Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tower, Cathedral, Theatre

Yesterday we wrapped up a long week of orientation with a trip into the city for some unbelievable sightseeing.

Our first stop, the Tower of London, is a 12th-century relic right beside the Thames, surrounded by the sleek modern-looking buildings that have sprung up in recent decades. (Interesting contrast, right?) It's served several functions over the centuries, from a fortress guarding the far end of London, to the onetime residence for the royal family, to (most infamously) a feared and bloody prison. It contains the spot where Mary, one of the wives of Henry VIII, was executed, as well as Lady Jane Grey and seemingly innumerable others. Some of the towers still bear writing on the walls that prisoners carved during their time there, from little doodles to outright pleads to God. Very spooky - and the British called themselves civilized! On a more positive note, the royal crown jewels are also stored there, in an extremely high-security vault, and I enjoyed seeing so many crowns and scepters from times of old all the way to the present Queen Elizabeth II.

After our quick whirl through the Tower of London, we were off to St. Paul's Cathedral, which is - for lack of a better word - stunning. In fact, it's almost physically overpowering in person. The attention that went into every aspect of the cathedral, from the physical layout to smaller things like paintings, friezes and engravings, and statues, is mind-boggling. I'm taking a British architecture class while at Oxford, and it was a little surreal to see the structural and design details we've discussed and read about so far, all realized so magnificently. Plus, the view of London from the gallery halfway up the dome was incredible, even with the rain.

To cap off our day, we all reconvened a few hours after St. Paul's to see a performance of Henry IV, Part I at Shakespeare's restored Globe Theatre, on the other side of the Thames. Admittedly I didn't enjoy the play as much as I had hoped; following Shakespearean dialogue with a sign language interpreter is an absolute nightmare, especially when neither you nor the interpreter is at all familiar with the plotline! Perhaps if it had been a play I'd studied in great depth, like Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet, my evening would have been better. But it was still (yet another) surreal experience to see the Globe in person, the actors decked out in period attire, the stage and seats just like I'd seen in reproduced drawings. This would have been Shakespeare's vision, and I felt privileged to witness it, if not to understand it completely.

Now if only the weather hadn't been so rainy - umbrellas or not, after splashing through torrents and puddles back to the bus from the Globe I think we all felt soaked!


  1. Ah, when it's not raining it's foggy in London town =]
    and I can't imagine trying to interpret a Shakespeare I don't even understand it when I hear it—so many nuances and contemporary slang!

    Hope you're doing well. Have you had pasties yet? They're kinda...odd.

  2. Nope, no pasties yet! Although I keep seeing them everywhere... That'll be my next Brit-food experiment. (Though I've already decided: I am not, NOT trying the blood pudding!)