Tuesday 19 April 2005

Weekend in Oxford

I already had plans to meet some people in Oxford on Saturday (what prompted our trip), so Stephen got up and left a bit early (just before 10) with the luggage to get us settled in the B&B and then off to do his own thing while I met my friends.  I met up with the rest of the London group at Paddington Station for the train ride to Oxford.  We thought we'd be smart and catch the 11:03 train instead of the 11:21 and get there early, but no this one turned out to be the slow train and got us there a little late.  Not quite sure how that worked, but we had a really nice conversation on the way.  Once there, we met up with the other group members, had a fantastic lunch in one of the University parks and did a bit of shopping in the main shopping district.  So much fun!  

Afterwords, I met back up with Stephen for a quick cup of tea, before heading up to the <a href="http://www.answers.com/topic/wolvercote">Wolvercote Cemetary</a> for the obligatory pilgrimage to Tolkien's grave.

Then, Stephen thought he knew of another Tolkien landmark not too far away that our friend Branson might like to have a rubbing of.  Unfortunately it was located over someone's garage.  So no rubbing, but a picture instead.  Not quite as nice, but we figured the locals didn't want us climbing up their garage. *grin*

From there we were both quite hungry and it was off to The Eagle and Child, otherwise known as <a href="http://www.tc.umn.edu/~d-lena/BirdnBab.html">The Bird and Baby</a> for dinner, a few pints and deep discussion in honor of the inklings.

Understandably, we were there rather late and headed directly back to the Bed and Breakfast for a good night's sleep before embarking on the next day's adventures.   

While the B&B suited us for our nocturnal needs, it was in something of a state of disrepair and haphazardness.  After a quick glance in the kitchen, we decided that our health might be better suited to breakfast elsewhere.  Fortunately, cafes are quite easy to come by in Oxford and after a very satisfying, but not overly large meal, we were on our way to the Botanical Gardens.

While the beds weren't in full bloom, they were amazingly beautiful.  So many different kinds of plants layed out in really accessable and pleasing arrangements.  And the gardens are HUGE!!  We also ended up finding another Tolkien landmark. . .his favorite tree in Oxford, an enormous pinus negra. We spent a good two and a half hours wandering through the various gardens and greenhouses, saw some really funky plants and in general just enjoyed the beautiful spring morning. 

After the gardens we headed towards the Pitt Rivers Museum, walking through the Science quads including a bit building that has been the subject of some animal rights protests recently.  I'd never seen an injunction against protestors before, but there it was posted <i>very clearly</i>.  Despite that, I'm still amazed at the variety and quality of architecture in the city.  

<a href="http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/">The Pitt Rivers</a> was, in a word, CROWDED.  I have never seen a museum with so much random stuff in it in my life.  They only had one floor open and I barely got through half of it!  You name it, they have it on display.  Musical instruments, models of boats, houses, temples, looms, cloth, sculptures, full size canoes and other miscellanious boats.  Everything and anything was either mentioned or shown in one case or another.  Since only the one floor was open they were letting visitors use the audio guides for free.  Even if they hadn't I would have rented one, as I wouldn't have been able to really see any of it properly.

It only took about two hours for us to go on information overload and decide that our bellies were feeling a bit neglected and headed off to catch lunch at Cleo, a crapery that was really tasty.  They had a special going where if you bought one savory crepe, you got one chocolate for free as dessert.  Definitely couldn't pass that up, and it turned out to be the best food we've had since coming to the UK.  I had the lamb buckwheat crepe with an onion and mint sauce, Stephen had a chicken buckwheat crepe with calvados and cream sauce.  MMMMMMM.  The chocolate crepes, weren't just drizzled with chocolate syrup, oh no, the chef had melted very high quality milk and white chocolate and drizzled THAT over the crepes instead.  I was in culinary heaven to be sure.

After such a heavy dinner we headed over to the Spire of <a href="http://www.university-church.ox.ac.uk/church/history.htm">St. Mary's church</a> to get views of the city.  

By this time, it was getting rather late in the day, and the sun decided to retire behind rain clouds for the rest of the day.  So we took a leisurely walk through <a href="http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~bump/oxford/aj/christchurch.htm">Christ Church meadow</a> back to the B&B to collect our suitcase and then a bus to the Oxford rail station to come back to London. 

I'm still in awe of the sheer beauty and elegance Oxford exudes from every stone.  Maybe it's all the churches or the narrow streets and hidden alley ways.  Maybe it's the pervasive presence of the University.  Whatever it is, I highly recommend it to anyone wanting a day (or two) trip out of London or a summer study program.  Kind of makes me wish that I had been able to do the <a href="http://www.ou.edu/honors/oxford/main.htm">Honors at Oxford</a> as well.  

Needless to say, it was *exactly* what Stephen and I needed to get us rejuvenated for the week(s) to come.