Thursday, November 1, 2012

Introducing the City As My Own

As I've mentioned in a few of my posts before now, my parents were in Oxford last weekend. Leading up to their arrival, I was a little bit anxious.

The idea of my parents coming to visit me in a foreign country, and being able to show them around the city that has become familiar to me is a little bit strange, to say the least.

Since I've never been out of the country and my parents have travelled a fair bit, it was a funny feeling to be able to show them around. Even at school in HPU, I don't spend much time off campus in the city of High Point so the only I could really give my parents a tour of back in North Carolina is the actual college campus which somehow didn't seem like that big of a deal.

So, knowing that my parents were coming to visit got me thinking about where I should take them and what we should do. While they were here I showed them some interesting places in Oxford and they in turn showed me some new places that I just may visit again.

On the first day they were here (and severely jetlagged) I wanted to show the some of the Oxford University colleges so I took them on a mini walking tour down High Street.

All Souls (one of my favorite of the Oxford colleges) is only open from 2pm-4pm during the week so that was what we were working on schedule around. My parents were amazed by the main quadrangle (though it was a dreary day so they didn't get to experience it in the beautiful sunshine that I did) and were intrigued by the chapel.

In the chapel, there are a number of inscriptions and other passages written in Latin on the walls. At some point, but father asked what it said so I jokingly began translating, having absolutely no idea what i was doing. I was basically just translating words to things that they sounded like in the English language, and skipping over the ones that didn't seem to relate to any English word. It was all well and good until as we were looking at something a man, who had been there the entire time) began actually translating it to his wife. He reads Latin. Of course he does. My mom and I were dying of laughter at being caught, especially since I think my dad sort of believed me.

Dining Hall/Great Hall at Christ Church
After All Souls we went to Christ Church, which I haven't had the the opportunity to tour yet. We saw the inspiration of the Great Hall in Harry Potter and I have to say I was disappointed. I knew it was just the inspiration and not the actual filming location, but I was still expecting it to look a little more like the actual Great Hall. We did get to walk up the steps used in the filming of Harry Potter, though, so that sort of made up for it. We also toured the Christ Church Cathedral, and I learned an interesting story when the engineer in my dad asked a docent about the ceiling of the cathedral.

Beautiful section of Christ Church Cathedral
In the 1900s an architect wished to see the attic of the cathedral in order to better understand the construction of the ceiling. When he was led up there by the priest, they found a whole bunch of hay. After testing the hay they discovered what it was from.

During the English Civil War, Charles I had a falling out with Parliament and was expelled from London. He then decided to hold his court in Oxford. So, Oxford was the capital of England when King Charles lived at Christ Church College from 1642 until 1646. During this time, he decreed that all the best hay should be reserved for his horses and his men's horses so he had a whole lot of it brought up to Christ Church and stored in the ceiling of the cathedral. He ended up needing to retreat quickly in 1646 and so the hay was left there, forgotten, until the architect wished to see the attic 300 years later.

After Christ Church we went to the Turf Tavern for drinks so that I could lead them down the narrow passage and make them think that I was leading them to a strange and unknown location. It was pretty fun to see their reactions as we kept walking and the tavern still didn't seem to appear. But in all seriousness, I took them there because it is one of the oldest pubs in Oxford. And if that's not a good enough reason, I don't know what is.

Blenheim Palace
The next day we decided that since we had a car we should explore something nearby to Oxford that we could drive to. I had remembered that Dr. Schweitzer had gone to Blenheim Palace and enjoyed it, so I suggested it to by parents. They had actually read about it on the trip over, and were excited by the idea that that became our plan. What I was surprised about is that it costs £20 to get into Blenheim Palace!

In the end it really was worth it. Blenheim Palace is the home of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and actually has a really interesting history. And it doesn't hurt that it's beautiful. It is also famed as the birthplace (and wedding location, actually) of Winston Churchill. One quite funny Winston Churchill quote was included in the Churchill exhibit: "At Blenheim I took two very important decisions: To be born and to marry." Although he certainly didn't consciously decide to be born there, he did choose to both propose and marry there as it held a special place in his heart over the years. Also, did you know that he was a painter? And that he partnered with Hallmark to create Christmas cards? No, neither did I.

Aside from Winston Churchill, there is also some other history of interest at Blenheim. They had a really fun exhibit about the stories of Blenheim Palace that described the conception and building of the palace and subsequent Dukes through a number of scenes constructed with mannequins  furniture and props and a maid from the first scene (building of the palace) that follows through all the scenes as a ghost). Because she's lived 300 years ago she wasn't up to date on the technology, people or other aspects of daily life in each scene and her reaction to these things was quite comical.

And finally we toured the staterooms which were, of course, beautiful. They had expensive paintings on the walls and many had French design elements because of one Duchess's fascination with Versailles. Most interesting were two or three rooms that had massive hand-sewn tapestries sized perfectly to fit the entire wall--nothing more, nothing less.

After touring the Palace we had a quick snack in the Water Terrace cafe. It was actually quite sunny at this point so it was enjoyable to sit outside. The one thing that sticks out to me about our time at the cafe is that October was apparently the Fabulous Food Festival's "Month Long Celebration of the Magical Pumpkin". I haven't spoken about this one here because I don't really like pumpkin, but my flatmates have not been able to find pumpkin for cooking anywhere. This was so strange because in America we put pumpkin in everything in the fall. We'd come to the conclusion that they just don't eat pumpkin here. So the fact that they were having a monthlong celebration of it was a surprising to say the least.

Blenheim Palace is a place I probably would not have had been able to visit had I not gone with my parents, so I'm really glad that I was able to go with them.

That evening we went to the Red Lion, a really cool restaurant in the city centre, which I've discussed in a previous post. I was really happy that my parents introduced us to this place (they went on a recommendation from their Guest House manager) because I think we'll definitely return there for drinks sometime soon.

All in all it was fun to have my parents here in Oxford with me, and it was a different type of experience to be the one showing people around for a change. Since I've been here I've felt like such a tourist trying to figure things out, but having visitors that know less than me that I appear smart too was kind of awesome.

Anyway, check back soon for more details on my time in the UK with my parents.

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