Arrival at Heathrow!
Saturday, 28 June
Our first day in London started spectacularly as we stood on the banks of the Thames, across from the houses of Parliament and watched Big Ben chime nine times in the sunny weather we were still taking for granted.
We visited Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the birthplace of our most difficult exams. While we were seated in the roofless theatre, half an hour before the next performance was scheduled to start, a few actors walked on stage and began to wriggle around and shout seemingly random phrases. These actors were warming up for their performance without any inhibitions whatsoever, leaving us gawking and giggling.
Our last stop for the day was St Martin’s Theatre in the West End, to watch Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap, the longest running theatre production of all time. When the murderer in the story was finally revealed, the audience gasped so loudly that it seemed exaggerated.
Tickets for The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie
Wednesday, 2 July
Today we visited Stratford-upon-Avon and the house that William Shakespeare grew up in. Right outside Shakespeare’s back door, three actors were performing extracts from any of his plays upon request. The forty-eight of us all made ourselves comfortable around them and shouted one request after the other. For the first time, we really laughed at his comedies without the jokes having to be explained to us by Ms Claassen, and we understood almost everything with remarkable ease. For the first time, we saw Shakespeare’s works more or less as they were intended – live and in person. For the first time, we understood why we are still studying Shakespeare almost 500 years after he was born in the house that we were sitting in front of.
In front of Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon
Saturday, 5 July
In Scotland, we visited the Falkirk Wheel, a remarkable feat of engineering. We boarded a 50 tonne boat, which was then lifted 86m into the air by the wheel into the upper canal, in only 4 minutes.
In Edinburgh, where we spent the night, some of us were lucky enough to experience the Edinburgh Dungeons, where we were taken from room to room by an array of famous and scary characters, learning about Edinburgh’s darker past and being scared out of our wits simultaneously.
That evening, Ms Claassen seemed determined to “climb every mountain,” and we first made our way up Calton Hill, which boasts some of Edinburgh’s most famous buildings, as well as a 360-degree view of the city. As the sun started to set (at about 11pm), we scaled Arthur’s Seat, a large hill outside the city, from which we could see all of Edinburgh, with green hills on the one side and a harbour on the other.
Wednesday, 9 July
Today we took a road trip across Ireland with Ben, the bus driver, at the wheel. Our first stop was Blarney Castle, where we climbed the seemingly endless winding staircase and leaned off the tower to kiss the Blarney Stone, just like Winston Churchill did. Next, we spent some time in the town of Adare, known as the prettiest village in Ireland.
We drove all the way to the world-renowned Cliffs of Moher, or at least that was what the road signs told us. All we could see was a field full of cows next to what looked like the cliff at the end of the world. Layer upon layer of fog as thick as pea soup surrounded us as we were blown away by wind and rain. After battling the elements for a while we gave up, and made our way to a beach in the nearby town of Lahinch.
Our final stop for the day was at Bunratty, where we enjoyed a medieval banquet in a 400-year-old castle! We were served four courses without any cutlery and were entertained by singers and harp players. We only arrived at our hostel at 1am.
Medieval entertainment in Bunratty Castle
Saturday, 12 July
On the morning of our second-to-last day in Dublin, we make our way to the modern Writer’s Centre. We meet a young tattooed and bearded poet, but when he starts speaking, we South Africans fall into an utterly confused silence. What language was he speaking? After he repeated himself a few times, we realised that he was indeed speaking English, and he wanted us to write a poem about ourselves. Apparently, much to our surprise, we were attending a poetry writing workshop. After some more confusion about paper and pens, we lapsed into another silence – this time an awkward silence. Write a poem about ourselves? The idea was uncomfortable to most of us. It took a while, and some gentle motivation from our new poet friend (that we mostly couldn’t understand), but we wrote, and then we read. Many people read their poems out loud, and for the first time on the tour we weren’t only doing the listening, but the talking as well. Our diverse poems incited laughter, tears, cheers and applause, but mostly they provoked surprise at our fellow students’ hidden talents.
The rest of the day was spent at the Writer’s Museum, at an art gallery, gawking at a protest, and on a Viking-themed “splash tour,” in a roofless bus that doubled as a boat, where we were encouraged to ROAR in true Viking-fashion at unsuspecting locals. We ended the day in the famous Temple Bar area of Dublin, in a pub for dinner and a river dancing show.
Viking splash tour in Dublin
This is a tour we will never forget. The things we learnt can mostly be categorised as follows:
1. How much we don’t know about literature
2. Much more than we wanted to know about each other
3. Some valuable things about ourselves during the adventure of a lifetime.
Oscar Wilde in Dublin
We keep James Joyce company in Dublin