July 2nd

My first weekend in London was absolutely fantastic. It began with spending the afternoon in Leicester Square, named for its first owner, the second Earl of Leicester, Robert  Sidney,  with one of my classmates (http://www.aviewoncities.com/london/leicestersquare). We spent the day relaxing and walking around the square. We even caught the tail end of some young street performers performing a dance. We were then able to get discount tickets to see The Mousetrap at St. Martin’s Theatre.  The Mousetrap is the longest running show in history with this year being its 60th consecutive year. Stephen Moss suggests in his article “The Mousetrap at 60: why is this the world’s longest-running play?” that though the play is enjoyable and a substantial theatrical piece, that the real reason that it has run so long is because it has become a tourist destination. If you are going to London you just have to see The Mousetrap. I cannot agree more with his presumption. Though I enjoyed the work and respected the acting prowess of all on stage this is not a show that I would go home and rave about, but seeing the world’s longest running theatrical production is just too good of an opportunity to pass up.

The next day our entire study abroad group had the opportunity to tour Parliament. I’m not sure that I understood what this meant before I walked into the huge hall at the beginning of the tour. I had just assumed that we would be shown one room and have facts read to us. Little did I know the great depth that the tour guide would dive into as he encouraged us to imagine the Queen’s journey as we traveled through each room of The Palace of Westminster. I was struck by the ornate decorations and the long history that each painting and crest holds.  Apparently, I had no idea until this tour, a large portion of The Westminster Palace burnt down in 1834 and had to be rebuilt. According to  “Restoration and Renewal of The Palace of Westminster: Pre-Feasibility Study and the Preliminary and Strategic Business case”, the reconstruction of the palace, headed by architects Charles Barry and Augustus Welby, began in 1840 and took more than 30 years. It is hard to imagine the amount of history that was lost in that fire. We then were lead into the House of Lords and the House of Commons. I found it particularly interesting that all royale areas of parliament had red seats while the commoner’s areas had green seats. This was a great example of the strong hold that social and economic class has on the English society. We then returned to Westminster Hall. There was a plaque on the floor noting the spot where King Charles I had stood as he was tried by parliament.

After leaving Parliament, I went with a couple of the other girls to a pub for traditional English food and then onto Trafalgar Square to watch the Gay Pride Parade. I’ve been going to the Minneapolis Pride festival for years but I have never seen anything like this. The festival was absolutely huge. I decided to stay in Trafalgar and watch the concert instead of watching the parade. I’m glad that I did. Some of the performances were spectacular. It was amazing to see so many people gathered in support of a group of people who have been discriminated against for so long. According to Costas Pitas, 15,000 people walked in the parade and “hundreds of thousands” celebrated.

On Sunday we attended a church service at Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Never before have I had is the opportunity to worship in such a beautiful place. The entire experience was spectacular. I was particularly impressed by the welcoming sermon given.  From what I can tell, the church preaches a message of love and acceptance. After church I attended a performance of Macbeth at the Globe. This was my first time being in The Globe and as a theatre major, I was beside myself. This of course is not the original Globe that was built in 1599. The original Globe burnt down because of a cannon that caught the structure on fire during a production of Henry VIII in 1633. This is a replica of the original that was opened in 1997 (www.shakespearesglobe.com). After the matinee we headed to Speaker’s Corner. Speaker’s Corner is an open forum in Hyde Park where anyone can stand on a soapbox and talk about anything that they feel needs to be discussed. Of course at times the speakers are a bit deranged and debates become a bit heated, but it is a great form of free speech.

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June 27th

It is hard to believe that this is only my third day in London. I feel exhausted, excited, overwhelmed, and comfortable all at the same time. After arriving and dropping off our suitcases  we all went on a bus tour of London. It had not hit me until this point that I had actually traveled to the United Kingdom. The amazing sights broke through my jet lagged fog. I still cannot believe how many beautiful monuments, towers, parks, and buildings are in this city. Even the everyday buildings that our tour guide was not pointing out are magnificent. So far my favorite sight has been Big Ben. I had seen pictures but being so close to such a well-known, beautiful tower was and is amazing. The breathtaking image of the clouds surrounding the top of the clock tower as sunlight bounced off of the gold embellishments is ingrained in my mind. The tour was a great way to identify the sights that I want to revisit during my time here.

Yesterday I spent a great day on my own. After class, in which we made our first trip to The National Theatre, I headed to the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was founded in 1852 and was named The Victoria and Albert Museum in 1899 to commemorate the support of Prince Albert (Charles Flagon). I was expecting a smaller, more specific museum. I was mistaking. It is easily the largest museum that I have ever been in. Instead of taking a tour I just took a map and headed on the way. I plan to return because I did not see nearly enough in the time that I had. So far my favorite parts of the museum are the fashion section (particularly fashions from the 16th century to the 1900’s) and the rooms dedicated to specifically British Renaissance artifacts. That being said, I have saved the Theatre and Performance exhibit for my next visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which will be very soon.

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