Tuesday, March 24, 2009

London, Cadbury and Birmingham

At Harlaxton each student is required to take British Studies, a six credit-hour class that covers British history, politics, and culture. The first week began with the Roman invasion of 43 AD and we haven't looked back! Last week was a turning point in this class. We had an exam on Wednesday. This marked the end of the Victorian period for our class. Finally, we are in the 20th century! I am excited to cross this point because I have a contextual knowledge of the events that occurred in the 20th century. After all, I was born in that century! Last week was also a special one for British Studies because we took a field trip to London. The sun shone down all day and the tulips were in bloom. This is what Europe is supposed to be like! I enjoyed myself immensely. With about 150 students on the trip, we were split in to groups to explore the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and tour St. Paul's Cathedral. I began the day at the Nation Portrait Gallery. I had been to this gallery the first weekend in England,
but this experience was even better. There are several extremely recognizable works and it is especially amazing to look at them in person. I was excited to look at portraits and understand who is pictured, what they are doing, and what is going on in history. It is an amazing feeling to know something about art and not just wonder, "What going on here?" The ability to analyze art has been one of the greatest skills I have gained from this class. I especially enjoy the National Portrait Gallery because I am so fascinated by people and their lives. That may sound slightly strange, but I find it incredibly interesting to examine the lives of individuals and their experiences. You can learn a lot about people through their portraits.

The next stop was the National Gallery, an art gallery housed next door the National Portrait Gallery. The National Gallery is home to many famous works that span hundreds of years. Our British Studies professors had prepared a list of paintings that we should find as well as looking
at other of our favorite works. Most of the paintings that we found on suggestion from our professor had been discussed in class. I had such an understanding of the historical context of the painting, and the work became more that just "a nice, pretty painting." It was a very fulfilling trip to some wonderful art galleries.

Did I mention that these are FREE? Seriously, this is why we love London so much!

After a morning of art and culture, we leisurely walked down the London Strand, a street that is close to many of the famous London theatres, toward to St. Paul Cathedral. The Londoners seemed even more trendy and stylish as the sun warmed up the sometimes dreary city allowing an outer layer to be shed. Even though my old New Balance shoes and common cotton button-up didn't compete with the cutting edge looks of the locals, I still enjoyed snacking on my lunch upon the steps of the most gorgeous cathedral I have seen yet (and I have seen a lot of cathedrals!)

After a nice break in the sun, we entered into Christopher Wren's masterpiece,
St. Paul's Cathedral.
This was the first Protestant cathedral, and it was built to rival St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, a Catholic cathedral. Nothing was spared in the grandeur of this place. The dome is amazing. Dr. Bujak, my British Studies professor, explained during the tour that the cathedral does not have monarch or upper class people buried in it; instead, the common people who have contributed to society are honored. There are several war memorials and remembrances. In actuality, the cathedral has very little to do with God and more to do with representing the common people, especially those who have participated in war.

My favorite part of St. Paul's was ascending to the galleries. The whispering gallery is the first level of the dome. If you stand one side with a friend on the other you can whisper and talk to one another from across the dome! It does work (I tried it!). In the next gallery up you can go outside.
This was amazing. I am so happy that I got to see so much of London from such a great view. I saw the Tate Modern, the Millennium foot bridge, the Globe, and the London Eye all from atop St. Paul's.
As I have said several time, the weather was amazing, so my photos have lots of sun, of which I have been severely deprived.

After such a fun day I was sad to part with such a great group of people, but I had to make my way back to the Trafalgar Square to meet up with another group for an evening of fun.

Next stop was Abbey Road. I didn't know what this was (gasp!). Apparently, the Beatles had a very famous photo taken here in which they are crossing the street. I was expecting something to actually be there, but there was literally just a road with lots of cars. Tourist come from all over just to take a picture while they are crossing the road.
Cars must get awfully annoyed by all this craziness! Ironically, the cross walk was moved after the picture was taken, so there is no way to actually recreate the picture! I find that so funny that so many people go out of their way for only a photo. Of course we were one of those people. It was truly a stop in which you concluded by saying, "well, we've done that now!"

Back to the tube for a ride to dinner. Despite such a wonderful day of sun and good friends, the best part was yet to come. We saw WICKED! Yes, let me say it again. While I was in London I saw WICKED for the first time. This is a picture of the stage.
Before I get too much into the production, let me tell you about dinner because that was so good. We at close to the theatre at Wagamamas, a noodle bar. This is a chain that is well known, especially in London. It had lots of types of Oriental noodles. There is
ramen, udon, and kare noodles as well as dishes over rice. I had ginger chicken udon and it was awesome! Fairly cheap too :) It was a great start to a great night. After dinner we walk a block to the theater. I was nearly jumping up and down I was so excited to see this show.

We purchased these tickets about four weeks before the show. They were 20 pounds, which in London theatre pricing context that is cheap. We sat in the front section in row N on the left. Our view was very good! We could see everything on stage except our far left, and nothing really important happened back there anyway! This show was worth every penny and more. From the first note I had goosebumps. There voices were strong and their characters were perfect. I felt as if I were at a concert as well as a musical. My absolute favorite part was Defying Gravity. I was nearly in tears it was so good!!! The woman who played Elphaba was the the standby.
I think this is similar to an understudy although the program listed an understudy as well. I LOVED her performance. She was better than Idina Menzel, the woman on the original Broadway recording. If anyone out there ever goes to London, this is THE SHOW to see. I could go on for days describing the things I loved about the whole experience. I met a girl line to buy a program who said this was her eighth time seeing Wicked in London. She had every t-shirt they sold at the souvenir stand. People truly love this show.

After such an exhilarating day, what else could I possibly want to do? Cadbury Chocolate! After a long coach ride back to the manor and only four hours of sleep, I was back on the coach and off to Cadbury World and Birmingham just the next day. This was a school trip to the Cadbury factory and visitor's center. The whole exhibit explains the evolution of chocolate as well
as how Cadbury came to be formed. Don't be fooled, Cadbury chocolate is much more than just those creamy eggs. I really love their chocolate more than any other main stream chocolate I have had at home. The best thing I can compare the taste to is Dove Milk Chocolate. The Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate is so creamy and rich. They have several varieties. With a ticket to the somewhat cheesy exhibit you get two full size chocolate bars as well as one package of chocolate buttons and a curly worly! Additionally, at one point you get to choose from a variety of gummies, cereals and marshmallows to have warm liquid chocolate dumped on top!
It was so delicious!
I also got to write my name in chocolate on a marble slab!
After an extreme chocolate fix, the best way to finish up the day is to hit England's busiest shopping center, the Bullring (there were 36.5 million visitors in 2004!). I was so shocked at the amount of people in the center and around for a normal Saturday. One of my favorite British inventions is Primark. This is a clothing store that could be compared with Forever 21, but it is so much better since it is British! The store was absolutely jam packed from one end to the other. All the floors were filled with people. It was an experience just to see so many people doing a very common weekend activity: shopping. One swimsuit and three hours later, we left Birmingham (they don't completely pronounce the "ham." It is more like "um").

I was left with Sunday to recover from four straight weekends of travel and get control of the homework situation.

This coming weekend I am going to Munich, Germany. I will be gone from Wednesday afternoon until Sunday evening. I am sure I will have lots of great stories to tell from that trip. Munich will be my last big one until Italy (and you know what comes after that...)


  1. Jessie! I loved this post. Bob and I took middle school students to London for many years and your post reminded me of all that I loved in London. I have never done the Cadbury tour (eegads!) but you can be sure it will be on my list in the future. I am seeing Wicked on Broadway this summer (my nephew is in the show!) so I am excited even more so after reading your post!

    What comes after Italy?

  2. After Italy comes the best place of all:HOME! As much as I love it here, I will be so happy to walk off that plane!

    It is so hard to compare all the places I have been, but London perhaps is my favorite city so far. There is just so much to do. I am sure middle schoolers would LOVE it!

    That is awesome that your nephew is in the Broadway show! Good for him! As you can tell from my post, I absolutely loved Wicked. It was seriously some of the best theater I have ever seen. You will love it.

  3. WOW - I'm seriously surprised to hear how well you've been getting around Europe after reading your comment about being born IN THE 19TH CENTURY!! Perhaps you were born in the 20th?

    But really - sounds like you're having a good time. I would be tempted to have all my belongings packed up and shipped to me so I could just transplant my life permanently - especially in Paris. Will you have a chance to meet up with Cole while in Germany? That would be fun.

    Anxious to see you again, but wouldn't blame you for staying longer!

  4. I SAW WICKED THERE TOO!! but you had WAAAY better seats! I was in the balcony! I'm so jealous! Wasn't is fantastic!? what an experience!