12 July 2010

The land of dictionaries - A weekend in Oxford

Another weekend, another English city. This time the city of Oxford, most famous for dictionaries, smart people, beautiful architecture and its world renowned university. I joined three friends for a (much too early) train from London Paddington - it didn't help that I somehow set my alarm, and therefore arrived, an hour early. Great. Paul K went one better though, with only 30 minutes sleep the previous night... good effort.

It's a short journey to Oxford - about an hour on the train through the very pleasant English country side - think rolling green hills and wandering sheep under a vast blue sky.

Once in Oxford we made a quick detour to our hostel to drop off our gear, then it was 'into the breach once more, my friends' - to explore! You expect most European cities to contain some kind of ruins, castle or fortress... Oxford was no different. Except for the fact that while most castles are awesome, this one is... well, shite. I think the castle itself was unimpressive to start with, but it has been transformed it into this mutant half breed - with glass sections, flash frontages and some parts converted into shops and resturants. There is even a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. I wasn't around 500 years ago, but I'm quite sure there was no American doughnut chains. Just my opinion - they should have left it the way it was - unimpressive is better than just plain ugly.

As Oxford is famous for its academia, we headed for Christ Church College - one of the main campuses in Oxford. Beautifully intricate old buildings, large, immaculately maintained gardens and lush green lawns - all very English. Christ Church's Great Hall (or Hogwart's Hall) was also used in the filming of Harry Potter. But no, we did not spot him.

We found the rest of Oxford similar to Christ Church - spotlessly clean streets, colourful gardens and stunning buildings. We decided on a picnic for lunch, so after a visit to the supermarket, we went on a mission to find a nice spot beside the river. Many winding cobbled streets later we arrived to a small stream with jungle covering the banks. Luckily we were right beside a huge field, so we picked a nice spot under some trees to sit and relax.

We spent the rest of the afternoon indoors watching the football world cup with about 30 Monks (long story). That evening we headed out for an extremely unimpressive meal, and a big night out on the town with Dr. Who (an even longer story).

The following day, after a greasy Weatherspoons breakfast, we hired a streetcar and drove out to Blenheim Palace. Yeah, Blenheim, Christchurch, its just like being back in NZ! Blenheim Palace is the type of place you would imagine the Queen to live. The grounds were massive with large perfectly trimmed lawns, sculpted gardens and huge fountains, a lake covered in water-lilies and swans, and enormous, beautiful buildings.

We spent the majority of the day at Blenheim, before returning to Oxford for a beer and burger, then heading back to London. When we got to the train station there was a mass of people waiting on the platform. No problem I thought, we have reserved seats. When the train arrived we all managed to squeeze on. A second later my heart sank... none of the seats were numbered. So seat 33A, 33B and 33C were lost somewhere in the ether, and we had to spend the trip standing in the isle.

Perfect weather, good company and one awesome city made for a totally enjoyable weekend.

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