the Oxford experience

Oxford is only an hour from London by train, but it took me seven years to pay it a visit. Micah and I boarded an early train from Paddington and disembarked an hour later in the dazzling sunshine of Oxford. We didn’t have much of a plan for the day – I wanted to photograph bicycles and drink coffee, and she wanted to visit some of the colleges of the university and the pub where Tolkien and Lewis met.

We ended up in a photography exhibit of black and white photos shot in Puerto Rico around 2016 – right when we were there! It showed the difficulties in the economy even then, long before the hurricane decimated the island.

We wandered up and down the streets and made a loose plan for the day: coffee at one of the internet’s top cafes, the Covered Market, a college (preferably for free, but since most were shut…), the libraries. RadCam, of course.

We found RadCam (Radcliffe Camera, one of the university libraries) first, along with a high fashion photo shoot and several dozen other tourists. And more importantly, we found the most enchanting bicycle chained next to a church built around 1200.

The Covered Market has flowers for quite cheap, so we grabbed a bouquet and headed on to the Handlebar Cafe, which I’d read about. The coffee was good, but the food was better. And the staff were fantastic. The fact that the manager offered us jobs on the spot when we knew where the coffee was grown by taste alone helped (coffee snobs, what can I say? Thanks Peri for all your training!).

Next we scoped our more of the colleges (all shut) on our way to The Eagle and Child, the pub where Lewis and Tolkien hung out. Whilst there, we encountered more Americans than I normally find in a month in London, so I guess it’s the Mecca of American Christians. We also had an amazing chat with a man about modern liturgy and how it should work in the church today, and I have to admit, it was exciting to have such a debate in that particular pub. Micah was thrilled, since Lewis and Tolkien are her jam, as are intellectual debates.

Afterwards we found a stone wall and put her crash course in photography to good use!

The one thing we’d not yet managed on Micah’s list was to get into one of the colleges. We had just about managed to decide to cough up £5 for a tour of Christ Church when an old lady fell in front of us, and we ran to help her. Another girl showed up as well, and after we’d checked the lady was fine and watched her spurn our help and totter along her way, we got chatting to the girl. It turned out that she was a student at Oxford, and she immediately asked if we’d like a tour of her college.

Oxford colleges are a social community of sorts, one behind massive walls and in ancient buildings. Wadham, her college, had a beautiful garden and a massive chapel where they still hold activities and services almost daily. Anyway, Lowry kindly showed us round and told us about the theatre she’s doing, and then we went on our way.

We found our way into another college, All Souls, before deciding to stop for tea in a shop on the site of the oldest coffee shop in England. The tea was great, and it was designed in exactly the spindly, Edwardian decor that you want when taking tea in such a proper fashion. Once again, Micah was in Heaven.

On our way back to the train station, we stopped (again and again, if I’m honest) so that I could photograph bicycles. I’m pretty sure that I captured them all.

Anyway, Oxford is lovely. It’s a microcosm of sorts, insulated from the outside world with everything that it needs. I suppose they can rest secure in the knowledge that they are growing the leaders of the next few decades whilst the rest of us panic about the food shortages coming with Brexit, or what Brexit even means. But my goodness, it was amazing to escape there for a few hours and to enjoy the peace along with them.

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