We arrived in Geneva earlier today. We were sorry to leave London behind us, but look forward to the remainder of our journey.
London is and was for us a city of intersections, where peoples, periods, and all walks of life meet. Nowhere was this as apparent as the city streets. In the heart of London town medieval church spires and fortresses climb through the fog. Winding and branching out from the city’s heart, cramped Georgian townhouses bear plaques noting the former homes of politicians, heroes, artists, and -of course - writers. Among those writers were Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, and Mary and Percy Shelley. These poets and novelists were inspired by London’s history and architecture, and it appears throughout their works. George Orwell’s 1984 features a number of locations which are dismal reflections of London sites such as Trafalgar Square and the University of London Senate Building. Woolf and Dickens were also inspired to write about their city as they described their walks through the city to buz pencils and fight off insomnia. Likewise, John Keats was inspired by the sites he saw at the British Museum to write some of the most well known poems in the English Language.
When you dive deeper inside of these buildings, intersections of people and traditions abound. One of the first places our class visited was Westminster Abbey. It started as a Benedictine monastery, but was taken from the monks by Henry VIII, who converted it to the church it is today. It is a place where faith, reflection, discovery, and royal tradition come together. From regular church services, to tours, to royal weddings, Westminster brings it all together. You can find Elizabeth I sharing resting grounds with scientists such as Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton and poets like Geoffrey Chaucer and Alfred Lord Tennyson. These intersections extend beyond the Christian tradition in many other sites and buildings, such as Harrow School. Started in 1572, Harrow School is a boys school steeped in tradition with prominent alumni such as Lord Byron, Winston Churchill, and Benedict Cumberbatch. In just an hour, you can walk past where Byron liked to sit and write, view photos of Churchill in his mischievous youth, and see rooms where scenes from Harry Potter and Netflix's The Crown were filmed. London is not just a city of the past or a museum; it is breathing new life into years of tradition.
Another intersection in London is that of city and nature. For many of our group, London was a bit of an adjustment. We’re used to the more bucolic scenery of Decorah, not the urban scenery of London. A few of us are from more metropolitan areas, but none the size of London. We begun to miss green. Enter Hampstead. Hampstead was a small village near where Keats and Hunt lived when they were alive and writing. Keats was inspired by the many natural areas around him--and you can see it reflected in his poetry. Today, not much has changed. Hampstead has now been swallowed by the city, but still retains its openness and natural spaces. Walking through Hampstead feels nothing like walking through London. This is where the intersection of nature and city comes into play. In London, nature is still important: just as it was to Keats. But it's often relegated to small squares in specific parts of the city. Even the Thames is an example of this. While the river cuts through the heart of the city, it is strictly restrained. Nature does exist in the city, but you have to look for it. We know Keats certainly did.
This morning we left the city of Intersections for the city of Frankenstein's invention. After settling ourselves our hotel, we hiked to Villa Diodati, where Byron stazed through the summer of 1816. This is the villa where Mary Shelley famously partook in a ghost story writing contest which lead to the creation of the novel Frankenstein. Tomorrow we will explore Mont Blanc before moving to Venice for the next leg of our journey.
Until next time,
Jonathan, Emma, and Grant