Friday, June 30, 2017

Europe 2017: Oxford and Observations

I'm kind of bored with the "and here's what I did next" posts. Let's do something a little different today. I'll give you some observations, in random order, of what I did today!

Buses are great.

After last night's stupidity, I wised up today. This morning I grabbed the bus from outside St. Hugh's and took it into town. I am buying a few souvenirs, and my bag is starting to get a bit heavy. Luckily, my one-and-done days are almost over and I'll have two weeks of light bags once I get to Germany!

The reason I went into town was to drop off said bag so I didn't have to lug it around all day. Rail stations in England don't have lockers, but after doing some digging last night I was glad to see that Backpacking Oxford, a hostel near the rail station, did offer to store bags for a fee. I found the place (almost accidentally) and left my heavy bag there. On the way back the guy that got my bag found it to be pretty heavy! I think it's heavy, too, but I don't mind it on my back.

I took the bus out to the Natural History Museum and Pitt Rivers Museum (which are in the same building) because I thought they opened at 9 while everything else opened at 10. Wrong - it also opened at 10! I got there about 20 minutes early. And I wasn't the only one that thought it opened at 9 - there were three or four other groups that tried the door before 10. 

The museums were interesting - of course, the Natural History Museum featured dinosaur bones and the chronicling of evolution, even having a statue of Charles Darwin on the wall (he debated there - there was a plinth outside that said so). I preferred the Pitt Rivers Museum, which was a collection of many different items from all the continents. I was particularly interested in the stuff from North America, and I noticed that a lot of the stuff they have is stuff that I cover in this year's Social Studies curriculum! I took lots of pictures and look forward to showing them to my students. 

Anyway, back to buses. When I went to Kingham via the train, we were dropped off about a mile away from the actual village of Kingham. It was roughly the same amount of time to get from the rail station to my bed and breakfast than it was to get to St. Hugh's last night. So when I saw a bus stop outside the station, I said, "Screw this!" And instead of walking, like I'd planned, I waited 20 minutes for the bus. I got round-trip fare for 2 pounds 20, and I didn't have to walk. It was pretty great. 

Tourists are everywhere...sort of. 

I ended up in the northernmost Oxford college, surrounded by large streets lined with trees and various collegiate buildings. I felt like the only tourist in the area - there were a lot of people at St. Hugh's for conferences and summer school, but one or two people in my hallway in the main building. 

Speaking of that, I enjoyed the "art" they had in the hallway. St. Hugh's started in the 1880s as a school for girls, and some of the framed pictures are actually letters and notices from back in the day, instructing the girls of what not to do. 

The dining hall of St. Hugh's is open for a free "full English breakfast," which I found out consists of eggs, bacon or sausage (different from home, but still bacon and sausage), toast, beans (yes, beans), tomatoes, fruit, and drinks. There were a bunch of people there for the conference, and we had to take a tray, college-style down to the kitchen windows and they staff would give us what we wanted. 

After I took the bus down to the museums and started to see more of the colleges in the city centre, the tourists all started to emerge. There were five or six walking tours offered along Broad Street, plus the hop-on, hop-off bus tours that were constantly coming down the block. Luckily there aren't many students around right now. 

I actually signed up for a walking tour, and I was concerned I'd be a part of one of those giant tours with 30-50 people and there's one tour guide with a parasol or something. But when I showed up the guy said I was the only one that signed up for that slot! He was going to cancel it, but suddenly two American families showed up and he convinced them to pay for the tour.

We were led around by Simon, who was very good at pointing out the architecture and history of the buildings - not just access to the colleges. The Sheldonian, the Clarendon, and the Bodleian are all public buildings that all the colleges pay for, and each represents a different time period - the Sheldonian is Roman, the Clarendon is Greek (it actually has the same proportions as the Parthenon), and the Bodleian is Biblical...I guess. That's what he said. He also mentioned that the Bodleian is square, representing religion, and the Radcliffe Camera is circular, representing learning. (It's a library - you can't go in; students only.)

We did get to go into New College and view a few places. There weren't many tourists there at all, which was awesome. While we didn't see the chapel (someone was rehearsing - we could hear him from outside practicing his song), we did see the dining hall, grounds, garden, and a beautiful area that was actually used in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Harry talks to Cedric and then is accosted by Malfoy, who is turned into a ferret by Professor Mad-Eye Moody. Actually, Simon took out his phone and showed us that scene when we were standing by the tree, and it looks exactly like it does today!

That tour gave some nice in-depth information, including pointing out The King's Arms pub, where many people say that Shakespeare often stayed. 

You could tell I was with tourists on the tour, though. The tour guide was pretty quick  when walking, but the rest of them would just saunter up and down the street. C'mon, guys!

As I walked down Broad Street at lunchtime it was crazy! So many people were walking up and down the streets, stopping and taking pictures. 

There were a ton of people at Christ Church, as well. A giant tour group was clogging the ticketing counter, but since I'd already purchased my ticket, I kind of ducked behind them and went in. No one told me to stop, so I went off and did the whole tour!

I did get to see what the Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies was based off of, and the chapel here was open. Charles Wesley and John Locke have memorials here. They have evensong most evenings, so the choir area had books that I was able to open. Two of the books didn't have any music, and the songbook had just the melody up top with words on the bottom. Lutherans would riot if that was a regular thing in our hymnal!

However, when I took the train out to Kingham, I found no tourists, and it's amazing. It's the kind of break I really needed. There's lots of locals frequenting the restaurants and families walking around and going to the parks. And best of all? It's so quiet. It's so quiet, as a matter of fact, that I could hear a hoedown party going on over at the Kingham primary school! (I saw posters; that's why I know.) Of course, their version of a hoedown is a bit different from ours. The music I heard was an accordion!

There's still a few students around.

Most of the colleges have ended the term, but a couple are wrapping up this week and next. You can tell some of the students by their snazzily dressed selves - seeing tuxedos wasn't uncommon. As I was going on the tour, I saw a comedic sight: a man walking down the street in his tux, covered in a party hat, shaving cream, and silly string, but he wasn't fazed. He was just walking down and checking his phone. The tour guide noted that after someone has completed his or her last exam, their friends attack and decorate them with anything that might come in handy. 

That explained the confetti I found all over the street near Merton College and the group of revelers I passed wearing feather boas and also covered in silly string. 

Oxford is not a campus town - it is a collegiate town. (There's a difference.)

While I can say I went to Oxford, I kind of think it's hard for me to say I went to "Oxford University." There are 38 colleges connected to Oxford University, each with their own system. I was able to see many of the colleges as I walked around, but all of them were either closed to the public or charged a fee to see certain sites on the campus. The most prestigious college - All Souls - is completely closed off, even though it has one of the prime locations. 

However, I got a little perk by climbing up the belltower of St. Mary's Cathedral and seeing a nice view from above. Plus, you could see the mechanical workings of the clock and bell, and I happened to be looking at it when the clock struck three!

That leads me to my next observation:

Heights over access.

I will take a climb up stairs for a gorgeous view over being able to go into a building any day!

People in Kingham name their houses and now I want to do that.

Every single house I passed in Kingham had an adorable name plaque on their house. "Orchard View," "Moat End," "Summer Lane," "Witch's Corner," and more, and it was fun to see the creative names all over the place. Why don't more people name their houses? 

Tea is still not good

I tried the house tea at a shop in Oxford, and no milk or sugar could solve the issue of bad taste. I wasn't too keen on the salmon ciabatta sandwich that I had, either. However, I ordered the almond-chocolate cake, and they heated it for me and gave me some whipping cream on the side, and it was delicious!

My dinner tonight was much better. On the recommendation of my hosts, Mike and Gwym, I went to the Mill House in Kingham Even though there was a special dinner going on and my food would take a while, I was willing to sit around and wait. The wait was worth it; I ordered chicken pie and "new" potatoes with a pint of Guinness, and it was great! One of the best meals I've had since I got here!

One more train trip back to London for the day, in a place that is very special to me! See you tomorrow!

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