Friday, August 8, 2008

My Top 5

With tomorrow's departure looming, it's time to say goodbye to Oxford.

Here are five ways I might open an article on this amazing city: 

1. Oxford is a city best seen in six weeks, not eight hours. Sun hitting spires after a storm, a lazy cider in a corner pub, a battle over nectarines with fellow cooks at the Gloucester Green Farmer's market, a perusal of the dusty pages of a 1742 manuscript in the Bodleian library... these are the treasures of Oxford; they are not to be found in the thronged shops on Cornmarket Street or even on the mobbed walkway outside Christchurch.  

2. Begin your visit by participating in a sweaty battle with a punt (long boat like a gondola) on the River Cherwell. Be the first to pole your friends down its waters, then enjoy giving superior advice from the luxury of the boat bottom cushions as each tries in turn. Wave to the swans and munch on Haribo gummy candy purchased at one of the ubiquitous news and confectionary shops you will have passed en route to the boat rental stall. 

3. From the balcony of St. Mary's church, squished between those trying to slide past you going in each direction, you can visually plan your visit to this historic city. Look out from the first deck and you will see a half dozen colleges whose silent courtyards invite your hushed steps. From the second deck gaze out on the high street, which you can follow to a fancy High Tea at The Grand Cafe or a mojito at the Kazbaar in the offbeat Cowley neighborhood, depending on your style. From the third deck look to the grand details of Christchurch cathedral and the vast meadows leading beyond it to the Thames river, houseboats docked along its edges like colorful lace. Finally, from the fourth deck look out to the covered market, the canal pathway, and the busy rush of Cornmarket Street. 

4. Oxford is an ideal base point for exploration of Southern England. A one to three hour train or bus ride will get you to London, Bath, Bristol, Brighton, Salisbury, the Cotswolds, and Stratford. By day, check off your list of landmarks: Blenheim palace, Big Ben, Brighton Pavilion, Shakespeare's birthplace, Jane Austen's house, the British Museum. By night, relax in a college town: have a drink at Tolkien's favorite pub, The Eagle and Child, wander beneath the lighted Bridge of Sighs on Broad Street, have dinner at one of dozens of delicious Thai, Indian, Italian, or (of course) British restaurants in the area. Sleep sweetly in a town which has harbored students' dreams for the last eight centuries, then repeat. 

5. How can you experience the best of five English cities just by visiting Oxford? First, stroll the walkway along the Thames river, duplicating the riverwalk experience in Bristol and Bath. Then stop for tea in one of the fancy cafes on Broad Street, transporting yourself to the quaint tea rooms of the Cotswold villages. Wander into the Ashmolean museum and you will experience the British museum of London in miniature, admiring treasures from across the world without battling thousands of others for a look. Step into one of the twenty four unique colleges linked with Oxford and experience the same splendor on tap in Cambridge, built by a dissident group of Oxford students and professors in 1630. Finally, step into the covered market for some fruit and a meat pie, or a news shop for a tabloid-esque newspaper and a Yorkie bar, and you share an experience with visitors to nearly every other city in England. 

The next post will probably be from Bulgaria! Until then, take care!!!

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