Oxford is another UK city that until recently I had heard a lot about but hadn’t really ever seen. My only previous visit to Oxford had been for a university open day, so whilst I saw the historic colleges and a lot of the university buildings, I didn’t really see much else and couldn’t enjoy it at my own pace (having a mad schedule of talks and tours to get to). Fortunately the opportunity to visit came up again recently as Oxford became a useful halfway point to visit a friend.
The first thing I noted was that Oxford is quite an expensive city to stay in. Looking up accomodation in advance showed that there weren’t many budget options that were also quite nice. However, there is the option to stay in a university college on a bed and breakfast basis for a similar price to a normal B&B. Chloe and I decided that this would be quite fun and sure enough it meant that we had a more unique stay (although it was a little odd being back in university halls of residence!). We stayed in St Hugh’s Hall which was a little way out of the centre but still walking distance from most of the main sights. The grounds were beautiful and we were pleasantly surprised to have the option of a cooked breakfast in the morning. There was a wedding taking place the evening that we arrived which we were warned about, but we weren’t really disturbed by the noise.
The day that we arrived we spent most of the time just walking around to get our bearings and enjoy seeing the old buildings. We did a lot of walking over the course of the weekend! It was the best way to see the city as it was a lovely place to just wander around and see what you stumble across. The first thing we came across outside of the bus station was a market that had a great number of street food stalls which seemed like an obvious place for lunch. The paella that I had certainly helped keep my energy going throughout the afternoon.
Somewhere I would definitely recommend going to visit is the covered market, particularly the iScream booth. There was a lovely selection of very tasty homemade sorbets and gelato, and the shop also sold chocolates and other goodies. I had an apricot ice cream, something which I don’t think I’ve ever had before but it was wonderful, and the following day returned and tried a peach ice cream. I was really spoiled for choice as there was a good selection of flavours. I was particularly intrigued by the chocolate sorbet (apparently as a sorbet the flavour is more intense) but as it was quite warm and summery I fancied something fruity instead.
The following day we headed straight to the Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museums, again having had them recommended to us. It does mean that I am still yet to visit the Ashmolean, but I guess it is important to leave something to another time. The Pitt Rivers museum is at the back of the Natural History Museum and is more focused on anthropology. James described it to me as a bit like an old antiques shop which is filled with random junk but a really interesting place to visit. I can see what he meant in that it was very full of cabinets filled with all sorts of curiosities which didn’t necessarily fit together. If you like your museums open, well lit and with everything explained in a lot of detail then this is not the place for you (although you’ll probably enjoy the Natural History Museum), but it is fascinating to see the range of objects in the collection. There is currently a photography exhibition on Syrian people which I found particularly interesting.
After spending the morning in a museum it only seemed right to make the most of the sun before we left so we decided to hire a pedalo boat. I was tempted to hire a punt, having missed out on the opportunity during my visit to Cambridge earlier in the year, but the pedalo looked much faster, easier to steer and it would mean we could share the work equally!
Like Cambridge, Oxford is quite small and picturesque so can easily be visited for a weekend and there will be plenty to keep you entertained. I’d love to go back to Oxford and do the things I have not yet managed to (the Ashmolean and a tour of the Bodleian Library) but also explore more of the surrounding area, such as the pretty villages of the Cotswolds and Blenheim Palace. It should be a bit easier from Bristol than it was from Cumbria! I’ve managed to fit in quite a lot of UK cities this year – where should I try and get to next?