Foundations' breathtaking trip to England

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Kristina Wyman's picture
Molly Sweeney

It took me until Spring Break this year to make me realize how much of America is named after places in England, whether those naming the cities, streets and places realized it or not. No, I wasn’t sitting in good, old New England, researching American history; I was immersing myself in British history, in Great Britain herself. In the words of the Yeoman Warders tour guide at the Tower of London, “It could have been your history, if only you had paid your taxes.”

 It was with the Foundations 300 class that I had the opportunity to visit Stonehenge, Bath, London and countless little villages in between. After studying the pub life, fashion, street life and houses of 18th century England for half of a semester, we were finally able to see the area for ourselves, exploring cathedrals, coffeehouses, pubs and houses.   

After departing Boston on February 28, and landing in London on March 1, I saw the beauty of one of the Wonders of the World, Stonehenge, which rocks by the way, and discovered the simplicity of the city of Salisbury where Salisbury Cathedral is located, an 18th century church that boasts Britain’s tallest spire and the recent addition of one of the best preserved Magna Cartas on display.

After spending a few hours in Salisbury, we traveled by coach to Bath, where we were welcomed with a delicious dinner at the hotel.

On Monday, I explored the Roman Baths, a place that was once thought to boast healing powers, and went to High Tea at The Pump Room, a location that was frequented by characters in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

Though it was known that Jane Austen did not like Bath, I must say that I viewed the city in a different way— I fell in love. It was nothing like anything that I had ever seen before.

Tuesday morning we left Bath to travel to Winchester, where the longest Cathedral in Europe is located. Jane Austen died in Winchester and is now buried in Winchester Cathedral. John Keats, who wrote the poem “To Autumn,” which I studied in my BritLit class this semester, wrote that poem in Winchester during his stay in the city in 1819.

On our way from Winchester to London, we stopped for a quick photo op outside of Jane Austen’s home Alton, Hampshire, and again at the Strawberry Hill House right outside of London, where we enjoyed tea and biscuits before taking a tour of the house owned by Horace Walpole, that inspired his book The Castle of Otranto. The grand home looked rather obscure compared to the other 18th-century homes that we had seen in Salisbury and Winchester.

By the time we arrived in London, our tour guide, Jan, gave us a brief overview of the city. We ate dinner at Garfunkel’s, a restaurant located less than a block away from the hotel at which we were staying. My roommate Caroline and I esssentially became regulars at Garfunkel’s because between the location and the affordability, we always seemed to end up there for dinner each night. I think it is safe to say that we went to Garfunkel’s more times while we were in London than we have gone to Taylor this entire school year.

We toured Westminster Abbey and walked down the same aisle that Kate Middleton walked down when she married Prince William four years ago. While at Westminster, I was able to geek out in Poet’s Corner and see the burial sites and memorials for some of the world’s most well-known and greatest poets and writers.

I spent time with Chaucer, Dickens, Lord Byron, Keats and Shelley; amongst many others whose work I am studying in my British Literature class this semester. It was one thing to read the literature in class, but it is a totally different experience to see where the writers are from in order to fully comprehend why they wrote specific pieces of poetry or what experiences triggered the writing of a novel.

I saw so much more than books and writers. We went to the Harry Potter Studios and became immersed in all things Hogwarts. Though I have only read the first book and seen the first movie, it was incredible to see how the films were made and how J.K. Rowling’s words turned into a reality. Rowling said it best, “No Story lives unless someone wants to listen,” was posted at the entrance to the studios.

Going to Saint Paul’s Cathedral was another highlight of the trip; we climbed the 528 stairs to the top of the dome and saw all of London from what felt like the top of the world. A tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater made me appreciate Shakespeare and not resent Hamlet and Macbeth as much as I did while I was in high school.

A walking tour of how coffee houses came to be followed suit, complete with a taste test of “authentic” original coffee that would have been drank in the 18th century. Though I didn’t care much for the coffee, the tea in England was swell and quite enjoyable.

A trip on the London Eye at dusk gave way to a view of Big Ben, which, by the way, is not the name of the tower or the clock, but rather the bells inside of the tower, and Parliament. The spring-like weather and lack of rain allowed for clear views of the City from up above on the Eye.
Thursday ended with a trip to Camden Town for nitrogen ice cream at the Chin Chin Laboratories. By day’s end, I had walked over 12 miles and had climbed over 50 flights of stairs.

A visit to Harrods and Buckingham Palace, where I unfortunately did not see the queen, marked my last full day in England. An afternoon visit to the Tower of London proved to me that British tour guides find great pleasure in poking fun at Americans and our culture that we derived from the British. Apparently the Liberty Bell was in one piece when the British gave it to us, but now it is broken “just like our (England’s) language.”

One final tourist destination was set for Saturday, a trip to 221B Baker Street, the home of the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. The museum was set to make it seem like Holmes, Watson and others were still living in the house, and any visitor entering was an intruder, walking through a moment frozen in time.

To say that I was sad to leave England is an understatement. I’m not sure if the reason was because I saw green grass when Worcester has over 100 inches of snow and I was able to go for runs outside, wearing shorts and a t-shirt for the first time in a while, or because of my desire to keep exploring a culture that is beautiful and gives understanding to different parts of American culture that have become part of my daily life. I’ll be back again soon, England, but until then, Cheers.

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