Monday, October 11, 2010

Things to do while waiting for a train...

Definitely time to give an update before I forget about my trip to Oxford!

I love Oxford, I would like to live there. The whole place was full of old buildings with crazy stories. And it's got a castle that was being used as a prison until only 14 years ago!!! I find that so hard to believe- apparently the archaeologists had a fantastic time once they closed the prison; you can just imagine, seeing as it had been a kings-and-queens type castle until it became a prison in I think just pre-Victorian times? Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I had been doing waking night shifts, and decided to re-adjust the violent way, by staying up all day. So Monday I was shattered, but stayed up till after 10.00pm- mostly figuring out where I wanted to go for the 'weekend', and I settled on Oxford. There is a direct train from Malvern so it got bonus points. Soooooooo I took my shattered self to bed some time before 11pm and got up at.... I can't remember, but I was at the train station for 6.50am train, so early.

Tuesday I got to Oxford no issues. Unintentionally found myself in the quiet carriage. The train was destined for London Paddington ultimately, so it was full of buisnessmen in suits travelling from their country residence in to the city for a day of meetings. Or whatever it is they do. But it did mean that I had a really nice quiet trip to Oxford, and that the bloke sitting next to me could tell me when Oxford was the next stop. This was good at pre-9am, I zoned out for most of the trip. Although there was one really surreal moment, early in the trip. We were going through the outskirts of some industrial looking town and the sun was just rising, casting an eerie orange glow over the scene, it looked really post-apocalyptic at that time; there wasn't a living thing to be seen. It made me think of Captain Planet... I'm not quite sure what that says about me, but it really did!!!

So, got to Oxford and found the hostel I had booked a bed in easily, it was only five minutes from the train station. Sadly they wouldn't let me check-in properly, although they did offer me somewhere to keep my stuff if I wanted to (I only had one bag, so didn't). So I went off and found somewhere to have breakfast. For those ex-Dunedin people, (from a few years ago now, I know it's closed now) it was much like the Green Acorn- post-grads and all. So I was muchly pleased. It was student cafe, but nicer than average. And delicious! Oh, with free wi-fi. They have free wi-fi everywhere in Oxford, you would never have your own internet connection!!!

After breakfast I wandered around for a while, mostly aimlessly, and mostly through the many
university colleges. They take up most of the town, I'm actually not kidding!!! You see a pretty
building and think it's a church? Nope, it's the chapel of one of the colleges, every time. The only church I did see what not nearly so decorative! And it had people drinking in the graveyard in
the middle of the day. Classy.

I think this one was Christ Church college, the first one I came across. It was big and very well maintained, but I don't think there was much public access except for the gardens, which were quite pretty, except for the face the lawns were being mown at that particular point.

I kept wandering and somehow found myself facing a paddock with cows. No kidding, a two minute stroll from that pretty college above and I was looking at a paddock with cows!

I think that is Merton college you can see in this picture (although I could be wrong, it got a bit
confusing going from one to the next). The cows were just a bit to the right of this picture! It was
quite strange, but kinda cool. I think I walked past some stables too, but I couldn't see over the fence. It smelled like a stables though!

After wandering through colleges I accidentally found the philosophy department. Seriously it was an accident I swear! But seeing as I was there, I was rather compelled to have a nosey, and seeing as the swipe-card access system opened happily without a swipe card... well I just couldn't help myself really! They have piles of books on Wittgenstein in their departmental library- blegh! But otherwise, I have to say, it was just the same as every other university department I've wondered around, but with swipe-card access for almost everything, instead of just science and computer labs.

After the colleges and pretending to be a student again I wondered around and discovered the less university dominated parts of the town, they weren't very exciting. There was a church with people drinking in the graveyard. In the middle of the day. Had some lunch somewhere I can't remember. I was basically too tired to do much that afternoon! After my initial burst of enthusiasm that morning the lack of sleep really hit me and I spent a lot of time sitting in Cafes using the wireless and drinking coffee. Oxford had decent coffee in most places, which made me happy.

I had dinner in a really old pub, it had been an public house of some sort since the 17th century or something! And also some tasty been called Hobgoblin. They have the best names for beers here! My order got lost during a rush and they ran out of what I ordered so they said I could choose anything from the menu and would be put at the front of the orders in the kitchen, so I had Scottish Salmon, it was delicious!!! After that I made my way back to my hostel, which was sadly full of people who were drinking in the common room. Then they all went to bed, in my dorm. And kept talking. Luckily I wasn't the only one who wanted to get some sleep, so they got Shhhed after a while, but not before getting me aggravated. One of the not drunk people was an American guy from NY, doing a Masters I think (I only deduced this, could have been something else) in Anthropology and couldn't find any accomodation. I guess it's like all student towns, big rush on accomodation at the start of semester. Interesting conversation though. I slept like a log that night, I was so tired! When I woke up in the morning it was absolutely pouring with rain, I could hear it from my bed, so went back to sleep. It was lovely to go back to sleep! When I finally got going it had stopped raining, and I headed for the castle. Yay castles!!!

As you had to pay for entry to the castle I figured I would go for the tour which was part of the entry fee. Turned out you couldn't go up the tower without a guide anyway, so just as well. Anyway, it turned out that nobody else can be bothered with castles at 10.30am, so I got a private tour!!! This was awesome for a variety of reasons; firstly she cut the "I'm a theif locked up in this castle since 1752" crap pretty quickly, secondly she took my picture at the top of the tower for me (yay a picture with me in it for once!), thirdly I got to ask lots of questions without interruption, and finally, I would NOT have wanted to climb those stairs in a crowd. I took this picture from the castle mound, where they used to shoot people from during a siege!
This is the less offensive of the two pictures my lovely guide took. Please keep in mind that a) I had the sun in my eyes (yay English weather!!) and b) I had just climbed 101 stairs. Now, these were no ordinary stairs. It was a stone spiral staircase, and they couldn't have been more than about 2 foot wide! Steep. Apparently they co-
ordinate tours so they don't meet on the stairs. She even walkie-talkied someone to let them know we were on our way down, and there was only two of us! It's a pity you can't see the spires very will in this picture, but I took more later, so you'll see more! So I learned several things during my castle tour. Firstly being in prison before the 18th century was spectacularly horrible, and also weird. You had to pay your own board. Seriously! If you were rich you could have visitors to tea and nice clothes and everything! I think it was Edwardian they became more like we know them now. I also learned that the castle was really old (Surprise!)- dating from 1066 (something about Norman conquests?) and used to have a moat from the Thames river (which runs through Oxford). It wasn't a castle to start with, it was a fort keep or something, with four towers at each corner, but then someone decided it was more useful to have a castle, so they turned one of the towers (To the far right in that picture of the castle) in to the castle's tower and built it all up around that. It was Empress Matilda's (or Matilda of England, or whatever name you want to use) castle during the Baron's war in the 12th Century, and her son became King Henry II. Yay medieval kings-and-queens castles!!!

So after the castle I finally resigned myself to the ever-present English lunch of Jacket potatoes. It had baked beans and cheese, I was surprised it was tastier than I expected. Ahhh England, you don't really do adventurous foods. But I certainly wasn't hungry again for a while! And they had free wi-fi. I love this free wi-fi thing they have, it's just magic. It's what I'm using right now. Buy a coffee, get free wi-fi! Delicious.

Anyway, after lunch I did some more wandering about, and then paid my £2 entry to Carfax tower. It was a bit dissapointing after the castle, there really wasn't anything to see, or even hear about, except for the view. There were lots of warnings about not climbing the tower if you have health problems, which was explained when I started climbing... 99 stairs, all less than two feet wide, and again a spiral staircase. Even worse than the one in the castle! You would be facing one direction, but moving in another, they were so steep. It was really awkward, there wasn't even elbow room! I think it's a bell tower, just in case you wanted to know. But there were some nice views from the top!

I don't know what this tower was all about, but I liked the way it stood out against the countryside behind it! The one below is also from Carfax tower, just of some of the spires and other pretty buildings. It wasn't really possible to show how many there are in one picture, but they're sticking up all over the skyline in Oxford; really striking.
After climbing the tower I chilled out for a bit, had some lunch in a horrible cafe and then had a quick look in the Blackwell bookshop. According to wikipedia they have the largest single room devoted to book sales in all of Europe- it was certainly very big!!! I didn't get much time there as I had to get back to the train station to go home, but it was impressive. I got to look in the Oxford University Press bookshop too, also very impressive. I wish I could buy lots of books!
Once I had a few minutes devoted to staring at enormous bookshops of great repute I had to go, but I was sad to leave, I really liked Oxford. It had that student vibe of university towns, there were banners for live music everywhere, lots of cafes and coffee shops, and a serious collection of very decent looking pubs. Student discount signs abound- I even got asked for my student ID once, so flattering!!! I wish! I would love to study there. Or even just live there really, but it's hard to imagine being there and not being a student, the university is clearly the biggest influence on the town by a long way, unsurprisingly. But what a lovely town. Oh, and students have been hated by townsfolk since at least 1209! Damn those drunken students and all their partying!

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