|Day 4: August 13th - Off to Oxford
It was a short night, but better than the one before. Gradually, we are adjusting to jet lag. The problem is always the duvet. We sweated the first night til my pj top was soaked. As most British hotels have no A/C, but ours did, and since our window couldn’t open (we seem to be the only room with a stuck window), we turned the A/C on. I also asked housekeeping last night for two flat sheets, and I planned to lay on top of the duvet. It worked, except jet lag woke us and kept us up for a couple of hours in the middle of the night.
But by the time the alarm went off at 6, we were up and got ready. Had our bags out on time and after breakfast, eager to board the bus and get underway. However, as we drove out of London, Anita pointing out various landmarks, I think we both began nodding off, at least I did. I remember passing by Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes’ headquarters, but when I woke up, there was sheep and cows grazing outside!
Mandatory rest stops at two hours intervals brought us to one of the most lovely spots, Chilton, for a loo break: waterfall with a floating café above it, koi and waterlilies.
Shortly after, we arrived in Oxford, the university that has educated some of the world’s most prominent scholars and statesmen, including Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift and John Wesley. The university dominates the centre of Oxford, spires and stone walls bordering the college buildings. (centre = center. See, I’m already slipping into “real English”!) In fact, it is called the City of Spires.
Oxford was established as a university in the eleventh century, but there is evidence of structured teaching here dating back to AD 872. It is not like a typical American university with a central campus. Rather, Oxford is a collection of more than 38 colleges and buildings spread throughout the city. I know you have heard of them: Christ Church (where Harry Potter films were based), Merton College, St. John’s College, and Trinity College. Oxford is older than Cambridge, the “other” university. It has been the setting for many movies and television programs, like Harry Potter and Inspector Morse. Two of Britain’s kings were born here, King John and Richard the Lionhearted. King Henry VIII made it his home. Many distinguished people have come through one of the Oxford Colleges, like Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), CS Lewis (Narnia), JR Tolkein (The Lord of the Rings), David Cameron (current Prime Minister) and even Bill & Chelsea Clinton.
We were able to walk through the court yards of Trinity College, and Anita pointed out to us these colleges are very different from our ideas of universities. They have only about 500 students, who meet with their tutors in small groups of 6 – 8 only once or twice a week. Thus students must be very self-motivated. Can you imagine our college students with that kind of programme? (more of that British spelling!)
Anita left us to explore on our own, and D&I thought, “Bathroom!” When we started walking along High Street, a cloud burst hit us and we made a dash to the Ashmolean Art Museum, where we not only used the restrooms, but had a bite of lunch, visited the gift shop, and a few exhibits, and then it was time to get back on the bus.
We made a surprise stop in Blenheim, birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, my absolute favorite world leader. He was born in 1874 in Blenheim Place, son of the Duke of Marlborough, but he didn’t want to be buried in Westminster Abbey, where so many distinquished statemen and women rest. No, he said, I didn’t like them in life. Why should I put up with them for all eternity? (or words to that effect…) So he requested to be buried in the small church cemetery at St. Martin’s in Blahem (pronounced Blay hem). We stopped by to see his grave and walked through the little church. Tributes still adorn his grave, and amongst them were two poppies wreaths.
On the road again, we passed through wheat fields, half of which were already cut, fields of sheep and cattle, through little villages with thatched roofed houses into the Cotswold area. Anita discussed the effects farmers are facing in Britain these days. It is cheaper to buy French milk that milk British cows. It costs more to shear the sheep here than the farmers get when they sell the fleece. It has economic threats throughout the country and what will happen in the future?
Then we arrived in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s home. So many buildings hundreds of years old built of daub & wattle construction. The timbers of the Tudor architecture were curved and buckled indicating original work. We took a walk along the major streets, pass the Swan Theater which is undergoing construction, but you’d never know it, because the building is wrapped in a sheaf from roof to basement, with the exact replica of what it will look like when completed. We saw Shakespeare’s birthplace. This was the place of his birth, youth and retirement. There was a lovely statue of the Fool, (like a court jester) with quotes from Shakespeare about fools all around the base. We did a little shopping for my 5-year old grand-nephew (no works of Shakespeare, however).
Then back on the bus where Anita handed out Sherbet Lemons to us. They are little hard candies, lemon of course – but soooo nice. She talked about Free House v Tied Houses (pubs). A free house is not linked to a particular brewery or supplier, whereas a tied house is. I guess we will be going to a tied house soon, because she said we will be tasting Arkells beer. It is real ale. So then she explained real ale was drawn by hand, whereas others use a gas pump. Thus, real ale is served at room temperature, whereas gas pumped ale can be chilled. The gas pump also makes the beer fizzier. I will report on our experience later.
We passed a gas station: 115.9 pounds to the liter. Darrel quickly got his calculator out and figured out how many liters to a gallon and how many pounds to the dollar. About $2.88 a gallon, we guessitmate. Britain is confusing: They use the mile and miles per hour, but they also use centimeters and liters!
We went through Broadway, a small town on the old coach road between Stratford and western lands. Here the cottages were all made of stone with slate roofs. These are being preserved all over the Cotswolds as historic architecture. So what does Cotswold mean? Cots are these very cottages, and wold is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “undulating hills”. We drove by cottages named Rose Cottage, Chapel Cottage, Spring Cottage and Patty’s Pad (!)
Then we got stuck in Winchcomb. Our big bus was on a lane meant for one car, but cars were parked on both sides of the lane, and others were coming toward us! The lane was right up against the cottages almost! But our excellent driver, David (who drove down from Scotland yesterday and will be with us the rest of the trip) managed to squeeze through with nary a scrape or scratch!
Soon after, we arrived in Cheltenham, our hotel stay for a few days. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is held here each year, one of the Queen’s favorites, and she always attends. A few years ago, her horse even won! But Anita told us it was a problem for the manager, because she always presents the cup to the winner. How could she present the cup to herself? Well, Prince Andrew came to the rescue and gave the cup to his mother. Another useless fact about Cheltenham: King George III (the one who cost Britain the loss of America) made Cheltenham the Royal Spa. Boy, wouldn’t it be nice to come back?
We got our room keys and walked down to our room, and were surprised by the brass plate on the door, which stated, “Presidential Suite”. (Darrel was just elected president of the Campus Club in Bay View the night before! How appropriate is that?)
Dinner was served shortly at the hotel, the Cheltenham Park Hotel. I had mushrooms with Stilton cheese, then crusted cod & veggies for my main with fruit for dessert and Darrel had a fruit plate as an appetizer, meat pie and for dessert, apple crumble. We are now settling into the room for I hope a good night’s rest: the windows are open to a nice cool evening. We overlook a little woods, and I heard the morning doves cooing. ‘Night!
TOMORROW: Bath, Stonehenge and a traditional English pub.