Visiting Oxford

Trip Start May 04, 2007
Trip End May 21, 2007

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

17 May Thursday

Today we visited Oxford with Claire Richards, one of our BPC colleagues. Actually, Claire was attending a conference in Oxford and offered for us to ride up and back with her. While she was at her conference, we wandered the city. Since I'd been to Oxford a couple of years ago, I let Julie and Tory guide our walks, as they had never been to Oxford.

We met Claire at 8am. On the ride up, we talked college and culture. We parked at Hardeman College, where Claire had her conference. Julie, Tory and I caught a local bus into Oxford's town centre. Using Tory's guidebook, we looked first for the Oxford Street Market. Rob had told us that this market was a particularly well-known one and we thought we could find breakfast there.

The market was impressive, filled with sellers of meat, seafood, breads, and sweets, as well as clothing, shoes, bags, and knick-knacks. We ate at Brother's Coffee Bar and Sandwich Shop, where I had a goat's cheese, pesto, asparagus, and black olive sandwich. The flavors mixed well. And of course, I had tea with my sandwich.

After enjoying our meal, we headed out to the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin because it provided a great view of the city from its tower. St. Mary's is unique for its history, as John Wesley, founer of the Methodist movement, preached from the pulpit at St. Mary's, as did John Henry Newman before he converted to Catholicism.

We climbed to the tower and marveled at the view. The tower access is quite narrow, so we had to do a bit of squeezing to get by other visitors, but it was worth it. Tory purchased a postcard that identified all the sights, particularly the different "colleges". Oxford University is not one college, but a series of colleges, each defined by a quad of buildings outlining a courtyard. Most of the colleges were closed, but we were able to tour a couple.

After climbing the narrow spiraling stairway down, we wandered over to one of the colleges that was open. It was one I had visited in my past visit to Oxford, so it was interesting to me to see the same sights again. It was the first time that I've revisited a place as an international tourist. Several years ago, before I'd done any international travel, I would have felt lucky to go abroad once. Having traveled to several countries in the last few years, I am a much more comfortable traveler. But seeing the same place for a second time is different-I'm a bit more aware, but you lose that "first time" feeling. It was interesting, for example, to go to the same shop selling Oxford clothing and find the same shirt I bought two years ago, still on "special."

Our next stop was Christ Church, because it was the school where Lewis Carroll, famed author of Alice in Wonderland, was a professor. It was where several scenes from the Harry Potter films have been shot, particularly the Great Hall. In the Great Hall, we met a very friendly guide who showed us around the room, pointing out items that inspired scenes and characters in Carroll's novels. We saw the stained glass window that included characters from the novels-we nearly missed them, as they were worked in to subtly.

Our next stop was the church itself, where they were in the process of tuning the organ. The organ dominated this small church, the sound of each pipe filling the space. I took a video just to try to capture the sound. There was an intimate feeling to this church. I heard a tour guide describing one of the large stained glass windows. It contained a scene of Thomas More being beheaded. More was a religious leader rejected by the church. When the order came to destroy any image of More, the church leaders chose to scratch off his face from the scene rather than destroy the entire window.

I was particularly intrigued by the contrast between hundred year old alters and memorials, and a new commemorative altar added in the last few years. The older items are very ornate, decorated in multiple images and designs. The new altar was minimalist, a simple black wooden table. The new altar didn't seem to fit in this space.

We wandered around the grounds a bit, although we couldn't go far, as most of the grounds were off limits to non-students. By this time, it was getting late, so we decided to go back to the market for a sweet before catching the bus back to the car. I bought a chocolate chip cookie, and a peanut butter cookie, from a small shop called Ben's Cookies. They were handmade, just baked cookies filled with flavor.

We caught the bus and met with Claire, who'd just previously finished her conference. We traveled back to Bournemouth. Before going to the hotel, we stopped by the train station to investigate the costs of traveling to London. Claire graciously talked with the train official, getting us the necessary information. We were grateful for her help. She then drove us back to the hotel, were we said goodbye. We decided to go back to Wagamama for dinner, since Julie didn't get to go with Tory and me when we went on Tuesday.

This time, I had a soup based ramen noodle dish, followed by a dessert of coconut ice cream, drizzled with a mango sauce and topped with coconut flakes. The soup was very good, but the dessert was fantastic. Well worth the second visit.

Back to the hotel, and another night of blogging.
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