Hiram College

Written by Megan Kern ’19

This post is written in response to Megan’s spring 3-week trip to the UK with Professors Paul Gaffney and Rick Hyde.

Today was our first full day in London, which began with a nice light breakfast in the youth hostel. Once everyone was met, we made our way to the underground where we boarded the tube that would take us to Westminster. As soon as we emerged from the underground station, staring us right in the face was Big Ben. It was surreal standing in one of the most iconic cities in the world with one of its most renowned landmarks right in front of me. Then, right around the corner was the sacred and beautifully ornate Westminster Abbey. Built in 960 A.D. and then rebuilt in the 1500s, this immaculate place of worship has stood strong and proud as a Church of England and still is used for services today. Somehow the inside of the church is even more intricate and magnificent than the exterior, with all of the glorious memorials, grave sights, and sculptures made from the most extravagant stones and metals. It’s amazing to me how structures such as Westminster Abbey have prevailed through hundreds of years of history and yet still have a place in our world today. Over the course of the trip we have visited a multitude of structures and landmarks that are older than the United States, and to me it is truly incredible how much history is valued and preserved in the U.K. 

After Westminster Abbey, we went over to the Whitehall Palace to watch the changing of the guard. Although today the changing of the guard is more of a formality than a necessity, it was still very interesting to see men dressed in full guard uniforms with swords hanging by their side on top of their intimidating horses. Following the changing of the guard we took a nice stroll over to the location of “The Curtain” theatre which was one the of the first two theatres built in London. Unfortunately nothing is left of the playhouse, and even more upsetting is that an apartment complex is being built on the cite. Even still, it’s nice to visually see where something like The Curtain would have stood and imagine what it might have looked like. Similarly, the Spittlefield Market (although still in the same location as in Shakespeare’s time) has drastically expanded and evolved into an urbanized market filled with endless food venders and stands that sell knick-knacks, cloth, trinkets, and more. In Shakespeare’s time the market would have been located right in the fields that were on the outskirts of London, and today it’s completely engrossed in the city and outlined with busy streets and loud traffic. I think the market still serves its purposes even though it has changed so much through the years, because many of the locals make daily trips from what they told us. 

Next, we went to the Sky Garden which was a warm rain forest type setting on the 30th floor of an extremely large skyscraper. From the Sky Garden we could see London in every direction and it seemed as if it went on forever. The experience was like looking down from a cloud. Afterward, we stopped by some beautiful church ruins which had been damaged during the Blitz in WWII. Although the church wasn’t whole by any means, the way the plants and grass had grown up, in, and around the ruins seemed to be done by design. Finally, on our way back to the underground we saw the tower of London (which surprisingly looked more like a castle/ fortress than a stereotypical tower that I had been imagining). Regardless, it was still an impressive and ominous sight with a very long history and thousands of stories kept behind its walls. 

We ended our day by going to the Old Vic to see “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” (a 1960’s absurdist play intermingling the story of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” with Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”) starring Daniel Radcliffe. The performance was spectacular and I feel the director’s stylistic choices really suited the play. All in all, it was an eventful day in London and I can’t wait to explore more tomorrow.