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Sunday, July 9, 2017


The view from the tower of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin

Though this was my fourth trip to the United Kingdom, it was to be my first to venture from the friendly confines of London (with the prior exceptions of time spent with relatives who lived in Essex). So what I was really looking forward to doing on this visit was to experience a little bit more of England, as well as make my first-ever foray into Scotland. Which is why on the morning of our fourth day in the U.K., we took the train from London's Paddington Station to Oxford, one of the world's greatest university cities. It was another hot day as we arrived at Oxford Train Station, and walked with our bags in tow nearly fifteen minutes into the center of the city to check in at the Buttery Hotel, our accommodations for the one night we stayed in Oxford. I was impressed with the view of Balliol College from our room window; my wife was relieved that the room was air-conditioned. Win-win:

As stated above, this was only the fourth day of our trip, but already Shu-E was tired of British cuisine, so we headed back in the direction of the train station to have lunch at a Chinese restaurant (my daughter found it hilarious that the staff there immediately started talking in Mandarin to her mother). Afterward, we began our exploration of the city. There are 38 colleges instructing 21,000 students in Oxford, and the first place we visited was the largest and most popular, Christ Church, founded in 1524 by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey:

Tom Tower, designed by Christopher Wren.  It's the main gateway for students, but visitors have to use an entrance on the side.

The fact that the school served as a location for the Harry Potter films also serves to bring in the tourists, especially those from Asian countries. The Hall Staircase was where Professor McGonagall welcomed Harry to Hogwarts in the first installment of the series...:

...while the Great Hall dining room was replicated in the film studio:

Amber poses in front of Tom Quad, the largest quadrangle in Oxford:

The 12th-century Christ Church Cathedral serves as both the college chapel and as a working Anglican cathedral:

One of the stained-glass windows dates from 1320 and depicts the murder of Thomas Becket:

Next, we walked in the direction of Merton College, passing Merton Field, where cricket practice was being held. You couldn't ask for a more English scene than this:

Merton College (1264) is Oxford's oldest:

It stands to reason, then, that the 14th-century Mob Quad is also the city's oldest:

We stepped into the cooler confines of the 13th-century chapel:

A student was tuning the large organ:

Back outside, a couple of students were taking a break from exams and playing croquet. If we needed a reminder that we were in Oxford, this was it:

Merton College is noted for its gargoyles and other figurines (Lonely Planet describes some of them as looking as if they're about to vomit):

Leaving the college, we soon came across the Formosan Tea Bar, where a bubble-less cup of milk tea cost £4.25, which equaled around NT168 per that day's exchange rate!:

We strolled with the crowds on Cornmarket Street, then took a break in air-conditioned comfort back at the Buttery Hotel:

For dinner that evening we went to the Four Candles pub, where I dined on lamb shank:

While the girls retired to our room, I took a long walk. At one point I came across a small church, with its graveyard full of crumbling tombstones. It reminded me of a similar graveyard that was near my grandmother's house in Essex:

The three of us headed out into the streets the next morning following breakfast at the hotel. Our first stop was at Blackwell's, one of the best bookshops I've ever had the pleasure of browsing in and where I picked up a book on Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period (Oxford also has a good branch of the Waterstones retail bookseller chain. The less said about WHSmith, on the other hand, the better):

Across from Blackwell's stands the Bodleian Library, one of the oldest libraries in the world. It was closed that Tuesday, unfortunately, due to a special service being held there:

Nearby is the Radcliffe Camera library/reading room, completed in 1749 and arguably Oxford's most photographed building. The only way to see its interior is on a guided tour:

We couldn't leave Oxford without partaking of the city's quintessential experience, punting. Of course we paid someone to do the hard work for us. Joe was a retired police officer who guided us from the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse through some of Oxford's waterways, pointing out some of the landmarks. Coming from a country where many college students are burdened with debt, I was surprised to learn that Oxford's elite (some might say elitist) private colleges charge the same tuition fees as publicly-supported universities in Britain:

The exterior of Magdalen College, which we didn't have time to visit (it waits until noon to open its gates to visitors):

We did, however, have time to go inside the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. Amber and I trekked to the top of the 1280 tower to take in the excellent views of the surrounding area, including the Radcliffe Camera:

Back at ground-level, my daughter eyed the cake decorators inside the Oxford Covered Market:

The last thing of note that we did on our all-too-brief stay in Oxford was to have lunch at Beefeater Mitre, where I tucked into a plate of bangers and mash:

After lunch, we returned to the Buttery Hotel to retrieve our bags, then took a taxi to a car rental agency about a half-mile past the train station. We picked up our reserved vehicle and drove to Salisbury, our next destination (more on that and the car in the next blog post). Our stay in Oxford was unavoidably short, but perhaps I can convince Amber to go to school in one of the colleges there when it comes time to pick a university. I'm sure it'd be cheaper than her doing so in the U.S.

Oxford gave the world Radiohead, but Supergrass also hailed from there:


  1. Wow, that's the UK on steroids! I've got a 1745 romance novel that was deaccessioned from the Bodleian Library!

    1. Cool! I was really disappointed we couldn't get inside the library that morning...