I’m Matthew Colson, a U student studying English and Political Science. I got to spend 5 weeks in London as part of the British Studies study abroad program. London is composed of a rich history and the current happenings of a modern metropolis. Outside palaces of long dead monarchs merchants peddle postcards of the recent royal wedding. Businessmen scurry through the 19th century underground railway; the tube ushers the masses around central London. President Obama meets with the Prime Minister in the city of the Magna Carta. The queen has a birthday. And Barcelona beats Manchester United in a soccer match. Lots can happen in a city like London.
In Mrs. Dalloway (a novel we read as part of the course), Virginia Woolf beautifully describes a part of what I felt in London: “In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.” From the frantic hustle of catching a train to quiet lounging in garden parks, London provides vivid contrasts and a unique variety of sights and experiences.
Our group is fortunate to stay at Regent’s College, located in a beautiful park in the heart of London. Here’s a picture of the park. My morning begins with a walk out of the lovely Regent’s Park to Camden Market.
After strolling past the stalls selling the usual tourist stuff, we headed to some very eclectic shops. We checked out a used bookshop and some vintage clothing stores. I spent from time rifling through old records from artists like the Beatles and The Clash. (To buy or not to buy? I often found myself asking my wallet). One of the strangest stores was blaring techno music and had salespeople in robot costumes. I didn’t go in. I decided it was too early for the Chinese food vendors, and got some doughnuts instead. I left the market and headed to a tube station, which, at that time of day, was eerily empty. Coincidently, I saw another member of my group on the train and found out we were headed in the same direction. We alighted (got off the train) at St. Paul’s cathedral, walked across the millennium bridge, and went to the Globe theatre to inquire about some tickets. Tomorrow’s show, sold out. We then walked along the Thames down to Borough Market, a famous, crowded and delicious food market. After a duck sandwich and some fresh fruit, I wandered back toward St. Paul’s.
For over 1400 years, a cathedral dedicated to St Paul has been on the site of the current cathedral. The iconic structure is situated on a hill and can be seen from various points around the city. St Paul’s cathedrals were built, rebuilt, and destroyed over the years. The great fire of London in 1666 gutted the building of the time. Leaders decided to undertake building a new structure rather than trying to salvage the old. During World War II, St Paul’s was a target of German bombing, but remained, perhaps providentially, unharmed. St. Paul’s represents an exquisite piece of art and architecture. For a great view of the interior you can climb a spiraling staircase 257 steps up to the whispering gallery. On this level you can hear a whisper from across the room as it echoes from the round walls of the dome. Climb up farther to the stone gallery to get a nice view of the surrounding city. I felt like going all the way, so I climbed the 528 steps to the Golden Gallery to get a great view of the city.
Across the Millennium bridge (you might recognize from the opening scenes of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) is the fabulous, Tate Modern art gallery. Once a power plant, the Tate modern now houses superb pieces of modern art. Dali, Degas, Kandinsky, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Rothco, and many others have pieces on display. Here is a picture of one of my favorites. This is a floor with a staircase, made of red fabric suspended across the ceiling of a room. The Tate has a great mixture of classic modern art and new, edgy pieces.
To finish that day, my friends and I went to see the musical Wicked. Historic buildings, beautiful churches, marvelous museums, and great theatre made my time in London a highlight of my life. Learning in London was more than a matter of books and classes, discussions and papers. I learned in London from walking in the streets and talking to the people. Whether you’re eating fish and chips or chicken tikka masala, you are learning about London. Whether you are standing getting soaked by the rain watching Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe or crying a bit during the modern play Warhorse, you’re learning about London. Whether you’re on a boat in the Thames or walking in Hyde Park, you’re learning about London. And as I lived and learned in London, I came to love it.