We have come to the end of this blog and begin our journey home tomorrow. Our last day was spent exploring Edinburgh Castle, The Royal Mile, St. Mary’s Close and celebrating three birthdays! Our students’ cheer, good spirits and sense of discovery has buoyed us and allowed us to relive our initial excitement about this country through their eyes. We are grateful to have shared this time with them.
– Elizabeth Cleary and Stephen Stout
Today was our last full day in the UK, and to be honest, I don’t know what to think of it. It will hit me eventually, but I know it’s going to be very strange once we’re all back in The United States. Being in a different country is an experience not many people are able to have, and traveling throughout the UK with my closest friends and teachers from school was an experience like no other that I could have with my family. Hanging out with friends in our rooms and traveling through the UK is something that will most likely never happen again, and I know that I’ll cherish the experience. Our final dinner in The Olive Branch in the New Town of Edinburgh was a sad yet exciting experience. This was because of the fact that we were leaving behind a great country and great memories, but we were also excited to be celebrating the birthdays of Natalie, Stefan and Stephanie; Stefan and Natalie for tomorrow, and Stephanie for our first day of the trip on the 17th. While on the plane from Heathrow to JFK, I know it will be sad to look back at the place where we had memories filled with speedy walking, amazing experiences with friends and, of course, the rain.
It’s interesting to think that someone will actually read my work, so often as a student my writing is read by a teacher and really no one else. It is unthinkable that someone other than a teacher will read it. It is also interesting to consider the fact that while I’m writing this at 9:20 on the 27th of June, you could be reading this at any time, even more so as it is going on the Internet. It’s interesting to ponder the infinity of the written word. That, these letters will stand as a testament to us long after they have served their purpose of momentary entertainment. I think this is the humanities’ greatest contribution to the cosmos. Earlier on the trip we almost visited a copyright library in Oxford. It makes me think that even after the last man or woman is gone from the universe those books will still survive to tell of what we were and how wonderful that is.
-Andrew Allison-Godfrey 🙂
A Celebration of three birthdays at our Farewell Dinner
As the trip winds down to a close, we recognize that theater has been a very large and significant part of the trip’s itinerary. Upon seeing “The Cherry Orchard,” we found that Russian society was portrayed in a highly interesting fashion through the struggle of a 19th century family that owned the cherry orchard. Moreover, we had the opportunity to be groundlings at The Globe Theatre, as we saw “Much Ado About Nothing,” a Shakespearian comedy. We were extremely entertained by the audience participation that the actors required in order to put on a successful show. As groundlings, we not only experienced the influence of watching a performance in the rain while standing, but we also felt more connected to the plot, the actors and thus the play as the whole. Further, we saw a production of “Macbeth,” a Shakespearian tragedy, in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare. We found that the director and actors of the tragedy took numerous liberties with the script as they altered the order of events in the play and the characters’ traits. Still, they successfully presented a thrilling recount of the famous tragedy. On a slightly happier note, we saw an English comedy entitled “Noises Off” most recently. This play, which we found to be the most riveting and humorous, was set in a 1980s theater, showing the lives of actors both onstage and backstage while preparing and performing a show. As the opportunity to see this show offered an extremely comical recount of show production, the group agreed that the show was the most entertaining because of the classic British humor.
In general, we found that English audiences differed from audiences in the United States. We saw that English audiences did not award any of the actors standing ovations, which almost seems to be common practice in American theaters, even though the shows were just as well received here in England. Also, we found that the audiences maintained, in general, more respect for the actors performing onstage and refrained from cheering and hollering during the performance, more so than in America. While people act differently in the theater here in the UK as people do in America, all of the productions that we have seen have been astounding and we enjoyed ever minute of the performances.
– Katie and Peter
At this point in our trip around the UK, we have seen a total of four plays, all of which were in England. As you may have already read on our blog, we began our trip with a performance of Anton Chekov’s play The Cherry Orchard. Despite our fatigue that day (having come straight off the plane) we were all riveted by the story that unwound before us as the actors showed us a snapshot in the lives of a poor, but aristocratic Russian family. Themes of change, social class, and family presented themselves throughout the play, which we were all able to pick up on, even in our state of exhaustion, due to the talent of the actors. I was told that this play is comedy, but it seemed rather dark in my opinion.
Just a few days later, we found ourselves at the legendary Globe Theater as we watched a performance of Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing as groundlings. Watching a play at the Globe was a much more interactive experience than sitting in comfortable seats of the National. At the Globe we felt that the actors were talking much more to us than to each other, and we loved the feeling of being almost a part of the play as actors walked amongst the audience and acknowledged our presence. The actors completely embodied their characters as they made us laugh throughout.
Our third play was a production of Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Theater in Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford upon Avon. Some of us had read the play before, others had seen it performed previously, and others of us had no previous knowledge of the play, but we all had a strong reaction to the performance. While we all agreed that the set was incredible and the music complimented the performance, there were mixed reactions on the acting and liberties taken with the text. Certain characters were changed in some way, such as the witches who become small and very creepy children, and certain sections of dialogue were moved around or cut out, such as the opening scene with the witches. Despite all this, the play certainly left a lasting impression on all of us.
Finally, just the other night we saw a play called Noises Off, which most of us had never seen before. It was a comedy that followed a theater company as they struggled to get through a performance of a (fictional) play call Nothing On. It was the third comedy we saw, and we all found it absolutely hysterical.
Based on our theater going here in the UK, we have all observed that audiences here tend to dress more formally than most people would back in the U.S. and they also seem more composed both during and at the end of a performance. At the performance of The Cherry Orchard we all felt underdressed and ashamed of our sleepiness, so we quickly observed how to properly dress and react at the theater. Although we probably still stood out at each performance, we have all thoroughly enjoyed the performances and loved our time here.
Q: In what way is the landscape of the UK different from the one in which we live? What does it tell you about the people who live here?
I was lucky enough to have gone with GFA to the United Kingdom back in 2008 after my freshman year. Yet, this year’s trip differs greatly in a number of ways. This year we have spent more time in Wales than the trip three years ago spent. Throughout our time in Wales, the beauty of the Welsh landscape has amazed me. Yesterday we visited the grave of a famous Welsh dog where we “frolicked” through buttercup-filled fields surrounded by large mountains. The spot was truly spectacular not only for its appearance but also because it was so different and removed from what we all know. It was both beautiful and powerful and almost everyone in the group was reluctant to leave (we were all busy running through the fields and taking in the landscape). I also have been incredibly impressed with the Welsh buildings that we have seen. Today we visited a Welsh castle called Caernarfon Castle and a few days ago we saw Tintern Abbey. We visited Tintern Abbey in 2008 and I was so excited to visit again. I was not disappointed. In my eyes, Tintern Abbey, Caernarfon Castle, and the dog’s grave have a similar effect where the history of the location and the location itself move you so much that you never want to leave the spot. I am so glad we have spent the time we have in Wales and am excited to see what comes next.
The buildings we pass, both planned and those we manage to catch a glimpse of out a bus window have a lasting impact. The trip we took to the ruins of great places such as Tintern Abbey and Caernafon Castle truly gave us insight to what life in Wales and England had been like. The beauty present in just the remnants of stone and wood had a personality of its own. Tintern Abbey was merely a skeleton of its former glory, yet still provided us with a view of the past. Though slightly eerie and ghostlike, the building contrasted what we have come to know back home. Instead of being torn down or destroyed completely, the fragments that remain are preserved and almost idolized. After previously scouting out the landscape with a small group and Mr. Stout on a short hike the night before, I was incredibly amazing to see the castle and bustling city that surrounded it literally in a new light. The hill we climbed gave us an amazing view of the setting sun, the water, and all the life around us while the other half of us took a walk among the life around us as they explored the city. Caernafon Castle was similar in the sense that its simple stone walls and staircases that were built merely for functionality now carry stories and a type of beauty. The castle grounds were amazing and well kept while the views from the towers absolutely took my breath away (and that wasn’t just because of all the steps we climbed to reach that height). From there, you could see what a guard or even a princess would have seen from their ancient home. Being near the water today was also a nice contrast to the harsh stone walls. Surrounded by an ocean that is constantly changing as tides come in and out, we took a picture and got to experience the juxtaposition of new and old. After much pretending to be a princess (yes, that I how I spent my time in the towers), we left the castle for the road. Throughout all the driving done on this trip, there is never a boring sight. On either side of the bus, we can see grassy pastures, majestic mountains and plenty of fluffy sheep. We were even told by our driver guide Fergie, that if you see seven white horses, the next person you meet would be the love of your life. The amazing thing about this trip and the land we are going through is how impressive and active it is. Even up on the highest and most remote mountain peak, one can see a small white dot that can only be recognized as a lone sheep exploring the top of its world. The landscape around Wales and England has shaped the development of these places as well as the people. Each sight we see is a “blast to the past” as we temporarily become those of ancient times. It is a beautiful sight to see and be a part of, and I am glad I am here to experience it.
The Ramblings of a crazy heckler (unedited and uncensured addition)
I would like to tell ya all Of a wives tale of the GFA clan, and don’t worry, there is no profanity in this, Ms. Cleary always like titles that catch the attention of the reader. My other title choices were “go America”, “FREEDOM! The musical ( Braveheart reference hint hint), or just “Oh my god, England is like totally awesome? Valley Girl addition”, but none of those were catchy enough. Now being serious, In all honesty, Wales seems to be one of a kind. Truly the landscape is almost indescribable in how pretty it is (however I will try to give some detail), but Wales does share common and different features of Connecticut. For example, they both have a wonderful view of the coastline, have a similar cravings in Subways and KFCs (yes the restaurants have the same design and all that, if you were wondering *cough* mom *cough*, however I am struggling to figure out how do they have $5 foot longs if they use the metric system?), and a lot of hills where you can look out in the distances and see miles away of trees and grass. However, Wales has a wee bit of more room than CT has, meaning that there are countless farms, Mountains… And sheep, and I mean A LOT of sheep! (funny story actually on the side on this blog, yesterday we saw a sheep fall down the mountain when it woke up from it’s nap, even though the sheep survived the gruesome 3 foot roll down the hill, I fear it’s ego was torn to shreds by the laughter of American tourists I mean, that’s shear terror!) the climate is nice… Mostly starts with a sunny morning rain then sun… Then rain again, then sun then night… And you guessed it… Rain again. Now what was I going to say next, oh, everyone is having a great time and all is well. Now some of the readers might be confused as to why I didn’t write in great hexameters about our “epic-ness” while singing and dancing and and playing a lute of our deeds and accomplishments like a bard, or just that I didn’t really include too many details on what we did or where we went. The reason is that I had a great trip without a doubt in my mind, but everyone experienced this trip differently so to truly know what happens here is to hear the tale of what happened is to hear your son or daughter (along with other children) Tell you what they think happened on the trip. Hope everything is fine over there and we’ll be back in the US to tell you all about the trip before you know it.
This was a trip I will never forget and I will miss GFA,
This morning we left our small but charming Ivy Bush Royal Hotel in Carmarthen, Wales to set off on a journey the Welsh town of Haye-on-Wye. Though it was a long drive, we were mystified by the serene beauty of the fields, hills, and scattered sheep on the hills of Wales. When we entered the town of Hay-on-Wye, everyone set off to visit the many used book shops lining the main street. The town itself has over 30 used book stores with some of the books dating back to the 1700’s. Everyone thought both the town and the shops were beautiful. Even though we had 3 hours to explore the town, we could have stayed the entire day. After, reluctantly, setting out to Stratford-upon-Avon, we headed once more through the countryside. We ended up at Shakespeare’s grave in his hometown church. This stop was quite the spectacle, full of tourists not only to see Shakespeare’s grave but also his loved ones buried around him. After checking into our hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon and “gussying up” we headed to the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Theatre) where we sat in the dress circle “up in heaven” to watch Macbeth. The production sparked great controversy and lively discussion followed from all of us about the director’s artistic vision. One thing that struck most of the group was that the “Weird Sisters” (the witches in the play) were portrayed as spooky and adorable children, entering as they hung from the rafters (take that as you will). It was an eventful performance and enjoyable to all. We are having a great time, and can’t wait for tomorrow. YAY UK 2011!
Yesterday, after two long days full of walking, we travelled by train to the city of Oxford. We visited several of the thirty-eight colleges in Oxford taking many pictures of the beautiful architecture. We were also able to visit two locations where they filmed scenes from the “Harry Potter” films including “The Sorcerers Stone” and “The Goblet of Fire”. From there, we went punting (being chauffeured on a flat bottom boat down a river). While on the boat, we constantly took pictures of ducks, which followed us everywhere. After punting, we travelled by train back to London where we then had dinner at a Turkish restaurant. After we finished eating, we ended our day with a performance of “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Globe Theatre. The performance was spectacular, and even though many of us had aching feet from all of the walking we had been doing, standing as groundlings at the theatre was truly an experience to remember.
– Lauren and Kristen
Today, we began our journey to Wales with our Scottish driver Fergie. After a few hours of catching up on sleep, we went to the ruins of Tintern Abby where we lunched and read a poem by William Wordsworth that he wrote atop the hill overlooking the Abbey. This was followed by some more driving until we finally reached the place that was the highlight of the day for many: Dylan Thomas’ boathouse in Laugharne. We walked along a cliff and saw the estuary and distant hills that inspired so many of Thomas’ works. After touring the actual boathouse where he lived, we went to a marsh to read two of his poems, including the famous “Fern Hill”, which he wrote at his boathouse. Our afternoon concluded by visiting Dylan Thomas’ grave and taking a walk after checking into our hotel. Soon we will cap off the day with a nice dinner at our hotel, The Ivy Bush.
This evening, after several of us had taken a lovely walk through the town surrounding The Ivy Bush, we took to dinner all together. While leaving the dining hall, we heard a soft but lovely sound wafting through the corridor. Curiosity overwhelmed the entire group, so we wandered down the hallway to find a set of double doors and a room filled with people. At the front of the room we saw a group of men dressed in tuxedos, producing one of the loveliest sounds I think I’ve ever encountered. We parked ourselves in the hallway, hoping to catch a few songs, but unfortunately someone shut the doors on us and we were not able to hear anything. After returning to the lobby area disappointed that we would not be able to hear the beautiful music, we commenced some games in which we had to define various British terms that Mr. Stout had accumulated throughout the course of our trip. To our delight, the men that we had heard singing down the hall came to the lobby to find us. They told us that they wanted to sing for us and were sorry that we had not been able to hear the tail end of their performance. Overjoyed, we gathered around in chairs and on the floor to listen to their music. They were absolutely stunning, to say the least. They sang a Welsh hymn, with English words, as well as a beautiful tune, which regretfully I don’t know many details about. After chatting with the members of their group for a bit after their impromptu performance, we thought it might be a good idea to return the favor. 5 Harbor Blues gathered to come up with a song that we might sing for them in return. Lauren and Kristen Muller, Siena D’Addario, Radhika Mattoo, and I chose to sing I’ve Just Seen a Face by the Beatles, as well as Put Your Records On by Corrine Bailey Rae. Although slightly handicapped due to our small number, we got an encouraging response from the group and the various audience members from their performance who chose to stay and listen. The experience was incredible because it was quite literally an international music exchange, and for many of us, the highlight of the evening.
Tonight we attended a rousing performance of Much Ado About Nothing at the New Globe on the banks of the Thames river. Wonderful music and acting interrupted only by a bit of English rain made it a memorable evening. We head to Wales early tomorrow. More soon!
Today was quite the entertaining day for us students. We started our day with a tour of the lavish Royal Albert Hall where many artists have performed. Many performers have been through there throughout the years, such as The Beatles, Cirque Du Soleil and the world’s best orchestras. Then we walked through Hyde Park to Speaker’s Corner where many people of all nationalities publicly voiced their opinions about just about all you could think of. Some could be called radicals others revolutionary. One speaker in particular articulated that we, regardless of religion or nationality, are all the same. We then had a lovely picnic in the very same park. Soon after we went to Covent Garden where many Buskers (street performers), toy stores and vendors operated. There we had free time to explore the area and see all that appeared in this area of London. After we left that area we went to No. 10 Downing St. where the Prime Minister lives. Continuing that path led us to Westminster Abbey where a beautiful ceremony was held. Later we had fish and chips (chicken as well) to end this wonderful day. Happy Father’s Day to all!
We spent a busy first day with a backstage tour at the National Theater and a spectacular production of The Cherry Orchard. After a check in at our hotel we were back out to Home House for an elegant dinner courtesy of the D’Addario family. All are settled in for a well deserved rest. More photos and words tomorrow from the students!