Thu 10 Oct - Oxford, England

Cambridge has better weather...

We had our first cold day of traveling for this season today - 10 degrees and a strong northly breeze adding to a wind chill. We were not daunted and set out for more exploring on foot around 8.30am after a nice full English breakfast.

We took the bus towards town and got off a few stops earlier as we had time to spare before the first formal tourist sight opened that we were interested in. We walked through the lovely grounds of Christ's College and to the end of carriage path. There was a gate open (just) to get out - no joke you would not want to be bigger than us as you could be stuck. Di squeezed through.

We headed towards the University Church of St. Mary's The Virgin, for a 9am opening of the tower... Or so we thought. Oops it opens at 9.30am. More wandering first. Or should that be loitering...

This is the Hertford Bridge linking the 2 main buildings of the Hertford College. They call it their Bridge of Sighs, but it's actually a copy of the Rialto Bridge in Venice instead, which is hard to believe Oxford Scholars would get that wrong! Hey, it's not even over water, which even Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge is.

We learned later on our walking tour that Hertford College has a cat, called Simpkins, that is "immortal". The college cat is loved by students and if he dies he is quietly and immediately replaced by an identical cat that is given the same name so the students' studies are not interrupted grieving for the cat. They are up to Simpkins version 9 now. Nice story.

A selfie (self portrait) with the bridge.

We loved this passage nearby, to a hard to find pub called the Turf Tavern, which we later learned is (in)famous.

Bill Clinton was busted smoking marijuana here (but he never inhaled...) and Bob Hawke (ex Australian Prime Minister) still holds the record for drinking 1 yard of beer in the fastest possible time (11 seconds). Their motto "an education in intoxication" seems highly appropriate and Hans could be a willing student.

We wandered back towards the Bodlean Library and appreciated the clear morning light on the buildings of Broad Street.

They are renovating the New Bodlean Library (designed by our favourite Sir Giles Gilbert Scott) where in future the library will display 250 of its "treasures" - like original drafts of famous books and the Magna Carta. The renovations are due for completion in 2015.

The Oxford motto is "God is Light" and the emblem shows and open book (compared to the closed book of Cambridge). As we noted in the Cambridge blogging, this is a point of much contention between the 2 universities.

This main window upstairs is where we were in the Duke Humfrey's reading room yesterday (aka Hogwarts Library).

We still had some to kill so stuck our noses into Brasenose College. They describe themselves as the happiest college in Oxford (refer left blackboard at the bottom). Maybe not at exam time... (How do you measure that?)

Yippee - it's 9.30am and we are headed to the top of the tower of the University Church of St. Mary's the Virgin. We ended up later on a very thin balcony above the clock face.

£4 each to go up the tower and climb 167 steps - easy - until Di got to the tiny steep spiral staircase (where both those going up and down meet). Her knees were jelly as she climbed as Di has a bit of a phobia of these - looking back down - and can you blame her? Hans note - yes, what's the big deal...?

Made it and the views were worth it. You see all of Oxford clearly and into a few closed colleges too. Looking north towards the Radcliffe Camera.

The shadow do the tower over Brasenose College.

Looking west... You can see that farmland and countryside start not too far from town.

Looking eastwards and Hans was teasing Di about being pressed into the corners away from the edge... And the tiny balcony. There were 2 other people up here when we arrived, and then a Chinese guy joined us. We did dosey-doe passing each other in the tight spaces.

Hans had no such problem. Looking south east down High Street behind and below him.

A fellow tourist took this nice photo of us overlooking All Souls College, which has no students, only genius academics. You know, the Sheldon Coopers of this world (From "Big Bang Theory" for any uninitiated)

You know that something is old when the graffiti is 250 years old.

Di hugging the firm church corners. Not very wide here.

A lovely carved Griffin still looks scary.

Hans hung over the edge to get this clock photo. Looked good from above...

Di was relieved to be heading down but the stairs were worse this way and Hans had to stay just 1 step ahead of her the whole time to keep her from freezing up. Yep, she's a scaredy cat.

We then went into the main body of the church, which is where the Oxford University first started, with evidence of teaching here from 1096.

These pews look like courtroom docks for the guilty - perhaps intended for sinners. Hans?

We later returned to the church with our walking tour and learned about its early days and also about the martyrs of Oxford. A messy time for religion in this country, lots of executions and burnings each time there was a change in monarch or the monarch changed their minds.
We had a coffee break in a small cafe, which was awful (we should have gone to Starbucks) and then joined the Footprints free walking tour at 11am.
Luke, who graduated from Oxford 3 months ago, was our guide. He knew his stuff, was loud and quite funny. We had a great 2 hours with him, of course covering a few areas we had been before but Luke was able to add colour and stories to them.
For example this doorway in the Divinity School was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who also designed the nearby Sheldonia Theatre. The Divinty School was also used as the hospital in the Harry Potter movies.

Fantastic features, including the open book hanging above the arch with the motto this time written in Ancient Greek rather than the standard Latin.

It was Luke who told us about the Turf Taven infamy and also about Simpkins the college cat we mentioned earlier. He shared some great stories and details we had missed walking by ourselves.

Luke also took us to his favourite doorway. This scene inspired CS Lewis to write the Chronicles of Narnia. Characters appear here that CS Lewis used in his book, as well as the solitary lamppost which Lucy sees when she exits the wardrobe in Narnia.

The lion on the door is said to have inspired Aslan in Narnia.

Carfax Tower marks the central location of a bloody riot between town and gown (townsfolk and university members) some 500 years ago. Some 63 or so students died in those clashes.

One of these guys is the town "know it all" and the other is the Town Crier.

Our walking tour wandered through the main shopping district with a quick stop at this lovely old building which used to be a brothel. Pret A Manger did not seem to mind...

We finished our tour with Luke with our heads full but stomachs empty. We were tempted by outdoor markets but the freezing wind got to us so we piked out and went to KFC instead. We sat there using wifi and warming up for an hour before hitting the tourist trail again.

This time indoors (how sensible) with a visit to the Ashmolean Museum and Gallery.

The Ashmolean is Britain's first public museum. It's quite large and we were not sure where to focus as it is both archeological and an art gallery. We settled on a focus on European art.

We liked this, one of the few paintings which clearly shows Oxford. High Street had really not changed much.

The display rooms were lovely, and also peaceful (the walls were padded!) but we saw a lot of art of this calibre at the Wallace Collection in London recently. The room we liked the most was full of Pissaro paintings, donated by his son. Very nice.

Hans taking it all but with a feeling of being watched...

Just before 4pm we headed home to Green Gables Guest House. We have liked staying here. Our hosts are a lovely Indian family and everything has been of high quality. Our room at the back was large, with good light and very quiet.

After a few hours rest, and a little research from Di we headed into town with the idea of having a nice Italian meal on Cowley Street. After walking up and down for a few kilometers, with no luck, and no restaurant with good karma, we gave up. At least we got to see another part of Oxford, the eastern side.
Returning to the city centre we found a place packed with students called Mission Burrito and that place had good karma. Yep, the burritos were delicious and the crowd was young and fun, sharing communal tables. They even had Hans' favourite hot sauce from the US.

Full and happy with our simpler dinner outcome we caught the bus home around 8pm. Unfortunately, a bit of rain had started.

One more time at the front on the top deck for Hans before he flies to Sweden tomorrow (Di goes back to London, before we will join forces in Amsterdam, Holland on the 20th of this month).

We have liked Oxford but prefer Cambridge (we can say that now we are leaving tomorrow...). Good night from the university belt. It has been... Eh... Educational.

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