So it begins (with a walking tour)

After resting up, studying, and wandering around the neighborhood with my housemate Serena yesterday, we got an early start this morning. It was a short walk to the local tube station and then only a half-hour ride to the classroom with plenty of time to spare.

We were given some program orientation info, then Peter, the program coordinator, took us on a four-hour walking tour of central London. We saw some of the squares (e.g. Queen’s, Leicester, Trafalgar), important road sites (the Strand, Picadilly Circus, Westminster Bridge), and landmarks like Westminster Abbey and the Eye. Peter was hilarious, and he told us how to recognize Victorian architecture, where T.S. Eliot once worked, and how to finagle some cheap sightseeing. He even took us on a quick walk through the British Museum. Which needs some talking about.

I had already planned on visiting the British Museum because I have an enormous tome called A History of the World in 100 Objects (which, I just found out, was also a radio series) written by the museum’s director (Neil MacGregor) based on exhibits from the museum. I toted the book across a continent and an ocean so that I could use it as a guide, but whew. When we got to the building, there was a plastic cover over some of the siding, and most of what we could see was your typical dignified columns and massive stone building blocks. We wound our way through some pretty standard museum foyers. And then we entered the central courtyard.

The middle of the British Museum is occupied by the Great Court, a vast open square with the Reading Room in a gargantuan tower in the middle. Apparently the Great Court used to be open to the air, but now it’s covered with this massive glass ceiling that puts the entire courtyard–already pale, uniform stone–in an absolutely surreal light. Everything is on a mind-boggling scale, and I hadn’t thought that such perfectly light rooms existed outside of sci-fi movies with big CGI budgets. I think it might be one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. Period. The physicality and atmosphere was awe-inspiring and affecting in a way that reminds me why I can’t let myself stay satisfied with seeing places in pictures. I’m going to try to go back as much as possible. Peter recommended going in short bursts and focusing on just an item or two each time. Class isn’t until one tomorrow, so I’m going to try to swing by on my way.

I brought one of my disposable cameras on the tour today. I remembered to get in some of the pictures, but I won’t be able to put any up until I get home and get them developed. In any case, I figure it’s just as well that I some of the requisite touristy sites and photos out of the way early. Now, I can focus on studying Shakespeare, especially since tomorrow we start discussing Macbeth. To read about that adventure, click here.