Sunday, September 9, 2012

When Being a Tourist is the Thing to Do...at least for a weekend

So, this is Open Doors weekend all around England-- for this one weekend every year, many, many sites that are normally closed to the public or charge money to get in are open and free. It's a weekend of the locals acting like tourists, so, walking around in comfortable, practical shoes with the ubiquitous bottle of water and snapping pictures of everything was the norm for today; I actually fit in for a day (the students were all taken into London on Saturday so I only had one day to run around like a touring maniac to get to sites.  I'll get to London soon.)

Because it's Sunday, sites opened later which was nice for me really-- I needed a morning to sleep in.  I'm so excited to be going to all of these places, and going for free on a coach (any bus that leaves the city) that's been hired just for our group from High Point, but these are some early mornings and long days; I'm not a morning person and I have to get up earlier than I normally would so that I can catch the bus on time (the one downside to not having a car-- something I'm glad of because I really like public transportation and I think I'd be dead by now if I were actually driving around in Oxford, where drivers are crazy!-- is that I'm at the mercy of the bus schedule, specifically the Oxford Brookes U1 which is the bus I can ride for free which, since school is not yet in session, does not run very often).  I had a list of things I wanted to see and I saw all but one-- I wanted to see Merton College, mostly because that college is supposed to have the first "real" tennis courts, which are not like the tennis courts we know now, but the ones that the first version of the game was played on. I missed the demonstrations of the game that were being performed on Saturday-- I was just hoping someone at the college would have let me go down to them today (I'm not sure I would have been allowed to though since the courts weren't listed as part of what was open.... I'm telling myself I wouldn't have gotten to see them.)  I took way too many pictures (if it's possible to do such a thing), especially of Magdalen College which has to be the most gorgeous campus in the world.





There's a common misconception that Oxford University is an actual campus--it's not. It's the whole of the most of the colleges in Oxford. So, Magdalen College is one college that is a part of Oxford University. If you want to go to Oxford, you apply to both the university overall and the particular college you want to attend.  (Personally, I would go to Magdalen College for the campus alone.)



These are different views from around campus.  Much of it was built in the later 1800s, after much of the original college was demolished in 1828.  However the bell tower:

is the original structure from 1480.  There's also a chapel at Magdalen College-- it had some really gorgeous stained glass panels but it was so sunny out (which I'm starting to think is the typical weather here since I have yet to have a day that wasn't sunny and in the 70s) that they were difficult to take pictures of. Also, I had to take them at a strange angle because the chapel proper was blocked off. These two photos I was taking at a strange angle through the gate.


The chapel entry was easier to photograph but the sunlight was posing the same kind of problem with the stained glass.

Next, I went to Queen's College-- prettier chapel, but the grounds weren't quite as impressive as Magdalen. Queen's College wasn't on my initial itinerary-- though I'm glad I went. I walked by it on my way to Christ's Church via the covered market (where I wanted to get a milkshake from Moo-Moos because I have yet to have one, but the line was really long).  Christ's Church was only open from 2-4 today, so I had some time to kill on my way there. (All of this stuff is located really close. The whole of Oxford is really a college campus with shops and restaurants thrown in. Lots of shops and restaurants, to be fair.)



 The chapel was the real draw here-- it was easier to photograph the stained glass.  There are fewer pictures-- the campus is smaller. There is a lovely back quad... in the background is the Bodleian which gives a sense of how close all these wonderful sites are to one another.




I got to Christ's Church right before 2, which happened to be really fortuitous because it turns out that it wasn't really just open-- bookings were required for tours, only two of which were being given, and that was the only way to get in for free.  So, I was supposed to have a reservation (which I didn't realize-- I understood that I was supposed to book a space if I wanted a tour; I just mistakenly thought I would be allowed to enter and walk around on my own for free, which was not the case.).  Instead, I walked up the man standing by the gate and asked if it was too late to join the tour.  He said, "I don't know; ask him" and pointed to the tour guide and waived me through the gate.  I walked up to the group that was just about to start the tour, stood there, and no one said anything.  So, I went on the tour.  I have no idea if I was supposed to have had a ticket, but since no one ever asked and the tour guide seemed to think I belonged there, I went along with it.  (I figured I would plead being a dumb American if eventually someone demanded to see proof I had booked the tour... but there was never any need.) 


That's the interior courtyard.

So, Christ's Church is a college; even though it does have quite a large church on site where Catholic residents of Oxford can attend services, it's primarily part of Oxford University.




Christ's Church internationally famous for two things: 1) It's where Lewis Carroll taught mathematics and many parts of the college and instructors who worked there are thought to be inspiration for Alice in Wonderland.  (His photo hangs in the dining hall-- his real name was Charles Dodson.)
That Lewis Carroll is associated with Christ's Church is something they are really proud of.  However, it is also known as the site at which Harry Potter was filmed.  This is partially true.  The dining hall was the inspiration and model for the dining hall at Hogwart's-- it wasn't actually used in the movie (which most people seem not to know). Hogwart's dining hall was produced on a green screen. 

The stairs leading into the dining hall, however, were actually used for the movie filming.  So, even though I know those who work at Christ's Church have a sort of derision about those who come to see the Harry Potter site, I asked strangers to take a picture of me standing on the steps.



And then, after working my way back out of the courtyard, it was after 3 and too late to set off for Merton College and the "real" tennis courts, so I ate a sandwich on the lawns in front of Christ's Church and headed to Carfax Tower (not a place where you check the history of your car, though I had to check the name just to make sure I had it right because all I can think of is the American association) to get a view of the city from above. It's 99 very narrow, and pretty dark (or I would have taken a picture) steps to the top. It's so narrow that you can't pass people-- if someone is trying to come down while you're going up, one of you has to back up (or down).  The view from the top is lovely. The first one is a shot down High Street.  Carfax Tower is at the top-- on most days, it's also the site from which you could buy a ticket for an open air bus tour around Oxford.  It's really, really touristy-- but it was free to climb today and the view was worth doing something kitchy.






I have to say, this was a lot to do in just a few hours. I got myself an ice cream at D&Gs after the tower-- I've been told it's the best ice cream in Oxford.  It was good-- it's my first ice cream in Oxford, so I can't say for sure if it's the best.  It does allow customers to petition for ice cream flavors.  Customers literally create a petition for a flavor and there is a book at the front of the store-- if enough people sign the petition, they'll make the flavor.  I think there's a petition flavor or two a day.  (Today's wasn't really interesting-- it was vanilla with chunks of some candy bar in it.  There were some interesting ones in the book though.)  And, I headed home.

Partially I'm so tired because we did a whirlwind tour of London yesterday-- seriously, less than 4 hours in the city. The idea was to take the students in and give them some sense of bearing so that they have a place to start when they go back on their own (and, they will. Or they should. It's about an hour by bus and perfectly doable as a day trip since the bus runs pretty much 24 hours a day.).  Much of our time was spent at the changing of the guard, which in my mind was a waste of time. And, because the Paralympics were in its last couple days, and it's Open Doors in London as well, so, there were lots of tourists AND many, many streets were shut down for the marathon being run today, Buckingham Palace was a madhouse.  It wasn't just me-- our guide declared the whole exercise a disaster.  This wasn't my first time at the changing of the guard, though-- I didn't really like it much the first time either. And, here's why.

This is what most people see.    So not worth it.  The best part, which I could only see, not hear, was when the band played Abba-- starting with Dancing Queen which showed a nice sense of humor.  This was the best view I got all day:




We happened to be crossing the street, across from Buckingham Palace (view below) when they returned, not playing. They were just walking back.


After the changing of the guard, we went to lunch at a cafe across the street from Westminster Abby, looked quickly at the outside of Westminster Abby (so quickly, that getting a decent photo was difficult)


and went around the block past parliament buildings (though, this photo is from afar, as we were walking to lunch. I like it best.).

 We also walked past 10 Downing Street (heavily guarded, so you can't actually walk up to it) the War Museum and the Household Calvary Museum, with Calvary standing in front:

and a host of other places that we walked by so fast I hardly had time to take it all in.  My mom and sister are coming in a couple weeks and we're spending a few days in London so I'm hoping to be able to soak it in more. It's been a decade since I've been to London and I don't remember it as well as I would have hoped I would.

All of this whirlwind touristing has meant that I'm not getting out to enjoy the nightlife as much as I would like to-- there's a pub near my flat that is supposed to be charming and well known for the beer it brews, and I've had the best intentions to go for three days, but by the end of the day, I can't imagine walking .7 miles to it nor having the energy to enjoy it.  When we got back from London, though, Peter, who works at Brookes and is teaching the cultural and historical course all our students are taking, took me and a colleague from High Point to The Black Boy, which is tucked into a corner of Headington and really lovely.

It was a nice night, so we ate in the back garden.(And, then, I headed home, watched some TV-- Law and Order is on all the time in England as well, even when there's nothing else on-- and went to bed so I could get up this morning to run around like a tourist maniac.)

Ah--for all those wondering how the whole laundry thing turned out... it took three cycles to dry.  I'm thinking the way to handle it in the future is to set the washing machine and dryer when I'm leaving (it's really loud) with the dryer setting set to no less than the hour and forty minute setting (which is how long it took to almost dry a few towels I washed-- almost).  I did think these two-in-one machines were supposed to be more efficient and energy saving-- apparently all they are is efficient in a space saving way.


No comments:

Post a Comment