Stonehenge and More: Art Studies in England
I saw a flyer for a two-week art study tour to London posted on the wall at school. At first, I passed it without much thought, but as the deadline for the deposit came closer I considered it more and more.
The price was reasonable and the course was counted for six credits or two regular courses. And it was London! Spending the New Year in London didn’t seem like such a bad idea.
I still hesitated. Having a physical disability, some things have to be considered before traveling. I didn’t know anyone going on the trip. My mind immediately went to the task of carrying luggage, the amount of walking, stairs without railings and curbs. I decided that to be comfortable going on the trip I needed someone’s assistance. I quickly went about trying to recruit one of my friends. At the last minute a friend did agreed to go with me. If she hadn’t, I probably would not have gone on the trip.
London turned out to be mostly accessible, especially the black cab taxis which are all equipped to fit a wheelchair. These are good for the person in the wheelchair, and give more legroom for everybody else. I also found a website (www.londontransport.co.uk) covering London transportation that was helpful. The site has links for mobility-impaired people and others and details which buses and stops are accessible. Some, but not all, of the subway stops (or “tube” stops) are accessible. I enjoyed using the taxis; although they are not as cheap as the tube or trolley, the drivers are very knowledgeable of the city and charge a fair, standard rate. In my case it was the most convenient way to get around. Also, lucky for me, my professor and I were able to convince my school to cover some of my taxi fare as an accommodation on my trip, since some sites were not comfortable walking distances.
Our group stayed at the Russell Hotel at Russell Square in London. While walking around, I found crosswalks with curb breaks and walk/don’t walk signs (which everyone should use unless they want to risk getting hit by a Double Decker bus). The group also spent one night in Bristol and two nights in Penzance on the coast of England. Our trips involved many museum and art gallery visits. We visited the British Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as the Tate Britain, which sponsors the famous Turner Prize competition for outstanding British artists. Major public attractions like these are often accessible.
London is an expensive city. After I returned home with a few souvenirs and some pictures, I thought, “What did I spend my money on?” However, most museums and galleries have free admission (donations are voluntary), only charging occasionally for entrance to special exhibits. So, art-lovers should go to as many galleries as they can handle because it’s free!
Scenically, London is beautiful and has many historic buildings and sites, as well as clubs and pubs. London is also famous for its theater. I still regret that I didn’t attend any plays in London. I can’t comment on the accessibility of theaters, but I am sure each theater is different. When calling ahead for tickets, ask if the theater is accessible beforehand. Most hotel staff can help with getting the numbers of nearby theaters. I found that shows were abundant and priced around $15-$30.
We also left the city and visited Stonehenge, which seems in the middle of nowhere, southwest of London. It’s in the countryside with sheep grazing nearby. Bus tours go there frequently and the grounds itself are accessible. A wide roped-in walkway circles the site, so visitors are, unfortunately, not allowed to touch the stones or get too close. Because I have seen so many pictures, it looked as I imagined it to. What makes it interesting is its history and now I can say I’ve seen Stonehenge!
I also visited the ruins of Tintagel Castle, near the city of Penzance, where King Arthur’s castle was rumored to be. Since the site is up a steep hill overlooking the water and is not very accessible, I viewed it from the road, which is almost as good. In general, London is very accessible, but when going to the countryside or older historic areas outside of the city one has more accessibility issues. It is best to call ahead when planning an itinerary to ensure seeing the sites with fewer hassles.
My trip to London took place in January, which isn’t a busy tourist time. This meant fewer crowds at most sites. I found the weather bearable, not too cold. I would much rather go at this time than the heat and crowds of summer. On my specific tour, I was glad that we had a schedule of planned trips with a few days to ourselves. Otherwise, I would have wandered around the city with a map and probably not made good use of my time. Of course, I also think visitors need some days without a plan, just to relax or enjoy teatime and a scone!