Thursday, April 30, 2009

Heavy Reading

Some books I think might make sense for you guys to have (maybe not all of them, but some of them) to bone up on London and travel writing in general. I'm into lists today, so here's a list:

1. Wanderlust (Real Life Tales of Adventure and Romance): It's a solid read done by the now defunct travel section of It's really a good look at incorporating yourself into your writing, and explaining what you see to the world through your eyes. It's one way to write travel pieces, and this is a solid book looking at that.

2. Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople from the Hook of Holland - The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates: Really just a fantastic book written in the '30s about middle to eastern Europe. If you don't read it for this class, just read it on your own. It's fantastic. Did I mention how fantastic it is?

3. London: If you like historical novels, and you want to learn a little bit about London before you go, this is the book for you. It's long, but a fascinating historically accurate look at London from Roman times to present day.

4. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Hunter S. is a favorite of mine, and his gonzo journalism is fantastically shown here. Thompson is as much about the adventure and the explorer as he is about the writing. It's all about experiences, and doing new things. That's what this book is all about. You can color your writing by putting those experiences onto paper.

Those are just a few great books that focus on narrative, observational journalism, and the style of writing we'll explore in this class.

London is simply a historical novel to hopefully help you understand the scope of the city, before you write about it. Although there is something to be said for seeing everything with new eyes, new ears, new nostrils, and a new perspective. So maybe don't read London. I'll leave it up to you.

So That's The List...

So that's the top 10 things in London that we WON'T be doing during our trip. We will do a pub tour, and we may hit Holland Park, but those experiences are things that are best done by just going out and discovering them.

Here's a recap of the list:

1. The River
2. The Pubs
3. Holland Park
4. Speaker's Corner
5. The Music Scene
6. London Museums
7. Westminster Abbey
8. Greenwich
9. Hampstead Heath & Richmond Park
10. The London Eye

What I want this list to accomplish is to give you ideas of some things to do outside of class while in London. More than anything hopefully this will help tap into your adventurous spirit. Don't waste a moment in London. You have two weeks there, make it worth it. Do stuff you want to do, and more than anything, go out and explore.

Sometimes the coolest experiences are those born out of necessity. I have found some of the most unique places while traveling abroad simply because I was lost and wandering without a GPS.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

1. The River

From Travel Writing for Journalists
Okay, so maybe this #1 is a bit of a cop-out, but honestly in many ways the river IS London. The ancient Roman city Londinium was chosen by the legions in part because they could ford the Thames River at that spot.

It grew from there, was destroyed and rebuilt as Lundenwic in the Middle Ages, and became a trading hub in Northern Europe. The river created London, and in part helped it become a world superpower for 300 years. The British Empire was built on shipping and trade -- London was at its center. The way that shipping got to London? You got it -- The River.

Even today London is built oriented towards the Thames. Parliament, the Tate Modern, Big Ben, the Tower of London and St. Paul's all look over the Thames. Tower Bridge silently stands sentinel, as the entrance into modern London. The Thames used to be incredibly polluted, but has been cleaned up in recent times.

It's a tidal river, which means it ebbs and flows with the tide, it's color, and it's look changes by the hour. It's a living, breathing thing, winding through the city it helped to create.

Times have changed the way it used to look. In ancient times, the river was much wider, and dozens of tributaries flowed into it from both north and south. Those rivers are well known on their own -- and their names still lend their name to different areas in the city: The Fleet, The Walbrook, The Tyburn, and the River Westbourne among others. All these rivers now flow through pipes as part of London's extensive sewer system. There are still spots where some of these rivers pop up above ground, but for the most part they've become caged animals.

Joseph Bazalgette and his modern sewer system helped narrow the Thames, and make it a faster flowing river than it once was. Through all of the changes in the river, through all of the fires and plagues, in good times and bad times, the river has stood as the thread that runs through the ancient city. It has seen it all.

While in London, appreciate the river and it's history. Try to take a stroll along the South Bank at night if you can... the city opens up in front of you, and its negative image is illuminated along the length of the Thames. It's a sight you'll never forget.

That's why the Thames gets top billing on my list -- because none of the other nine sites would even exist if not for the river.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

2. The Pubs

Nothing quite says London like dark wood, warm pints, and hanging signs. London's pubs are fascinating places, each a different and unique experience all its own. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a pub in the City of London that we'll have lunch at before touring St. Paul's. Dickens and Dr. Samuel Johnson drank here. In Dickens case... he pretty much drank everywhere.

But the pubs of London are about more than just drinking. In many ways they are a congregation point for people who live in that neighborhood. It's a place people come together to discuss their shared experiences, and what's going on in their life.

Part of this class is about you folks experiencing London, the city and the people. Pubs are a great way to meet interesting characters who can tell you what the city is like. This class is also about exploring places that may seem a bit outside your comfort zone. Pubs are a great place to do that.

Some of my favorites? Here they are in no particular order:

The Churchill Arms on Kensington Church Street for it's decor, and flowers.
The Founders Arms near the Tate Modern for it's view of St. Paul's and the city.
The George Inn for it's history and links to Chaucer and Shakespeare.
And pretty much any pub in the Highlands of Scotland, like Saucy Mary's (on the Isle of Skye)
These are just a few of my favorites. I know you'll find your own. There are some very close to you in Chelsea right down near the Thames on Cheyne Walk that are very nice.

If you want to know the United Kingdom -- know it's pubs.

Monday, April 27, 2009

3. Holland Park

I'm re-starting a list here that I began last summer and never completely finished. Numbers 4 through 10 are at other spots on the blog.

Holland Park is one of those places that no tourist venture into. It's just not on the beaten path enough for tourists to be interested. But it's probably one of the most interesting small parks there is.

Situated at the corner of High Street Kensington and Earls Court Road, it's truly a "posh" park. But it's so much more. Holland Park holds within it a Japanese Garden (truly stunning), an amazing tulip garden in the spring, plenty of peacocks and forested space, and the ruins of an old Jacobean mansion.

From Travel Writing for Journalists

Take a picnic here, find a secluded spot (there's plenty of them) and relax.

Here's a map of the area:

View Holland Park in a larger map

Check out the different pin tacks (especially the tube stop) as I give directions for how to get there from our tube stop.

Home Sweet Home...

So I found out today that you'll all be living in Chelsea, one of the nicest areas in all of London. It's also where Chelsea FC, one of Europe's finest football clubs resides.

You'll be living with other student's on the London program, which is great news. It means you'll have other students to go out and explore with.


View Your Flats in a larger map

This map shows your flats in the lower right hand corner, and the London Center (your classrooom) in the upper left hand corner. Here's a link to the website which will give you a LOT more information about where you'll be staying.

I also have information about your flights, and some other London and Scotland "stuff" that we'll go over at the meeting this Thursday.