Saturday, November 10, 2012

New Places and Familiar Faces

This past week we have gone to a number of places that we've never been to before. Because we cook so many of our meals in our flat to save money, we haven't spent much time exploring the pubs and other restaurants and places to see in Oxford. And I'm determined to change that.

On Tuesday we decided to go out for dinner because Libby, who usually makes dinner on Tuesdays was unable to that night. So, after class we got onto the U1 to head towards the City Centre, no clue where we were going.

We decided to get off at St. Clements instead of heading all the way into the City because there are a number of restaurants and pubs in this area. We'd heard from friends that Port Mahon was a really cozy quintessential British pub, so we decided to try there.

When we walked in the first thing I noticed was the smell. I can't entirely explain it, but it smelled a little bit like stale beer with a mix of something unidentifiable. It did look pretty cozy though, with a fireplace and cushioned benches for seats. On the tables were lit candles sticking out of wine bottled that seemed precariously perched on the tables. I was afraid that with one wrong move it would crash to the ground and the pub, built pretty much entirely of wood, would not fare well. There didn't seem to be any seats available though, so we went down the stairs to what looked a little more like a typical American bar. There were high tables with typical bar stools and it looked more modern than the upstairs. Port Mahon advertises that they get Sky Sports so it would be my guess that this is where people gather to watch football matches.

And then we experienced the awkward situation that frequently occurs when we go new places. How do we order? Is there a menu? Where is my table number and will I need it when I order?  These are all questions that frequently course through my head whenever I eat somewhere I've never eaten before. The answers: order at the bar, the menu is written on a chalkboard, and I never quite got the answer to the third because our time at Port Mahon was shortlived. I'm a pretty picky eater, as y'all probably know, and there just didn't seem to anything I would eat on the menu. I can usually find something, but Port Mahon, which I think is primarily a gathering place as opposed to a food that primarily serves food, only had five main dishes.  They change depending on what ingredients they can get. So the menu just didn't seem to be in my favor on Tuesday. After consulting with Caitlin and Austin to make sure it was okay, we decided to leave and try out another pub.

Our next stop was the Angel and Greyhound, a pub that Caitlin and I have actually talked about going to for a while. We first became fascinated by it because of the messages frequently written on the chalkboard outside the pub to entice people to come in. My favorites: "The only pub in Oxford Inspector Morse DIDN'T go to" and "William Shakespeare, Inspector Morse, JRR Tolkien and Bill Clinton never came here, but YOU can." I quite enjoyed their comical marketing techniques and they succeeded in making we want to go in a have a bite.

Going in, I knew that the Angel and Greyhound was a good choice. It was cozy, but in a different way than Port Mahon. Where Port Mahon was cramped and cluttered, Angel and Greyhound was spacious and warm. It's the kind of pub I can see myself hanging out in. There were tables meant for eating, tables meant for just hanging out with friends, a pool table, an outdoor eating area and it was all arranged in a classy way. It wasn't gimmicky and it appeared to cater to a more sophisticated or professional audience without feeling uppity or fancy.

Caitlin, Austin and I all had hot filled baguettes which were really delicious. Like an open faced sandwich but with a baguette for the bread I had bacon and cheese on mine, Caitlin had vegetables and cheese and Austin had sausage and onions. We all enjoyed our meals; they were affordable and the atmosphere was really nice. Our eating out adventure, though off to a bit of a rocky start, ended up to be a success.

On Thursday we made plans to hang out with our friend Beth. We usually hang out in one of our flats but this time we decided to go out for drinks. We started the evening at the White Horse, a family oriented pub walking distance from our flat. Though not much of a drinker, I had the drink that I frequently have when we go to the White Horse: the Blue Lagoon. Made with Blueberry Smirnoff, Blue Curacao and Schweppes Lemonade (a soft drink similar to Sprite) it is extremely blue and tastes like candy. So I think it's clear why I like it.

I like that here in England you can go out and casually have drinks when in college. We frequently talk to Beth, who is from Southern England, about the differences in drinking cultures between here and America. Whereas in America college students primarily just drink to get drunk, in Great Britain it's much more casual. People go out for drinks not to get buzzed but just to enjoy the taste and spend time with friends. This is much more my speed.

While at White Horse Beth also buys a J20 Glitterberry for us all to try. Sold only in the winter, Glitterberry is a nonalcoholic drink that tastes of cherry and grape and contains real (edible) glitter. Seriously. It is the coolest thing ever. The drink sparkles and is pretty much beautiful. It's not everyday you drink glitter.

Libby and Beth excited to be at the very front of the bus.
After the White Horse we talked about going down to the Half Moon in St Clements where they have open mic nights on Thursday. When we went in, however, we found that it was extremely small and there wasn't anywhere to sit, or even to stand and have drinks. And it didn't appear that people were planning on leaving anytime soon. Because the current act was just a man playing guitar and not especially compelling, we decided to head down to the Angel and Greyhound since Beth had never been there and it's just down the street.

The sign out front on Thursday said "Help the Greeks, try our olives." Seriously, these signs crack me up. And Beth actually did support the Greeks, ordering a small dish of olives. Caitlin, Libby and I had Rekordorlig Winter cider. Rekordorlig is a Swedish cider company and in the UK cider refers to a hard drink made from apples and other fruits. Their Winter Cider tasted like apple with a hint of vanilla and cinnamon, and Angel and Greyhound serves it warm. It was the perfect to drink in the fall and winter, which ended up working in our favor because there weren't any seats inside and we had to sit outside. But it wasn't too cold outside and we had our hot cider to warm us up, so it all worked out.

On Thursday night we made plans with Beth to go to the Ashmolean the next day. The Ashmolean is a museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford that we hadn't visited yet. And Friday seemed as good a day as any. I'm not always much of a museum person--I like them but I have short attention span so I can only spend so much time there--but I had a good time at the Ashmolean. Probably because we did the entire museum in two hours. One of my favorite exhibits was their European art section of the museum. Even for just a small museum in Oxford they had quite a few esteemed pieces. There was a Rodin sculpture, a Degas dancer sculpture, a few Renoir paintings and even a Van Gogh. I love going to art museums and recognizing pieces of artwork and artists from my Art History studies.

The other exhibit I really enjoyed was about money of the past and present from all over the world. We saw coins from a variety of countries as well as old British and American currency. It also got me thinking: are there fivers and one pound coins floating around with King George's face on it? What will happen when Prince William becomes King. Will the Queen Elizabeth sterling just being to be phased out? It's all quite intriguing  Also of note, a British person asked me if we put President Obama's face on our currency. I guess it's a valid question since they put their monarchy's on their currency, but the idea of George Bush coins and Bill Clinton dollars floating around is pretty funny to me.

After the Ashmolean we went to Vaults and Garden, a cafe that we have been talking about visiting since we got to Oxford. It was the perfect time to go because it was near 4pm which is tea time. Right next to the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, the inside of the cafe looked like an old church. Walking into the cafe I instantly understood the name. The ceilings are vaulted and there is a garden that I imagine is quite pleasant to eat in when its warmer outside. Libby, Austin, Caitlin and Beth had a traditional cream tea with tea (Earl Grey for Libby, English Breakfast for the rest) and scone with clotted cream and jam. I had the Amy variation which substituted Hot Chocolate for tea since I don't drink tea.

The scones were delicious. The inside was soft, the outside crunchy, the entire thing slightly sweet. To me, scones taste like a cross between a pastry and an American biscuit and adding the clotted cream and jam makes the taste just sweet enough to make an excellent snack. We got the last scones and the woman in line after me had to wait for her scone. At first I was happy that we didn't have to wait, but after more thought I was kinda jealous. Her scone was delivered to her hot out of the oven and I bet it was even better warmed through.

This past week has been awesome because we've been able to see a bit more of Oxford and visit some places we've been meaning to visit since we've been here. Oxford is a great city--so much to do and a perfect place to live as a student.

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