We are back in London for a few days before our flight leaves for home. Having left the Cotswolds, we first drove to Oxford for a bit of urban action to balance the serenity of the Cotswold countryside. And I must admit, that as with Cambridge, I was looking forward to walking into a university environment. The first stop on our Oxford walk was Blackwells Books, one of the finest bookstores I’ve ever entered. Going there was a frustrating moment for both Nancy and me since we didn’t think we could afford to load up our luggage with more books. Instead, I wandered around with my phone out taking pictures of books I will look into on my return.
Another major stop for our Oxford visit was the Ashmolean Museum.
I had visited the museum on a previous trip over 40 years ago and remembered it as a dingy rambling place. Parts of it have been refurbished and today seems brighter and more open. Instead of investigating the permanent exhibitions, the opted for a special show, “America’s Cool Modernism, O’Keefe to Hopper.” The paintings, etchings, and photographs focused on urban and industrial themes, empty of human characters and filled with flat, stylized cityscapes or abstract, allusive shapes and colors.
But the real goal for any walk through Oxford is visiting the colleges. As in Cambridge, the colleges effectively control access to their quadrangles, chapels, and lawns. They are, after all, working spaces, as we were repeatedly reminded, still in the middle of a term; the students were not to be disturbed. Each college has its own main gate for visitors, while students slip in and out of side doorways. If the college is open, it charges a modest fee for the privilege of getting a glimpse of student life. I was disappointed not to see groups of undergraduates hurrying along with robes flying in the wind. The few students on view looked remarkably like students on the way to classes on the Cornell campus.
Christ Church seemed like a good starting point. I don’t know if it is the largest college but it certainly has the most spacious quadrangle and and a gorgeous Great Hall (its walls completely covered with portraits, not least of which was one of Henry VIII), as well as its own cathedral.
We entered the hall late morning along with a group of German high school students. The tables were already being set up for lunch and later with the doors closed, students would arrive for a mid-day meal.
With too many colleges we could not manage a visit to each, so we simply walked the streets, peeking into the quads as we encountered them, and choose any that looked inviting. While many of the colleges line very busy Oxford streets, Merton College provides a view across a large sports field which was being prepared for some athletic event cricket perhaps.
Around the corner and down the road, at New College, we walked under the Bridge of Sighs, a walkway between college buildings; Cambridge’s Bridge of Sighs actually crosses the Cam.
Among the colleges, Balliol might be the most picturesque, with several courtyards, well-tended gardens, and huge beech trees.
And while students sprawled on the lawn, magpies scrounged the grounds for sustenance.