Day 13

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

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Today, Claire Richards had a conference to attend in Oxford so the three of us hitched a ride. She picked us up around 8am and said it would take a couple of hours to get there. Unfortunately we got lost and took several incorrect motorways so we didn't actually get there till 10:50am. Claire's conference started at 10:30am. Her conference was at the Headington campus which is part of Oxford University. There are several colleges associated with Oxford University.
We had our first attempt at public transportation... the bus. He caught a bus from Headington campus to the City Center. When we looked at the map it appeared that most places were located near the City Center and along High Street. The bus trip was a relatively short one and we made it to City Center without any hassles or tourist mistakes.
We were all a bit hungry since we didn't have breakfast. We headed to the Covered Market which we were told, and Tory had read, was a good place to get fresh food in a more casual environment. We selected Brothers Coffee for a quick lunch. I had a goat cheese and roasted red pepper Panini (that was heavy on the cheese and extremely light on the red pepper) and a vanilla latte. The food case where we ordered had some lovely cakes that looked really tempting but I resisted the temptation. 
After lunch we walked out the market to High Street to get a since of where we were on the map. We walked down High Street a bit and found The University Church of St. Mary The Virgin.    We knew from our map that you could pay a fee and climb the tower of the church and get a great panoramic view of the city. After touring the church we went up the tower. It was a very steep spiral staircase that had a rope you could hold on to for support... no hand rail. We lucked out that no one was trying to come down while we were going up because there was no place to move to the side and let someone pass. We made it to the top without any incident although I'm quite surprised.

The view was pretty incredible. The weather was perfect with lots of sunshine and just a bit of a cool breeze... just enough to keep you from sweating. The tower had 4 sides so you could see panoramic views of the city from the north, east, south, and west. Tory had bought a panoramic postcard that identified all the buildings we could see from each view. Some of the main sites were the Radcliffe Camera (library), Sheldonian Theatre, Christ Church cathedral and Tom Tower, Lincoln College Library, and several colleges (Exeter, Queen's, Magdalen, Brasenose, All Souls, etc.). We walked around to each view and they were all pretty amazing. It was a pretty good deal for 2.50.
The top of the tower was one direction only. In other words we got all the way around to the last view and we had to go all the way back to get back to the staircase. This was tricky because other tourists were now at the top of the tower wanting to get around and there was hardly any room to squeeze by on the 18" walkway. Interesting. Several times we had to back-track to a slight alcove and press ourselves flat to let someone else by. We got to the end and were ready to go down the staircase when several people emerged. It was lit the VW bug opening a door and 20 clowns spilling out. They just kept coming. The worse part was there was no alcove to press yourself into close to the staircase. I have to grab hold of the stone rail and lean forward to let the others squeeze behind me. This was quite unnerving as the height of where we were was up there and I don't like looking down. Up is jut fine but looking down gives me the heebie-jeebies. After what seemed like hours all the "up" tourists got through and we could start our descent down the spiral staircase. I thought it best to holler down the staircase "Coming Down!" so if anyone was on their way up we'd nip that problem in the bud. No one answered back. Either there wasn't anyone or they didn't speak English and didn't have a clue what I was yelling. I took the chance and led the way down, down, down the rabbit hole (since we were in Oxford I thought that was an appropriate analogy). I'm so glad there wasn't anyone with a video camera because I had to Charlie Chaplin my way down the steep very narrow stairs. I think they shrank because they didn't seem that narrow going up. Maybe I really was in Alice in Wonderland with thing shrinking and growing. LOL
We made it down okay... no broken bones or meeting of others along the way. We walked around the Radcliff Camera to Bodleian Library. Not all the library was open to visitors as we found out. We believe this was due to exams that were taking place. We were able to walk through to the quad which leads to the teaching and examination rooms There were several doors each bearing the Latin name of their subject over them (History, Music, etc.). Above the entrance to the quad is the Tower of the Five Orders which incorporates each of the five styles of classical architecture. We walked past Bodleian Library and make our way toward New College Lane. Here we saw the famous "Bridge of Sighs" which was built in 1913-1914... affectionately named after the "Ponte di Sospiri" in Venice. This bridge arches over New College Lane and unites two quads and the buildings of Hertford College. To the left of the bridge is the most famous group of buildings in Oxford. In the center is the Sheldonian Theatre, the ceremonial hall of the University, opened in 1609 and the first major building to be designed by Sir Christopher Wren. To the bridge's right is the Clarendon Building, the former home of the Oxford University Press and current home to University administration as part of the Bodleian Library. It was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (Wren's greatest pupil) and built between 1711 and 1713.
We walked on to the Sheldonian Theatre but it wasn't open to visitors. I was quite amused by the large heads on top of each pillar of the gate. A tourist information guide said the heads were not of anyone particular. We kept walking till we came upon a very busy and purely pedestrian street with lots of shops. The name escapes me at the moment.

Right on the corner was a very unusual building. The ground floor was nothing to write home about but the next two levels were an old Tudor-style but the levels were completely crooked. Really look at the picture. There are actual shops on these two levels but they look like they were about to collapse at any moment. It reminded me of The Burrow in Harry Potter.
We moved down the road a bit trying to find Christ Church. We came to one entrance at Christ Church's Tom Tower but the visitors needed to use another entrance further down the road. On the way we walked into the Museum of Oxford. It was mainly the history of Oxford which we had already read so we pushed on.    We finally came to Christ Church. Christ Church is one of the best known and grandest of all Oxford colleges and its chapel is the only one in the world to serve as a cathedral. Outstanding architectural features include the 16th century old hall which was the inspiration for Hogwarts Dining Hall in the Harry Potter films. Christopher Wren's "Tom Tower" at the entrance was designed in 1681 and still upholds the tradition of tolling 101 times (one for each member of the original foundation) every evening at the curfew time of 2105 (9:05pm) hours to this day. Charles Dodgson, better known by his pseudonym Lewis Carroll, was an undergraduate and then a mathematics don at Christ Church where he befriended Alice Liddell, daughter of the dean, and about whom he wrote the stories "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass".
The grounds of Christ Church are very well maintained and proper. The gardens make for a lovely scenic picture. The entrance to the quad is quite immense. We paid our entrance fee and made our way to the infamous dining hall. I was surprised but you could actually buy lunch and eat in the dinner hall although I didn't see anyone doing it. We were all moving through the aisle like cattle trying to see all the sites of the hall. As you did this you started see Alice in Wonderland influences.
The "firedogs" protecting the fire place are figures with very long necks. Alice's neck gets very long during her adventure in Wonderland. Alice used to eat dinner with her father, the Dean (the white rabbit), at the high table and after the meal was over he would leave the table through a nearly invisible panelled door to the left of the high table and descend a very thin stair case. This is where the idea of descending the rabbit hole comes from.

Also, one of the many stain glass windows in the dining hall has several Alice in Wonderland characters carefully worked into the glass design. Here is a shot of the entire window and then some close ups of the different characters.      
We left Christ Church and had to find our way back to a bus stop that would get us to Headington campus to meet up with Claire. We didn't have to wait too long and the bus trip was fairly short as well. Claire was in her car reading a book when we got there at 4:30pm. We headed back to Bournemouth. We chatted a bit about what we had seen during the day and about the tutoring program at B&P college. We had quite a bit of time to talk about this as there was a large truck broken down on the motorway and we were stuck in a large traffic jam for an extra hour.
On the way into town we asked Claire if she could drop us by the train station so we could check on getting tickets to London on Saturday. She offered to go in with us to help us decide on what trains to get and see what the prices would be. She then took us back to the hotel. The three of us went to our rooms to drop off our packages and clean up a bit before heading out to dinner. We walked toward Towne Center and went to a place called Wagamama's. Matt and Tory had tried it on Tuesday and were pretty impressed with the food. I had been in London that day and didn't get back in time for dinner so they wanted me to try it. The place was really interesting. There were several long benches instead of separate tables for each dining party. We sat at the end of a bench that had 2 other groups eating. The restaurant was Japanese in theory but had lots of different types of dishes. Some were rice, some ramen soup-based, some coconut soup-based, some curry-based. You could also get fruit juice that was completely natural. For example, if you ordered an apple and lime fruit drink they put a whole apple and a whole lime in a juicer and that was your drink. It was quite healthy and you felt yourself getting healthier as you drank it... at least healthy enough to justify dessert. I can't really tell you what I ordered. It was a type of curry dish but not really. It had thin medallions of breaded chicken with a scoop of rice on top covered in a curry type sauce. There was a bit of a Japanese salad on the side but not much. It was tasty but I can't say with certainty what the sauce was made out of. When I read the description of the dish I was intrigued. I guess I should have written it down.
After dinner we walked back to the hotel. The weather was cool but we didn't have to wear jackets. We pretty much had perfect weather all day. I got to my room and had a pretty strong internet signal so I sat down to get some blogging done and was up till 2:30am. Les Lees had called and said he wasn't picking us up on Friday till 11am so I was able to sleep in a bit. I guess that's why I stayed up so late working on my travelogue. We're off to Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge tomorrow. Stay tuned...
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