Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hampstead Heath: Access to Nature

The excursion to the Park in Hampstead Heath was a delightful surprise. Expecting the same style of park as the Inner-city parks, such as Hyde Park and Regent Park, Hampstead was a drastic contrast. Rather than the clean-cut, formal style of park, Hampstead was a little rough around the edges. It was filled with rocky paths, thick brush, uncut grass, and a much more informal set-up. The less-planned park gave it a more natural feel. 

Here's Lauren walking on one of the main paths of the park. The trees and brush are thick and unkept, but give it a natural atmosphere.

This seemed to be a popular place for letting pet dogs run free for awhile.

Here's Parliament Hill, or "Kite Hill," where people come to send their kites soaring.

You can see in the picture just how rugged the hill is. The grass was kind of blotchy and uncut, but it was somewhat appealing.

Fallen trees are left fallen, and provide a sort of natural playground.

Hampstead had bikers galore. I observed the paths were rougher and more strenuous, affording a more extreme ride for serious bikers.

Again, you can see the grass on the hill is uncut. It gives the whole park a more rugged feel.

The whole city lies at my feet.

The paths are rough, yet still accessible to the handicapped.

Not exactly like the Italian Gardens at Kensington, but the mossy, murkiness of this pond has its own beauty.

The landscape increasingly becomes more refined as it nears the city.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Westminster Palace: Here Lies Our Dear History

I did not know what to expect of Westminster Abbey. I confess I have heard the name of this famous abbey many a time, but without actually ever figuring out what was so famous about it. I did, however, know that there were famous people-- kings, queens, and poets-- buried there.  In my head, I created an imagination of what this place was. And was I far off? Immeasurably. The collective presence of the memorials of hundreds of important lives throughout history afforded a powerful-- almost sacred feeling inside the walls of Westminster.
The audio tour was extremely helpful. I think I would've been overwhelmed with the mass of scattered memorials to take in. It was almost dizzying. The tour took us to each of the memorials of the important people who are buried there, explained their history, and things significant about the design of their memorial. I thought it was interesting that Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots, the relentless rival queens who fought one another all their lives, were buried right next to one another in the abbey. The menacing enemies could've even escape each other in their deaths-- we all end up in the same place, don't we?
The only person that was mentioned to be removed from their burial spot in Westminster was Oliver Cromwell-- and they did not just remove it. They also hung and decapitated his dead corpse. Pretty harsh, right? I guess some people were still holding some grudges for ol' Ollie.
The poets corner was probably the neatest part of the tour for me. Kings and Queens bear significance for history, but I felt a special proximity to the impact that these writers have had, and continue to have, on my life. Perhaps, the pen is mightier than the crown. The influence of monarchs passes on, but words can last forever.
After taking physics, I also enjoyed seeing the memorial for Sir Isaac Newton. The man was a real genius, and according to I could be related to him somehow. The memorials of William Wilberforce and William Pitt, dear friends buried side by side, was also a moving sight. I had only watched the movie Amazing Grace the previous night. With the realization of their profound influence on Britain's abolition of the slave trade, it was a profound sight for me to behold.
It is marvelous to think that there in the foundations of this incredible building lie the lives, the foundations, that made Britain what it is today.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Walking through the city: Remember your Religion

Walking through the city of the world's financial capital, I'd have to say that the most impressive edifices among the stretch of skyscrapers and important buildings were not those of financial or business nature. I found myself most in awe at the number of old churches, religious monuments, and the influence of religious presence in the area. For a country that has a fairly large percentage of people who "Have no religion," they sure have a lot of churches, and right in the heart of the city. I did not get pictures of all the churches we passed and visited, but the following pictures should give a good idea of what I am talking about.

I honestly don't remember the name of this building, but I've seen lots of these clocks on the sides of the towers. I've come to like them. I think they are rather cute, and I wish there were more on modern chapels.

The Tower of All Hollows Staining dates back to c1320. This church has been built and rebuilt many a time, but this tower of the second church survived the Great Fire of 1666.

I thought this street sign, among many others, shows the influence of the church in the very naming of its streets: Fenchurch Street, Gracechurch, street, whitechapel, etc. There were a lot of them.

Here is a lovely white steeple, making a sharp contrast to more industrial-looking buildings surrounding it.

The interior of St. Magnus's Church. William Coverdale, the man to complete the first complete English translation of the Bible, was rector of this church for a time in is life.

Again, I don't know the name of the church in this building, but we passed it from a distance while we were doing the Shakespeare additions to the walk. I thought it was pretty nice, and gave the city a softer touch among compares other churches with more intimidating architecture. It was also in an area of the city that was rather open and quiet-- rare!

St. Etheldreda's church was an interesting church. It is supposedly the oldest Catholic church in Britain, though it did not always operate as one. I really enjoyed the modern stained glass windows.

Okay, this is kind of a joke, but what if aliens from another galaxy came and visited London?There are more Starbucks here than churches, public restrooms, any food food chain, or variety of building! The aliens would probably think that we worship coffee... or Starbuck, Captain Ahab's first mate from Herman Melville's Moby Dick-- more likely, coffee.

Hyde Park Remembers: A Brief Photo Essay

The lovely and spacious Hyde Park is not only a place  to have a picnic or take a nap in the grass. Hyde Park is also a grand place for remembering the past. Dotted with gorgeous monuments and memorials, the park is ornamented with history for the sake of beauty and remembrance. This photo essay shows only a few that stuck out to me, but here it is... Hyde Park Remembers:

Hyde Park remembers victory...

The towering statue, Achilles, stands in Hyde Park in memory of Duke Wellington and his troops of men who defeated Napoleon's men at Waterloo.

Hyde Park Remembers  "The Queen Mum"...

This ornate gateway is dedicated to Elizabeth, wife of King George VI, on her 93rd birthday.

Hyde Park Remembers classic architecture...

Look at the ionic pillars of this gateway in Hyde Park.

Hyde Park remembers the soldiers...

This is a statue of St. George the Dragon Slayer in memorial of men who gave their lives in war.

Hyde Park remembers Diana...

The old Diana of Roman mythology has her own fountain here in the park.

Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, also has a fountain in the park as a memorial.

Hyde Park remembers duels...

Or maybe Bassett just told us to remember them. I guess we recreated our own monument here. Regardless, this old road, the Rotten Row, is full of history. As you can see, it was popular for the staging of duels.

We Remember Hyde Park...
One of the few places in London where a person can get some peace of mind, space, and interact with nature. That's how we remember Hyde Park.

A Tour of Parliament at Westminster Palace

Our trip to Parliament at Westminster Palace gave me the experience to become more familiar with the history of Britain’s Government, and another democratic government besides that of the United States. It was very interesting to see the history of Britain’s government through the halls of the palace: The paintings, portraits, statues, and details marking the reign of each monarch. I especially enjoyed the Queen’s robbing room, and learning about her royal rituals. It interesting to me that Britain continues to preserve the beauty of the palace as well as its flaws, such as the dark, fading frescos in the robbing room. To me, this showed how much Britain values and preserves its history and culture—the good and the ugly.
            What was most awesome to me was to see the transformation that has taken place in Britain’s government from a monarchy to a democracy, and how they preserve their traditions. One thing I though was especially interesting, was the ritual where the queen gets the door shut in her face to show that she has no power in Parliament, though she is still greatly admired as a symbol. I really enjoyed the contrast of the House of Commons to the rest of the palace in its simplicity as well as the contrast between the statues of modern leaders compared to those of the old monarchy. It shows just how much the British government has changed, though it remains to hold tightly onto the traditions of its country.

Reliving Persuasion in Lyme

            When I was told that we were headed to Lyme on our excursion. I really had no idea of what we were in for. To be perfectly honest, my personal schedule for reading my books was completely backwards, and I had only begun reading Persuasion on the bus. Also, I intentionally tried to ignore the movie, because I do not tolerate a spoiled plot before I read a book. Therefore, when it was announced that we would be visiting Regis Lyme, I did not relate with the excitement in the reaction of the rest of my classmates. I had not read Austen’s description of the “romantic rocks,” cliffs, charm of the neighborhood, the lovely stretch of beach, and the ocean (91). I did not know why “The young people were all wild to see Lyme” (90). Upon arriving, it didn’t take long to find out.
            It was no wonder why Austen and her family took three visits to Lyme just between the years of 1803 and 1804. The town and beach were absolutely charming, and much different in appearance and atmosphere from the California beaches that I am used to. It was so quiet and peaceful, though full of life and visitors. It was inviting without being overbearing or over-popular. Pertaining to my ideals, it was certainly everything a beach town should be—a lovely picture alive in its beautiful simplicity.
            After reading Austen’s description of Lyme in the novel, I clearly see why she says, “a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see the charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to knew it better” (91). She couldn’t have been more right. Our short hours along the Cobb and the beach were only a brief capture of this enchanting spot, and I certainly would not mind seeing it again. In Persuasion, Austen also says “these places must be visited, and visited again, to make the worth of Lyme understood” (92). I feel she must be speaking from experience here, since she was a frequent visitor. I imagine that the place must have revealed more and more meaning to her with each visit.

Bath: The World of Jane Austen

    Visiting the city of Bath was a tremendous experience beyond my expectations. The buildings and scenery were breathtaking and rich in history. It was like stepping into a storybook. Though I am only barley beginning Persuasion, and know very little about the characters and plot thus far, I am sure that visiting the site of the setting of this novel will greatly enrich my reading experience.
       At the Jane Austen Centre, I discovered the sort of house that Jane Austen would have lived in while she was dwelling in Bath. The Centre also displayed the type of dresses and garments they would’ve worn in her time. This gave me a clear picture of what life looked like for Miss Austen. Bath being a very fashionable city, it appeared to me that the Austen family was sustained by more humble means.  I did not get the idea that they were any elite of society. This caused me to wonder if this was the reason that Austen was displeased with the move to Bath in 1800. Along with leaving her childhood home, the only one she ever knew, I wonder if Austen was worried about fitting in with fashionable society.
    Being at Bath gave me a better idea of what Jane Austen’s life was like, and the sort of things she and the Austen family would’ve done there. Though she didn’t write much while she lived in Bath, it is evident that her time there heavily influenced her later novels. After visiting Bath, I will be much more apt to contemplate Austen’s life and experiences in that city and how they influenced her writing.

Walking the Walls of Londinium

Walking the Walls of Londinium was a true eye-opener to the age of this vast city. I knew that London was old. It is obvious in its architecture and layout in comparison to more modern American cities. Still, with the fact that the city has burned down quite a few times, which called for complete reconstruction, its appearance does not adequately reflect the city’s age. From this walk, I was able to see that through the many centuries of fires, wars, and havoc, artifacts still remain as evidence of its ancient Roman civilization—the walls Londinium.
When I walked out of the tube station, to my left was one of these ancient walls with a statue of Trajan, the mighty Roman Emperor. The Emperor’s arm is lifted upward, as if to glorify his mighty fortress around him, which now lay in ruins. Gazing onward, the Tower of London can be seen. These two monuments of history in such close proximity began to define this area’s significance in history in both the ancient and medieval times.

Along the walk, it is evident that this area, historically being the center of civilization, has remained an area of importance to the city. One of these is the large Port of London building with the statue of father Thames in its edifice. Opened in 1922, this was where much of the world sea trade was conducted. As on continues on the walk, they’ll soon find themselves in the midst of London’s financial district.  Suddenly one is surrounded with modern buildings, skyscrapers, and business people in their black suits. This is London’s Wall Street. The extra-modern, pickle-like building “The Great Gherkin,” almost looks like it came from the future. This mix of historical variety in the buildings and their functions, show the lasting importance of this area as the center of business and commerce.

Though this is the financial district, and business people are typically working in their offices of towering edifices, there still exists the charming traditional form of commerce—the market. Right next to Liverpool station is a fine shopping area filled with expensive boutiques and dining. At its center it’s an open-air market, filled with tents and people selling various items. I among them I found stylish dresses, art, food, etc. Though this is a very normal thing in London, I could not help imagining that these sorts of markets have existed throughout history in this area. Perhaps, even the Romans would set up shop for the day and sell their produce or togas and whatnot.
My very favorite part of this walk was the small park hidden betwixt buildings and a church. It would have been very easy to miss, but thanks to Bassett, I made a special stop here. It is dedicated to average citizens who lost their lives performing heroic acts.  The park was filled with memorials of these noble people, which were very interesting to read. One read, “Alice Ayres, Daughter of a Bricklayer’s Labourer, who by intrepid conduct, saved three children from a burning house in Union Street Borough at the cost of her own young life—April 24 1885. This small park had the greatest feeling of peace I have felt in this city. Here, rather than a sense of history of the place, I felt a strong sense of history of who these people were and are today and the courage and valor that they honor in the ordinary.

At the end of the walk we arrived at another excavation site of the Roman Walls. My group of walkers seemed to have walked through a vast path of history and come full-circle—back to its beginnings. It is evident that Londinium has gone through great change since the Romans, but I believe it will ever remain as a historical center of society.

A Walk on the Wild Side: South of the Thames

 Just like Bassett suggested, the walk on the south of the Thames truly was a walk on the wild side. I didn’t come across any brothels or cockfights as I may have in the Tudor times, but the stretch along the lovely river was filled with activity and excitement throughout the day. My walking group chose a very popular day for walking down the Thames—the weekend of the Thames river festival.
            Our walk started at the Tower Bridge where many people were crossing to get to the festival. Apparently, this bridge is often mistaken for the London Bridge, which is actually the next bridge upstream. I cannot say that I didn’t make this mistake before I was corrected. This bridge received its name because of its close proximity to the Tower of London. The bridge also consists of two towers that operate a drawbridge between to let the large ships through. As it does this, the towers almost look like castles that drop and lift their drawbridges across the moat.

            After passing city Hall, one finds their self right on the river in the hustle and bustle of the river festival. There are tents and vendors everywhere selling just about anything you can imagine. I saw all different kinds of foods, clothing, and crafts, and from all different parts of the world. Satchels from South America, tunics from Africa, vendors selling Paella, a favorite Spanish dish. The variety was astounding. There was music, dancing, street performers, and even an insect circus. And of course, the variety of the attendees of the festival was even more impressive than the goods being sold. I heard all sorts of accents and languages spoken from the people all around me.
            One of the most fun places my group passed on this walk was the Borough Market. And again the variety is very impressive. You can get anything from a grilled cheese sandwich to Middle Eastern Cuisine. At a candy booth, I tried a rose-flavored turkish delight. I never knew that people made rose-flavored candy, and it really tasted like a rose. I found out that I like candy that tastes as lovely as a flower looks. The variety of cheeses and olive oils at this market was incredible, and there were plenty of samples. I think I anyone could learn a lot about food just by spending ten minutes in this market.

            Not far from here, was the Southwark Cathedral. It had some modern additions made to it compared to other cathedrals and abbeys, but a historic feel remained inside the lovely place of worship. Luckily, we showed up during a choir practice. This allowed us to stroll the cathedral, reading the memorials and admire the architecture to the soothing music of worship. It truly was beautiful. Here we found that John Harvard, the founder of Harvard University, was baptized here. There is a stained glass dedication for him. Also, there is a statue of Shakespeare. He appears to be lounging about, dreaming up his next masterpiece. Above are stained glass scenes from his plays. I wondered why there would be a memorial for Ol’ Bill here. It appears that he buried his brother here, and the Globe is also very close to the Cathedral.

Historically this area was quite scandalous—known for prostitution, rough bars, cockfighting, and the theatre, which was unacceptable to civilized society. People had to go South of the Thames to escape the government so they could produce their work, and it seems many people crossed this river to see them.
Finally, after the theatre was supported under King James’ reign, this area and art began to flourish even more. As I experienced this place during the huge festival, it occurred to me that this river was a center of culture that perhaps began with the London ex-patriot actors. Also, being near the water, it is a place where people can travel to by boat, perhaps from far away places.  By whatever path the celebration of culture became magnified in this area, it was successful, and made manifest at the Thames River Festival.