Thursday, October 19, 2006

The city of dreaming spires

It's official. I want to get my Master's at Oxford. I've always said that, but only because it has such an amazing academic reputation. Of course, that's still a major part of my reasoning. The real reason now, though, is that I just fell in love with the city when I visited last Saturday.

The trip got off to a bit of a rough start, but everything was made right once I stepped out of the train station. The weather was, of course, a bit grey, but the city was beautiful. I don't know how it's possible for such a busy place to feel like a village, but it did. I prefer it immensely to London. Oxford's called the city of dreaming spires for a reason; it seemed that there was a steeple in every lovely view. Those were just the views from the ground. The first place I visited was St. Mary's, which started out as the university, but became its church as the university outgrew the building. St. Mary's has (I believe) the highest tower in the city, which I just had to climb up. Wow. The view is undoubtedly the most breathtaking city landscape I have ever seen. I loved it. Oxford has so many old buildings that I caught a glimpse of history from every angle. I could have stayed up there for hours. (In fact, staying at the top might have been easier, because the stairs were wicked -- tiny stone spiral steps most of the way, barely wide enough for one person. Not for those who suffer from vertigo, let me tell you.) The church itself was beautiful, too, with giant stained glass windows and a plush chorister.

Afterwards I went on a tour of the colleges, which was obviously thrilling beyond belief for me. I'm not really prone to celebrity worship, but I was definitely starstruck as the tour went on. The tour guide just kept listing these amazing people who had attended or taught at the different colleges -- Tolkien, Phillip Pullman, Christopher Wren, the guy who invented the Internet (I should know his name, but I don't), and of course the list goes on for miles. She also told us that bits of Harry Potter were shot there, and that the first movie of the Dark Instrument series (Not released yet, I believe) was shot there as well. It was so cool. And the colleges themselves were spectacular. Some of them had been established in the 1300s, although most of the buildings were more recent than that, roughly 17th century, I think she said. My favorite part in regard to the architecture was when we passed under a little bridge inspired by the Venetian style. The tour guide just mentioned it in passing, and told us it was 90 years old. "So it's pretty new." I love that; you could never say that in the States. Unfortunately, we didn't get to go in very many of the colleges. Most days we would have been able to, but the day I went was matriculation day. I didn't mind too much. Seeing the students in full regalia made up for it. I was really glad that I got to see students, actually. I've already mentioned that I've wanted to go to Oxford for a while, and I always had this perception that students there are always serious. It's a stupid assumption, really, because why would people my age be so much calmer just because they're at a famous school? They definitely aren't. We passed a tavern, stuffed to the gills with students and their families celebrating. I saw one guy put a traffic cone on his head, put his cap on top of it, and pose for a picture. We passed a hall of residence, and a group of students were blasting Queen and greeted us by shouting, "Look, tourists!" It was great.

As much as I loved the city, I must admit I was disappointed by some aspects. I wouldn't have believed it possible, but I saw virtually nothing about Tolkien. I had to go to the Eagle and Child on my own, and even that pub, so central to the writing and life of Tolkien, had only a poster that was about 2 ft x 4 ft at the largest. I was dumbfounded. I know I'm not the only Tolkien fan; I visited his grave (yes, I know it's morbid), and just as I was leaving, someone else approached. But that was the only sign of his notoriety that I saw, unless you count someone at the Oxfam bookshop realizing where I was going when I asked for directions to the cemetery. That aspect of the trip was a complete letdown. I'd planned on buying people Tolkien or Lord of the Rings gifts while there, but I just couldn't find them. Maybe I didn't look hard enough. I didn't get to see half of the sites associated with Tolkien, or the few Oxford sites related to Tolkien. I didn't get to see Merton or Magdalen college, and I didn't get to see Lewis' grave, which I'm very sad about. Lewis is my favorite author ever. I guess this just means that I have to go back ... :)


At 5:07 AM, Blogger Fieldfleur said...

Wow! Aptly described and such a wonderful day it sounds. I'm so glad you get to experience such amazement.

Yes, that is strange about the lack of Tolkien and Lewis markers. Are they more famous in the U.S., you think? Or, do we just always expect a bunch of memorabilia to be purchased under big billboard dedication sites? Hmmm.....

Anyway, thanks for sharing so well your fun day!


At 11:51 AM, Blogger GrumpyTeacher1 said...

That is too cool for words.

Happy, happy.

At 4:06 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Well, maybe the townsfolk are generally tired of Tolkien stuff. They have been around it for possibly their whole lives. I know I've had that reaction, general annoyance at those who come and wonder at the thing you see every day.
And just to let you know, I'm pretty sure Al Gore didn't go to Oxford.


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