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Wondrous Oxford: Delightful Discoveries

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The Bridge of Sigh’s at Oxford University

When I went to Oxford on Monday, it was with practically no preconceived notions.  But if the National Gallery was the Gallery of Disappointments, Oxford became the Emporium of All Thing Glorious.  It’s a virtual treasure trove of delightful shops, buildings, and a magical (FREE!!!) exhibit of my darkest bibliophile fantasies.  I was having so much fun I ran out of time to buy stuff, so another trip will be happening shortly.

Upon disembarking our bus on High Street, with no map, and only two destinations in mind (The Great Hall of Christ Church College and Alice’s Shop), my friend, Hannah, and I decided our best bet was to follow a young man in a black cape who looked like he knew where he was going.  And bless his heart, he led us right into Oxford University.  The first little bit was spent wandering and oohing over the gorgeous architecture whilst simultaneously searching for a tourist information office to buy a map.

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Handel’s original conductor’s score of The Messiah.

But we found something better: a library gift shop!  And it turns out the library gift shop was in the same building as the aforementioned FREE exhibit.  We wandered through the cafeteria and…tad-a! The Magna Carta just happened to be there (one of the 4 copies still in existence from the 1217 reissue).  But that wasn’t all…we continued exploring only to find a room housing all sort of delious literary and culture treasures, including HANDEL’S ORIGINAL CONDUCTOR’S SCORE FOR THE MESSIAH!!!  The score used for the first performance in 1742, with Handel’s own notations. I have never been moved to tears by a document like that one moved me.  And to top it off, next to it was one of Jane Austen’s notebooks.  All of this was part of a special exhibition called Marks of Genius, featuring the best of the Bodleian Libraries collection.

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We were both in such awe, it took us until we got home to realize (after reading the pamphlet we took on the way out) that there was a whole other room that we missed completely!  Another reason to go back.  But boy did I feel dumb.  New travel rule: read the literature before leaving the museum, even especially if it is a surprise discovery!

That right there would have made the whole day worth it.  But we were just getting started.  Crossing the street we entered the courtyard of the Bodleian Library itself.  Turns out that you can only go in the library with a tour, and that they charge you for.

Boo.  As a general rule, I don’t like tour groups (there are some exceptions, special interest tours can be fascinating, but general museum tours I tend to find boring). I also have a philosophy that all libraries should be free to public, as I think books should be accessible to anyone.  But they didn’t ask my opinion, and they’d already given us a wonderful free preview, so we walked away.

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Taking it all in: exploring the courtyards of Oxford’s libraries.

Meandering up the street we finally found the tourist office.  Okay, there may have been a detour at a bookstore-but in all fairness they had a KILLER display of To Kill a Mockingbird and a promo for Go Set a Watchman, how could I not stop?  At the TI we looked at a map for Christ Church College and Alice’s Shop (conveniently across the street from Christchurch) and continued along our merry way down Cornmarket Street.

One of my favorite things about England is how they still retain the old, quaint names for so many streets, villages, and houses.  Cornmarket Street was a blast back into modern culture.  Gone were the independent stores.  This was chain store central, handy, I suppose, but nothing that made us stop.  I can go into a Gap store anytime.

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Visitor’s entrance to Christ Church College.

When we reached Christ Church, we paid our admission fees, only to find out after the fact that the Great Hall was closed!  We arrived in Oxford with only two destinations on the list and that was one of them. The Great Hall (Dining Hall), was a primary filming location for the Harry Potter films.  It also features a gorgeous stained glass window dedicated to Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carrol) and Alice Liddell, who was the inspiration for his most famous work.  So something else to reserve for a later date.  I should stop having lists of “must sees.” England doesn’t seem that interested in my list or schedule!

We did tour the church itself (the only building we could actually go inside).  It was beautiful and had a lovely memorial to the students and faculty lost in the Great War and World War II.

Alice’s Shop, across the road, was right next door to a used and rare bookshop, so that was handy!  Alice’s shop is dedicated to all things Alice in Wonderland.  Actually, tomorrow Oxford is celebrating 150th Anniversary celebration of the book’s publication.  The shop itself is a former candy and shop that was frequented by the real Alice Liddell and her sisters.

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The final shop we found was an antique map and art print store.  Oh heavenly choirs, I could have spent hours in there!  As it is there is an antique map that is still calling my name.  I just have to decide if I want to part with that much cash in order to make it mine.  It’s a hand drawn 19th century map of Ireland, and it has Enistymon on it. I want it.  And Sunday is my birthday…we shall see!

By this point we were FAMISHED.  Hannah, being the excellent food guide that she is, found a cafe nearby with good reviews and local products.  The bonus?  It was in an old church!  Sadly though, we MISSED the window for lunch (to be fair, it was close to 5:00 at this point.  So we had to “settle” for tea and scones instead.  I don’t think we minded too much, especially since we got to enjoy our meal in the garden with gorgeous views of Radcliffe’s Camera (another library that’s for students, not visitors…)

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Afternoon tea at the Vaults and Garden Cafe.

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Radcliffe’s Camera

After quenching our thirst and hunger, I was charged up again, but sadly, Oxford was not.  By this point it was near 6, and everything was shutting down for the evening.  We took a scenic route back to the bus stop and then headed for home.  Riding the bus, my tummy full of scones and jam, I mentally compiled a list of things to come back for.

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