Tuesday, 3 March 2009

A day trip to Oxford

On Sunday Matthew, Vance, and Sarah drove up to Oxford. Sarah is from Minneapolis. She's doing a masters programs at SOAS in London. I had met up with Sarah once before for a cupcake in Primrose Hill. She happens to be friends with some of my friends, but we never met in Minneapolis.

The drive up to Oxford takes about an hour and we didn't really have anything planned. We brought a guide book and were just going to wander around. We decided to ignore the useful park and ride right outside the town center and try to find parking directly in Oxford. That provided to be a bit tricky, or hellish might be a better word for it. We found a parking lot and spent about 30 minutes getting furious at people who seemed to be just spending the in Oxford standing next to their cars in the parking lot.

We ended up parking in the lot that is for train commuters. Matthew bought a train ticket (2.50) and then he had to go stand on the platform and send a text to pay for the parking. I think it's neat that you can pay for parking by text. It ended up to be 4.50 in the end and there were plenty of places to park and it was close to the town center. If you go to Oxford park in the train station lot.

Here's a bit of info about Oxford from wikitravel:

Oxford [1] is the oldest university city in England, situated some 50 miles (80 km) to the west of the capital London in its own county of Oxfordshire, and located on the rivers Thames (the section of the Thames in Oxford is known as "The Isis") and Cherwell. Together with Cambridge (the second oldest university city and Oxford's great rival), Oxford has long represented the English academic establishment and élite ("Oxbridge"), a haven of tradition and endeavour. Oxford's famous "Dreaming Spires" refer to the medieval churches and colleges that dominate the bustling modern town in all their Gothic splendour. Picturesque architecture and a vibrant modern life (driven by students, light industry and technology) set in the rolling countryside of Oxfordshire make this a great destination.

Without an agenda we just took to the streets and looked around. I had apparently left my guide book in the car, but thankfully Sarah had hers with. We decided to head towards a pub and have lunch. It was about 2 p.m. by the time we got into town. We set off towards to the pub and on the way stopped to go down Broad street where we discovered Blackwell's book shop.

Blackwell's Books, 48-51 Broad Street (opposite the Sheldonian Theatre) - founded in 1879, Blackwell's main Oxford shop is a veritable tourist attraction in itself, the vast 10,000 square foot Norrington Room excavated beneath Trinity College Gardens laying claim to being the largest space dedicated to book sales in Europe. Another 9 speciality branches of this Oxford institution dot the city.

Thankfully we all love a good book shop especially a big and historic one. We popped in there and looked around for awhile. That's something I love to do, browse for books. I think if it weren't for the pangs of hunger we would have stayed for hours. Thankfully there was a pub right next to the book shop called the White Horse.

The White Horse has many claims, which include being one of Oxford’s smallest, oldest and most famous pubs as well as Inspector Morse’s favourite haunts. Sir Winston Churchill and Bill Clinton are also reputed to have called The White Horse ‘their local’ when they have stayed in Oxford.

Over the years landlords come and go, and so too do the many names of Oxford’s oldest pubs. The White Horse is no exception, being first called the White Mermaid in the 1590s (at a time when the word ‘mermaid’ was a word used to denote a courtesan) and later the Jolly Volunteer.

After a restoration of Charles II in 1660, it was renamed The Elephant. Almost a hundred years later, the name of the tavern changed to the White Horse.

Steps lead down through a little door into the dark interior of the narrow wood-paneled room beyond, in a building that dates back to the 18th Century. During the rebuilding of the facade in 1951, a painted wall was discovered upstairs, and in the roof was a witch’s broomstick - superstition discouraged anyone from touching it!

After drinks and some crisps we moved on to the next pub where amazing Sunday roasts were promised. While we were walking to the pub we went over the river and saw a spot where we could hire out a punt for a cruise.

A punt is a flat-bottomed boat with a square-cut bow, designed for use in small rivers or other shallow water. Punting refers to boating in a punt. The punter generally propels the punt by pushing against the river bed with a pole. A punt should not be confused with a gondola, which is propelled by an oar rather a pole.

Going for a ride in a punt boat was the only thing that I really wanted to do in Oxford. We thought we would do it after our lunch, but of course a Sunday lunch involves a bottle of red wine. So time got away from us and it was dark by the time we left the pub. We did manage to find a little cafe on the way back to the car that sold pecan pie. I thought that was pretty lucky. It was the first time I had seen it in England. I had a slice warmed up with ice cream and it was pretty good! Not as sweet as it is in the States, but pretty good.

After that we headed back to London. We listened to some Prince in the car and called it a day. It was a nice Sunday out in Oxford. Sure, we didn't see many sights that you'd find a guide book. It was nice just to walk around and explore without a real agenda. I think I will definitely be going up there again to have a look around and for a ride on a punt.

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