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Spring Break in the Swinging City: A Literary Pilgrimage to London

Betsy Busch, C'22

London tea with Sean Lewis

“To walk alone in London is the greatest rest,” wrote Virginia Woolf.  Rather than taking their usual rest over spring break, a group of Mounties took Woolf’s advice and traveled to London for a literary pilgrimage. Led by Associate Professor of English Sean Lewis, Ph.D., the group included 15 students and two Mount St. Mary's family members.

london-betsy.tower.bridge.jpgFollowing a tour created by Explorica, a company that specializes in international excursions for students, Lewis encouraged the group to approach the trip as a pilgrimage rather than a sight-seeing journey, asking them to be willing to let the experience of traveling change them.  

The pilgrimage began officially on Sunday, February 27, when the group landed in London. After dropping their luggage at a hotel in Wembley, they began their explorations almost immediately with a Tube ride to Buckingham Palace. The palace is currently closed to visitors, but the group watched the famous changing of the guard before making their way to Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, and Leicester Square. The outing allowed Mounties to sample British cuisine for the first time, and it also introduced them to London’s Underground and Overground train systems. 

On Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, Lewis and Explorica tour guide Laura Fusari led the group throughout the city. Group excursions included trips to St. Paul’s Cathedral, the British Museum, and Tate Modern.  Mounties explored the literary side of London at the British Library and Westminster Abbey, where they visited “Poet’s Corner” and mused over graves and other memorials to authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spencer, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and Charles Dickens.  In the afternoons, participants were free to plan their own activities, which london-st.-pauls-2-in-text.jpgincluded visiting the infamous Tower of London; riding the London Eye, a Ferris wheel that provides spectacular views of the city; and having afternoon tea together.  “My favorite part of the trip was getting to experience authentic London teatime. The tea in England is very good and seems to be a better quality than what I've had at home,” said Ryen Kump, C’22. 

On Wednesday, Dr. Lewis led the group on a tour of the University of Oxford, including the chapel, the dining hall, and the Bodleian Library. Participants had the opportunity to attend Ash Wednesday Mass in the Oxford Oratory. They then spent a few hours exploring the city, eating lunch, and patronizing the area’s many bookshops. 

With the end of the trip approaching, the group had a free day on Friday. Some chose to return to boroughs where they had previously seen interesting bookshops or restaurants, stopping for more afternoon tea and scones. Two students took advantage of a tour that left from King’s Cross station to see the set of the Harry Potter films. Another group left the city to visit Windsor Castle, where many members of the royal family live. 

london.tea.scene-in-text.jpgBy chance, the Mount’s trip coincided with London Theatre Week, which featured heavily discounted tickets for West End plays. Students took advantage of the opportunity to see a variety of shows during their free evenings, including Dirty Dancing, Cinderella, and Dear Evan Hansen. 

Claire Doll, C’24, leaped at the opportunity to see the musical Mamma Mia! at the Novello Theatre, purchasing tickets with her friends the week before the trip began, and she considers the outing her favorite part of the trip. She reflected, “Being able to see my favorite musical at such an elegant venue abroad was such a beautiful experience.” 

Less luckily, the trip also coincided with London’s most extensive Tube strike in 50 years. As Tube workers bargained for better pensions on Tuesday and Thursday, Mounties learned to navigate another form of public transportation, London’s famous red, double-decker bus system.  Kayla Cooper, C’22, reflected, “Despite the Tube strike, and the occasional difficulty with transportation, some of my favorite memories from the trip have to do with exploring London with my friends.” 

As the week came to a close, so did the group’s incredibly active rest in the Swinging City. Flying out of Heathrow to Charlotte, North Carolina, the group returned to Maryland on Saturday, March 5, at 10 p.m.  When asked to describe her experience, Lavona Aromin, C’22, called it “thrilling and enjoyable.” She added, “You can really lose yourself while you’re there.” 

Not only did Mounties find much to admire in London itself; they also developed strong bonds with each other. Kump reflected, “What surprised me the most was actually the bond I created with other members of the trip. I think the beauty of London and the wonder of the whole trip made for a unique experience we all had together. . . I went into the trip not knowing anyone very well, and I came out of it with close friends that I didn’t think I would have from it.” 

This experience of forming new communities, which many students cited as their favorite part of the trip, exemplifies Lewis’s initial charge to see the journey to London as a pilgrimage, a process that this new community hopes to continue even while safely back in Emmitsburg. 

Betsy Busch, C'22