Friday, August 5, 2011

All Good Things Must Come To An End

I am now writing to you not from my London flat, but from my kitchen in Miami; I’m back in the States! And I’m definitely feeling the jetlag L Though my body is telling me its midnight (the current time in London), its only seven here in Florida.

I can’t help but feel the end to this journey is slightly bittersweet. Sure, I missed my family, my friends, my bed, and my shower, but on the other hand London was absolutely amazing, even the second time around; I almost felt like I was visiting an old friend.

The backyard at Buckingham Palace. Its a lot nicer than
 my backyard, that's for sure!
My last day in London our group visited the one iconic place left unchecked on our list: Buckingham Palace. I didn’t have a chance to tour the palace the first time I came to London, so this was definitely a new experience for me. We all set out at our own pace, with our own audio guides in hand. I’m sure some would see an audio guide as the poor man’s alternative to an actual real-life tour guide, but I would have to disagree. Sometimes using an audio guide is a more leisurely option, and the ones at Buckingham Palace certainly don’t lack in quality. I learned all about Queen Victoria (the first British monarch to live in the Palace), and Kate Middleton’s wedding dress (hand-stitched by the Royal Embroidery School located at Hampton Court Palace), and Will & Kate’s wedding cake (their entire cake is on display, looking as if it has never been touched). As you can see, there was a bit of Royal Wedding mania at Buckingham, but I’m certainly not complaining!
Never thought I'd be so happy to eat American food 

Afterwards, we had a farewell lunch at Hard Rock Café, where I was finally able to eat a hamburger with unlimited soda refills! And Dr. Everhart did me the honor of awarding the best superlative ever: Most Likely to Marry Prince Harry. If I’m going to fulfill this superlative, I will definitely need to go back to London sometime soon.

It seems absolutely unreal to me that my journey is over, that three weeks have already passed, that summer is over and I start the new school year in less than a week. But this was certainly one of the best experiences of my life. I will never forget the wonderful people in my group, all of the projects I worked so hard on, and all of the amazing places we visited. And hell, if I ever do forget, at least I’ll have this blog to remind me ;)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Anne Boleyn: A Life in Pictures & Sound

And so I present to you the culmination of my work over this past week: a special Glogster site (a sophisticated online poster of sorts) dedicated to that enigmatic figure of Tudor history, Anne Boleyn. This is a rather brief but stylish overview of Anne, highlighting the major points of her life through pictures. Don't forget to look towards the bottom of the page, where I have featured a YouTube video on her downfall and execution (created with love by yours truly), as well as some outside links to different modern interpretations of Anne. Be sure to click on the link "Full Size" to see everything.

Honestly, who doesn't love (or love to hate) Anne Boleyn? She's arguably the one who made Henry VIII the person he is known as today, the one who started it all! To quote Thomas Cromwell from Howard Brenton's play Anne Boleyn (playing at The Globe right now), "We were all in love with her."

Expect some more soon on the (unfortunate) end to my trip.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Reliving The Tudors

Nothing makes me happier than a really good museum. And now that I’ve had the opportunity to go to so many different museums (all in a matter of weeks), I am happy to tell you that Hampton Court Palace is a really good museum.

In the beginning, Henry, Katherine,
and Wolsey were all on the same footing
Hampton Court was originally built by Cardinal Wolsey (and yes, I’ve mentioned him before in previous posts), but the newly built palace transferred to Henry VIII after Wolsey’s “fall from grace,” shall we say. It soon became the popular summer hangout for the Tudor Court. And so because of its origins, a lot of the exhibits center around Henry VIII and the typical workings of a Tudor royal palace. Which is great for me, since I seem to have an obsession with everything Tudor (as does most of London in general).

The exhibits, as well as the audio tour, are extremely well done. Some of their exhibits are organized so that they present the palace in the exact way it looked when Henry VIII lied there, with tapestries, paintings, and furniture all from the correct time period on display.

After so many miscarriages, Katherine's throne is
placed away from Henry's and Wolsey's, signifying a rift in their relationship
Yet there were other exhibits that told a story through strategically placed quotes, symbols, and illustrations. For example, there was a special exhibit on the early life of Henry VIII, with an emphasis on the three most important people in his life at the time, Katherine of Aragon (his first wife) and Cardinal Wolsey (his chief minister). Special wooden thrones were placed in each room to represent the three characters (with a description of them on the back of each), and as the story moved along through the different rooms the thrones changed positions in order to give a visual representation of their relationship towards each other as time passed. It was very well thought out, something new that I hadn’t seen before. It made me realize all of the thought that is put into a museum exhibit.

And of course, the royal impersonators wandering the Palace also made my day. Nothing beats Henry VIII flirting with you ;)

Henry VIII

Monday, August 1, 2011

The People's Princess

A cool teepee at the Memorial Playground

The only thing more popular in London than Will and Kate’s wedding seems to be Princess Diana. And why not? She was the beautiful, sweet kindergarten teacher who married a prince (though unfortunately not a prince charming), and then completely upended the royal family by announcing Charles’ infidelities, divorcing him, and running away with Dodi Al-Fayad, heir to the Harrod’s fortune.

Everyone has a soft spot for the people’s princess, including me. I’ll be the first to admit that while watching the royal wedding, I got choked up thinking how proud Diana would be of her son if she were there. And when we happened to pass by the tunnel where Diana passed away in Paris, a feeling of grief overwhelmed me; I had to turn away.

I like sheep. Can you tell?
So it was a really nice surprise to see how Londoners have kept her memory alive. The large expanse of greenery known as Kensington Gardens/ Hyde Park (two separate parks that really blend into one) is home to both the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground and the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain (redundant much?). The playground is a wonderland for little kids, with a pirate ship, teepees, cool musical instruments, tunnels, and even wooden animals. Exploring the playground made me wish that I was five again, just so I could truly appreciate the genius behind the Peter Pan inspired layout.

The Memorial Fountain is similar in that it caters to children and their parents. It is basically a permanent slip-and-slide in the park, except due to the fact that it’s made of hard stone, it is highly recommended you wade, not slide! Little kids in nothing but their underwear were running and screaming around in the cool water., with their parents joining in from time to time (in swimsuits, not underwear, thankfully).

A little girl at the Memorial Fountain, trying to
drink the water. Not the best idea ever.

I now want to move to London, marry a Brit, have cute little Brit babies, and take them to the Playground and Fountain everyday. Thanks Diana J

Je Parlez Tres Mal Francais

I spent three days in Paris this past weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) and I think it is one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever visited. The lanes are wide and picturesque, magnificent buildings (works of art unto themselves) are everywhere you turn, the food is rich and intoxicating, and every Parisian is an amazing dresser. And yet there is something off, something wrong, about this city; I think it may be me.

Nothing is more breathtaking than the Eiffel Tower at night
I felt very out of place, and not speaking the language was only a part of it. But while we’re on that topic, it really is amazing how isolated you can feel if you don’t speak the language. In London I feel somewhat capable; I can read signs, order a meal, decipher the Tube map, etc. In Paris, I feel like half a person; I can barely pronounce signs, nonetheless understand them! I am often reduced to sign language to order a sandwich. And worst of all, I can’t even tell if someone’s insulting me…or if I’m insulting them.

In front of the Palais de Justice
Because lets face it, I am the worst insult to a Parisian—I am a tourist. An American tourist who speaks no French, with a huge backpack on my back, taking pictures at every corner. Sure they would love to have my Euros, especially if I have the audacity to visit their great monuments. Go to the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Conciergerie, Saint Chapelle, the Musee d’Orsay, the Arc de Triumph. And then leave. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

The most beautiful church, the Saint Chapelle
Not every person I met in Paris was mean or unwelcoming. But it is a little disheartening when, at every major tourist site you go to, there are several people holding clipboards, pretending to be deaf, blind, etc. begging you to sign their sheet, all in the hopes that they can steal your money while you’re distracted. And believe me, they’re everywhere.

Channeling Quasimodo while standing next
to the bell of Notre Dame
And then there is the sketchy man you see walking by you on the street; suddenly, you notice he’s switched directions, and is now directly behind you. You grab your mammoth backpack, aware that he might be trying to pickpocket you. And the worst thing is, he notices. And so he sticks out his foot, in the attempt to trip you. Thankfully you don’t fall, just stumble a bit. And then he proceeds to berate you (in French, no less) on why you’re suspicious of him, why are you holding your backpack like that, and other various insults that you can’t understand because you never bothered to take French in high school or college. And then he walks away. And though you’re not physically harmed, you’re left wondering why you came to this city in the first place, this city that doesn’t seem to want you or your kind.

But I still got to see and do all I wanted to see and do. Believe it or not, I still enjoyed myself in this somewhat hostile city; I still had a great time! And nothing gives a bigger middle finger to those snooty Parisians than enjoying their city, despite all of their plans against me J

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Backpacking In Paris... Literally

I must first preface this post by giving due credit to Crystal Schmidt for the title (thanks to your super creative mind!).

Goofing it up at the Louvre
And so I will begin trying to chronicle my crazy busy weekend in Paris (though please forgive me if I fail miserably; it’s hard to remember so much three days later). Friday started with an early wake-up call of 3:30 am, to get on our 5:30 Eurostar train to Paris. And now I know where all of the air-conditioning in Europe is—it’s all on the Eurostar! I froze into an icicle, and had to be thawed out on the Metro. Not pleasant.

We arrived at 8:30 in Paris and began a crazy, hectic, all-over-the-place schedule. Two hours at the Louvre was followed by a quick lunch-on-the-go on top of a double-decker tour bus. A photo stop in front of the Eiffel Tower, and then a boat trip on the river Seine. Another photo stop, this time in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral, then some touristy shopping, and finally dinner. And all of this with our luggage (a.k.a. backpacks) on us the entire time. In other words, a hell of a first day in France!

Sante! on our river boat tour
Yet there are a lot of things we missed, things that seem to be essential in any person’s Paris list: for instance, we didn’t have enough time to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. We also missed out on going inside Notre Dame. And yet it was the untypical events of the day that really made Paris special. Our FSU Multimedia group uncorked two bottles of peach champagne on the river boat, and made all the other tourists jealous as we sipped from our plastic wine glasses and yelled “Santé” to each other. And our dinner was absolutely epic; delicious French cuisine coupled with feisty musicians (a guitarist and accordion player) and a never-ending pitcher of wine made for a great celebration.

Our party ended with me being dragged to the middle the restaurant and made to dance the Macarena; all in all, a terrific day J

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Powerful Words

I think its funny how one word can be pretty harmless on its own (not counting Voldemort, of course), but a group of words strung together to make a phrase, a sentence, a book, a play…those can be very powerful.

In front of the Globe stage!
Which seemed to be one of the messages in the play our group went to see last night—Anne Boleyn by Howard Brenton, performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. I was so excited to see a play about one of my heroines, and in a venue associated with one of my heroes. And let me tell you, I was not disappointed! The play begins with James I inheriting the English throne after Elizabeth’s death; rifling through random objects in his new home, he finds a small book that belonged to Anne Boleyn: a Protestant book, considered highly dangerous to read in her time. The play jumps back and forth between generations, to show Anne’s romance with Henry and her eventual conviction to become the new Protestant queen of England, as well as James’ struggles to mend the rift between the religious factions in his new country. The play ends with Anne’s inevitable demise at the hands of Thomas Cromwell, and James commissioning a new English translation of the Bible, now known as the King James Bible, which is coincidentally celebrating its 400th anniversary this year. In the end, James had to try and fix all of the trouble cause by Anne in the first place, and yet he (as well as we, the audience) have a new fondness and respect for the "Tudor harlot."

Easily the nicest Library I've been to. Ever.
Surprisingly enough, I left the play with a new admiration for King James. I didn’t know that much about him before seeing Anne Boleyn, other than that he was the son of Mary, Queen of Scotts. Brenton wrote him as a loud, flamboyant Scotsman with a fondness for other men, and a possible problem of Turrets syndrome. Definitely an unforgettable, scene-stealing character, though perhaps not entirely historically accurate…..but honestly, who cares?

The next day, we took a tour of the rare books collection at the British Library, which believe it or not had an original copy of the King James Bible. They also had Charlotte Bronte’s rough draft of Jane Eyre, one of Jane Austen’s diaries, and my personal favorite, the original Beatles lyrics to “Michelle” written on an envelope. Again, an interesting continuation of the “words with power” theme.

Keats' House. Good sized house, until you remember
 that two families lived here, not just one
And to top it all off, I trekked out to John Keats’ house after the Library. It has been on my London to-do list for awhile, but I finally had some free time today to check it off my list. This was the house where he wrote some of his most famous love poetry, and the place where he fell in love with Fanny Brawne, the love of his (short) life. It was a small house, but it was nice to go through a museum quietly, and on my own, as opposed to the usual routine of following a guide with a group of twenty others. All in all, it was a nice change of pace. It also made me want to see the movie Bright Star for at least the fourth time J

Words are powerful, whether because of their beauty, their pain, their truth, even their lies. Sometimes we forget, and other times we’re reminded of it all at once.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Guide to Paddington Bear in London

I must admit, I didn't know that much about Paddington Bear before my visit to London. All I knew was that he was a bear who wore funny clothes. But one night, while desperately trying to fall asleep, I picked up one of our textbooks for our class, Once upon a time in Great Britain: A Travel guide to the sights and sounds of your favorite children’s stories. The short chapter on Paddington told his basic story, as well as the major places associated with him in London. There are actually quite a lot of places featured in his stories, and those places still pay homage to the bear from darkest Peru (I love that line!).

And so, in an effort to tie in my work here with my actual job (organizing Library time for preschoolers), I present to you a digital story about Paddington Bear.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Battle of the Cathedrals

 To begin, I will first share with you my lunch experience today (similar to most of my meals here in London) with a five-photo story to the right… starring me! My meal was eaten at a little bakery in Salisbury, and consisted of “Old English Tea” (the exact title on the menu), a cheesy brie and herb soup, with a big chunk of bread and butter. But yet again, I ate way too much!

But, believe it or not, I haven’t just been stuffing my face with delicious food during my trip. I’ve also been paying careful attention to what our guides tell us on our daily excursions; part of my goal in writing blog posts everyday is to test my memory. And the other part is that I just love history.
 And so with this in mind, let me give you, my faithful audience, a quick recap of the past two days. Yesterday, our group visited the Museum of London. As I was explaining to a friend earlier, the British Museum is about all cultures under the sun (don’t be fooled by the name!); the Museum of London, on the other hand, is actually about the city of London. Afterwards, our group walked down a couple blocks to St. Paul’s Cathedral (which I will talk more about later).

Stonehenge! Where the demons dwell/
Where the banshees live/ And they do live well
Today, we all hopped on a bus and took a two-hour ride through the countryside to Stonehenge! Though visitors are not allowed to get right next to those big, giant rocks, it is still very impressive from afar. Many people assume the Druids were the ones who built Stonehenge, but in fact the structure predates them by thousands of years. No one knows for sure why Stonehenge was built, but it is believed to be associated with funeral rites as well as having an astrological significance, because of the many ancient burial mounds found nearby.

Just a half hour away is the small town of Salisbury, home to the Salisbury Cathedral. Thanks to Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, you may have heard of this beautiful medieval church. Building of the church began in 1220 A.D., in the gothic style popular at the time. It is the tallest medieval structure ever built (the spire is over 400 feet tall), and the fact that it is still standing is amazing, considering that the foundation of the structure is only four feet deep! Though our guide did let us know that some of the pillars have begun to lean a bit with age (not too noticeable, thankfully).

Salisbury Cathedral
It’s interesting to see the different styles of churches just within one country, and nothing can serve as a better example than St Paul’s Cathedral. Like Salisbury, St. Paul’s was built to replace a church that stood on the same spot previously. The infamous Christopher Wren (an 17th century architect who seems to have built everything in London) was put in charge of rebuilding St. Paul’s after the great London fire of 1666. Wren wanted a dome-shaped church similar to St. Peter’s in Rome; the Anglican church officials, on the other hand, did not want St. Paul’s to look like a Catholic church, especially not the seat of the Vatican! They preferred the gothic style of other Anglican churches, like Salisbury and Westminster Abbey. Yet through some deviousness, Wren was able to build the structure the way he wanted, with a dome 365 feet tall. At the time it was built, it was the tallest structure in London.

St. Paul's peeking out through office buildings
The church is also different than other gothic churches in the addition of a lower floor crypt. The tombs of famous individuals are housed in a beautiful crypt one floor below the main church. This is the exact opposite of Salisbury, which has tombs and gravestones directly beneath tourists’ feet on the main floor. Decoration is also significantly different. Gorgeous mosaics of Biblical scenes are placed on the ceilings and dome interiors throughout St. Paul’s. In Salisbury, many of these same scenes are depicted instead in the stained glass windows. When building St. Paul’s Wren specifically stated he did not want stained glass; he preferred to let as much natural light into the building as possible, to make everything look lighter and more open.

No photography is allowed inside of St. Paul’s, so I don’t have any images to back up my descriptions. But trust me when I say that St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of, if not the most, beautiful church I have ever seen. I can understand why Princes Diana wanted to have her wedding ceremony there instead of at Westminster Abbey. Salisbury Cathedral is impressive more in its construction than in its appearance (at least in comparison to St. Paul’s, which is much more aesthetically pleasing). It was a close match, but I’d have to say that I personally prefer St. Paul’s. That is, if I had to choose one over the other J

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Trip on the London Eye

Several weeks before my trip, I told my mom about all of the activities planned for our group. But I had some difficulty when it came to the London Eye: "What do you mean it’s like a ferris wheel?" "How can it be big enough to hold over twenty people?" "How can each capsule be made of glass?"

And so in a way, my mom inspired me to make this digital video about the London Eye—how it works, what it looks like, and specifically what you do once you’re inside. So hopefully this will help answer any future questions about the London Eye J

And for those wondering what I did today, you can expect a full report on St. Paul’s Cathedral in tomorrow’s blog post (along with a comparison to the Salisbury Cathedral). Exciting stuff!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tower + Execution = A Good Day?

Perhaps it isn’t always a good idea to leave a blog post until the last minute, specifically if you’re doing as many activities per day as I am. Because at this moment, sitting in front of my computer screen, I have an overwhelming amount of things I can write about.

For instance, I can write about a Soho pub called Molly Moggs, that has the best karaoke in the city (though it’s the only karaoke I’ve been to in London so far). Or I can write about all of the great shopping available at Portobello Road Market. On top of that, I could also write about my “self-guided” tour through the British Museum.

In front of the Tower of London
But I think that I will leave those stories to be told through the pictures I will one day upload to Facebook (with my internet connection so slow here, I think I will leave that huge task to be done once I get back home). Instead, I will tell you about a place synonymous with the city of London, with the English monarchy, with death, with torture, with execution—the Tower of London.

First let me start by saying that anyone, ANYONE, visiting London should visit the Tower. Though there is an entrance fee (and a steep one at that), it is worth every pence! The exhibits are superb; there is something for everyone, whether their interest lies in the Crown Jewels, in gruesome murder stories, or in warfare and weaponry. And they offer a free hour-long tour every thirty minutes. The tour guides are actually yeoman warders, otherwise known as beefeaters, though they will be quick to tell you that the origin of the nickname is unknown. To be a yeoman warder, you must have served in the military for at least 22 years. Another interesting fact is that most of the beefeaters actually live on the premises; their houses look into the Tower Green. And our beefeater guide was great! He was loud enough for the huge tour group to hear, he knew a lot of information, and he was able to crack a joke (or two, or three). All in all, it was a very good tour.

Tower Green. The Queen's Rooms are to the back-right, behind the tree.
It was especially exciting for me to make connections to those famous personalities I’ve read so much about. The Tower Green is the execution site of Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Jane Grey; it was considered special treatment that they were executed inside the Tower walls (a “private” execution), considering that everyone else was killed at Tower Hill, about a quarter of a mile away from the Tower itself. Before her execution, Anne Boleyn stayed in the White Tower, which was coincidentally the same place she stayed in before her coronation three years previous. Catherine Howard was placed in the Queens Rooms, and Jane Grey was housed to the right, just one door down; these houses are not only still standing, they are the homes of current Yeoman Warders and their families. The Governor of the Tower of London lives in the Queen's House. I love Tudor history, but I don’t love it enough to live in the potential haunting grounds of Catherine and Jane!

An inscription of "Jane" in the Beauchamp Tower
Most other prisoners were sent to the Beauchamp Tower, directly across from the White Tower, and overlooking the Tower Green. One can see many carved inscriptions on the walls of the Beauchamp Tower, made by sad, helpless prisoners leaving one last message before their untimely end. I found two different inscriptions of Jane, in reference to Jane Grey; they were probably inscribed by one of her supporters, perhaps even her husband Guildford Dudley (who was also imprisoned in the Tower, and later executed).

Our last stop was the chapel in the Tower, St. Peter ad Vincula (Latin for “in chains”), where the bodies of Anne, Catherine, Jane, and Jane’s husband are buried. No photography was allowed in the chapel unfortunately, but I can say that the chapel was rather small. Plaques for each of the above-mentioned people were placed directly under the pulpit.

A memorial to those executed in the Tower Green
I couldn’t help but think about what it must be like to be sentenced to death—specifically by your husband or your cousin, someone you knew very well. And to be killed so gruesomely. It was sad to see all of these memorials for people who had no legitimate reason to die. Yet we can’t go back and change the past; the best we can do is remember and respect their memories.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Mystery of Shakespeare

Image thanks to tonynetone @ Flickr
William Shakespeare-- we've all read at least one of his plays, and if we're lucky we may have seen one of them acted out on a stage. But can you name a play by any one of his contemporaries? Can you even name one of his contemporaries? Is Shakespeare so iconic because he was truly the best playwright of his era, or is there another reason for his ever-increasing popularity? It's almost an impossible question , but with a little help from a nearby FSU professor, I try to answer it in my podcast, created as an assignment for my London Multimedia class.

Podcast Powered By Podbean


MacLeod, K. (n.d.) Ghost Dance (Audio file). Retrieved from

MacLeod, K. (n.d.) Trio for Piano Violin and Viola (Audio file). Retrieved from

S. Gontarski, personal communication, July, 19, 2011.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Adventures in Oxfordland

What an exhausting, eventful day! Oxford is a smallish town about an hour away (by train) from London. And as I’m sure most of you know, it is home to the world-famous Oxford University. In the morning we took a tour of the Bodleian Library, and then the afternoon consisted of a tour of Christ Church, and yet another tour of The Story Museum (which won’t even open to the public until 2014).

Christ Church, as seen from one of its many gardens
Interestingly enough, today I learned an exhausting amount of information about 1) the Tudors, and 2) British children’s literature. Yes, I realize those two topics don’t seem to have anything in common, other than their similar country of origin, yet both subjects have strong roots in Oxford. Though I must preface this by saying that most of the touristy areas in England seem to have some connection to Henry VIII. Literally every tour guide has mentioned this particular King in some way or other.

When it comes to Oxford, Henry VIII is considered the founder of Christ Church. Christ Church is one of the colleges in Oxford University, yet our guide specifically told us to NEVER call it Christ Church College. Anyone who knows anything calls it just Christ Church. Even though it is a college.

Anyways, though Henry VIII is technically the founder of Christ Church, it was actually Cardinal Wolsey who first organized the construction of the church. Unfortunately Wolsey was quickly deposed of when he was unable to weasel a divorce out of the Pope for the King, and so his half-finished church was left to Henry. This explains the imposing portrait of Henry VIII that still resides in the Christ Church dining hall today.

The Dining Hall at Christ Church, and the inspiration
for the Hogwarts dining hall in the Harry Potter movies
Which brings me to my second topic… many of the scenes from the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed at Christ Church! Not only that, but our tour guide saw some of the filming. He was very surprised to find out that all of the actors (even the children!) had stand-ins while the cameramen set the lighting and such. He was also quick to let us know that the Christ Church dining hall was an inspiration for the Harry Potter dining hall, but those scenes were NOT filmed there; it was filmed on a movie set.

Looking through the keyhole to the Christ Church
garden, just like the real Alice did 
Christ Church was also the site for Lewis Carroll’s writing of the Alice books (Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass). Lewis Carroll was actually Charles Dodson, a mathematics tutor at Christ Church. While teaching there, he befriended the children of the head of the college and often created fantastical stories to entertain them. These stories later became the basis for his children’s books. As an example, one of the gardens near the church is the home of a very old tree that was supposedly the inspiration for the evil Jabberwocky. Also, the garden directly behind the church was apparently forbidden to the children, yet Alice and her sisters were known to peep through the keyhole of a little green door on the side of the garden wall in order to glimpse their perfect playground . Dodson was able to see directly into this same garden from his office, and so it is believed that these common occurrences explain the famous illustration of Alice looking through the keyhole of a very small door. In honor of Carroll’s popular stories, there are many Alice references hidden throughout the dining hall of the college; our guide had a lot of fun pointing all of these little clues out to us here and there.

In front of the Eagle and Child Pub,
Lewis and Tolkien's favorite hangout
In addition to Lewis Carroll, J. R. R. Tolkien (author of the Lord of the Rings series) and C. S. Lewis (author of the Narnia series) were both professors at Oxford as well (though not at Christ Church). Both of them frequented a pub in the town called the Eagle and Child, which is still there today!

I think part of the reason why I love visiting England is the rich history of the country. There are stories behind every building, every tree, every stone; all of these stories just waiting to be told.... usually by a handy Blue Badge guide ;)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sitting In An English Garden

Today was a day of childhood memories. Not because I had ever traveled to Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill, or Abbey Road as a child. In fact, I was 17 the first time I visited London. But our activities today made me feel like a little kid again, which is always a good thing for a children’s librarian J

First we walked. And walked, and walked, and walked some more until we finally arrived at Regent’s Park. And let me tell you, the British know how to take care of their parks! The lawns were beautifully maintained; there were colorful flowerbeds everywhere you turned. One could easily forget that they were in a large, urban city. It was so nice to just appreciate nature for once, albeit a very pristine and manicured version of nature. Our panorama assignment (of which I have many to share) was very fitting considering our beautiful subject.

Me on Primrose Hill, trying to get my kite to stay air born
After some time exploring Regent’s Park, we walked a little bit more to Primrose Hill. This is the same hill that the children in Mary Poppins fly their kites from. In the movie, the cast sings that catchy song, “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.” And that is exactly what our group intended to do! As soon as we finished lunch, we grabbed our kites and set off running down the hill. I ended up running up and down the hill at least four times—my kite gained some wind, but it was too heavy to keep up in the sky for long. I felt like I was five again, flying kites with my mom at the beach.

Just a small portion of people's remembrances
in front of Abbey Road Studios
But the fun and excitement had to end eventually, because we still had one more stop to make. And so we walked, and then rode a bus, and then walked some more, until we arrived at a place I never had a chance to visit on my first trip to London—Abbey Road. Though there was a big ugly scaffold in front of the building, you could still read the Abbey Road Studios sign above the front door. The low, white wall in front of the building is signed by tons of people, with their names, remembrances, Beatles lyrics, and anything else you can imagine. And just a few feet away from the studio is the same zebra crossing  that's on the album cover for their aptly titled Abbey Road record. Unfortunately, there was heavy traffic while we were there, so it was hard to get a good photo without angering some of the drivers. Nevertheless it was overwhelming to see all of the “graffiti” in front of the building, to have a physical representation of just how many people their music has touched. I remember when my sister and I went through our “Beatles” phase—I think it was the first time in our lives we were listening to truly good music. And 15 years later, I still love all of their songs.

Its funny how doing something new, whether it be flying kites on Primrose Hill, or walking by Abbey Road Studios, can feel like déjà vu… déjà vu in the best way possible.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

One Year, One Week, and One More Day...

This is the studio behind Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels,
and the UK's first season of Big Brother 
I think it’s very fitting that we toured the Olympic Village today, seeing as how we are exactly one year, one week, and one day away from the 2012 Summer Olympics (this means they begin July 27, 2012). None of us had any idea what to expect from our tour; not even our teacher was sure of what our Blue Guide would show us. But I think by the end of the tour, we were all thoroughly impressed with what has been accomplished so far at the Olympic Village.

The Olympic Orbit
A big theme of the London Summer Olympics is renovation and renewal. Though the Olympic Village is very close to the center of London (it only took us 15 minutes to get there), it is a rather neglected part of the city. The borough of Newham seems to be a blue-collar industrial neighborhood. Though there were some picturesque areas, particularly the Three Mills Island (home to the 3 Mills Studios), the majority of the area definitely needs a facelift, which it will get soon enough with the Olympics. Vast plans are underway to revitalize the area with brand new housing and apartments, renovated park facilities, a cleaner river, and the like.  Our Blue Guide was quick to point out that without the added attention an Olympic Stadium brings, Newham would most likely never have been able to gather enough money for the restoration it so desperately needed. East London was an area that most tourists never wanted to visit, and now the Olympic Village is giving the area a second chance.

In front of the Olympic Stadium
The village is definitely still a construction site; most of the tourists are herded onto a small looking deck with a helpful map of the Village, and a small café. Nevertheless, it is an impressive site to behold. From our vantage point we could see the Stadium, the Orbit (a magnificent red-colored steel tower), the Aquatic Center, and the housing facilities for the athletes. The overall structure for most of the buildings is already in set; all that is left are the “trimmings,” shall we say.

Seeing it all in front of me is getting me very excited for next summer. I must admit, I have always been a bigger fan of the Winter Olympics (yay figure skating!), but I have a feeling this may change some summer of 2012 J

Monday, July 18, 2011

Just A Spoonful Of British History

I knew I would learn a lot on this trip—a lot about web 2.0, digital multimedia, libraries, and the like. Yet somehow I didn’t realize (until this morning) that I would also learn a lot about British history. Maybe I figured I had learned all there was to know from my last visit to London. Our tour of Westminster Abbey this morning certainly wasn’t my first, but I learned so much today from our great Blue Badge guide, Brian; I was pleasantly surprised.

 A small portion of Westminster Abbey
First of all, the area of Westminster was originally very swampy, almost an island unto itself. Edward the Confessor built his palace, Westminster Palace (now the houses of Parliament) right next to the Abbey, to oversee the construction for its expansion. He was the first monarch to be buried at Westminster, and his tomb still lies there today. I wish I had a photo to share, but unfortunately no photography is allowed in the cathedral itself.

Construction of the cathedral languished under Edward Longshanks, best known today as being the evil king in the movie Braveheart (one of my favorites!) largely because he was more interested in war. Another interesting tidbit about Longshanks—he was madly in love with his wife, Eleanor of Castile. When she passed away, he had her body carried across the country. Everywhere the body rested, a cross was placed in her honor. These are known as the Eleanor crosses. One of these crosses can be found at Charing Cross Station in London.

Last tidbit of the day, I promise. Both Bloody Mary and her half-sister, Queen Elizabeth, are buried right next to each other—in the same tomb! Very ironic considering how much they hated each other when they were alive. This is because the monarch in charge of burying Elizabeth after her death was the succeeding King, James I, whose mother, Mary Queen of Scotts, was executed by none other than Elizabeth herself. It was an act of revenge that they still haven’t fixed today, though perhaps they should?

A perfect view of Big Ben
After Westminster, we walked over to the London Eye, and saw breathtaking views of Big Ben, Parliament, and the river Thames. I also took tons (and by tons I mean about ten minutes) of videos while onboard; I’m hoping to be able to edit a little video out of all of the clips. And so, more info on the London Eye will be coming later.

Pigeon is just as excited to go on the
 London Eye as I am!
After our ride on the Eye, we went to Chelsea to finally watch the last Harry Potter movie, which was brilliant! I definitely got teary towards the end. It amazes me that after an entire decade, there will be absolutely no more Harry Potter films. It truly is the end of an era.

P. S. I listened to your advice, Mom, and so I have added more pictures of myself in today's blog. You may be the only one to appreciate it, but thats OK :)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher

Our group went to see Billy Elliot on the West End last night. I had seen the movie a couple of years ago, and though I knew I liked it, I couldn’t remember the exact specifics of the story. Well, I certainly had a pleasant surprise when I went to see the play. The music was catchy, the dialogue was witty (albeit when I could understand their thick Northern accents), and the staging and choreography were excellent. But what really made the play stand out were the young cast members; the boy who played Billy was (to borrow a word from our British brethren) brilliant! He could act, sing, and dance both ballet and tap. I believed every movement he made, and every word he said. His young costars were also incredible, with his friend Michael being a definite scene-stealer. 

Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace
My favorite scene was by far the scene where Billy dances with an older version of himself. At first they both copy each other’s movements to perfection, yet they gradually become more playful and begin dancing and interacting with each other. The dance sequence ends with Billy flying and spinning through the air, all to Tchaikovsky’s score for Swan Lake. In the end, it was a beautiful way to show the character’s passion for dance, and his realization of what he could eventually become. On a lighter note, the funniest scene was the opener for the second act, which depicted the town’s Christmas pageant. In it, the cast rousingly sings “Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher/ We all celebrate today/ Cos it’s one day closer to your death!”

Billy Elliot also made me realize how little I know of recent British history. In the US, the only real mention made of Margaret Thatcher is that she was the first female Prime Minister. Yet in the play one of the main conflicts is the push Thatcher made for shutting down the mining unions, which would have left thousands of Northern Brits out of jobs.

Buckingham Palace
Another topic I know very little about (unfortunately) is royal British history, specifically after the Elizabethan age. We took a bus tour this morning where I learned more about the history of the palaces in and around Buckingham. For instance, St. James Palace was the original palace in the area; Clarence house is right next door and it is the happy home of Prince Charles, Prince William and his new bride Kate, and Prince Harry (talk about a packed house!). Buckingham Palace, with over 150 rooms, could certainly house the entire royal family, but at the moment it is only home to the Queen and her husband, and only during the weekdays.