From one university town to the next...
We are on the move again this "university week", from Cambridge to Oxford. And for the first time in Europe, we will try out our favourite bus company from the US, Megabus. However, it turned out that Megabus "outsourced" this particular route to Stagecoach so we travelled in one of their buses instead. This was more a commuter route than a normal long distance route between two places, with various stops along the way, but at a price of £3 each, we could live with that.
One of the stops was in Bedford that did not look very glamourous or wealthy. In fact, the area around Bedford's bus station reminded us of parts of Malaysia, the bus station in Malacca and parts of the town of Kuantan came to mind.
Milton Keynes was also along the route, and we got a bit nostalgic as we arrived at the train station. Our friends Brian and Doro live just outside of Milton Keynes in Woughton on the Green and we visited them there in 2010 after arriving to this train station and then taking a taxi to their place.
We arrived at Gloucester Green bus station in Oxford right on time at 12.45pm. Here is a map overview of the central parts of Oxford.
Instead of eating our brought lunches on the bus en-route, we decided to have them somewhere around the bus station once we arrived. Oxford had a Wednesday / Thursday market happening next to the bus station so we ordered a coffee at one of the cafes, sat down at an outdoor table and ate our salad lunches there while drinking our cuppas. Di spruced up lunch with freshly ground salt.
There was a short walk through the centre of Oxford for us to reach our bus stop that would take us to Green Gables Guest House just south of town.
Our first impression of Oxford, coming from such a lovely place as Cambridge, was somewhat negative. To some extent, Oxford could have been anywere with shopping malls, average looking buildings and with some dubious looking characters around. See the mall picture below...
Well, we figured that we must have arrived outside of the educational district and that we needed to research more. Yep, we found out that the area we were walking through was the commercial shopping area.
Anyway, after a short trip on bus X3, we found the Green Gables Guest House, checked in just before 2pm, got online for some quick research and soon we were on our way back to town again. We bought ourselves a 24 hours bus pass for £4 each as we figured we would go back and forth a few times and that we would soon exceed that amount in transport costs.
This is how we strolled in town...
Shady person in a shady back lane...
Oxford, like Cambridge, had a corn exchange building. We preferred Cambridge's, not just because we saw Al Stewart live there the other day... Of course not...
Our first proper must see destination was the Bodleian Library, named after this gentleman called Sir Thomas Bodley.
Bodleian Library is Oxford's main research library and Britain's second largest library after British Library. Today it is spread across 5 buildings in Oxford and has storage space all around the UK (and under it in salt mines and tunnels) as it receives a copy of every single book published in the British Isles including Ireland.
We booked ourselves onto a tour that usually takes in 2 libraries, but one of them was used for an event today so 1 library only for us, but it is THE library, Duke Humfrey's Library.
While we waiting for the tour to start, we wandered around the buildings outside to have a closer look.
The oldest part of the Bodleian Library is centred around a quadrangle.
This is a statue of Duke Humfrey, the bloke who started a library here, by donation of 280 manuscripts (as previously the university only had 20). This statue is just outside the main entrance. We learned that the artwork was inspired by a certain PP Ruebens according to a plaque.
The reason why the library is not named after Duke Humfrey but after Sir Thomas Bodley is that while the former started it all, the library then went into decline and had to sell off all books except for only 3 when Bodley rescued it all with a huge donation of books. The library has thrived ever since.
And seen the other way...
So much of the writings in and around the library is in Latin. Some we can guess, some we have no chance.
Bodleian Library from one end to the other...
Seems logical, or does it...?
The pigeons showed some disrespect for the art of learning.
Study of one of the faces of the Bodleian Library.
Then onto the inside the library tour... In one word, fantastic. The tour took us up a few floors to Duke Humfrey's Library which doubled as Harry Potter's Hogwarts Library in the first two movies.
We were told facts and stories like...
- How every student's time there is clocked in and clocked out... Since 1602 and still today (and they keep the records)
- That you first have to repeat an oath to gain your reader entry card to the library
- How they read books there in the past, standing up and to candlelight
- How one senior scholar not too long ago tried to steal pages from an old book, but was discovered by the alarm system (which they did not want to disclose how it worked despite Hans' request)
- What rare books they keep, like a Gutenberg bible, 2 copies of Magna Carta
- You can get access to the library if you are a student elsewhere, have a reference letter and, of course, oblige to the oath
Photography was not allowed so we downloaded some to give you an idea of how wonderful it was
There was an another Australian family doing the tour whose daughter studied psychology at Griffith University. The daughter / student was keen to do some of her studies and had enrolled for 2 semesters in Oxford on an exchange programme - good luck to her.
We completed the tour having that feeling that we had seen something very special.
There was a small but free exhibition in the adjacent building, called Magical Books, so we checked that out before moving on. Original sketches from Tolkien, a local Oxford lad, featured heavily as did sketches, drafts and drawings around Narnia by CS Lewis, who lived most of his life in Oxford and was a fellow at the Magdalen College.
Amazing place this, but we eventually moved on.
Just behind the main library building is Radcliffe Camera, called the most recognizable building in Oxford. It is now a circular reading room for the library.
We meandered down to Christ Church Meadow, Christ Church being one of the largest colleges in Oxford.
This must have been old carriage ways. Looked good.
The Thames River runs through Oxford and these rowers were practicing while we were there. The guy at the back was yelling "encouragement" to the rowers... Or did he yell something else?
The rowers turned around their vessel just opposite where we stood checking them out and they were not too bad at all at it.
Looking west towards what is called the Folly Bridge. The middle section in the background is actually a small island.
We then turned around and walked north again and through the centre of town. Even though it was still early, we were now on the lookout for dinner as the weather has turned quite cold and we thought it would be nice to be inside. We found it in a Chinese take away and sit in restaurant called Wok & Roll.
Well, the food didn't. Wok & Roll that is. Although the service was fine, the food was very ordinary. As time was not yet 6pm, there were hardly any customers when we arrived, but soon it did start to fill up. And the customers were all Chinese. We must have ordered the wrong things...
We then decided to call it a day so wandered back to our bus stop and went back to Green Gables Guest House. Lazy evening with yet a few more episodes of "Big Bang a Theory" on TV followed, and some more reading about Oxford. For now though, good night.