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Great-Uncle Oxford

Since we moved to London a year and a half ago, we’ve been pretty decent about taking the chance to explore Europe. Amsterdam, Lisbon, Barcelona, Prague, Berlin, Majorca. We’ve dipped a toe in, and we’re always busy scheming for the next trip. But we’ve been truly terrible — rubbish, as “they” (including our four-year-old) say here — about exploring England outside of London. I think we’ve been afraid we might be suddenly accosted and forced to drive on the left side of the road.

Last week we manned up, though, and went to Oxford. Lovely, lovely Oxford. What the heck were we waiting for?

That’s the fam up there sitting on a bench in the Divinity School (now part of Bodleian Library), which also served as the infirmary in the Harry Potter movies. At least one of us was pretty excited about that. And to the right, the view from that bench. Not too shabby. In Oxford, like in Prague, it’s really hard to find an unattractive view. Here below is New College (which, intuitively, is Oxford’s second-oldest college). See what I mean about the views?

Not to get all Twofer from 30-Rock on ya (“You know, I went to college in Boston. Well, not in Boston, but nearby. No, not Tufts….”), but Cope and I both went to college at Princeton, and we both adored it. Visiting Oxford was like having the chance to travel back in time and meet an ancient, distant relative. Eerily and wonderfully familiar, but also totally new. Princeton feels weighty with history. During our time there it celebrated its 250th anniversary. (Can you say bicenquinquagenary?) But Oxford? Dude. We ate brunch in a room where they held classes in the year 1320. (Then the Congregation House, now The Vaults and Garden Café.) I don’t even know how to start a conversation about 1320. It’s just…dude. (See, this is why I have to tell people I went to Princeton.)

One thing besides food that I can talk about is music. So a real Oxford highlight for me was attending an Evensong mass at Christ Church Cathedral. One of my favorite things about England is the incredible ease with which you can stumble into a mind-blowing musical performance. Like, say, on an arbitrary Tuesday afternoon in February, for free, you can walk into Christ Church College and spend an hour listening to one of the world’s preeminent choirs. You even get to sing with them a little at the beginning, though the program swiftly reminds you to shut up and listen. (English people are very direct in writing.) Boy bands I could always take or leave, even in my pre-college days. But a world-class boy choir? Don’t get me started. (And for the love of god, don’t tell anybody.)

Though we felt like we belonged in town, we didn’t, actually — so we stayed at the Old Bank Hotel right in the village center. Not cheap, but really beautiful and convenient. The hotel’s art collection alone is practically worth the trip. We did notice a sort of shocking number of Americans and Canadians at the hotel and in Oxford in general. When we find hotels and restaurants on TripAdvisor, this is often the case. Still, we’d highly recommend a visit. Just a one-hour train ride from Paddington Station, it’s an easy day trip or overnight from London. So as Yo Yo Ma used to say in those NYC taxi messages after he lost his cello, “Don’t do what I did.” Don’t delay your visit Oxford. Go soon — and, ahem — maybe stop by London on your way.

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  1. […] you’ve read any of the numerous travel posts on Umami Girl to date, you know we don’t normally hop on a tour bus and surrender our schedule to anyone. […]

  2. Burberry ????????

  3. Sounds like a great trip! I’d love to visit Oxford one day. I did get to spend a summer in Cambridge (so old it’s “olde”) when I was 17 and I can really identify with the “dude” reaction to the age of the place. I don’t think the novelty ever wears off for us Americans!

    Great to visit your writing as always, and thanks for the Yo-Yo Ma chuckle!