of all the playhouses we visited this was my favorite.
When we went to the birthplace of Shakespeare the tour lady said that the girl who played Juliet was going to be famous, because she played David Tennant’s Ofelia, and Patrick Stewart’s Miranda. I think her name was Mariah Gale. The playbook had an article on the fascination of suicide in the arts and started with a quote from Honoré de Balzac saying, “Every suicide is a poem sublime in its melancholy,” which freaked me out it even had a picture of Kurt Cobain.
The bards house was small and humble there was a poster of Shakespeare in L.A. looking like a gangster. On the windows of his house famous people like Mark Twain had carved their name in the glass.
Sunday, May 30
Free Day…I attended Mass at our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Paddington. I’m not Catholic, but the choir boys sang beautifully. We went to Leicester Square and saw the hand prints of many famous actors. We had Chinese food in Soho, and shopped in Piccadilly Circus.
Monday, May 31
This is a “Bank Holiday” in the United Kingdom. Many people are off of work, so the tourist sites will be crowded today.
I was too tired to check the changing of the guards at Buckingham, but turns out that doesn’t happen on a Bank Holiday anyway. We explored Waterstone’s five floor bookstore and went to Notting Hill and Portobello market where I bought a million scarfs.
Tuesday, June 1
Visit Victoria and Albert Museum
The V&A Museum has the Bed of Ware which was famous in Shakespeare’s day for being so huge. Our whole group of fourteen could have fit in it. There was a Grace Kelly part that showed all her famous dresses. Little kids were sketching for a class. We had creme tea at a place called Richoux; it was like ten pounds a pot! It was worth it though, and we had scones with whipped butter. It was fun to pretend to be British and drink with our pinky finger raised.
This trip was the most amazing opportunity I’ve ever had. I came back as an American with an expanded vision of another culture, and a new love and appreciation of Shakespeare. I learned how to get around in a big city, and I learned to successfully navigate in London using the Tube. I learned a lot of things that sound trivial, but knowledge is knowledge. I was able to walk among people and the rich culture and history that is London. And you know the Londoners weren’t rude. Whenever I got lost people were very considerate and gave specific instructions. So here are some more pictures if you are interested.
|London Shakespeare Program|