Emily's smiling face was waiting for me at the station, and as we walked back to she and Peter's beautiful central apartment, that has a canal on one side and a castle on the other. I talked so much on the way home I didn't see where we went, and got very lost later :-)
That evening Peter had a gig with his band, so Emily took me on a walking tour of Oxford at night. Everything is very nicely lit in England; the councils really have their building uplighting sussed.
Me outside a beautiful tudor building in Oxford the first evening, very close to the oldest building in Oxford, a church tower, dating back to 1013. Ironically, this building here is now a Nokia store: old meets new.
Oxford is beautiful; cobblestone streets with amazing old buildings everywhere, and a real student atmosphere with people out and about, seemingly all on bicycles. I asked Emily so many questions, that as she had the next day off, we decided to do a walking tour of Oxford the next day.
Unfortunately, that day chose to be freezing. I learnt an awful lot, about the way the university works, made up of 39 colleges, all of which study the exact same subjects, but each college has its own distinct personality. We learnt how much it cost to go to Oxford (bundles! 32,000 pounds if you want to do medicine, cheaper if you study other things), the funny etiquette (one 'goes up' to Oxford, or 'comes down' from Oxford, or one can be 'sent down' for doing something bad. We learnt one of the things you can do wrong is to walk on the grass in the quad of a college (the front square of grass when you first enter), an honour allowed only for the head of school, and the gardener. We got to go into the dining hall at Exeter College (the guide got all excited as it doesn't happen often apparently) which was very Harry Potter-esque with wooden beamed ceilings and panels. We learnt about Rhodes Scholars, handpicked as being potential future leaders (Bill Clinton and John Howard were Rhodes Scholars, for example).
In the back courtyard of Exeter College, with beautiful wisteria in blossom.
Emily and I in Exeter College
In Exeter garden, with the Radcliffe Camera ( a big round, domed building used as a study room and library, named after a past scholar and benefactor of the university) in the background. The Bodlein Library, in Oxford, used to traditionally get one copy of every book published in the UK, which means that they've had to build a massive underground library to house them all, that stretches across the entire courtyard, under the Radcliffe Camera, to the street beyond, and for ages under the different streets. Apparently it can take a week to get a book out!
The Radcliffe Camera on the right, and the Bodlein library behind it
After the walking tour, being cold to the bone (I could feel the cold coming up through my shoes even), Emily and I went for a restorative hot chocolate and marvellous slice of cheesecake in the fantastic Blackwells bookstore, an unassuming little shopfront that opens into a bookshop the size of Borders. We then went for a ramble through the tiny streets, through to the Oxford covered markets, where the shops range from delicious cheese shops, to fruit shops, butchers, with massive carcasses strung up, specialty tea shops (where I found the following teapots!) and a host of other niceties.
I'm such a tourist... I thought these were great! And well worthy of a photo (I think Emily disagreed)
After a cornish pastie for lunch (I'm going to be Portly Anna on my return, but its all so yummy!) we headed for an afternoon stroll in Christ Church College grounds, the most well known college in Oxford. It was SUCH an English experience for me. I saw my first ever squirrel! And then people playing a real game of lacrosse! And then rowers on the Thames! And then punters! And then bluebells! And then a real meadow! And doves! I was in raptures.
A real meadow! Looking back towards Christ Church College.
Me in the grounds of Christ Church College
A branch of the beautiful Thames
By that stage, we'd walked a long way. So while Emily had a well-deserved coffee, I climbed to the top of the The University Church Of St Mary The Virgin, for a great view down onto the spires, sundials, squares and streets of Oxford.
Cool gargoyles at Oxford
The next day was Saturday, and Emily, Peter and I were going on a roadtrip! I'd told them I'd planned to see Bath, and since they hadn't been yet either, Emily had organised for us to go to Bath, stay overnight at a lodge that's also a working farm + B&B in the surrounding countryside, and then head to Stonehenge the next day before returning to Oxford.
In the car we played "Pub Cricket" whereby if its your "innings" (your turn), you get "runs" based on how many legs are in the name of the pubs you pass... ie, if you pass the Horse and Cart, you get 4 runs, your innings is over when you get no runs, ie if you're unlucky enough to pass "The Bell" during your innings. Good fun, but Emily got lucky and won by a long strip ("The Four Mice", or something like that!)
Emily and Peter in front of a beautiful field filled with bright rapeseed in full bloom. I've been seeing it everywhere in the UK, and it's spectacular; the yellow is so intense you see it for miles. I'd been trying to get a good picture for ages, so I made Emily and Peter stop by the side of the road so I could be a tourist :-)
Me with the rapeseed field behind.
We kept driving through amazing little villages like this, where there was a pub, a church, a smattering of stone or thatched cottages, and a village green. Then they'd be another almost identical village 3 minutes up the road.
Bath was lovely; all the buildings constructed in a creamy white stone, pastely colours, and beautiful streets with buildings curving around elegant central islands with big old trees. We strolled down to the river, then along to the original Sally Lunn shop, then, as that was packed, on a bit further, and stopped for lunch at a cute little green in the middle of the town, with goodies from Marks and Spencers. I'm very glad I was introduced to Marks and Spencers. The food section is incredible; they have so much yummy gourmet foods ready to eat, amazing salads and sandwiches etc that make for a cheap and excellent lunch.
A street in Bath
Beautiful curved avenues in Bath
Here's the river at Bath
A beautiful park in Bath by the river where everyone sat around on striped deckchairs in the sunshine. The weather was glorious.
Us on the river in Bath
Then off to the Roman Baths after lunch.
The beautiful Roman Baths... in Roman times the baths were covered, so the water was crystal clear...
The museum itself was great... I hadn't realised the extent of the Roman ruins and what they'd constructed at Bath, and the audioguides and layout of the place were great. It would have been great if we could actually bathe in the water too, like the Romans did, but you can't have evrything :-)
I asked Emily and Peter for a cheesy shot, and they delivered :-) Inside the Roman Baths.
Me at the Roman Baths
Where we stopped for lunch in Bath
After the Roman Baths, we checked out Bath Abbey, which I loved... I've decided I best like the churches that are beautifully lit, its so much more uplifting and inspirational. Bath Abbey had high windows that flooded the church with beautiful light.
A beautiful little sunny chapel within Bath Abbey.
Suddenly it was 6pm. We drove on to the little tiny village where the lodge was situated. It was overlooking beautiful rural fields, and we were met by the lovely host who bought us tea and cake on the terrace :-)
Emily pouring our tea, with the beautiful view behind her.
We then went for a stroll down the country lane to the local pub for dinner. Along the lane were some seriously picturesque and most likely very expensive houses...
Some of the houses we saw on our stroll...
At the pub I had the best Steak pie ever, rich and gravy filled, and a treacle pudding that was drowned in custard. Who said English cuisine was bad?
My list of things I wanted to see in England had involved the usual suspects; Oxford; London, Stonehenge, etc, but I also had a separate list of things of things I wanted to see... like a squirrel, thatched cottages, cornish pasties, and blubells ;-) So on Sunday, after checking with the lovely B&B lady, we were able to go for a stroll on a piece of land they owned with was supposed to have bluebells aplenty. And there was! A purple carpet through a forest. Beautiful.
Then we drove to Stonehenge, going via the "fastest route" according to Peter's GPS. Fine by me; we went through lots of tiny traditional English villages with thatched cottages on the way. Stonehenge was right by the road!!!! Tonnes of tourists, and distinctly lacking in atmosphere, but very interesting.
We then drove on to Salisbury for lunch. Salisbury had lots of Georgian places like Bath, and a huge green outside their cathedral. The cathedral itself was huge, not as pretty as Bath's Abbey, however they had an enormous and beautiful cloister, and a beautiful Charter Room with one of the remaining Magna Carta, a document which I found fascinating.
After Salisbury we drove home via the motorway. That evening we drove to Banbury (Of Banbury Cross sign, I've seen it now!) to see Peter's band play.
And then home!