Oxford is a beautiful town where a good portion of the famous British people you’ve heard of attended school. The town been around so long that it has a type of punctuation named after itself. The Harvard of England, if you will. Or perhaps Harvard is the Oxford of New England as Oxford predates, well, America by a few hundred years.
We arrived midday, welcomed by sputtering of rain, no surprise. We signed up for a free walking tour (Wander Oxford) to learn more about the historic university and its surrounding areas. Free walking tours are becoming our top choice of ways to learn about cities. Typically the tours are led by locals just looking to earn a few bucks (in tips), so the passion and interest that comes along with these often can’t be beat.
We met the guide at the city centre (note appropriate spelling), and did a loop around the university, aka ‘uni’. We were able to peek into one college–the oldest college–named Balliol College, which came to be due to a fight between a Bishop and a rich Scottish dude in the 1200s. When you enter the courtyard, you’re greeted with a lush, vibrant green patch of grass. Now the UK is a pretty lush place from all the rain but this area was exceedingly well kept as only people from that college with their Masters of Arts are allowed to even touch the grass! We meandered through the college, checking out the chapel and dining hall (fitted with an organ and all), and learning about the odd rituals and rivalries–my favorite being about Cambridge! I won’t spoil it too much, but did you know you can’t go to Oxford once you’ve attended Cambridge?
For a late lunch, we went into a storied hole in the wall pub, The White Horse. Barely reaching 8 feet tall, this is one of the oldest pubs in Oxford, 200 years Pre-America. Next door (on both sides) is the oldest bookstore, Blackwell—this store originally could only fit a handful of people and over the centuries bought more space to become a large multi story landmark. They’ve had their eyes on The White Horse for years but they refuse to sell! We ordered a chicken pie and schnitzel, though we were told they have the best fish and chips in Oxford (too bad their fryer was broken.)
After lunch, we went over to the Museum of the History of Science. This sounds boring but is actually something Nick (Writer’s Note to Editor: Reg does, too) has a particular interest in. The place was filled with various scientific instruments and doodads from throughout history. Notably, a chalkboard that Einstein used when he gave a lecture at Oxford with his hand written formulae preserved. Across the street is the Bodleian library containing one of 38 Guttenberg bibles left in the world, and papers ranging from an original Magna Carta copy to Mary Shelley’s working notes for Frankenstein. There was also an exhibit analyzing death in the works of Shakespeare. It was all extremely British.
Our night ended with the annual Oxford Wine Festival. 40 different wine merchants from the new world and old world of wine came to showcase their vino to a bunch of eager young professional wannabe wine connoisseurs. The building itself, The Oxford Union, is (you guessed it) classically historic and apparently not usually open to the public like this.
The full session was 4 hours but you could break up the time by enrolling in an hour-long deep dive tasting at no additional cost. Having grown to love a good Riesling from our past lives in upstate New York, we decided on German wines. Fun fact: While you’re in the States you tend to see German wines on most menus alongside those from any other of the classic wine producing regions of Europe. Apparently in the UK this isn’t the case. A lack of interest and, apparently, some leftover WWII animosity passed on through the generations has led to a distinct lack of a market for German wines in the UK. This session’s theme was to implore the UK public to give German wines a second chance. We almost felt guilty taking a spot in the session because, as Americans, we didn’t need to be told about the wonders of German whites, although we were also able to try some German reds, which was a new experience for the both of us.
Though we were determined to use all of our vouchers by the end of the night (and kept finding new ones left behind by those less dedicated than ourselves), we also wanted to be able to functionally get home at some point. Needless to say, we slept well that night!