Saturday, 25 July 2009

Friday, July 24

It was a busy morning in London! I caught up on classwork then headed to the local Waterloo library branch. A program was scheduled for the morning and I hoped to meet with the children's librarian. Unfortunately, the program had been cancelled but a kindly librarian gave me the contact information for the librarian who circulates throughout the branches and is in charge of children's programming. I hope to meet with her after the return from our mini-break to Paris.

I grabbed a train to Kingston and was picked up at the station there by my friend Jenny. We ate a quick lunch then headed out to the local mall. It was pouring rain so it was nice to be able to shop indoors. We found lots of goodies and took advantage of the big Summer sales. Later we met Jenny's mom for a drink and finished up our day of shopping. We ended the evening with a delightful meal on the patio at the local pub, the Rose and Crown. It was a lovely day, especially nice since it was spent with such dear, longtime friends.

Thursday, July 23

Exterior of the Bodleian

We jumped on the train this morning for a visit to picturesque Oxford. We were met by a delightful tour guide, Mr. David East. He was full of great information about Oxford and specifically the Bodleian Library. Our first stop was Duke Humfrey's library which was completed in 1488 and designed to hold the gift of 281 volumes from his personal library that he donated to the college. Sir Thomas Bodley became the next patron of the library at Oxford and in 1598 donated funds to refurbish the library. The Bodleian has been a repository library since 1610 and holds over 9 million bibliographic packages. The library houses such treasures as a first edition of Shakespeare's sonnets, four original copies (with seals intact) of the Magna Carta, a 42 line Gutenberg bible, and an Egyptian marriage contract written on papyrus dating from 527 B. C.

Mr. East took us on a wonderful tour of "behind the scenes" of the library. We saw the underground stacks with their book-moving system and snaked through a tunnel which ended up linking us to the New Bodleian the Radcliffe Camera. We learned that the D-Day invasion was planned in the Radcliffe building Upper Reading Room. Unfortunately this room was under refurbishment and we unable to visit it. The New Bodleian is undergoing renovations and will be unveiled in the new and improved form in 2012.

Several of us strolled through the streets of Oxford and found a great little noodle bar for lunch. We sat next to a nice couple from Mexico City and chatted with them about lots of interesting things including the outbreak of Swine Flu in the U.K. The gentleman was an immunologist and provided much for us to consider and reminded us of the importance of hand sanitizer!
We strolled up the High Street and stopped to purchase sweatshirts and mementos of our day in Oxford. Plans to visit and tour the Oxford Castle were dashed when we found that the remaining tours were booked for the day. Jessica, Christina and I boarded a train back to Waterloo and home to Stamford Street.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Wednesday, July 22

Spent the morning catching up on coursework before heading to the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. Always a favorite of mine, this museum has only gotten better in the years since my last visit. The beautiful interior courtyard now boasts several shallow pools which attract many families with small children who like to splash and wade around them on a sunny day.

We were met by Jen Reeves, a librarian who specializes in Collection Development and Acquisitions for the V & A library. She took us on a wonderful tour of this closed access library, showing us both the public spaces and those areas off limits to everyone but the staff (and a lucky bunch of future librarians!). The focus of this library is art and design and accordingly the V & A has an amazing collection of books and journals relating to this topic. The library also treats books as "museum objects" and maintains an international focus with a specific interest on collecting within the European sphere. It was interesting to note the collection of sales catalogs from auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's. Ms. Reeves indicated that these generate great interest and are often used by collectors and other interested parties in determining provenance and prices previously fetched at auction. The collection contains over 2 million items and is, in the words of Ms. Reeves, "growing daily".

After our tour we were greeted by Ms. Bernadette Archer who shared with us a number of rare and even priceless objects from the Special Collections of the V & A. She spoke briefly about the treasures that lay before us and then allowed us a closer look at what lay before. The goodies included a poem by Keats written in his own hand, a proof copy of Dickens's Bleak House with correction and annotations in his hand, an armorial book featuring a fine leather binding tooled in gold, and a collection of letters written by Charles I written in his hand and addressed to his nephew.

It amazes me that in just the space of a few days I have been lucky enough to see three First Folios ! We have been a fortunate group of students and are all especially appreciative for these wonderful opportunities.

The day ended with a yummy meal along the banks of the Thames and the Queens' Walk. We were able to miss the showers both coming and going and it was agreed that a great day was had by all!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Tuesday, July 21

We began our day with a trip to the British Museum via the St. Pancras station, where we visited Platform 9 3/4. It was fun to see the spot where Harry Potter gained access to the train platform. No one from our class had any luck, however, in getting their own trolley onto the platform! We then strolled through the neighborhood and stopped in front of the home of Charles Dickens for a photo op.

The British Museum was as fabulous (but more crowded) than I remembered from my last visit. We were allowed to roam throughout the museum and I quickly sought out all of my old favorites. The mummies and treasures from Egypt, the Rosetta Stone, the Sutton Hoo treasure, statues from Easter Island, the huge statue of Ramses the Great, and the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon were just a few of the highlights. We also viewed a mosaic considered to be the earliest representation of Christ and the Flood Tablet, a cuneiform tablet which is inscribed with a portion of the tale of Gilgamesh. The museum was a wonder and a treat for us all and someplace we all hope to visit again soon.
Later that evening a group of us ventured over to Tottenham Court Road to the Odeon Theatre to see the latest Harry Potter movie. It was fun to be in London and see places that we have visited be a part of the HP saga. The Millennium Bridge which is close to our dorm was featured in one part of the film as were tube stations and streets that looked familiar. It made for a late, but fun, night!

Monday, July 20

Back into Waterloo Station after a quick train ride from the country.

Time to catch up on class work and to visit the Imperial War Museum again. I had thought of our family friend Arthur (now age 89) often as I had first toured the museum. He served in World War II with Montgomery and had landed on the beach with the second wave during D-Day. When we met for lunch on Sunday I mentioned my museum visit to Arthur and we talked some about the exhibits at the museum and the war in general. He then shared some of his experiences with us, telling about how his unit was mobilized for D Day, about serving in the desert for 3 years, remembering the day he enlisted, plus more. Irene, his wife, lived in London during the war and her stories about air raids, rationing, and being sent to the country to live with another family all made the war experience much more significant. Hearing the stories of people who lived through and served in the war made my trip to the museum much more real and tangible.

On this visit I experienced the Blitz in a recreation of the nightly bombings of the city. Scary and daunting and more significant since I had just talked to Irene who had lived through the experience. I headed upstairs to visit the Holocaust exhibit. Words can't do justice to this except to say how powerful and sobering an experience it was.

My daughter and I have often spoken of her desire to be a photojournalist and the power in the picture. Visiting this museum reaffirmed how much can be said through the lens of a camera. I look forward to hearing my daughter's comments and thoughts about this after she views the photos on display.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Saturday and Sunday, July 18 and 19

The delicious chocolate/orange/almond bombe from Konditor and Cook!

Saturday dawned bright after a rainy day in Stratford. Spent the morning running errands and picked up this yummy cake at the local bakery Konditor and Cook. This picture doesn't do justice to how beautiful it was on the outside and how yummy it was on the inside! All that aside, the cake was a big hit with everyone and I will make another foray to K and C very soon!

Later that afternoon my dear friends of many years picked me up at Stamford Street and we headed out to their lovely home in the country. It was a treat to visit with them and catch up since our last visit nine years ago. We watched Frost and Nixon and had a lovely, quiet evening.

On Sunday we drove to the pub for lunch and met more friends there. We were right on the river and had a great view of the Dragon Boat races.

Friday, July 17

We all boarded the bus for a day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon. Everyone seemed to be ready for a break from the hustle and bustle of life in London and the quiet 2+ hour trip came at just the right time.

After lunch we made a visit to the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive where we were greeted by the friendly and effusive staff. Our tour guide Maddie was full of information and anecdotes about this fabulous facility. The library and archives were opened in 1864 and the first librarian was hired in 1873. The collection continues to grow rapidly and is replete with numerous treasures. The library houses the memorabilia of the Royal Shakespeare Company including prompt books, costume and design sketches and plans, video and audio recordings and much more. As Maddie said the collection is "enormous" in that it also includes 250,000+ photographs. The library also houses the local collection and including tax and government records and genealogical information.

After a brief tour we met with Jo Wilding of the Centre in the upstairs conference room. It was a treat to peek at the numerous pieces of Shakespeare memorabilia which she had laid out for us to peruse. These goodies included playbills, costume sketches, photographs, and several beautiful leather bound volumes to which Shakespeare may have referred during his period of writing. The biggest treat was the up close viewing of another First Folio! To see one of these treasures is a privilege, but to see two in as many days was a special treat.,%20England%20--%20Public%20library.jpg

We exited the library to gray skies and drizzle so I sought out the local public library for some research. This Carnegie Library was built in 1905 and serves as the "major library for Warwickshire" as explained by Jan Dawson, a specialist in reader development with the library. Ms. Dawson spoke with me about events for children especially the "Dragon Quest" Summer reading program. I found loads of good info for my research paper and headed out as they closed for the day.

Christina, Jessica and I met on the High Street and walked down to the restaurant Oppo for dinner before the theatre. We had a yummy meal in half-timbered surroundings and ended our dinner with a delicious treat of sticky toffee pudding!

The RSC was performing "As You Like It" and our seats on the balcolny provided us a wonderful view of the action. The performance was interesting and stirring but I would have voted to eliminate the skinning of the rabbit that started the action in Act 2!

The bus carried us back home and we arrived, after a long and fruitful day, at 1:30 a.m.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Thursday, July 16

Our morning began with a tour of the British Library. The charming and entertaining Mr.Kevin Mehmet, one of the Library staff, showed us around this wonderful and relatively new (opened in 1998) facility. I think it is safe to say that we as librarians love the "behind the scenes" view of a library , and this was especially true for the British Library. Mr. Mehmet shared information and statistics with us as he showed us the hidden workings of this enormous facility. One of the interesting aspects was the book transfer operation which is a sophisticated, high-tech operation at its finest with over 1 1/2 miles of tracks within the library which moves books and other items requested by patrons throughout the building. As a repository library this institution receives a copy of every item published in the United Kingdom and Ireland, which totals about 3 million new additions per year. The 11 reading rooms are typically full of library users, who, if they each read 5 items from the collection each day, would still require 80,000 years to see the entire collection!

We then toured a portion of the library including the tower of books donated by King Charles lll which totaled around 90, 000 items. The tower is the centerpiece of the library which was designed around it in accord with the King's wishes that his collection be visible and utilizes by readers. We also viewed the Magna Carta, original manuscripts from Milton, Bronte, Wolfe, and music and lyrics (including one on an old envelope) from the Beatles.

A quick lunch was enjoyed in the on site cafe and then I headed off the the Foundling Hospital Museum just down the street. The original building was opened in 1741 to house abandoned and unwanted children and became the first real art museum in the city. Founder Thomas Coram prevailed upon his upper-crust friends, including Hogarth, Gainsborough, and Reynolds, to donate artwork to the museum. Coram than invited patrons to visit and view the artwork in hopes of soliciting their donations to help finance the operation of the hospital. Handel was a benefactor of the hospital and left a copy of the Messiah and a monetary donation to the hospital in his will. Visitors can view items from Handel's estate including his will and libretto and can also listen to his music in the comfort of a lovely gallery setting. The building also houses a fine collection of furniture and silver, including a Paul Storr salver.

Back to Stamford Street after another busy day.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Wednesday, July 15

Our day started with a Tube ride to the Museum of London located in the City of London, close to St. Paul's. Mr. Jon Cotton, a specialist in Prehistoric London, spoke to our group for about an hour on the history of the city, life before the influence of the Romans, the importance of the Thames, and much more. We then toured a wonderful exhibition of "London before London" which traced the evolution of the prehistoric settlers in this region. The artifacts were well displayed and arranged in an order that made the evolutionary aspect easy to discern and understand. One of the most interesting exhibits was the 5000+ year old skeleton which had been unearthed in the Thames valley region. The skeletal remains were displayed along with an amazing facial reconstruction. Mr. Cotton spoke about putting a "face" on history in order to make it more real and less abstract. That concept is certainly borne out in this instance.

We continued to tour the exhibits and viewed everything that was on display covering the history of the city until 1666 and the Great Fire of London. The remainder of the museum is under renovation so we were unable to view anything past that date.

Several of us walked down to the Barbican for a delicious lunch then off to the Cabinet War Rooms in Westminster. I had visited this site in years gone by and was anxious to spend time there during this trip. One nice surprise awaited in that the exhibit has been enlarged and in 2003 an entire section devoted to the life of Winston Churchill was opened. One sees photos, hears speeches, views clothing and other ephemera from the life of Churchill. An interesting new feature was an interactive timeline detailing events from the life of Churchill both before and after he became a public figure.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Tuesday, July 14

Our day started with a Tube ride to the Barbican Centre and a visit to the library located there. I wandered around the Children's library a bit perusing their books and displays before I was able to chat with the librarian Ms. Amanda Owens. She had been visiting a local school that morning promoting their summer reading program "Quest Seekers" and was happy to meet with several of us and share her insights and knowledge of librarians and librarianship.


I spent several busy hours at the Barbican library looking around and researching children's libraries in London. A terrific assistant helped me find the info I needed about the Chelsea Library and I set off for it after a wonderful lunch at the Barbican cafe.

Located in the neighborhood of South Kensington and Chelsea this beautiful small library occupies the former Town Hall site. The children's department is on the second floor in a bright, sunny yellow room. Ms. Elisabeth Brown, library assistant, was most helpful with my inquiries and shared loads of terrific ideas. Our chat was interrupted several times by patrons with small children or babies which attests to the busyness of this branch and which makes any librarian very happy. I looked around this location a bit more and noted, among other things, that the U.K. version of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book had different cover art and illustrations from the U.S. version. Same great story on the inside, however.

I enjoyed a stroll up to Knightsbridge along the King's Road and passed many familiar shops and businesses along the way. I knew immediately that I was in the vicinity of Harrod's when the pedestrian and automotive traffic suddenly increased dramatically. Harrod's was packed with customers and if there is a recession, it seems to have bypassed this retail bastion. Shoppers all over the store were buying fast and furiously.

Everyone that wasn't in Harrods or on the streets of Knightsbridge was in the Tube racing toward home. The trains and stations were packed with wall-to-wall people and it was a reprieve from the hustle and bustle to reach the relative quiet of Stamford Street.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Monday, July 13

Our day started with a class meeting then off to St. Paul's. Holly, Emily, Rachel and I walked along the Thames and then crossed the Millennium Footbridge where we ended up just steps from St. Paul's. The view was phenomenal as we approached the cathedral during our walk. We headed downstairs to the cafe for a nice lunch in the Cloister area. We walked around a bit before our class met for our tour of the library and were treated to a concert on the steps by a group of students from Baltimore. Their selection of "Feed the Birds" from the movie Mary Poppins couldn't have been more appropriate.

The highlight of our day was a tour and brief lecture by the St. Paul's librarian Mr. Joe Wisdom. This delightful, dapper gentleman was a marvelous tour guide, full of anecdotes and other information about the cathedral and libraries. He took us through an unmarked door up the 93 stairs of the Dean's Staircase. This flight was used in one of the Harry Potter movies and it will be fun to watch the film again having trod the same steps as Harry and Hermione!

Being upstairs at St. Paul's and looking down into the cathedral was a magical experience. What a view! We were standing where the BBC had placed cameras during the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The effect was enhanced when later a group of choristers began to practice.

We then visited the Model Room which houses a large model (1/25 scale) of a cathedral, similar to but not exactly the one we know as St.Paul's. This room is filled with drawings, other models,sketches and a wooden medallion featuring architect Christopher Wren. It was interesting to see some of the transmutations of the cathedral and to see how it could have been constructed if Wren's vision had not been made manifest.

Mr. Wisdom then ushered us into the library. While identical in size and dimension to the model room, the library feels much smaller. Possibly this is due to the walls of bookshelves, intricate mouldings, a functioning fireplace and furniture. A working library and office, this room is replete with books, busts, and other bibliographic packages (as Dr. Chan would say!). Bookshelves line the walls and a second, balcony level allows for easy access to the shelves on that level. Mr. Wisdom shared a great amount of information about this unique library ranging from the esoteric (appealing to us librarians) to the mundane. He showed us one of the prizes of the collection, an illuminated manuscript, and described it as "what I would grab if the building were to go up in flames".

After tea outside a wonderful little patisserie, we wandered back to Stamford Street across the bridge. Later that evening King's College hosted a welcome reception for us at their campus across the river close to the Strand. We gathered in a beautiful and highly ornamented Chapel on the campus and then retired to a Ballroom for drinks and nibbles. Dr. Welsh introduced me to the President of the University of Texas-Tyler and his wife who were both natives of Kentucky! I also met Dr. Bowersox who is a Georgetown grad who hails from Owensboro.

It was a full day with much more yet to come!

Sunday, July 12

After a big night at the Hard Rock, I slept in and enjoyed a quiet morning. It was a beautiful sunny day so I walked along the river for about 15 minutes until I reached the Tate Modern. The exterior of this fabulous museum doesn't begin to indicate what treasures are contained inside. Located in a former utility station the Tate Modern has sweeping spaces for exhibitions of all types. One enters the amazingly large Turbine Room with its slanting floor (favored by kiddos running up and down it) and enormous ceiling. It was interesting to see treasures from the Tate Britain hanging in this new (to me, at least) dynamic space.

After a few hours of gazing at artwork and sculptures by Monet, Pollack, Giacometti, and Warhol, I headed to the 7th floor for lunch. The views were lovely as was my delicious lunch.
Returned to the dorm for some quiet time, reading and class preparation. We had been warned that the dorms would conduct a test of the fire alarm each Wednesday afternoon. When the fire alarm began to blare around 8 p.m., we knew that this was not a test. Everyone scurried out to the Courtyard and visited with each other while the local fire brigade came and put out whatever was on fire in one of the dorms. It was a nice evening to be out for everyone but the poor girls who arrived clad only their towels having been routed out of the shower!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Saturday, July 11

Our first full day of class starts! After a yummy breakfast at Konditor and Cook just down the street I head to our first class session. Dr. Welsh reviews our syllabus and our schedule then we head back to the Auditorium for orientation for the entire study abroad group.

Jenn, Jessica and I head down the street to Waterloo Station for lunch and a bit of shopping. Marks and Spencer has a good little grocery close by where we pick up some staples and goodies for breakfast.

At 2:30 we meet for our "London Alive" tours. I signed on the the "Nazi Blitz" session which took us on a walking tour through the neighborhood. Dr. Mackaman is a terrific lecturer and brings this era alive with great information and anecdotes. Plus he adroitly managed to fend off the cranky drunk who interrupted his talk! We end up at the Imperial War Museum and spend the remainder of the afternoon touring this phenomenal museum. I visit the Trench exhibit which presents a realistic yet sanitized version of this mode of warfare. Walking through the trench, listening the the recreation of the sounds of war and smelling some the the smells that existed then made for an interesting experience. Time ran out so I'll be back to experience the Blitz and to see the rest of the exhibits another day.

A busy day ended with a late dinner at London's original Hard Rock Cafe at Hyde Park Corner. What was to be an easy straight shot tube ride became complicated when the Jubilee Line that we needed to take us directly to the Hard Rock was out of service. We ended up having to change trains during a busy night in the city, but made it there safe and sound. Always a great experience and always fun to have a large Coke with tons of ice!

Arrival in London Friday, July 10

Arrived at Gatwick after a calm and uneventful flight. The Gatwick Express carried me to Victoria Station in less than 30 minutes! After a quick lunch and a short cab ride I landed at Stamford Street Apartments, my home for the next few weeks.

The friendly folks from USM were waiting in the Courtyard to greet the new arrivals. After sign-in introductions were made and room keys were handed out. My flat is on the 6th floor at the end of the hall. The rooms are cozy and comparable to what one would find in an American dorm. With a bath en suite, a fridge in the room .

After time to unpack and nap, my class meets in the Courtyard for a walking tour of the neighborhood and dinner at a local pizza parlor. We visit the huge Waterloo train station (over 26 acres under roof) and learn a bit about our surroundings. We spend the dinner hour getting acquainted with classmates and learning about what London adventures await.