“Thoughts About America While Walking the Perimeter of the Island” by Savannah McMenamin

Although this island is unique or peculiar to say the least, I can still, in a better way, compare it to America. When talking about systems and the way people live, I see better quality over here. I see the quality of not only the land but of the housing, the people, the work ethic, the food, the efforts put towards the personal and unique historical sites, and even the behavior of people’s dogs.

Everywhere you look, you can tell there is time and work put into things. The quarries, for example, that took who knows how many men to excavate. To cut, shape, and move these stones that easily must have weighed a ton each. And the training of dogs. They heel when the owner says heel, they sit when the owner says sit, and they give a paw when the owner says paw. All while making it seem like it was done with ease. Life in America, while being here, seems utterly complicated. People have great purpose and big jobs in America and that is ultimately what keeps them going. Here, though, it is the scenery, the nice weather, the need to eat, or simply the need to take your dog out for a walk that is the motivating factor. Although those tasks seem somewhat lame or boring, there is still purpose in them; a purpose that comes along with a lot less pressure.

Americans feel, and even I feel, I need to do so much, accomplish something big, make it somewhere far, when in reality, everything I need is right in front of me and I simply cannot see it. In America people WANT, want, want. Here, people understand that they HAVE, and that is a big factor of why America is run the way it is. People barely even stop to admire beautiful scenery, whether it be in the city or the suburbs. They have stopped caring about what is right in front of them and I feel are always looking to do or to have the next biggest and best thing available to them. Even though this island is beyond beautiful with views people would die for, I felt the same way in the city of London. There is a hustle and bustle, yet still I can see the presence of an appreciation for the city.

Americans say they are the best and that they have it all, yet I bet if they all stopped and looked around, they would quickly realize that is false. In America all people do is TALK about how they are the greatest, yet I see very little ACTION put towards statements like that. Americans are all talk while trying to do things in the cheapest and fastest way. I hope people all around the world learn that good things come with TIME and CARE… not just speed and efficiency.

 

Day 5: The British Museum and St. Paul’s Cathedral

The 5th day of our England trip began with excellent weather conditions in the morning. We decided to enjoy it more by taking a short city walking tour to the British Museum, our first destination of the day. The view of Regent’s Park as we went through on a sunny day was extraordinary. Excuse my inability to describe such gentle beauty, yet I have to say, although New Yorkers might be proud of having Central Park as their peaceful reserve in the metropolitan area, Regent’s Park does a better job fitting into the elegant atmosphere of Central London — maybe it is just my stereotype against the noisy and crowded aspect of Manhattan.

The visit to the British Museum was a little bit disappointing, from my personal point of view. The closure of exhibition rooms holding Chinese artifacts due to maintenance was a big bummer since I had a high expectations of seeing them. The theme exhibition about the Enlightenment also failed to surprise me; the imposing George III’s study was a lure, while the collection there seemed to lack a sense of consistency. But at least the exhibitions of British watercolor works and Mesopotamian artifacts were as good as expected.

What amazed me most today was the visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The sophisticated Baroque style interior conferred by reconstruction in the 17th century after the Great Fire of 1665, made St. Paul’s one of the most beautiful and magnificent churches I have ever seen. Climbing up hundreds of steps to the famous Whispering Gallery in the dome, I could easily see the complete view of the church. One interesting fact about Whispering Gallery is that the round wall was built so perfectly that one can hear the words from the person that is on the other side of the gallery as the voice traveled around the wall. Unfortunately, there were too visitors up there so our attempt was unsuccessful.

Attending Evensong service at St. Paul’s was a very unique experience. The purifying voice of the choir and the powerful biblical words from the minister was quite touching for me, leading me to more consideration about religions. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have never been a believer of any religion, though I always admire people that are able to repose their faith thoroughly in an ideology. Believers find nourishment for their soul and motivation for their physical existence through religious activities, while I am still bothered by the secular reasons that involve more empirical explanation of the world. But again, religion, just like science, philosophy, or other studies, started as an attempt to have deeper understanding about us and the surrounding world. The holy melodies presented here were just part of the results of such attempt.

Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? When I walked out of St. Paul’s Cathedral and looked up at the night sky, these most asked questions rose again in my mind, perhaps like what must have happened to those great prophets thousands of years ago. Certainly there are no universally accepted answers to these questions, yet religious services such as Evensong at least provide encouragement for confused souls and opens the door to a deeper reflection about human existence.

Day 3: Both Sides of the Thames by Wyeth Moyer

It’s our third day in London and we’re staying at a hostel that’s an old Victorian building the color of red brick. It’s called “Palmers Lodge” and though I’m staying in a room with eight other boys – all bunk beds – it’s a cool spot. Each morning there’s breakfast in the dining area on the bottom floor. Today I ate breakfast at 8:00am. I then went to the lobby, where I patiently waited for the rest of the group. Once assembled, we hit the streets and headed to the Underground train commonly referred to as “the Tube”, which is a very effective mode of transportation.

We saw the new building called “The Shard” from both sides of Thames River. It’s the largest building in Western Europe. It is meant to resemble a long shard of glass. It is sort of looks like the Freedom Tower in NYC but it tapers off into three sharp angled points at the top. We then walked across Tower Bridge to get to the Tower of London, one of the oldest structures and certainly the oldest fortress in England.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Inside, there is tons of old armor and weaponry from many different times ranging from 1000 AD to the present. There are quite a few features of the fortress, such as a mote, many gates to not only allow ships and men to come in, but also effectively keep men out who were not welcome. The Tower of London is also where we saw the Crown Jewels, which are the royal jewels that the royal family have worn for centuries. Since the Tower of London is a fortress, we were able to walk up the stairwells to the tower walls, where archers would post up to defend the fortress from invaders. We then got on a boat, to go down the river to Greenwich.

In Greenwich we climbed the tall hill to the Royal Observatory where the Prime Meridian line is located. We took pictures standing in two hemispheres and walked through the museum, which educates people on the history of navigation and the development of longitude. We ended the day eating at a nice restaurant called The Crusting Pipe, which was a mixed cuisine. I had heirloom tomato and buffalo mozzarella, seafood linguini, and I ordered potato gratin on the side, which never came. The other groups decided on Shake Shack and other quick things, but since Sam, Savannah, Chuan, Dong, Orlando and I like to treat ourselves, we had a long and delicious dinner while Aldredge and Lydia’s groups waited for us. We walked to the Tube after dinner, and got off at Swiss Cottage. Back to the hostel, sleepy but restless, tired but ready for another day.

– Wyeth Moyer

Day 1: Arrived in London

After a long bus trip, a long wait at JFK and a long flight we arrived on time at Heathrow Airport. After a quick train to Paddington Station we arrived at our hostel Palmers Lodge Swiss Cottage. After dropping our luggage we headed out to explore London! We took the Tube (London Underground) to Westminster and saw the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and explored Westminster Abbey. The Abbey has been the coronation church since 1066 and is the final resting place of seventeen monarchs. The present church, begun by Henry III in 1245, is one of the most important Gothic buildings in the country, with the medieval shrine of an Anglo-Saxon saint still at its heart. As a light rain began to fall, we all felt super tired from the overnight flight so we headed back to the hostel for a hot shower, a great meal at a Japanese restaurant Wagamama and then a well deserved sleep.

Leo in front of Palmers Lodge, our home until Sunday.

Leo in front of Palmers Lodge, our home until Sunday.

Waiting to enter Westminster Abbey

Waiting to enter Westminster Abbey

On Westminster Bridge.

On Westminster Bridge.

Tired after the redeye flight and walking all day.

Tired after the redeye flight and walking all day.

Westminster Abbey  gargoyle.

Westminster Abbey gargoyle.

In a world dominated by sound bites, media blitzes, and digital instruments with the latest app, the sensory-inundated person loses sight of the beauty of nature and the shared common heritage of a good walk through a beautiful landscape. For this trip, we slow down and observe, breathe, and savor the scents and sights of a region that both nourishes the senses and inspires the imagination. Students explore the changing urban environment of modern London and juxtapose the sensory-numbing experience of an ancient and modern city with the immense stillness and pristine vistas of walking along some of the most dramatic sea cliffs in the world. In the words of Harvard Professor of Landscape History John Stilgoe, “Get out now. Go outside, move deliberately, then relax, slow down, look around. Pay attention to everything. Walk. Stroll. Saunter. Go outside and walk a bit, long enough to forget programming, long enough to take in and record new surroundings. Flex the mind, a little at first, then a lot. Savor something special. All of it is free for the taking, for the taking in. Take it, take it in, take in more every weekend, every day, and quickly it becomes the theater that intrigues, relaxes, fascinates, seduces, and above all expands any mind focused on it. Outside lies utterly ordinary space open to any casual explorer willing to find the extraordinary. Outside lies unprogrammed awareness that at times becomes directed serendipity. Outside lies magic” (Outside Lies Magic, 1998).