Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Blogging the London trip- Day 5 (part 1)

Okay, I'm finally back to blogging about our trip to London. Geez, was it really a month ago we were in the UK? Sure enough...

This post promises to be an extremely long one, as we had an action-packed day. So I'm breaking it up into smaller chunks.

Our second field trip day was to be spent in Oxford, the Cotswolds, and Stratford-upon-Avon. (The last should be familiar to English students everywhere as the birthplace of William Shakespeare.)

We got up early and headed to breakfast, then to the bus. This might have been the morning that the breakfast area was overloaded, so we were redirected to the upstairs restaurant (which, I guess, handles overflow). We managed to grab a quick bite then head out. Once we were properly sorted out at Victoria Station (which is where Evan Evans bus tours departed), our bus headed out... and we were bombarded with the shrieks of one very unhappy baby. Our tour guide acted with astounding speed and courtesy, asking if the couple might prefer to sit out this trip (and get a full refund), given that they would be on the bus for several hours and the baby seemed extremely unhappy. They assented, perhaps sensing that the rest of us were NOT in love with their infant (or at least its antisocial behavior), and hopped off before we got out of London.

The trip to Oxford was about an hour in duration, affording us another view of the countryside. Oxford itself is a fair-sized city that contains 38 different colleges under the very loosest of administrative umbrellas. Applicants apply to the individual colleges, not to the university as a whole, and while the costs are (currently) rather low, prices have been rising sharply in the past few years.

We toured Christ Church, founded in 1546 by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (advisor to King Henry VII and King Henry VIII). There are about 600 students in total in this college, which is the oldest and perhaps most prestigious of Oxford's colleges.

We visited the dining hall, where there is a stained glass window celebrating Alice Liddell (aka Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), because Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) was a mathematics professor there before he became a storyteller to the children of other faculty members and then a novelist. The dining hall was rumored to be the basis for the dining hall of J.K. Rowling's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (of Harry Potter fame), but our guide debunked the rumor by saying that there are easily a dozen locations that could make an identical claim. However, part of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" was shot at the entry to the dining hall in Christ Church, so there.

Our tour continued with a walk through the church that is the heart of Christ Church. It is truly a beautiful building, impressive in every way, with exceptionally friendly reverends on hand to welcome visitors.

We walked through Oxford, taking in other colleges (some of them truly tiny) and enjoying the hustle and bustle of a college town in late spring. Our destination was the Martyr's Memorial, where three men were executed for heresy in 1555. (Supposedly this execution was the basis for the childhood rhyme "Three Blind Mice.") Kat grabbed a sandwich while I snapped pictures.

I was mostly interested in the pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis met with their fellow Inklings. Turns out we were to pass it shortly afterward-- it's The Eagle and Child (at least, that was their hangout from '39 to '62). We would have enjoyed going in, but it was well off our touring area. Ah well, maybe next time.

Our trip was then into the Cotswolds, which are truly "countryside" in England. The landscape is rolling and absolutely gorgeous, featuring scattered flocks of sheep and cattle, along with the now-ubiquitous fields of rapeseed plants. Many of the cottages are positively ancient and sport thatched roofs (we heard that the thatch need only be replaced every 10-15 years if done right, but it is costly--probably only slightly less than having a new roof put on a conventional ranch home).

If you're in the UK and minded to get out of London, you should make a point of seeing the Cotswolds.

Tomorrow I'll resume the narrative with our arrival in Stratford-upon-Avon.

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