Oxford: “I wanna study forever”
We arrived in Oxford Saturday afternoon, and got a bit lost looking for our hostel. The first one we came into wasn’t ours, but the second was! Since it was almost 4PM already and we figured lots of things would be closing soon, we decided to take it easy for the rest of the afternoon. Later, on our way to look for a grocery store, we found a leaflet lying on the sidewalk titled: “Oxford Open Doors”. It turns out that this weekend was very special: almost every college in Oxford was opening its doors to the public for free. That was some great luck for us, especially since at first we weren’t supposed to be in Oxford until Tuesday; we were supposed to go to Cornwall first but switched up the dates. If we had visited Oxford later this week, we would have had to pay to visit these colleges and many of them might not even have been accessible.
Party in the UK
That night, since it had been three weeks since I had the chance to dance and party a bit, I convinced Laura to go to a club that was just two buildings over from our hostel. We ended up having a lot of fun, even though the place was exceptionally small and extremely over crowded. Most of the songs we could have heard in Quebec, but there were a few we didn’t know that seemed very popular here. It seemed like some student initiations might have been starting in the city because some people there were dressed as pirated and some as cowboys. As we left the club, I kept demanding we get some Ashton delivered halfway around the world … or so says Laura.
University of Oxford: of chapels, gardens, chapels, dining halls and… chapels!
Sunday afternoon, we set out, “Open Doors” guide in hand, to see as much of the colleges as we could in such a limited time. We first visited Nuffield College. This is a rather small college (only 90 graduate students) that was built in the first half of the 20th century, if my memory serves me correctly. We walked around its beautiful quads (rectangles of grass around which you have the school buildings). I think I fell in love with Oxford right at that moment. We also got to visit the dining hall, which was quite small, but was beautifully decorated, with red and white stone ceilings and beautiful wood tables and chairs.
Our visit next took us to New College, just a few streets away (actually, all these colleges are all walking distance of each other; Oxford city center is basically a campus). This “new” college was founded over 600 years ago. I was really impressed by its ancient architecture. The college’s chapel was open to the public. While less impressive than some cathedrals we have seen before on the trip, it was still humongous for a chapel. I particularly liked how the wall at the front end of the chapel was designed. It had 5 or 6 rows of life-size statues of men and women, saints I would guess. All of this carved white stone really pleased my eyes. I also enjoyed the cloisters. Those are like corridors that go around the four sides of a quad and have big windows with no glass that go through their stone walls. I really felt like an intellectual walking down these corridors. Finally, we had access to the dining hall of the college, which was also quite impressive in its decor.
All Souls College
This college had very limited opening hours for Open Doors and is probably one of the most well-known colleges in Oxford, so that explains why there was a line-up to get in… I thought its chapel was more impressive than the one at New College. It had the same rows of statues on the wall (these got less and less impressive every time we saw them, which was in at least 2 other chapels), but the ceiling was simply gorgeous. It was a wood ceiling but golden angels were hanging from all over it. We then waited in line to enter the college library. This felt also a bit surreal, with its thousands of books lined on the walls on two floors, with sections having headings like “Philosophia” and “Historica Americana”, etc…
Exeter College and Merton College: Chapels, Bells, Gardens and a life of education
We visited so many colleges that afternoon that my memory is already a little blurry about what we saw in each of them. I remember that Exeter College had large, beautiful gardens and lawns, though by then we were a bit bored by its chapel. We then got to Merton College, which had HUGE gardens, and really awesome ones too. This college was really long, its walls lining a whole street, and the gardens went all that way too behind the college. Behind them were situated the University’s rugby fields, of which there were at least a dozen. The chapel was similar to the others, and while we were impressed to see a bell concerto going on we ended up getting annoyed by the constant ringing. It was while we walked around the Merton College gardens that Laura said this made her want to spend her life in these kind of places, reading and learning forever. To me, this certainly looked like a more stimulating learning experience than Laval!!!
On our way to our next visit, we passed one of Oxford’s museum. In the yard in front of it, we saw these gigantic tree trunks that were actually an exhibition there. It turns out an artist from Oxford had brought them from a rain forest in Ghana to raise awareness of the fact that a very big proportion of these wooded areas are cut down each year. She exposed these trunks in London’s Trafalgar Square in November, then sent them up to Copenhagen in December for the big summit that took place there (I don’t remember the name of the summit though!). There are now exposed in her hometown of Oxford until summer 2011.
We then made our way up the road to Keble College, which is a huge college that was founded in the 19th century so that an Oxford education would be accessible for more people. We spent 2 seconds and a half in the chapel, went into the HUGE dining hall (these dining halls with their long tables and the big table at the front for the professors made me feel like I was in Hogwarts!!!), and got to visit student bedrooms. We took the obligatory cliché pictures of us sitting at the desk and so on. We thought these were pretty big rooms for one student, though it really felt like an impersonal motel room, with the big old telephone and the coffee and tea packets on the desk.
Our final visit of the day brought us to this beautiful college that lies right next to one of the rivers that crosses Oxford. As we looked at the place, we really felt this was the kind of place where our beloved Rupert Giles from Buffy would have studied. We liked its beautiful gardens that lied just across a small bridge over the canal. The gardens were lined by the canal on one side and by a big park with DEER !!!! Laura had some fun TRYING to take good pictures of the deer through the bars of the fence.
Well, that’s it for Oxford!!! We were really glad to have been there this weekend, but didn’t regret not spending more time there, as we probably would have been tired of visiting colleges if we had done it for another day. As I am writing this, we are now headed to Penzance, Cornwall, a region I’ve always wanted to go to, if only because it’s the homeland of one of my favorite detectives, DI Thomas Lynley from the Elizabeth George novels…. See you there!