PHS Choir London trip

March 25, 2015

PHS Choir flies to London, England over spring break to perform and discover another culture. Follow along with senior Morgan Anderson’s travelogue.

Day 1: 3… 2… 1… choir takes off!

11:46 PM Chicago Time, Saturday March 21

After arriving at Palatine High School at 5:45, everyone checked in with their assigned chaperone. Students have already been paired in groups of two to four with two parent/adult chaperones, and soon everyone was accounted for. We board the school busses then come back out for one last thing, one tradition that every Concer Choir under Steve Sivak has done at PHS before each trip. We sing the National Anthem at the flagpole, surrounded by the parents and family sending us off.

Senior Katie Hake posing by the telephone booth in London, England 3/23/15
Senior Katie Hake posing by the telephone booth in London, England 3/23/15

Then we actually are off, arriving at O’Hare Airport and got through customs with a couple hours to spare before our flight, spent walking around and hanging out. For many of us, this is our first time out of the country and we couldn’t be more excited to see what’ll happen in this adventure of ours!

A half of our total group of people, group A, will be flying British Airways and the other half, group B will be taking American. Boarding for us began at about 9 and now we’ve just left the main airport, seated and all ready for takeoff! The awesome accents of the English flight attendants have us drooling in anticipation. We land in Heathrow, London in approximately 6 hours and 50 minutes, while the other American Airlines group will leave in a flight leaving about an hour later.

One of the first things that I noticed when boarding the plane was not only the accents, but also the spelling of favorites on the plane as well. It just gives you a sense of the strangeness of the place where we’re going, that it’s finally happening after months of preparation.

Talk to you later when we wake up in London! Cheerio!

(You have no idea how much pleasure saying/writing that gives me)

Day 2: arrival, Windsor, the Eye

We’ve arrived! 10:14 AM London Time, 5:14 Central Time


We met our tour guide Sharon (pronounced like Char-an, sort of) and boarded the coach bus to head over to Windsor Castle, eating at a small bistro in the surrounding town before exploring he castle with an audio tour.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the final battle of then-England and it’s allies to vanquish Napoleon Bonaparte. The Waterloo marked a new age, an age of congresses and organized alliances across Europe. One of the highlights of the castle was seeing Princess Mary’s Dollhouse, a dollhouse to the extreme with miniature paintings by famous artists as well as miniature books written and printed specifically for that purpose. The other highlights included the fabulously furnished State Apartments and architecture surrounding the castle.  In fact the castle had recently been restored by a devastating fire in 1992 with a five year renovation, making it look as good as new today. We weren’t able to see all of the castle, as some of it is still private. And Windsor Castle is still used today for state affairs and other such official happenings.

After, we headed over to downtown London, about a hour away. We explored some pavelons a bit we head to dinner for traditional fish and chips.

Then, with the sky dark and the lights of the city shining bright, we walked over to the London Eye, taking a ride up to view the entire city. It was lovely! From there one is able to see just how wide the city expands to be, although it is much different from Chicago. Most buildings are tan and in styles varying from modern to mostly a tan sort of gothic architecture style. Instead of an abundance of skyscrapers, most buildings don’t exceed five of six large stories. The traffic isn’t as nearly as bad as Michigan Avenue, but it’s still tricky with getting used to going on the left side with everyone and such a big group. Here, there aren’t as many people on the streets and they aren’t as rushed or really quite as loud for that matter.

I’ll try to upload a slide show of pictures in a few days time, but goodnight from London for now!

23:05 PM London Time, Sunday March 22

Day 3: Kenzington, St. Paul’s, V&A, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

For the morning today we not only had our tour guide Sharon, but also another lady, Karen, to talk to us about more of the history and facts of London.

We passed by Kensington Gardens, seeing deeper into the gardens a large red brick building which is Kensington Palace, where queen Victoria was born, and also where Princess Diana lived with Prince Harry and William who there grew up.

Located in the large Kenzington Gardens is the Albert Memorial, built in 1872. The beloved husband of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert organized great Expedition of 1851, inviting people to come for arts and sciences. Together the two royals built a large crystal palace to house modern art and inventions of the new age by poets, scholars, architects, and artists. Some of these collections on display were a part of the founding collection in the V&A Museum (the Victoria and Albert Museum). He died in 1861, and soon after Queen Victoria founded the huge, almost relicory sort of structure. It was restored 15 years ago with 11.5 million pounds to fix stone and gold leaf. Each of the smaller four statues on a corner of the monument, represent the four continents. For example, Asia has an elephant in theirs.

Royal Albert Hall is across the street, which shows a lot of concerts from formal and some not. But all concerts there are much loved and very accessible.

Visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral was breathtaking. At St. Paul’s there is only one part with stained glass, mostly monochromatic, all black and white and shades of then little slice of color with Victorian age. It’s been built then rebuilt in five different styles. The fifth and final Warren design by Ben Johnson was even altered very much. It’s detailed and ornate in places but not gothic. For example, there isn’t a screen behind the altar as their is with the gothic style. Golden colored screens show the crypt beneath, of great artists, military people, some royals, and such others of grand importance are buried beneath.  During WW2 there was bombing on this cathedral, but people worked extremely hard to extinguish the flames and to preserve this astounding sight to the best of their abilities. This cathedral is also the same cathedral the bird woman sits at in Mary Poppins.

We got to climb up some three hundred stairs to see far above the intricate and precise detail of the high dome above us even better as well as a better view of the layout of the floor. Not only that, but with the first three hundred steps we reached the Whispering Gallery. Due to the shape of the beginning of the high painted dome above us, when one sits against the curvature of the dome and you speak to the right (the guides told us it would help the sound travel clearer), you’re able to hear someone all the way some fifty meters across the dome in a mere whisper! It was truly fascinating. After the whispering gallery, several of us brave ones ventured on a narrow, tight fit at times, one way staircase up for another 200 or so steps, finally reaching the cramped little tippy top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Sure it was a tight squeeze, but ah the view was simply stunning. You could shimmy around the tight loop of the top and see all of London stretching out in all directions. It really gave us a sense of just how large the city was, even if there weren’t an abundance of skyscrapers. Big Ben, the River Thames oh so close, the London Eye- tons and tons to see.

Update: some of the kids we saw touring St. Paul’s as a class really do look more like Harry potter than you’d think, they do dress in black dress pants/skirts with black leggings or socks, with bright sideways striped ties of the same color, with a monochromatic color in top, and all the girls’ hair is swept back neat and tidy.

Here’s some of the things our guide Sharon told us about London and as we were driving around the city:

London has 32 barrows, sorts of sections of the city. Each barrow has an elected mayor more for ceremonial purposes, but the entire city to London has a govenor who has a lot of political power. The CITY of London, original London where Romans came is called the Square mile, but not a mile and not a square either. It’s mainly a financial district center, with lot of banks, and it was bombed here quite a bit during WW2. A general election is held every five years on the 7th of May. Their government is similar to our in that we also have a bicameral (two house) system, Britian’s two houses being the House of Lords (people who were historically born into these jobs due to elite status) and the House of Commons (people who were voted in, pretty much commonors). The Queen has a meeting with the Prime Minister once a week, though she isn’t officially allowed to get involved in politics. All the royals are pretty much supposed stay out of politics though they do have a lot of social power and power over tradition, especially the Queen. Though Sharon tells us how some Britts think Prince Charles gets involved in politics a little too much.

Big Ben’s official name is the Elizabeth Tower, but only since 2012. It was named for the bell inside and then remained at the Queen Elizabeth II’s  Diamond Jubilee. A Jubilee is a sort of grand party that celebrates how long a monarch has been on the throne. After 25 years is the Silver Jubilee, then at 50 is the Golden Jubliee, and 60 years is the Diamond Jubilee. The longest monarch to reign has been Queen Victoria, reigning 64 years, but right now the Queen Elizabeth is catching up quick at about 63 years.

The reason why London was build where it is by the Romans is due to the River Thames (pronounced like Tems). This river not only provided transportation, but also fresh water, an extremely important necessity back then. The River Thames is a tidal river, moving 24 feet up and down twice a day.

We stopped for a traditional lunch in Chinatown, one of the largest Chinatowns, second only to the one in San Francisco. After, we headed to The V&A Museum, which stands for Queen Victoria and her Prince Consort Albert. It’s full of some amazing exhibits of jewelry, sculptures, ornate rugs, gilded furniture, and all sorts of wonderful things. There were examples on how gilded wood carvings were made. Wood sculpture was carved, then painted with plaster, then painted on with fabric and plaster again, then a special clay painted on, then the thin gold leaf carefully applied, and finally after painted again and then paint rubbed off to show the gold in a design. A particularly great part about this museum is that it has lots of plaster molds of sculpture around the world from decades ago, so while the real ones have eroded, the V&A’s plaster molds are still in great condition. The sculpture besides that is still breathtaking, from all different sorts of eras, Roman figures to modern busts to Egyptian columns. Also, since the building of the museum itself is from the Victorian Era then with some modern expansion, it’s confusing to get from level to level. Some staircases only go to levels 1,2, and 4 while others only go to 1 and 3.

We were able to stop here to buy some souvenirs here in the gift shop, but it’s easy to forget just how much something costs. My eight dollars wasn’t even worth 5 pounds, or quid as is the slang for the Britts.

Coming back to the hotel for a quick change into more fancy attire, we drove through the bustling evening traffic to eat dinner before zipping over to see the most fabulous performance of Charlie and the Chocolate factory. The set changes were huge and incredible, and the oompa-loompas really did look like little people from all the illusions of costumes and set. We however were the most dressed up ones there, since apparently in London we were unaware how people dress casually for going to the theater. But it doesn’t really matter since we still had a wonderful time.

23:24 PM London Time, March 23, 2015

Day 4: performances, Hampton Court, Jack the Ripper

Getting up and out of the hotel at 8 AM, we all pile on the bus and take a hour and a half ride to a primary school on the outskirts of London. For our set of songs we performed British Grenadeers, Flander’s Fields. Then the choir splits apart and the ensembles sing accapella. Midnight Blues performs Just One of Those Things and Radio, then the Guys! performed Good Life by One Republic (and Sieze the Day from the musical Billy Elliot for the second and third schools). After the choir came back together for a rendition of the pop song Africa, as well as a Brittish folk song: Bobby Shafto.

First we preformed at a secondary sort of equivalent to 7th graders through seniors- about two hundred students and faculty. They absolutely loved it although they didn’t express it in ways we were used to; they were extremely polite and quiet to the point of making us uncomfortable. They clapped but it was sort of though their words and interpretation or our tour guide as we left to explain to us just how touched they were by our performance. This school was also  in a sort of rougher neighborhood than most, which caused the teachers to be very strict as well. And our sound was difficult for us to hear which made for difficult blending with our singing making us rather unsure of our performance, so it was a relief to be reassured.

Our second school to perform was for primary school students. These little equivalents of kindergarteners to 6th graders absolutely loved the performance, their responses more animated like we were used to. The acoustics in their small gymnasium were much better as well, giving us more confidence and settled our nerves a bit.

The last school was absolutely delightful, also full of adorable primary school students. Though, this time after we performed our set, we got to have lunch with the munchkins! Everyone got to sit with some of the kids and strike up conversations and hear about their lives and such. It was so interesting as well as rewarding to see how appreciative they were of our singing.

Now we’re on the bus, or coach as the Britts call it, for another hour and a half until we reach Hampton Court.

13:00 PM London time, March 24, 2015

We just finished an impromptu concert and wandering around at Hampton Court Palace, built and home to Henry VIII.

For the impromptu concert, we sang nearly the same set as we did for the schools, only omiting Bobby Shafto and Radio (for Blues) but adding Nightingale (for Blues). Here as well the acoustics were  great, even better perhaps than the schools. And also thre of course was the surreal feeling if performing in place filled with such grandeur and history. The palace of course was different from Windsor in that it is more in the country, older, and strangely enough, decorated in two styles. King Henry VIII built it in the Tudor style, but Queen Mary and King William III updated the palace, as it was then their home, in 1689, to the baroque style. But due to a series of misfortunes, as well as the death of the queen, it was never fully finished, leaving half the palace Tudor and half baroque.

Some of the Hampton Court Palace’s highlights are the lovely and very orderly gardens, the kitchens (though unfortunately not filled with any real food), the ornate Chapel Royal, and King William III’s apartments which included a velvet toilet.

Now we’re on the bus back to central London to eat dinner at the original Hard Rock Café, talk to you later after the Jack the Ripper Tour!

17:28 PM London Time, March 24, 2015

The Jack the Ripper Tour isn’t exactly something that I was interested in going on, I’ll admit, but nevertheless it was pretty interesting. We were led around by the guide Diane. She showed us some of the Roman ruins revealed by the bombing of WW2 and what, in the older days of the 1880s separated the City of London from the East End of London, which is where all the murders took place. All of the murders of Jack the Ripper happened to prostitutes and all except one were done outside. The women were nearly all drunkards as well, trying to get enough customers to get by with drinking and trying to get a room to sleep. The reason why Jack the Ripper came to be called Jack the Ripper by the press is due to his victims necks being slashed, and most of them being ripped into pieces and other gory details. The five murders occured from August 1888 to November 1888. There are many theories on who Jack the Ripper really was, a member of the royal family, a local East End barber who also worked as a surgeon, a man that lived in the bottom of a pub in the East End, etc.

We were all pretty fascinated walking through the East End hearing all about this, despite the cold. But we did keep looking over our shoulders on the way home just in case…

23:15 PM London Time, March 24, 2015

Day 5: Tower of London, Churchill War Rooms, Westminster Abby, Billy Elliot

Today has been yet another busy day for the PHS choir!

We woke up quite early this morning, leaving for the famous Tower of London at 7:30 in the morning and are met with a Yeoman Warder, a witty chap who goes by the name Bonnie. The Yeomen Warders are men who have retired from the Armed Forces of theCommonwealth realms (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) for over twenty two years, be senior officers, as well as have the medal of Service and Good Conduct. They are the ceremonial guards of the Tower of London serving as tour guides, but in the past their job was traditionally to protect the Tower of London and to safeguard the Crown Jewles. Of the Yeomen, some are Ravenmasters, who do as their name suggests, watching over the ravens of the Tower of London, whose wings are clipped so they are always there. For it’s said if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the Tower will fall and disaster will follow. The Yeomen Wardere wear traditional garb embroirdered with a E II R, which stands for the Queen Elizabeth II Regina, showing they work for the Queen.

We got to tour the entire place, even getting in a couple minutes early to watch the Opening Ceremony of opening up the Tower, something that used to be a necessary duty while now it is living and breathing tradition. There is also the Closing Ceremony, which is filled with more pomp. These ceremony’s have been carried out every single day for the last 700 years.

Every. Single. Day.

In fact, when the Tower had been bombed just outside it’s gates in WW2, the only change was that the Cloaing Ceremony was delayed by a mere ten minutes.

Our choir had the incredible experience of being able to perform an impromptu concert just outside on the gates on the surrounding grass, backing up right against this majestic fortress.  People walking by loved it of course, but it was more than that.  It was a reality check in a way, of just how privileged we were to be in such a historic place that has been around for hundreds of years, over generations, over so many people’s stories and now we’re a teensy little part of it too.

Going on from the Tower, I went over with my mom and got some hot chocolate from a nearby coffee stand right outside the Tower.  Now I mention this because in the States, we’re accustomed to having hot chocolate that’s relatively thin- you know, good, but most of the time not that rich. Well. This hot chocolate was heavenly. It was so rich it was almost like drinking liquid chocolate, a much more European thing to do and if you ever end up going to Europe, you simply have to try it! Also, anything you buy there, unlike here, the tax is already included in the shown price of what you want.  It says 2 pounds is the price? Then you only have to pay two pounds and not any more sneaking cents in there like it is here.

For lunch, we had a rather drast contrast of what we’re used to, eating at a medival banquet restaurant. Though I myself wasn’t a particularly huge fan of the food, it was an interesting experience. The whole atmosphere of being in a sort if dungeon-esque, brick, low-ceilings basement with dark but colorful lighting and waitresses dressed as if they were from the Middle Ages really set the mood for the roast beef.

After, we piled onto the coaches once more and toured both the Churchill War Rooms and the Westminster Abby. Our group went to the war rooms first. These bunkers underground the Treasury building in the Whitehall area of London were used by Churchill, obviously, as well as a few select other people worrking for the British war effort in WW2, most of whom didn’t know that Churchill was there at all it was such a secret place. When the war ended, the people pretty much just got up and left, forgetting about the place for three years or so. In the 70s the rooms then were opened to the public as a museum, displaying most everything just as how it had been when the war ended. Wax figures have also been added make the feel more real. My experience with the Rooms was great… aside from getting lost underground that is.

Next was Westminster Abby, one of my favorite places so far on our trip. Going into our tour, I wasn’t sure what to expect of such a place aside from being where monarchs like Willia and Kate were married and crowned.  There are a lot of things are famous in London.  But Westminster is so much more. It’s gorgeous for one, built by two different kings, in mostly the late English gothic style. Grand arches, beautiful engravings, glorious restored painted bits of it. And also, incredible people. Now, not in the sense that they are incredible, but that they were incredible, for now, they’re dead. Yes, there are many famous tombs in Westminster. The man who built the church, King Edward the Confessor, is buried in the back and regarded as a saint now due to the miracles that happened around his shrine behind the altar of the Abby. Also buried there with a magnificent shrine is one if Englsnd’s best monarchs, Queen Elizabeth the first. Elizabeth is in fact not buried alone, she is buried with her half sister Mary I, also known as Bloody Mary. Many of the people buried here from older times with shrines have in their shrines, sculptures of the deceased they honor. And we know they are very close representations of the peoples’ faces because death masks are taken after one is deceased, masks made out of plaster. Long ago, the Abby supported itself financially by selling these plots, so if you were rich enough your family build you a place there. Then it became that graves and plaques to deceased had to be thereafter approved by the Dean. Because of this, some of the most ostentatious graves are for normal people who just happened to be rich and die before the Dean put a checks on everything. Famous people burried there that I remember best are Issac Newton and Charles Dickens. There are also plaques to Rudard Kilpling, Shakespeare, and others. Most of the names that I remember are from the Poet’s corner of the church. Westminster does a sort of grouping of each type of person- poets and writers are buried and given recognition in the same places while the architects are together, and the military men together, etc. The oldest person buried there is a man from the 1000s, nearly a thousand years ago.

I walked over the grave of Issac Newton and Charles Dickens.

Issac Newton and Charles Dickens.

If that isn’t incredible I don’t know what is. But one of the other perhaps more incredible parts of the church is the respect given to the Unknown Warrior. He is buried beneath a large engraved stone tablet on the floor with poppies surrounding it, commemorating the men that died in World War 1. It is the only floor stone in the whole Abby that is not permitted to be walked upon. Even Kate diverted her path when her and Prince William got married in the Westminster in 2011.

Changing then on the coach into nicer clothes, we stopped for dinner at a French cafe place, and then went straight into seeing our second musical in London- Billy Elliot.  This musical, in my opinion, was even better than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s about a boy from a poor mining Irish town who learns ballet during a rough time in the town when the miners are on strike, some of whom are his father and older brother. They of course don’t support this his newfound talent.  The musical has some extremely talented dancers and half of them are about ten years old. The musical Billy Elliot is 10 years old and this particular theater’s performance of it is up for an Oliver Award for it. The only downside to the play were two things, the first being a ton of swearing, even by all the kids, but it was understandable to set the scene of how rough their lives were. U The second part was a bit drastic for us Americans though- a bunch of actors were smoking on stage a lot, which again adds to setting, but I think it can be understood more seriously as a fire hazard. Not only that but it gave some of us, including me, splitting headaches. It’s only once you leave America that you realize how lucky we are to have such tight rules on smoking.

We got back the latest we ever have to the hotel, arriving at nearly 23:00 and still having to pack, but honestly would we have it any other way? It’s our last full day in London after all, why not use it!

23:35 PM London Time, March 25, 2015

Day 6: Thames, Greenwich

Today was last day in London!

Getting up bright and early, we’re packed, breakfasted, and ready in the coaches by 7:30, and on our riverboat tour of the River Thames by 8:30

Cruising down we got a good look at many things from the water. The Waterloo Bridge for example, built mainly by women during WW2 since most men had gone off to war.

One of the other bridges we passed is one that you may recognize from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. It’s the Millennium Bridge in London that the Death Eaters destroy, used in place of the Brockdale Bridge that was destroyed in the book.

We were also to see a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe theater. The roof on this Globe is just the same as the original was- built with a thatched roof.

Of other places, we also passed by the Shard, the tallest building in Western Europe, as well as the Tower Bridge, quite a magnificent structure that still can open to let ships through.

We finished up our hour boat ride in Greenwich. If you don’t already know, Greenwich is famous for mainly two things, the home of the Prime Meridian (which divides the East Hemisphere from the West Hemisphere), and time. Time being where all other time in the world is measured by, from the Royal Observatory.

There are also two grand buildings in Greenwich, the old Naval Academy on one side, a structure that nearly mirrors a Royal palace on the other side. The royal palace was built by Charles I in 1666, then it became a royal hospital for seamen. Today, both structures are a part of the University of Grenwich , used for classes and such.

You may otherwise recognize it as the place of the last battle in Thor, the Dark World. Which is awesome.

Following exploring a bit in Greenwich, we went to the famed tea ship from the Victorian era, the Cutty Stark. She has four levels, and three big beautiful masts lined with all sorts of rigging. Her most successful captian, Richard Woodget, brought her from Australia all the way back to England in a record breaking 72 days. Her original cargo was tea, but she also carried wool among other things, when steam engines began to take over, finally being retired as a passenger boat and later restored as a museum.

After the Cutty Stark, off to the airport we went, singing (yes singing) thank you and goodbye to our most wonderful guides and coach drivers. Passing through security with relative ease, our gate information was slow in showing up on any screens, and when it finally did show up it was a good 10 minute walk all the way at the other end of the airport. Needless to say we were a bit rushed, but rest assured, we all got on the plane.

We have now officially taken off from British ground! 2:49 London Time, March 26, 2015

11:32 PM London Time. 6:32 PM Chicago Time. March 26, 2015. It’s good to be home.

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