City University London: The journey begins…

Three weeks in and I’m still amazed to be here.

Image courtesy of city.ac.uk

Back when I first came to a talk at City University London in April 2012 and experienced the passion that everyone in the department has for journalism, the idea of studying an MA here overpowered me.

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London Calling

Time has absolutely flown this summer. One month ago, I returned from the unbelievable city of London, and I already want to go back.

London has a way of never letting you forget it. When it calls you, you have to answer.

Trawling through the maze of the city’s streets is an experience unlike any other. It’s incredibly vast, and with only four days to explore…we spent thirty-eight hours camping out in Trafalgar Square.

Madness.

From 5am on Wednesday morning to about 7pm Thursday evening, we took up residence in one of the most iconic squares in the capital. The final Harry Potter premiere was to take place, on Thursday the 7th of July, 2011, in this very spot. We not only wanted to visit the quintessential, historic London sights and spend more money than we had on shopping, but we wanted to be there when the epic film saga, based on the world-famous J.K. Rowling’s book series, came to a smashing close.

 

Our new home: Trafalgar Square

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 shattered records all over the globe, not only to become the highest grossing film of 2011, but is now the third highest grossing film of all time, after Avatar and Titanic, taking in box office sales in excess of $1 billion.

We, however, still had over a week to wait before we could flock into the cinema for the finale, and time was ticking ever so slowly away to the start of the premiere. Seventeen hours down, fourteen hours to go: it was the middle of the night. We were frozen, lying on one solitary blanket with jackets wrapped around us, huddling together for warmth. The stage setup’s bright flashing lights were whirling and spinning in every direction. preventing us from getting any valuable sleep in our makeshift tent.

Our lone voices began to sing. Our choruses of Disney classics and rounds of Abba songs sailed through the dark, amongst the mass of humans gathered in the Square, below the faraway shining stars.

The next day was spent clutching small umbrellas amidst the lashing rain, squashed against railings, and screaming our heads off with excitement. After waiting for endless hours and finally meeting the actors, hearing the heartfelt and tearful speeches by the cast and crew, and seeing Jo Rowling at the last HP premiere EVER…

…We were wrecked, emotional, deprived of sleep and food, and ready for our real London adventures to begin.

The following morning, being the literature enthusiasts that we are, off we trotted to Shakespeare’s Gl0be in Southwark for a tour of the reconstructed theatre. As we walked over the old cobblestones and spotted painted poetic quotes on walls, it felt very much straight out of the Elizabethan era. The theatre itself only opened its doors in 1997.

The Replica of the Globe Theatre, London

Since, I believe, there is no actual image of the Globe Theatre as Shakespeare would have known it, the faithful reproduction is based on authentic original drawings from Queen Elizabeth I’s time. Under the direction of American actor/director Sam Wanamaker, the atmosphere of the new Globe was created by the replication of techniques that would have been used to build theatres in the 1600s, such as a thatched roof, with no steel or use of amplification.

Inside the Globe

We treaded on famous names carved into stepping stones underfoot, were told about the walls made of goat hair (ew) and saw the stagehands setting up for the afternoon performance. There were a few costumes onstage for the ‘Anne Boleyn’ play later that evening, threaded with the utmost care and devotion; they were all handmade dresses, each worth a cool £10,000!

That night was spent with The Wizard of Oz cast at the famous London Palladium Theatre, Argyll Street, which has the most amazing location: just off Oxford Street. I hadn’t heard a live orchestra play probably since I was in school. The booming clashes of the ‘Over the Rainbow’ overture theme magnified a thousandfold throughout the massive theatre when we entered.

The spectacular visual effects, particularly the hurricane in Kansas, combined with the show’s powerful musical numbers and strong soloist performances to make it a truly fantastic production. The show’s cast even got a standing ovation from the audience at the end!

Our last day in London was spent by the River Thames in the beautiful Westminster (my favourite part of the capital), where we ran into Johnny Depp (“Cap’n Jack Sparrow”) and Charlie Chaplin beside the London Eye, as you do. I really wanted to experience the London Eye and see the whole of the city below me…

…except I did not really factor in my fear of heights. Hmph.

After a thorough security check, we hopped on the London Eye (and it doesn’t stop. AT ALL. You actually have to jump onto the pod, while the wheel is MOVING). Rising higher and higher into the air, the golden sun glistening over Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, the crowd below on the bridge became smaller and smaller, until all we could see were little human dots bobbing along beside the rumbling, bright red, double-decker buses.

By this point, I was obviously clinging to my seat in the middle of the pod, taking deep breaths and wishing for dear life that I was back on the ground.

Our view of Westminster from the London Eye. Photo courtesy of Shauna Cunniffe.

Once the half-hour tour was up, my feet were firmly and delightedly back on English soil (knowing that I would be thousands of feet higher in the air later when I got on the plane home. Very reassuring as you can imagine). My first and, hopefully, last time on the London Eye had been terrifyingly fun.

On the flight back home to Ireland, we were already missing our favourite city: the fact that when we’d got (BRIEFLY) lost, we had ended up on a landmark (London Bridge), being proud that we knew what Lines to get on at the Tube stations, and just the real friendliness of the people.

London is such an easy place to love.

The Blazing Sun on the Palace of Westminster

Why I Love London

London is one of the greatest cities in the world. The blend of the ancient and modern alluringly combine in England’s capital to make it one of the most diverse and wonderful landscapes to explore: from beholding the might of King Henry VIII’s five-hundred-year-old Hampton Court Palace to going for a spin on the tallest Ferris Wheel in Europe, the ‘London Eye’.

Hampton Court Palace, dating from the Tudor era - Photo from its official site

London’s ability to grab and captivate the imagination of artists and writers extends back almost two millennia, inspiring countless works of outstanding creative merit – from Shakespeare to Dickens to Rowling, to name a few – and it’s no wonder. Majestic landmarks are dotted around almost every corner of the city centre. Even the Queen calls London her home (the iconic Buckingham Palace, of course, being her residence). The rich and diverse history and heritage of the United Kingdom’s capital city beckons generations of people all over the world to be enchanted by it.

It’s so easy to wander around the hubbub of the British city; the mixture of cultures, personalities and lifestyles give an eclectic yet fun feel to London. As the sun comes up, traditional jet-black cabs zoom past iconic motion picture locations and very familiar settings and sights from classic British films, such as ‘James Bond’, ‘Notting Hill’ and ‘Children of Men’. The buzz and bustle of the capital merges to become one continuous low rumble: the locals frantically rush to work, the wide-eyed tourists clutch video cameras as they pass on the top deck of the scarlet-red bus tour and lighthearted buskers strum along on their guitar. Fragments of music notes and scattered chords echo along the market streets, accompanied by vocals in the crisp English accents that I adore.

No matter what your passions in life are, you will find something to fuel them during your London experience. Nightlife throbs, bright lights flash and flicker, and wellies squelch at summer festivals. There are many chaotic and fun sides to the city, but there is also a deeply serene atmosphere about London, even in the midst of the hype and intensity: there is a unique vibe of coolness intermingled with true beauty, found in very few places on Earth.

My favourite aspect of London, though? The more you see of the vast city, you still haven’t seen it all. All its wonders will still be there for you to treasure upon your return…which means you have another reason to come back.

Marése O’Sullivan

Exploring the city around the unbelievably beautiful Westminster, 9/07/2011