Wednesday 7/3: Windsor Castle & Eton College

Wednesday began with the usual drill. The group then whizzed off to Windsor, along a tree-lined route that made me ache for Charlotte’s own streetside flora and fauna. However, any homesickness was relieved, at least temporarily, upon the sight of the castle erupting into view on my right, as if ripped right from a science-fiction fantasy, or an action-adventure thriller. (For some reason, the exotic growl of a vengeful promise from the lips of one Inigo Montoya came to mind. I remembered my essay, how I’d pictured gallantly eloping to those same rolling hills on some valiant quest, kicking butt and taking names. Windsor Castle encompasses a sense of magic that’s all its own–not only in a high schooler’s personal divulgences, but genuinely, out there in the real world.)

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I appreciated the audio touring device we received for free with admission, a small gadget, clipped to a lanyard, that we could plug our earbuds right into. I could listen to a track several times in a row if I wanted something run by me again, a convenience that I took advantage of on several occasions while waiting in line. I mean, queue. While queuing. Right.

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The view from the castle of the town was incredible. Miles of the sweeping circumambient terrain was visible: children playing cricket in a schoolyard, double-deckers whirling around bends where vendors had spread their wares, chipped dinghies bobbing languidly on the Thames. You really got the sense of how safe this place would have been during an attack. It’s the ideal location–invaders would both have been spotted long before they neared the walls, and the hill would have exhausted even the most highly trained combatants.

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After admiring the vista for a few minutes, we continued on.

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One of the first exhibitions was Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, a project that was actually headed by the granddaughter of Queen Mary (who was married to Henry V), Elizabeth II. The two were very close, so she wanted to give her grandmother a gift that she would cherish, and miniatures were kind of the Queen’s thing. The house was completed in 1924 and features the work of some of the finest architects, designers, craftsmen, and artists of the time, commissioned to incorporate pots and kettles, guns, replicas of famous portraits, books, sofas, the newest gadget on the market: an electric vacuum cleaner. The house is fully furnished, with working electricity. There’s even a fully stocked wine cellar, and a strong room containing miniature Crown Jewels.

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The Royal Paintbox, an exhibition of works (including paintings and drawings) by the Royal Family, running now through January 26th of next year, was also source of interest for me. Some of the art was really intriguing, which sort of surprised me. You can’t be royalty and an artist! It’s not fair! But it is, alas, wholly possible… and the diversity of styles was, in itself, really a joy to see. Some of the nobles were more inclined to realism, some to cartooning, but none put exactly the same spin on their subjects. Photography was not permitted, but I’m sure a bit of searching around on the Internet will turn up some finds.

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Once the tour was completed, we had lunch down by the river and fed some belligerent swans (there must have been hundreds!) before splitting up and exploring the town on our own. Brandy and I stuck together, stepping into a few touristy shops, and then crossing over the bridge and scavenging around in a (relatively overpriced) antique bookstore, which offered some vintage newspaper comics that I liked. Afterward, Brandy’s hunger led us to a combination cafe and barber shop, where she purchased a lemon pound cake. A significant portion of which somehow ended up in my stomach.

Once the group reconvened, it was time for a ramble around Eton, albeit a guided one. It was actually a private tour, which was cool. Plus, our group is kind of a loud one, so it was really to everyone’s benefit.

I think my favorite thing about Eton (a high school, for anyone else who is as confused as I was! The term “college” doesn’t have the same meaning in the UK as it does in the States) has to be the school uniform. It’s just one of the elements left behind from Eton’s past, and it’s a traditional Victorian getup. (Top hats were also a part of the uniform up until 1948.) Today, the guys have plenty of opportunities to don more casual garb during their free time, but judging by the number of times admin’s offer to alter attire requirements has been declined, they don’t really seem to want to.

One thing the guide made us aware of was just how grueling a day in the life of an Eton student would have been circa the 15th through 19th centuries (the school was founded in 1440 by Henry VI as “the King’s College of Our Lady Eton Beside Windsor”–a name which, being the mouthful it was, many were thrilled to eventually shorten). The boys endured school days twice as long as those typical of today’s students. Younger boys often had to act as servants (then called “fags”) to their older counterparts. All students were served very little food (lots of mutton!), and would beg for leftovers outside of local pubs, and when that didn’t work, they would hide what they could beneath their floorboards, an undertaking that drew hoards of rats and must have seriously deflated the already minimal living conditions of the dorms. Lectures were often so monotonous that they would invent games to play quietly among themselves, like one that was evidenced by a thin channel left carved into one of the antique desks in a surviving classroom we visited: betting on which way and at what speed ink would run when poured from their pens. Today, of course, Eton is much nicer, offering full scholarships to 40 boys a year, single dorms for each student, and about 50 organizations, called societies, at any given time, run exclusively by the students.

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Above: What a traditional dorm looked like.

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Above: A bronze statue of Henry VI, the founder.

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The door where Prince William and Prince Harry, both of whom attended Eton, had their names professionally inscribed.

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After the tour, we were all pretty worn out, and headed back to the dorms to sleep until dinner. Definitely one of the most interesting days, however tiring!

Friday 6/28: Westminster Abbey

After our trip to Westminster Cathedral, the group convened briefly outside for a quick photo shoot with American Community School at Cobham’s photographer, who conducted some very artsy umbrella shots as we stood lined up in the rain. (At this point, I felt pretty dumb for dressing up.) Stay tuned, I’ll let you know where you can find those glamour shots posted.

Then we meandered along the alleys and walks, snapping pictures. I felt a bit like a lost puppy, no doubt looking wet, out of place, confused, and endlessly scruffy (special thanks to my fresh newsboy haircut for that one).

But it was a good time. We took the “long way” (also known, when it rains, as the very long way) to the Abbey, which revealed some exciting finds as far as sightseeing, including the MI5 building, the claim to fame of which is its detonation in Skyfall. (I haven’t seen the film yet, but I can assure you that the blown-upness of the actual institution is remarkably nonexistent.)

So, how about some photos of our walk?

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Below, you can see the banner for the Royal Horticultural Society’s 100th Chelsea Flower Show, which took place from May 21st through 25th. (Fun fact: this year, the Geranium was awarded the distinction of “Plant of the Centenary”.)
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Below, schoolboys practice cricket in the park.

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I fell in love with pastel-washed flats today.

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Especially this pink and blue one.

(P.S: Getting fancy with the photo editing!)

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These climbing roses are my favorite addition to any home.

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So many plants outside these flats! It’s awesome!

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…And then back to London!

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At long last, we reached Westminster! The photographer shot a few more pictures of us, with Big Ben (sorry! Elizabeth Tower) as his backdrop. With a little time to kill before lunch, we all seized the moment and snagged a few pictures ourselves.

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Then we made our way inside the Abbey…

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…And we had lunch. Today, my sandwich combo was seasoned chicken, cream cheese, and cucumber slices. Deeelicious. (By the way, I believe we will receive £5 tomorrow and have the chance to seek out our own lunch in the city!)

As we corralled the group back together, I examined a stone engraving in the Abbey.

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Before long, we embarked in two separate coalitions, on a self-guided tour of the Abbey. I’m sorry to say that photography was not allowed, but notwithstanding, it wouldn’t do the experience justice. The tombs were incredible, and despite the aching in my feet and the impermeable crowds, I feel that I left with some quintessential understanding of humankind. Or maybe that’s just the slight dehydration talking.

For my fellow writers, the Poets’ Corner may be of interest to you. Although Geoffrey Chaucer, the first literary figure laid to rest in the area, merely earned the fate by serving as Clerk of Works to the Palace of Westminster, today there are nods to Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, and many similarly influential others.

There was also a small exhibit all about Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, which of course I loved. More on this later.

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There was just a smidgen of free time left after the tour, so Brandy and I set off to take a look around Victoria Street, and a few small stores nearby, including a cafe, where Brandy bought a croissant, and I took pictures. Yum.

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We also stepped into a book shop, where I purchased a book detailing the origins of modern-day household items and one about the art community in London as it relates to young adults.

Also, you knew it was coming… the obligatory telephone booth photo. This one’s for you, dad.

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Tomorrow, we will be visiting the Houses of Parliament and seeing a show: 39 Steps. Can’t wait!

Studying up!

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Studying up!

So I got this book at Barnes & Noble a few days ago. It’s Peter Ackroyd’s “London: The Biography,” and at 773 pages finishing it before I leave in 3 weeks is going to be quite the project. I’m only on page 27 right now.

One of the passages I thought was interesting was one on page 10, regarding the origin of London’s name:

“The name is assumed to be of Celtic origin, awkward for those who believe that there was no human settlement here before the Romans built their city. Its actual meaning, however, is disputed. It might be derived from ‘Llyndon,’ the town or stronghold (‘don’) by the lake or stream (‘Llyn’); but this owes more to medieval Welsh than ancient Celtic. Its provenance might be ‘Laindon,’ ‘long hill,’ or the Gaelic ‘luund,’ ‘marsh.’ One of the more intriguing speculations, given the reputation for violence which Londoners were later to acquire, is that the name is derived from the Celtic adjective ‘londos’ meaning ‘fierce.’

“There is a more speculative etymology which gives the honour of naming to King Lud, who is supposed to have reigned in the century of the Roman invasion. He laid out the city’s streets and rebuilt its walls. Upon his death he was buried beside the gate which bore his name, and the city became known as ‘Kaerlud’ or ‘Kaerundein,’ ‘Lud’s city.’ Those of sceptical cast of mind may be inclined to dismiss such narratives but the legends of a thousand years may contain profound and particular truths.

“The origin of the name, however, remains mysterious. (It is curious, perhaps, that the name of the mineral most associated with the city—coal—also has no certain derivation.) With its syllabic power, so much suggesting force or thunder, it has continually echoes throughout history—’Care Ludd,’ ‘Lundanes,’ ‘Lindonion,’ ‘Lundene,’ ‘Lundone,’ ‘Ludenberk,’ ‘Longidinium,’ and a score of other variants. There have even been suggestions that the name is more ancient than the Celts themselves, and that it springs from some Neolithic past.”

Pretty cool. Anyway, so far it seems like a great read for word nerds like me, or anyone interested in history. It’s super thorough—and there’s lots of talk about the Roman Empire, Brutus, Caesar, etc. which I like.