If London was a shining beacon of adventure and excitement, relatively Oxford was much more of a disappointment. I think this is true, for me, because I had a explicitly detailed, vivid preconceived notion of what I expected Oxford to be like. Like most college-aged, study abroad, American tourists in Europe, I had to hit one of England’s prestigious schools (those being Cambridge or Oxford: Oxbridge). I happened to choose Oxford, mainly because it’s one of the oldest and highest ranked universities in the world, partially because they filmed bits of Harry Potter there. Needless to say, it did not match what I had expected. But, if Oxford was not good for anything else, it was good for one thing: it got me out of London to see some of the rest of the country of England. I really wish I could have seen more of the English countryside. But Oxford will have to do for now.
Oxford is located about an hour’s train ride north-west of London. The name of “Oxford” actually refers to both the university and the town in which the university is based. And there isn’t much differentiation between the university and the town. I mean sure, they are two separate entities, but the university has no enclosed campus. It’s just a series of old medieval buildings scattered around the town. Trying to tour each one literally requires you to run around town, something not that common in small towns. Maybe that’s one reason why Oxford didn’t particularly impress me. I suppose I always envisioned a serene enclosed campus, like that of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.
Pictured above is one of Oxford University’s most recognizable buildings and quads. It’s here that most tourists come to take pictures, and is arguably one of the nicest spots in the town. But again, it’s not as secluded as it looks– a major city street runs right on the other side of those far walls. Kind of takes you out of the medieval fantasy, huh? Luckily, the dining halls retained some of the Hogwarts-esque feel one would expert from Oxford (shown below, circa March 2013).
Most of Oxford’s buildings, especially the dormitories, have incredibly pretty medieval architecture. Walking past the dorms made me reflect on my own college experience, and how I would probably get quite annoyed with tourists walking all over my campus year-round. But as a tourist, I also found myself annoyed, with admissions prices into seemingly every building. What I did like, however, was that the university is steeped in history. Because it was founded in the Middle Ages (over 900 years ago, to be more exact!), one can find remnants all over campus of an older time. For example, one of the university’s chapels contains beautiful stain glass windows from the medieval era. An example of one is shown below.
Other stained glass pictures included important saints and knights, an interesting addition I’ve only really seen in the United Kingdom. The town of Oxford itself is, I imagine, what most other small English towns must be like. Here there were plenty of cobble-stoned, narrow streets and churches, intermingled with both old and new buildings. One of the highlights of my Oxford adventure was being able to climb one of the college’s towers and overlook the rest of the town.
The view from the top was spectacular (albeit windy, cold, and an additional charge for tourists). A typical Oxford street is shown above, circa March 2013. Large spires from church towers and college buildings reached into the (dreary) sky. One could even see the surrounding farmland. This far out of London, you are pretty much in the middle of nowhere– but that’s a good thing.
Walking around the top of the tower, you get an entire 360 degree view of the surrounding town and university. One of the more impressive buildings, I thought, is shown above. This building particularly stood out to me because of the numerous spires that adorned its rooftop. Another cool aspect of walking the overlook tower: gargoyles and other medieval statues could be found in various nooks and crannies, or simply overhanging off of the tower itself. An example of one is shown below.
How awesome is that? It almost, almost made up for the miserable weather and otherwise emptiness I found in the town. Walking the streets of the town may have been quite underwhelming, but the view from up-top almost made the trip worthwhile. Here is one more photo from the overlooking tower, with one of Oxford’s more iconic buildings (I know this because the building’s image was plastered all over a local Burger King I had entered to escape the cold).
That would about wrap up my Oxford experience. It was only a short day trip, so I may have missed out on some other museums and aspects of the university’s fascinating history. While it may not have been Hogwarts, it certainly did have quite a few similarities– open-air hallways with high arches provided a familiar architecture seen in the films. I was not particularly happy about the scattered campus or the admission fees, but I suppose everything can’t be exactly how you picture it beforehand (in fact, it almost never is). And maybe the cold, overcast weather on the day of my visit didn’t help matters. I’ll give this much to Oxford, though: it’s got a great medieval history and some pretty architecture. And it did get me out into the English countryside (more specifically, not London). I wanted to see so much more of England, but just didn’t have the time or the resources. Next time, maybe.
And next time, maybe I’ll go to Cambridge instead.