In December of 2015, my longtime roommate Stephanie Dayer and I traveled to London, Paris, Florence, Venice, and Munich during Christmas break. Stephanie, who has since graduated and is now a student at UAMS, was a biology pre-med major, while I am a soon-to-be-graduating English major. I’ve been abroad several times, partially thanks to the Honors College, but this was Stephanie’s first venture across the Atlantic. When we were planning our trip, we knew we wanted it to be about learning, not just traveling. We decided that each of us would explore a little bit about the other’s discipline, which led us to the title of our self-planned trip: Science and Shakespeare.
Our mission was to absorb as much science, art, literature, and culture as we could in the cities we went to with the time that we had. In the process, we visited world-famous museums such as the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Louvre Museum in Paris, and the Uffizi and the Accademia in Florence. We also saw world-famous monuments and landmarks such as the Globe, the Eiffel Tower, the Ponte Vecchio, St. Mark’s Cathedral and Neuschwanstein Castle.
We didn’t spend all our time at museums and monuments; Stephanie and I ventured under the city of Paris when we entered the catacombs. Underneath the City of Light are miles of dark tunnels lined with skeletons. Our tour guide told us about how, when the cemeteries of Paris began to fill up, the city moved its dead to the quarry tunnels below. Seeing the catacombs was one of Stephanie’s favorite parts of the trip. She was fascinated by the architecture of the tunnels and the presence of the bones; she could even tell me the names of the particular bones I asked about while we were there. I enjoyed it, but I was definitely a bit queasy from looking at human skulls by the time we came back up to the surface.
Some of my favorite moments included strolling around Florence at Christmas, learning about Bavarian history while in Germany, and seeing the musical Mathilda as well as touring Stratford-upon-Avon while we were in England.
I already considered myself a Shakespeare enthusiast and a bit of an Anglophile before this trip, but after taking it I felt several steps closer to being a real Shakespeare scholar. As a biology student, Stephanie hadn’t had the chance to interact with much literature or theater while she was at school, so we spent as much time with my books as she did with her bones.
While at the British Library, we had the opportunity to view Shakespeare’s First Folio. We also toured Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon and a reproduction of the Globe Theatre. After touring the Globe, Stephanie and I attended a performance of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a recently built indoor theater used in winter instead of the Globe. (Joseph Marcell, best known for his role as Geoffrey the butler on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, played the title role – and he did a great job, as did the rest of the cast.)
We started and ended our time in Europe at an airport near London. On our last night, which happened to be New Year’s Eve, we had planned to celebrate the new year in style with native Londoners. After all, we had spent Christmas in Florence and had gone out into the city then. Instead, the two of us decided to hang out in our hotel room, exhausted from our trip. We listened to a few amateur fireworks being set off outside and watched the displays on the TV in our room. Staying in turned out to be the right decision; we had enjoyed our trip, but on the last night we let ourselves rest and got ready to come home.