At Last to London

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June 29th 2007
Published: June 29th 2007
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This will probably be my last post from this trip, as the last few days are quickly passing. We are in London, and the students will be very busy in the next few days combining some London sightseeing with work on completing their final synthesis project. For three weeks, as we have traveled, they have been reading various travel writers’ work and analyzing and critiquing their styles and approaches. They have also written 6 of their own travel essays, trying to capture the essences of the places we’ve visited and the experiences we’ve had. We’ve talked a lot about their observations about Britain, the British, train travel, and interestingly enough, what it means to be American. So often as they struggle to articulate what they are seeing in Britain, it is defined and explained in contrast to how things are in America. For their final project, they are to write a synthesis paper that reflects and comes to some conclusions about this trip, using earlier journal excerpts as support. This will count as 20% of their overall grade.

On Tuesday our journey from Canterbury to London was short and our tube ride to Islington short and simple. We checked into our dorm rooms at City University London. It was a relief to have arrived safely at our last destination. We reconvened at 5:30 for a trip to Shakespeare’s Globe for a performance of Othello. This was wonderful!!! The production was well-cast and well-acted and overall very impressive, including the funniest and most refreshing curtain call I’ve ever seen, with the whole cast, including those risen from the dead, doing a fun, funky, swingy dance number. A light and funny touch was appreciated after the heaviness of this tragedy.

We were groundlings, which means we stood up in front of the stage with a few hundred others for the entire 3 ½ hour performance. This was difficult physically, but I hardly noticed my discomfort in the second half, as I was so transfixed by the drama unfolding on stage.

Wednesday morning we went to St. Paul's Cathedral, and then I walked along to Covent Garden for some souvenir shopping. I also visited the Sir John Soanes’ museum, an amazing collection of architectural artifacts and antiquities, all collected and arranged in a house specifically designed for this purpose by a prominent architect of the early 1800’s. We had a fabulous group meal Wednesday night at Masala Zone, a traditional Indian restaurant.

Today, Thursday, the next to last day of this trip, some of the students joined us on an optional trip to Camden Market. This was a first for me. What an amazing shopping experience. Camden is full of open-air markets, indoor shopping markets, and many shops selling both new and vintage clothing, jewelry, souvenirs, and punk/goth gear. I had been observing British fashion and I can see now where many of the young people buy their styles. For women, baby doll tops and short dresses worn over jeans or leggings are very popular right now. The fabric prints are bold geometrics and large floral prints in bold and distinctive color combinations. I bought some small souvenirs, a few fashion accessories, and a really beautiful silver pendant with a blueish-gray stone called labradorite.

Tomorrow I plan to connect with a friend from Putney, who happens to be in London on holiday. She is very knowledgeable about the charity shops in the area, so that should be fun. I think I still have a bit of excess luggage capacity for a few choice bargains. All the students work is due at noon on Friday, so Lucy and I will spend the rest of the day reading this work and evaluating it, before going out for our own final celebration dinner. We all head to Heathrow at 7:00 am Saturday morning. I will be returning to the States with 5-6 students, the rest continue on to Ireland for another three-week course. And Lucy will take the 5-hour train ride down to Cornwall to her parents, for a few weeks of some much-deserved R & R.

As this is my last blog for this trip, I want to share a few observations. I've been talking to students these last few days as they try to process and synthesis their experiences, and this has made me reflective as well.

Traveling by train has provided insights into British culture. As public transit, it’s very public. We’ve rubbed shoulders with young men in the army, mums with their kids on day trips, and groups of school girls out shopping. We’ve all eaten our fill of boxed sandwiches and crisps, fish and chips, cheap kebobs, and Indian take-away. We’ve seen people openly drinking cans of beer and cider in the middle of
St. Brides' Church in LondonSt. Brides' Church in LondonSt. Brides' Church in London

The steeple of this church was the inspiration for the first tiered wedding cake!
the day, which always is a little startling. And although it’s been hard eating a healthy diet while on the road, I’ve enjoyed the surprising combinations and unusual ingredients in so much British food. Chutney and good cheese, mushrooms and aubergine, good wholemeal bread and delicious ale.

I came with plans to seek out yarn stores whenever possible, and frankly, I’ve been somewhat disappointed in what I was able to find. In larger cities, large home furnishing or haberdashery stores usually have a yarn section, but they seem to cater to an older clientele, knitting baby items or afghans, or knitters who are already accomplished. They did not seem to be concerned with attracting new and younger knitters in search of inspiration, education, or support. Loops is a good little store, nearby where we are staying in London, and the closest to anything like the many great stores we have in New England. In Edinburgh, I was able to find several shops run by original designers, and their clothing and accessories were really beautiful and inspiring, although expensive. I wanted to just move in to one store, called Ragamuffins, because the colors and styles and designs were so delicious to look at.

I’ve enjoyed reading a variety of British newspapers. There are many to choose from, from the highbrow Times to the many flashy and trashy tabloids. I’ve read mostly the Times, the Guardian, and the Independent. I’ve noticed a significant number of articles and op-ed pieces discussing social problems such as education, social mobility, care of the elderly and foster children, etc. and concern for being “green” and environmentally conscious. There seems to be an assumption that the public as well as the government should be actively working on solutions to these social problems.

A few stories that have received a lot of press in the last few weeks:

• Tony Blair’s final weeks as prime minister and the passing of control to the new prime minister, Gordon Brown. The press does not seem overly fond of Blair’s wife, Cherie, and she has said she will not miss their attention. There have been many references in the press to the fact that she does not curtsy in the Queen’s presence. I have also overheard people discussing this in shops and on the train.

• It’s been ten years since Diana’s death. Tina Brown’s book
Camden TownCamden TownCamden Town

The place to go for all your punk and goth gear.
on Diana has been reviewed in every paper and magazine, and there was much discussion of the Today Show interviews with her sons, as well as plans for an upcoming charity concert in her honor

• The Spice Girls have announced a reunion tour. Believe it or not, this is front page news here.

• Paris Hilton’s being released from jail was also front page news for several days running.

• There was a busy weekend of WAG weddings, including one at Blenheim palace. WAG refers to wives and girlfriends of professional football (soccer) players, and their lifestyles and fashion choices get a lot of attention here

• Beginning July 1, smoking is to be banned in all indoor public spaces in England. This is already the law in Scotland.

It’s been an exciting and exhausting trip. I’ve seen many new places and renewed my love for Britain and the British. The pace has been grueling, changing location every few days and carrying our luggage so much. I’ve missed my family very much and that’s been difficult at times. They've been busy while I've been away and we have so much to catch up on.

Thanks for positive feedback on the blog. I’m very glad I made the commitment to do this, both for myself and to be able to share with others. Cheers!


2nd July 2007

We are glad that you are back home safe and sound. Friday must have been a difficult day to be in London. Your journal is wonderful. Well done Sara !!
2nd July 2007

Sara, Thanks for sharing your trip with us! Your pictures were beautiful and I enjoyed your commentary. Hope you had a safe trip home. Rut

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