In This Space
Every January for Intersession, Professor Richard Easton of the Department of English leads students on a fascinating trip "across the pond" to London. An English course, the trip revolves around theatre, which is one of London's most famous assets.
The trip to London is W&J's oldest Intersession trip, dating back to 1972. The professor leading the trip then was Professor Peter Skutches, who retired later in the decade to live in London. His successor William Hudgins of the Music Department led the trip until 1986, when he took Mr. Easton with him.
Mr. Easton, along with his wife and W&J alum, Patti, has led the trip ever since, and this year will be his 25th trip. London Theater is one of few W&J Intersession abroad trips that have gone every year.
"The trip has always involved about a dozen plays, from the Elizabethan era to modern works, and at least one musical," Mr. Easton explains. He describes the trip as "a survey of drama featuring the best plays in town, from the Royal Shakespeare Company to the West End." Students also have the opportunity to see a play or two of their choice.
For 15 years, London Theater groups have stayed at the Thistle Euston hotel, located near Euston Station. Mr. Easton describes it as a "small, comfortable, businesslike hotel" which has treated students very well, catering to all their needs. Every morning students are served a large buffet breakfast at the hotel's restaurant.
Evening meals consist of three courses at numerous restaurants throughout London, typically in formal settings and with varied cuisines, including Italian, Indian, and Lebanese.
London is the capital city of the United Kingdom, located in the country's southeastern corner at the River Thames. The former Roman outpost is now one of the world's major financial centers and an important cultural center. The city is made of the ancient City of London and the area of Greater London, consisting of the 32 London boroughs. Over 7.5 million people live in the entire city. It is one of the world's most diverse cities, being home to hundreds of ethnic groups, notably Italian, African, South Asian, Chinese, and Caribbean. It is no surprise why some call London "the world in one city."
London is deeply endowed with numerous historic and cultural sites. During the time London Theater students are here, they will get to see many interesting places: the British Museum, Buckingham Palace, the Globe Theater, Greenwich, the Houses of Parliament, the Imperial War Museum, the London Eye, the National Gallery, Piccadilly Circus, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tate Britain, the Tate Modern, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, and more. The famous London Underground, or "Tube," is without a doubt the best way to get around the city. Some groups in the past have visited Hampton Court, Bath, Cambridge, Windsor Castle, and St. Albans, all within 150 miles of central London. On some trips students have visited Paris during Mr. Easton's scheduled "free weekend."
The Tower of London is one of many important historic sites in the city. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it lies to the east of the City of London, straddling the River Thames. The heavily walled complex's centerpiece is the 90-foot-high White Tower, which for a long time was the tallest building in London. The Tower is an ancient structure dating back to 1066, the Norman conquest of England. Throughout its history, the Tower served as a royal residence, armory, menagerie, and treasury and it still houses the royal Crown Jewels. However, the Tower is probably best known as a prison; the phrase "sent to the Tower" became well known during the era of the Tudors. Some of the most well-known inhabitants include explorer Walter Raleigh, Henry VIII's wife Anne Boleyn, criminal Guy Fawkes, "Bloody" Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Edward VI. Today, the Tower is one of London's top tourist attractions, the Crown Jewels and the armory being the main sites of interest. The Yeomen Warders, the "Beefeaters," remain the ceremonial guards of the Tower of London, but today mainly conduct tours of the complex. Having been guards at the Tower since 1485, they consist of 35 "Beefeaters" and one leader, the Chief Warder. Also unique to the Tower are the ravens. An old folk belief predicts that if the ravens leave the Tower, the British monarchy will collapse.
First-Person Narrative: My London Experience
Mr. Easton's trip to London in January 2008 was the second time I visited the British capital. I had gone with my parents before. When I came to W&J, I knew at some point that I wanted to go again. Mr. Easton, having known me since I was little, was happy to have me on board for the next trip. I was excited to see London's major historic sites and museums as well as the theatre, which is the basis for every trip. Each of us students were assigned to do a report on one of the plays we were going to see. Owing to my interest in Russia, I chose to do Anton Chekhov's The Seagull. I enjoyed the performance, while most other students found it pretty boring. However, a lot of the other plays were quite enjoyable. Also, one Saturday, I went to see a very well-done two-part production of Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby.
Academic obligations aside, I loved seeing the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and the Globe Theater (just a tour, plays are only held here in summer), among other places. However, we were also treated to a session of the House of Lords at Parliament. It was the first-ever session of a national legislative body that I attended. I was also astounded at how ornate Parliament is from the inside, just as much as the outside. Then there was the boat trip to Greenwich along the Thames, in which our group got superb views of Parliament, the London Eye, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tower, and Tower Bridge.
Another thing I liked about my trip was meeting new people. I barely knew most of the other 22 students who traveled with me to London. But by trip's end, I was very happy to have be part of the experience with other 19-, 20-, and 21-year-olds.
The food in London was excellent, something typical of a major world city. But there was one piece of food I tried and will never eat again: chicken paté! I remember it tasting quite odd and feeling like rubber.
So, You'd Like to go across the Pond? Bloody Brilliant!
If you want to participate in this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience, it is imperative that you see Mr. Easton during the spring semester, preferably April. The trip has a tendency to fill up FAST! Usually, professors who plan to travel over Intersession will post ads or hold meetings for interested students. Mr. Easton likes students to approach him and express interest in the London trip, and he'll typically show pictures from past trips on his computer so future participants get an idea of what they'll do and see there. Again, plan in advance, and if you don't have a passport, get one!! It's simple!
Once you're in London, take this piece of advice: don't get tired of the city, because if you do, as the famous 18th-century British writer Samuel Johnson says, you'll also be tired of life!
Photos courtesy of Alex Mason.
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