Saturday, March 7, 2009

Playing Tourist

Oxford is an extremely popular tourist destination. On weekends the place starts to resemble Disneyland with all the tour buses running around. I suspect it will get even worse in the summer. But being completely overloaded with academic responsibilities during the insanely short eight week term, I have had no time at all to take in the sights.

Last weekend my friend Marianne came over from the states to visit for a few days, which gave me the chance to play tourist for the first time. Of her four day visit, we spent two of the days in London. The other two days were spent in Oxford.

Incidentally, she survived staying in my house for four days, so this should be encouragement for all my other friends to stop by and visit too.

Fortunately, unlike myself, Marianne is a pretty good photographer. (I'm not sure why it is that every photo I've ever taken comes out blurry or poorly framed, but this seems to be the case). So most of the photos here were taken by her, the obvious exception being the pictures that she is in, like this one:

Here she is standing in front of Carfax tower, which is right in the center of the city of Oxford. Note the phone booth in the background.

That's me trying to look British in front of said phonebooth in front of said tower.

The view from the top of the tower is pretty cool. The street that runs off to the left is Cornmarket, which resembles any american strip-mall and is completely out of place in the city of Oxford. (Incidentally, Brits don't know the word strip-mall and think it must have something to do with adult entertainment). The street going straight ahead is high street, the main drag of the city. The tower in the middle is the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. To the left of the tower, the domed roof is the Radcliffe Camera. In front of that is the Bodleian library, partially covered in scaffolding.

From there we went to see Christ Church college, which is one of the best known and richest colleges at Oxford. It is also the largest college of Oxford. It was used as a setting in both the Harry Potter movies and the Golden Compass movie. In the photo you can see the porter walking over to me. His main job appears to be to kick out the tourists or tell them to go to the tourist entryway where they charge you 6 GBP to peek around. I repelled him with my university ID card.

This is more of Christ Church college. In the background you can see the Christ Church College Cathedral. We did not manage to peek inside, but the outside is very pretty. It claims to be both the smallest and the oldest Cathedral (not rebuilt at any time) in England. All of the colleges have churches or cathedrals of some sort, and many of them are impressive. One is constantly reminded that for most of the history of this college, "education" meant "religious education" as there was nothing else.

This is a goose.

Christ church has a large beautiful meadow in the space between the college and the Thames. The goose happened to be walking along the Thames and came over to us hoping to get fed. Alas, he was disappointed. We also saw some crew races along the river while we were there. My guess is that the Goose was actually a student in disguise and was trying to get a lift to the library. This is my bad attempt at a smooth segue to....

This is part of the Bodleian library. The Radcliffe Camera (right, lower) once held the entire science collection of the library

Right across from this is Hertford College and its famous "Bridge of Sighs"

About a block from there is a nice pub called "The Kings Arms". Here's a picture of the college kids having a pint outside the pub (Yes, it is an enlightened place where you can take beer out on the street). It is not unusual for the undergrads to wear suits and ties as in this picture. The pink trousers are evidence that these are particularly stylish (or colorblind) undergrads.

Inside, the pub is very nice --- comfortable and homey, and they serve good food all day. One of the standard pub offerings is the "lamb burger with mint" which tastes a bit middle eastern and is becoming one of my favorite items. Marianne doesn't like this photo, but I think it is pretty good (remember, I'm a horrible photographer, so maybe my standards are lower).

Around the corner from the pub is the Sheldonian Theatre which is surrounded by an army of carved stone heads like this one

Then around the corner from them is Jesus College. Here is the great hall of that college. All of the colleges have Halls like this for formal dinners. Some are nicer than others.

Then just across the street is Exeter college, which has a very nice chapel

By far the best views in town are from the top of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. Getting to the top is a dizzying walk up a steep spiral staircase, and there is not a whole lot of room at the top. I'm sure on busy summer days it will be a long wait to go up. But in the cold winter it was no problem.

In this shot from the Church tower, the spire is the top of the Exeter College chapel. The college in the foreground is Brasenose I think.

Everyone is required to get the quintessential photo of the Radcliffe Camera from the top the Church.

Panning to the right is All Souls College.

In comparison, my college, Somerville, seems kind of meager. Built since the mid 1800s, it seems a lot more like a typical american college.
The two windows on the first floor, just to the right of the sign in the middle of this photo are my office.

Here is a picture of me in my office.

There are about thirty colleges at Oxford, and each one of them has something to see. We only had time to see some of the highlights, but I'm going to have to snoop around some of the others to see what interesting things are around. The last two photos are both from the British Museum in London, but I thought they were pretty cool so I'm going to post them anyway.


Marianne said...

Steve's place is great to visit. Just warn him in advance so he can buy hand soap and find some sheets, which are apparently still in a box.

Steve said...

Gel is high-tech. And now I've been shamed into buying regular hand soap.