Week one of our Greenwich study abroad trip was aptly themed “First and Second Impressions of the City.” Though jet-lagged and still accustoming to the ways of the English, we had a fairly active, busy week, touring the city and familiarizing ourselves with the mythology and history of London.
It all started with a tour on a curious vehicle called a “Duck,” which is a car that literally drove right into the river to double as a boat. This “Duck Tour” was an awesome way to start off the trip, as we got to see all the major sights — Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Downing Street, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace — as well as a few war memorials, statues, parks, and museums.
Throughout the rest of the week, we visited a few historic places and a few artifacts that play into the “mythology” of London. All the while, we were reading texts directly connected to these locations/objects, which was an amazing way to immerse ourselves in London history and literature.
Our first stop was the Soane Museum, located in the house of architect John Soane. Soane owned a vast collection of invaluable historical artifacts that relate to the history of London and to the world, including an Egyptian sarcophagus. I was almost afraid to walk around for fear of bumping into something and breaking it — that’s how crammed full of history the house was! We also toured the house of Dr. Samuel Johnson, the man behind the first standardized English dictionary, published in 1755. The Johnson House was particularly cool because its wooden ceiling beams were original, and were still blackened and charred from WWII bombings. Inside, we learned about Johnson’s life, works, and process for writing the dictionary.
The next day was one of my favorites. We walked around Westminster, and stood “Upon Westminster Bridge” to hear our professor read William Wordsworth’s poem with the same title. It was a cool, surreal moment, and even above the hustle and bustle of the surrounding streets, we could picture the idyllic world that Wordsworth so famously described. When we finally tore ourselves away from the bridge, we headed to the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square.
On the Fourth of July (shockingly, not a huge holiday in the UK), we headed out to visit “mythological” sites in the city. We began by going underground to take a walk through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, an eerie, cold tunnel that dips right under the Thames. We then traveled down Fleet Street, a road that follows the path of the now-undergroud River Fleet. We also stopped to visit the ancient London Stone, an artifact that goes with the legend, “So long as the stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish.” The stone is, in fact, safe — although it is a bit obscured in the window of a seemingly random building near Victoria Station. Hopefully Brutus (not the Buckeye, but rather the mythological founder of Londinium) doesn’t mind.
Rounding out week one was a trip to the Museum of London, preceded by a quick stop at the London Wall, built by the Romans to surround and protect the ancient city of Londinium.
It was an incredible start to an incredible trip, and we certainly racked up major London mileage on our tired feet. We learned a great deal about the city’s history and mythology, and got to see first-hand how those mythologies are still prevalent in London today.