Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Travel Tyro: Oxford, England

Travel roughly 60 miles away from London and you will find yourself transported to one of the most intellectual places in history: the University of Oxford. Universally known for its prestigious academia, Oxford became the first home for secular learning in England over a thousand years ago. As you stroll through the "city of dreaming spires" with its golden-hued limestone buildings in the Neoclassical architectural style, you will find yourself walking along the path of some the world's most brilliant scholars (and perhaps secretly hoping that by some sheer stroke of luck you might expand your own intellect through osmosis). After all, the university's impressive list of alumni includes world leaders, British Prime Ministers, Nobel Peace Prize winners, Olympians, and literary geniuses.

The university's network of 38 colleges, libraries, and churches alone provide many interesting tourist attractions that are not to be missed including the sweeping cityscape views at the St. Mary the Virgin Church Tower and the real-life Hogwarts dining hall at Christ Church; however, there are many places of interest sprinkled around Oxford that are also oozing with history, prestige, and charm. After finishing a tour of Bodleian Library, simply continue north on Parks Road to the joint Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museum for a truly eclectic and one-of-a-kind museum chock full of anthropological and primeval gems. Just a stone's throw away you'll also find the Ashmolean Museum which is the oldest public art museum in Britain. Yet before you leave, take time to wander around the city centre which guarantees the discovery of some local gem with old-world charm like Scriptum's Fine Stationery and the Grand Cafe, England's first coffee house.   

Radcliffe Camera & Bodleian Library

Views from the Tower at St Mary the Virgin Church 

Oxford University's Christ Church College

Bridge of Sighs

Inside Christ Church Cathedral

The Great Hall at Christ Church College

Alice in Wonderland Shop

The Grand Cafe— first coffee house in England

Scriptum Stationery Shop

Ashmolean Museum

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Pitt Rivers Museum

The city is only about an hour train ride from London and the heart of Oxfordshire County, close to the coveted Cotswolds in the south east region of England. 
Any time of the year, but it's more lively when university is in session which makes for better people watching and authentic scholarly vibes. 
Oxford University: As the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford has educated two British kings, 27 prime ministers, and countless famous writers, scholars, and actors and continues to be one of the most prestigious universities across the globe. For reference, here's a "short" list of famous Oxonians.
Christ Church: Founded by Henry VIII and transformed into a college in 1546, visitors flock to tour the inside Great Hall which inspired the dining hall scenes used in the Harry Potter films and real-life university dining halls across the pond (here's looking at you, Harvard). 
Radcliffe Camera & Bodleian Library: One of the oldest libraries in Europe, Bodleian offers various tours of both their historic and modern reading rooms. The library's Neoclassical style Radcliffe Camera is also one of the most photographed buildings in Oxford. 
Tower at St Mary the Virgin Church: Stop at the university's St Mary the Virgin Church to scale the 127 steps of the narrow church tower to view the city's skyline. 
Bridge of Sighs: Officially know as the Hertford Bridge that links the university quad to Hertford College, the bridge is an iconic landmark of the university campus that resembles the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. 
The Grand Cafe: Skip the English tea and grab a cappuccino at the first coffee house in England. 
Ashmolean Museum: Founded in 1683, this Oxford University art museum is the oldest public museum in Britain and first purpose-built public museum in the world.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History: The Victorian Neo-Gothic architectural style of the museum was influenced by John Ruskin's idea that architecture should be shaped by the energies of the natural world. Charles Darwin famously defended his Origin of Species here while Lewis Carroll often visited and used some of the museum's collection of animals in his famous novel, Alice in Wonderland
Pitt Rivers Museum: In 1884, English soldier and lifetime anthropology enthusiast, General Pitt Rivers, donated his extensive collection of over 26,000 archaeological objects to the University of Oxford. Since then, anthropologists and collectors around the world have made donations, expanding the museum's collection to over half a million objects today. 
Scriptum Fine Stationery: Walk down the 600-year-old Turl Street in Oxford and you'll spot a beautiful two-story stationery shop with hand-stitched leather journals, monogrammed letters, pens, wax seals, and other unique trinkets.
Alice in Wonderland Shop: A shop filled with charming memorabilia dedicated to Alice in Wonderland. Alice Liddell— the real-life inspiration behind Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland would buy sweets at this local shop as a child, which Carroll used as inspiration in his book when Alice visits a magical shop run by an old sheep selling curious things.
Whether you are a history buff, art lover, scholar, or Harry Potter fan, Oxford is the perfect place to escape London for the day.
Tyro Tip:
Here's a fun and in-depth look from the NY Times of the Oxford locations that inspired Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. As you wander around the city, you'll recognize quite a few!

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