Friday, June 10, 2011

Day One: The City of Dreaming Spires

This is the second entry in a series of posts on my vacation trip last month. The first post was:
Prologue: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Friday, May 20

We arrived in Heathrow, and proceeded through customs with fair speed despite moderately long lines, caught the Heathrow Express (which we highly recommend for speed, convenience and ease of handling luggage), and emerged at Paddington. Paddington Station is one of my favorites for the graceful ironwork that ornaments the big windows at the end of the station. The next train to our destination, Oxford, wasn't for half an hour or so, so we took a turn around the station to stretch our legs before coming back in to catch the train.

It was here for the first time (and not the last that day) that we congratulated ourselves for confining our baggage to what we could put in backpacks. We'll have to do laundry on the trip (for preference one of the numerous 'wash and fold' services available in London) but it means that we can walk with baggage in fair comfort. I still use the ancient framed pack my mother bought me at a yard sale as a teenager, and it remains perfectly serviceable despite thirty-odd years of intermittent use.

The day was fair- sunny with puffy white Constable clouds ornamenting the sky, and not a hint of rain in the forecast. I dozed on the train- fortunately JT stayed awake, or this might be the account of how we got back from entirely the wrong place! But we alighted in Oxford at about lunch time and made our way to the tourist information booth, with the intention of booking a tour. By the time we got there and obtained tickets, the tour was imminent so we forewent lunch in favor of getting oriented to the city. The tour was the University and City tour and took us from Broad Street ('The Broad') through the center of town, by the Hall of Ceremony, where students at the University have their Matriculation and graduation ceremonies, and on to Queen's College and to Wadham College.
Looking past the Radcliffe Camera at the dreaming spires.

The best description of the colleges is to look at the photos. The architecture- while varied in detail, has a pleasing uniformity due to the distinctive gold Cotswold limestone used in its construction. The colleges are often organized around a handsome green, the sort of lovely lawn you can only get from centuries of careful cultivation and rolling.

They also often had lovely gardens:
college garden

I found out on the tour something I hadn't realized, which was that the colleges, while all voluntarily associated with the University, are administratively separate, and that joint decision-making is done in a sort of committee arrangement. My mind boggled! Some of my academic friends have told me about the administrative struggles in universities which are all nominally a single hierarchical organization!

Our tour ended at the covered market, a pleasant arrangement of shops, purveyors of various foodstuffs and small restaurants. We marked it down as a location of interest, and proceeded to our lodgings.

We were staying in a very nice bed and breakfast, Becket House, near the train station. We checked in and found that our friend Gary (who spends a lot of time in Oxford, though he wasn't here at the same time as we were), had arranged for a friend to drop off his bicycle for us to use.

We dropped off our packs with some pleasure—we'd been carrying our luggage all day—and went almost immediately back out to find some dinner. We didn't go far, but settled on a gourmet burger place we'd observed earlier.

At this point, JT was still wanting to walk, but I was full of food and about to fall asleep on my feet. Back at the hotel, I checked email and attempted to start this trip diary....and the next thing I knew, JT was (with considerable difficulty) shaking me awake so I could actually shut down the computer and go to bed. I did so and and slept like the dead for the next twelve hours.

JT told me later that he'd come in, and said my name quite loudly. Then shaken me. Then rapped his knuckles smartly on my forehead. I remained deeply asleep. Then he tried to at least shift me aside (I was sprawled diagonally across the bed in front of the computer) so he could get in. As I am, let us say, sturdily built, this proved quite difficult. So he was forced to resort to shaking me and talking until it finally penetrated. I expect I will be hearing this story for many years.

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