May 8, 2007

Day Tripping in Oxford

Today I had yet another work holiday, a four day weekend all told. So, I took a day trip to Oxford. Why have I waited so long? The train trip was less than an hour and it felt like I stepped back in time by a couple hundred years. Making the visit even more enjoyable was the audio tour I downloaded to my iPod for $10 from Tourist Tracks.

Eager to get into the country as soon as possible I began with audio tour 3 exploring Christ Church. One of the largest colleges at the University of Oxford it is the most idyllic as it sits a quarter of a mile from the River Thames which locals call The Isis. Fields bordering the river were filled with yellow and white wild flowers and a meandering herd of cows.

This team of rowers looked to be pre-teen, got to start them young if you want to win the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race.
Oxford was once surrounded by a stone wall which still stands tall near Christ Church.

Speaking of standing tall, Tour 2 took me to Oxford University Museum of Natural History to view bits and pieces of impressive dinosaurs. From outside this looked to be a solid stone building but once inside the Victorians' love for glass ceilings was fully visible.

On display are the remains of the remains of the last known Dodo. That is to say, when the bird became extinct they had the only remaining bones and an egg by which to prove that this bird ever existed. According to Bill Bryson in A Short History of Nearly Everything, the Museum apparently, accidentally, disposed of the bones. So, only the egg remains. In fact, they aren't even certain how the bird looked so the model they have on display is only an estimation.

Tour 1, yes, I know I went backwards, took me to one of the most architecturally beautiful spots on my visit. The Radcliffe Camera, which I had hoped would be a Camera Obscura because of the building’s round shape, turns out is a reading room (camera being Latin for room). It is picturesque none the less.

Across the plaza is Saint Mary the Virgin’s Church which has a secret tower. For a few pounds I threw safety to the wind and took a climb. It felt a bit like a pending Mafia hit as I went through back doorways, up obscure staircases, onto the roof, around pigeon nests, up a stone staircase that barely held my feet and then emerged at the feet of a Saint.

The view was amazing and here I have shots of The Radcliffe Camera from above as well as All Souls’ College and The Queen’s College. All Souls’ College is interesting in that it has neither undergraduate nor graduate students. There are just 75 to 80 Fellows conducting research. All that space for so few people.

Prior to returning to London, a city with far too little space and many people, I visited the Covered Market. These secret shopping areas are my favorite finds. The little shops ranged from produce, flowers and prepared foods to the expected touristy stuff. Here a butcher plucks and prepares pigeons. Yum. The baker is preparing a graduation cake made of fondant. Ah yes, my favorite white cake with white icing. Just in my dreams since I’ve now learned, through personal exploration, that the cake is actually fruitcake. Sometimes I miss ye olde Safeway bakery.