Saturday, November 7, 2015

Day 86: Travel to Oxford

Time to pack up... again. Good-bye noisy flag! (There is a metal bar at the bottom of the flag to keep it open... but every time the wind blows, the metal bar hits the wall outside our window making a lovely rapping noise.)

It's also time to shower. The hair dryer here is like a vacuum cleaner that, instead, blows air. It's attached to the wall and has an odd tube connecting it to the unit and a wide "mouth" that looks like it's going to suck up your hair, not dry it. But it does dry... I do have a hard time directing the air where I want it to go, so I give up after a minute or two.

We had breakfast at Nero (a common café chain here) on our corner. We finish packing and head out to the Tube.

We're glad to see that the Tube is much less crowded this morning. It is Saturday and it's later in the morning, so we actually get seats! That's how empty it is. Everyone is grateful.

I'm still surprised by how warm it is here. We're all hot walking along the streets, dragging our luggage and heavy food bag (chips, nuts, candy), and backpacks. Just glad it's just drizzling and not raining, that would have added to the fun.

We get ourselves to Paddington Station (cool!) and Chris goes to the ticket machine. There seems to be a lot of "do-it-yourself" ticket machines, here. We had ordered our tickets a week ago, but you have to print them at the station. So, Chris puts in the information and 13 credit-card sized pieces of paper come out. 1 is a receipt. 4 are tickets for us on our trip to Oxford. 4 are tickets for us on our trip back. And 4 are specific for our seat assignments on the way back (no assigned seats on the way there).

A Tube hallway (left), Paddington Station (right)
Now we wait for a platform assignment. We're a bit early, but that's ok, there are tons of seats facing the departure board. Brilliant! So, we can all relax while we wait. Meanwhile, it's now POURING rain outside. The sound it makes on the roof is wonderful and I'm super glad we aren't arriving now, we would have been soaked. Interestingly, we are getting a little dripped on, here and there. I guess the roof isn't leak-proof. Annoying, but not bad considering alternatives.

Our train gets assigned a platform and we head out to find a seat, since we don't have assigned seating. The train is virtually empty so we pick 4 seats facing one another. But they're cramped and we convince Chris to switch to the 6 seats facing one another. Maybe we'll get lucky and we'll get all 6. No such luck. Chris' hesitation was right. We should have stuck with out 4. Oh well. We share with some strangers and it's not too bad. The trip is only 1 hour. The biggest problem is how much luggage we have (4 bulging backpacks, 2 rollers, 1 bag of food, and 1 bag of extra stuff that didn't fit into the other luggage... guess we'll have to ship more stuff back??) Finding space wasn't too hard as we were there early, but we're hogging the space, that's for sure.

Our first stop is Slough. Barely anyone gets off. Next stop is Reading. Almost everyone gets off. So the last leg of our journey was almost just us on the train. I guess Reading is popular!

Now it's our turn to disembark and we are in Oxford. The rain has stopped again. It's mostly dry. We follow signs to a taxi stand. There is a group of kids (sportsteam of some sort) waiting on the taxi island, but they don't seem to be in line? We look about, it seems more like the bus side of things... where to go...? There is another couple there looking around like us... they ask if we are looking for a taxi, too? Yes! They are from Florida. So, it's just us Americans who can't find the taxi stand!

But we do eventually find it on the other side of the island (it was only 50ft from the bus waiting area). But it says to wait for the taxi on the other side.. where? The other side of the street is for cars. Up on the hill is a parking lot. It's not clear where to go. Meanwhile, taxis are driving right by us, some empty and some with passengers. I walk around to see if I can find something else to help... Chris goes across the street to investigate. And, when I come back to where the kids are, I see the "Other" side of the sign that says to wait on the "other side"... on THIS side of the same sign it says to wait "here". Oy! I guess they want to control the swing of the line, but seriously, that was confusing. And just as we figure it out, here comes a taxi and stops for us, just as if it was easy all along.

At the train station... looks like a LEGO building (left), a part of High street (middle and right)

We haven't taken too many taxis while in the UK, but these last two rides have very opinionated drivers. Our driver from our Stonehenge tour was also opinionated. Today's driver asked if we fell for Merkel while we were in Berlin. We mumbled something and he said, "Well, England has. Hook line and sinker." Ok... just get us to our hotel and we'll be happy! Side note: The people here definitely have an air of intelligence about them (I can tell just by looking). There is an afternoon paper that fills the stands. It's free (how does this happen in this day and age?) and people get in the line to pick one up on their way to the Tube. AND they actually read it! I do feel, as a community, they are much better educated by the happenings in the world than I am I don't doubt that.

We arrived and check into our hotel. We have two rooms side-by-side (no adjoining doors), so we split up. Chris and Venice take one room and Xander and I take the other. Then we head out in search of a coffee café.

As I promised the taxi driver, it has stopped raining and the sun has broken through the clouds. The city is beautiful, sparkly its after-rain sheen.


Chris and I enjoy our coffees. Very good. The kids enjoy their half-baked brownies (Venice got chocolate-raspberry and Xander got chocolate-salt-caramel). Very good. And then to walk back through town again. Side note: On every block, there is no less than 2-3 barbers. We even passed one that had three people waiting while one got his hair trimmed. We figure, this is Oxford, one MUST keep one's hair neat, therefore, the abundance of places to get groomed.

We decided to walk through the botanical gardens as it's our way. But, we just missed the last entry by a few minutes. We'll have to come back tomorrow if we still want to come. There is a place to peak into the gardens and then a hedge-maze out front, so we did get a little taste of what's there. We'll wait if we need to see more tomorrow.

High street (left), Xander on the bridge (middle-left), Botanical Gardens (middle-right), Hedge-Maze (right)

This trip is probably our first venture where we didn't do much, if at all, research before coming. So, it's a quick search on the internet to figure out where to go and what to see. Chris had read about a bookstore, in town, that claims to have the largest single room devoted to book sales in all of Europe (10,000 sqf if you want to know). Xander isn't too excited about the prospect of being in a giant room with books. On the other hand, Venice is excited and we push forward.

As we walked through the front of the Botanical Gardens, there was a city map (they are erected all over town), I saw that we were nearly on Dead Man's Walk, the route of medieval Jewish funeral processions. It sounds more ominous than it is. In fact, today, with the sun out and lowering in the sky, it's a very serene and beautiful walk.


On the other side of Dead Man's Walk is Christ church. This is our first hint that there might be something going on here in town... we see a few people in cap-and-gown outfits. Graduation? I did a Google search later and did find that today is one of Oxford University's fall graduations. I didn't check into any other colleges that are in town (because there are tons and tons of colleges here, I didn't know that...), too many to search. But we did come across several more graduates during the rest of the day.

Christ Church (top and bottom -left), a street... forget which one (right)

We also walked through the covered market area. This shopping and eating area reminded me of Pike Place in Seattle. Lots of little shops sharing the covered area. We scope out lunch for tomorrow (Pieminister) and dessert (Ben's Cookies). Then we find our way to the bookstore where we lose ourselves for about an hour.

The covered market (left) and the largest single room devoted to book sales (right)

When we finally pull ourselves out of the bookstore, we find that it's twilight. The town continues to be beautiful. We walk through other colleges, taking tons of photos as we go, and make our way back to our hotel where we've decided to have dinner.

Town (top and right)
Jesus College (bottom left and middle),
where the first woman to study there crossed the threshold in 1974


Back at the hotel, we get ready for dinner. We are the ONLY ones in the restaurant. Not a good sign, right? All the other restaurants we passed were full-up. I have to say, the food was excellent and we were waited on quite nicely. It was as if we had a private party. Only when we were ready to pay our bill did other people come in to dine. What a nice way to end our day. Side note: Venice has not been feeling well. She's been itchy and has had a sore throat for a while (foreshadowing warning...)


After dinner, we head back to our rooms. None of our keys work on Chris' door. I can't remember if I mentioned that we were locked out of our room in London a few days ago, too. My key stopped working. A hotel worker happened by, tried his key and that didn't work either. He went to fix our keys and it was all good. This time, they hotel workers came up and couldn't get their door to work. They suspected that the batteries in the door were out and said they would fix it in the morning after we head out for the day. So, Chris and Venice are tucked in for the night, no leaving!

Once in our own rooms, getting ready for bed, Xander says, "Was that fireworks?" I say, no, couldn't be... why would there be fireworks? Must have been a car backfiring. Well, we heard it again, head to the window, and to our delight, we were treated to a long, wonderful fireworks show! Right outside our window! 

And we thought our evening couldn't get any better.... and we were right. Our joy ended around 9pm when "kids" started running up and down our hallways, making quite a raucous. I'm bad at telling age, now... maybe early 20s? I actually feel like they were younger and this was their first time in a hotel without adult supervision.

In any case, they ran up and down the hallways, chasing each other, laughing, yelling, thumping. Up and down the hallways and staircases. This is an older hotel, so everything creaks and thumps so much louder than in a new-modern hotel. So, a little after 9pm, I got "old lady, motherly" on them. I opened my door and shushed them. I actually said something like, "Hey guys, come on, there are kids trying to sleep, here." The girls seemed apologetic (I don't think the guys even heard me) and it was more quiet... for about 15 minutes. At that point, I had fantasies of opening the door quickly and taking their photo to send to the front desk with a complaint. But... that was too much for me. Chris, however, opened his door and shushed them too. Then, around 10pm, Chris called the front desk. Didn't do much help. Maybe by 11:30pm it had quieted down. What a bummer of a way to end the night.

For you, I'll let you end on a bit of our fireworks display:

video

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