Many sites, from playhouses to train platforms, inspire pilgrimages in the Olympic host city
This package was compiled by writers from BSU at the Games.
Pilgrimage (n): “a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion … as to pay homage.”—Dictionary.com
The word pilgrimage often inspires images of religious relics and trips to the Holy Land. However, pilgrimages take many forms.
Many of the thousands of fans filling Olympic stadiums in London have stolen time from gold medals and world records to visit other, less obvious places in England’s capital city. You see them everywhere, trying to push a cart through a wall in King’s Cross station, or walking in single file across busy Abbey Road, or standing for the duration of a three-hour Shakespeare play.
They have traveled thousands of miles and parted with unknown sums for this—a photo, a feeling, a moment. And not because guidebooks told them to (though many do), not because their travel companions or the folks at home necessarily understand.
Their reasons are both highly personal and comfortingly communal. They are pilgrims. They are geeks.
And everyone is a geek about something.
TOWER OF LONDON
Hanging out with dead people at the most haunted place in London
By Kait Buck
Thirty-two pounds. It’s the equivalent of 52 U.S. dollars. Fifty-two dollars could buy a girl a lot of things.
What did it buy this girl? Entrance into the Tower of London—twice.
I’m not your typical tourist. I eat, sleep and breathe history, and Great Britain just happens to be home to my favorite time period. Medieval monarchs are my calling. I’ve indulged in countless books on the Tudor dynasty and their early predecessors.
And the Tower of London is a central landmark in these historical tales, as the site of coronation processions, mysterious disappearances and unprecedented executions.
At the Tower, I stood before the unmarked graves of 1,000 headless “traitors.” I examined graffiti carved into the palace walls by prisoners from my history books. I walked through the rooms where King Henry VI and the little York princes were murdered. I passed the Traitor’s Gate where Queen Anne Boleyn was brought for her coronation and later her execution. I studied the armor worn by the infamous King Henry VIII (and almost hyperventilated from excitement).
You see, these landmarks in the Tower are more than signs to read or the butt of witty jokes by a tour guide. People I’ve admired, respected and hated walked the ground beneath my feet. So rather than “tourist,” I’d say I’m a pilgrim—one who journeys a long distance to see a place she holds sacred.
My pilgrimage ended at Tower Green, a site where three queens and a dozen other noblemen lost their lives. Here a monument was erected in their honor, and the description engraved captures the motives of my journey beautifully:
“Gentle visitor pause awhile. Where you stand, death cut away the light of many days. Here jeweled names were broken from the vivid thread of life. May they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage under these restless skies.”
SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE THEATRE
Shakespeare enthusiasts go for the ‘groundling’ experience
Along the River Thames in the midst of the modern architecture of Central London, Shakespeare fans step out of the 21st century and into a bit of the medieval world.
Shakespeare’s Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, which was built in 1599 by the playing company the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It’s set up just like the original Globe, with a ground level, seats that span the circle shape of the theatre and an open roof. The Globe is both a tribute to Shakespeare and a venue for performances of his work.
Just outside the venue, “groundlings” queue for nearly two hours before the play begins. They only pay 5 pounds for a presale ticket, but that also means standing for the duration of the three-hour performance.
Clare Eanes was the very first person in the groundling line to see “Richard III” Wednesday night.
“Part of the fun of being a groundling is all atmospheric: the groundling community, and you get to chat with people in the queue,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to sit in the seats.”
Eanes is studying Shakespeare for her master’s degree at the University of Birmingham. “Richard III” was the only Shakespeare play she had not yet seen.
Admitting to being a diehard Shakespeare fan, her eyes lit up as she talked about why she loves seeing his plays.
“All of my focus through my study has been how you take Shakespeare’s language and then put it on the stage, and how that works when you have an actor performing it and an audience understanding it,” she said. “All his words bring his characters to life.”
A few people down the line, Lesley Jones waited patiently for the perfect standing spot. She had been to five shows at the Globe. This was her second play at the Globe that day; she saw “Henry V” in the afternoon.
She sat in line for over an hour and a half but said that it’s well worth the wait.
“It’s the first time that I’ve been able to get right to the front, which was really exciting this afternoon,” she said. “So I want to do it again.”
The line finally started moving, and the groundlings filed into the theatre.
Nikita Nemygin found his spot up against the stage. Even through intermission, he held his ground so no one could take his prime location.
This was his fourth time seeing “Richard III” but his first time seeing it at the Globe.
“It’s very interesting to see how the history evolves in Shakespeare [plays],” he said. “I’ve found that ‘Richard III’ is one of the best histories of Shakespeare.”
He’s no stranger to the Globe, though, as he saw every play last season and hopes to see all of this season’s.
“I enjoy that it’s 5 pounds,” he said. “I enjoy standing here, and the atmosphere is very homey. And it’s not really touristy.”
During the performance, most audience members seem to forget they’re living in the modern world and become entranced by the story unfolding on the stage. Aside from a few jets that fly over the open roof and act as a reminder of the world outside, the atmosphere holds true to the Elizabethan era.
“I just the love the way that you can come along and be surrounded by all these people in the queue,” Eanes said. “Some of them will be Shakespeare academics; some of them will be tourists that have never seen Shakespeare before.
“And they’re all going to leave having something different from it. Some of them will understand all the complex references; some of them will just love the spectacle. That’s what I really love, is how many different people his words can touch and the different ways that [Shakespeare] does that.”
KING’S CROSS STATION
For Harry Potter lovers, Platform 9 ¾ is the London landmark they must see
By Jack Meyer
Laughter rang through London’s King’s Cross-St. Pancras train station Tuesday as children, teens, 20-somethings and parents took turns having their pictures taken attempting to walk through one of the station’s solid brick walls into the magical world of Harry Potter.
Unlike in J.K. Rowling’s hit books, no one actually managed to pass through the wall with the silver luggage trolley to the fictional train and Platform 9 3/4 that takes wizards and witches to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy. But that doesn’t stop the books’ fans from coming to the site where half of a luggage trolley is made to look like as if it is on its way through the wall.
Three girls from Maryland pulling luggage joked about being in their 20s and still excited to see the platform in person after having their picture taken pushing the trolley together.
The three said they had used their day to see two of the most important things in London for them, Abbey Road Studios and Platform 9 3/4. They plan to see Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament later in their trip.
“Every kid wants to find out they’re a wizard and not just what they are,” Kate Selby of Gaithersburg, Md., said. “It makes it real; we get to take part in Harry’s trip being in King’s Cross.”
Parents stood smiling alongside children in line to have a turn at attempting to push through onto the fictional platform, which isn’t really at the place in the station used in the movies that accompany the seven-book series.
But that didn’t seem to bother any of the passersby.
One parent, Amy Haas from Hilliard, Ohio, was far more excited than her two teenage kids to throw her bag into the basket of the trolley and fly towards its handlebars.
“J.K. Rowling is absolutely my favorite author,” Haas said. “It just makes the fantasy more real if you imagine yourself doing it.”
“She’s a kook,” chimed Amy’s husband, Dan, as their kids laughed.
The group said they had skipped seeing London’s famous Westminster Abbey for their mother to have a chance to see the trolley on their way to Wembley Stadium to take in an Olympic soccer match between Japan and Mexico.
Haas said she was inspired by Rowling’s books to begin writing herself. She said she hopes to have a book finished in the next three years and intends to have it published.
John Larkin, 12, of New Jersey, ran to push against the trolley with his two sisters while their father stood to the side to take pictures of the three children looking back, beaming.
Larkin said seeing the exhibit was second on his list of things to see in London, just behind the Olympic Games.
“It inspires me because Harry was like a nobody before he became a wizard,” Larkin said. “And then he’s like an everybody now.”
Tourists fly around the world just to walk across this road—Abbey Road
The walk down Grove End Road exiting St. John’s Wood Station is quiet—until it meets Abbey Road. There, a little ways down from Abbey Road Studios, groups of Beatles fans attempt to cross the legendary crosswalk hoping to recreate the album cover and capture the perfect picture.
A constant stream of cars makes it easier said than done. On Wednesday, as soon as traffic started to slow, six friends ran across laughing and speaking quickly in Spanish. They struck a pose as the seventh in their group snapped a photo before dashing to the other side to let traffic flow through again. After checking the photo, they tried again several times with different combinations of the group.
Moments later, brothers Joe and Alex Morris of Wales casually strolled across the street, high-fiving when they get to the other end. Goal accomplished. Yet their dad, Michael, standing farther down the street with a camera, shooed them back across for a better photo. Their mother, Anne, laughed as she watched them from her post on a brick wall.
“I think it’s really funny how people can’t walk naturally when they’re doing this,” she said as Alex walked a bit stiffly across.
By this time, Joe had removed his shoes to imitate Paul McCartney.
“It’s eerie,” he said. “Just being in the same place as they were 40 years ago.”
Actually, it was exactly 43 years to the day that John, Paul, George and Ringo stopped traffic to shoot the cover photo for their 11th studio album—Aug. 8, 1969.
Andy David from Australia was one of the few who seemed to know this. The self-confessed Beatles nerd grew up listening to the Beatles since the age of 6.
“But what kind of Beatles fan am I coming here without a Beatles shirt?” he said as he looked down at his outfit.
As David, who came alone, searched for someone to take his picture, Texan Meera Nandlal took her turn crossing the street.
“I look like a complete nut trying to get the pose,” she said. “When you’re thinking about it, you don’t look as graceful as the Beatles did.”
Soon, Mario Pipola and Carmen Norero, London flatmates originally from Italy and Chile respectively, approached her and asked if she could take their picture walking across.
For Pipola, walking across Abbey Road was something he couldn’t miss out on while in London.
“I have to say thank-you to the Beatles,” he said. “I think they were a starting point in my life.”
His father listened to the Beatles when Pipola was a child and it was because of them that he learned to play guitar. He felt that he owed them for the impact music has had on his life.
Most motorists were patient with the groups, but not all. Cars honked as people stalled in the middle of the road. Anxious motorcyclists zoomed through the groups. Even with people standing in the middle, cars tried to inch past.
“I like this one,” Nandlal said, laughing as she looked through her photos from that day, stopping on one that had a car in it. “It shows how brave I am.”
After 13 attempts to get the pose right, Nandlal ran out into the middle of the crosswalk again. She had to get the perfect photo because she said all her friends would critique it.
“Just one more,” she said. “I want to get it before dark.”
Instead of recreating the iconic walking pose, she squared herself off to the photographer, plastered a big grin on her face and threw her hands up in the air as if to say, “I’m finally here!”
PRINCESS DIANA MEMORIAL
Beloved princess inspires devotion to memorial fountain
Princess Diana was one of Great Britain’s most beloved royals. Until her death in a tragic car accident in 1997, she served as an inspiration to the British people. Now the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park in London carries on her memory.
The circular granite fountain creates a path of endless flowing water and encourages passersby to sit and dip their feet in the current.
One such visitor, Virginia Engles, sat quietly one recent afternoon at the top of the lawn of the memorial, looking on the scene. Half-dressed children ran in and out of the water.
A native Londoner, Engles visits the memorial about once a month. Though her reasons vary, she said the Diana Memorial holds a special place in her heart.
“In the summer, I’ll bring the kids to play in the water,” she said, pointing at Julia, 8, and Tom, 6. The two joined the other children splashing around on the granite.
“But mostly when I come here it’s to sit and read, or meditate, or just not do anything,” she said.
Engles believes that this is one of the most tranquil places in London. The 143-acre park provides a calm backdrop to the rush of the water.
“Her life was so full of giving and love, even after the divorce,” said Engles. “She was the type of person who won a Nobel Peace Prize but wasn’t above visiting those with AIDS, or simply dedicating something to the children of London.”
The fountain is not a grand marble statue or an overly thought-out metaphor. It is simple and elegant and open to all who should pass by—much as Diana lived her life, according to Engles.
Hardcore tennis fans visit Wimbledon just for a peek through the gates
The sounds of grunts and tennis balls being hit back and forth were gone. The crowds who loudly cheered for the United Kingdom’s Andy Murray to win a gold medal in tennis a day earlier were at different Olympic sites and places across the city. Still, Wimbledon had tennis players and fans milling around outside.
Even with the gates locked and no one permitted on the grounds.
“It’s history in there,” Kasey Plighton from Connecticut said. “I played tennis in high school, and it’s a place I always wanted to go.”
Plighton had made the trip to London for the Olympic Games with her mother, JoAnna. A recent college graduate, the 22-year-old didn’t play at the University of Colorado but still felt a connection to the sport and the site of the historic tournament.
Jayme Robinson, who lives a 15-minute walk from Wimbledon, said a lot of people like Plighton and her mom come through the area during the year to peek in the gates and walk around when tournaments aren’t going on.
“Anytime I walk down here in the summer (in Wimbledon Park, adjacent to the tennis venue) there are people around who have cameras and iPhones up,” said Moreton, who doesn’t play tennis himself. “Sometimes you’ll see them pretending to swing a racquet or something like that, too.”
As Plighton kept walking around, she peered in through openings in the fencing. It was the only way she would get to view Centre Court or Henman Hill. She peered over hedges and attempted to see everything she could from the outside.
“I wish I could walk inside, but at least I’m here,” she said.
- July 31, 2012 - Underdog wrestler keeps his Olympic promise
- April 30, 2012 - USA Diving’s Thomas Finchum performs on many stages