Back to visit Oxford for the first time in 15 years… it’s been a big trip down Memory Lane! As many of my readers know, my Oxford Tearoom Mysteries are inspired by my time living and studying at Oxford. I was a student there in the early 1990’s and then remained living in Oxford for several years after I graduated – in fact, until my husband and I decided to emigrate Down Under.
We hadn’t been back to Oxford since we left so when we returned to the UK last month to visit family, we decided that we needed to make a long overdue trip…
It was very surreal, actually, being back – in many ways, Oxford hadn’t changed much at all. The core University of Oxford buildings & colleges and historic city monuments have remained unchanged for hundreds of years – and will probably remain the same for hundreds more. For us, it really was like stepping back in time – I kept doing double-takes, half expecting to bump into my college friends around the street corners!
(Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great – typical grey English day! – so the pictures are all a bit dark & dreary but hope they still give you a flavour of the city!)
At the same time, there were also lots of little changes – we kept walking around, pointing at things and exclaiming, “Look! That used to be…. Oh no, that cafe is gone…! Hey! The Haagen Daz store is now Pret-A-Manger…”
We were really pleased, though, that many of our old haunts were still there – we grabbed lunch at one of our favourite restaurants, the Pizza Express housed in the old coaching inn dating back to the 12th Century (although it’s been repainted a weird pink colour…!)
But – hooray – they still had my favourite: Dough Balls! A Pizza Express classic, served with garlic butter… ah, I’ve been waiting 15 years for this moment!
And the pizzas were still just as HUGE and just as delicious! 🙂 I ordered my usual: “American Hot” – with pepperoni, hot green peppers, fresh red chilli, spicy sausage, tomato and buffalo mozzarella, finished with fresh parsley and chilli oil. YUM!!
Some other things about Oxford hadn’t changed either – things I don’t remember with such fondness – such as the millions of cobblestones on the streets! Cobblestones might be lovely to look at but they’re a nightmare to walk on, especially if you’re wearing high heels!
We finished the day off by visiting some of the colleges – many of them allow tourists in now for a small fee (although as Oxford alumni, we get in for free, of course) – and it was strange visiting them as a “outsider”. I felt a bit regretful that I hadn’t made more effort to visit all the colleges during my time there as a student. You always take things for granted, don’t you, and don’t appreciate them until too late!
Because of Oxford’s collegiate system, there is no central campus and as a student, your life really revolves around your own college where you eat, sleep, study and play. You might attend lectures or go to research labs and libraries in the departmental buildings – but mostly, you hang out at your own college and only visit the others if you have friends or a tutorial there.
So I’m ashamed to say that I’ve only been inside a handful of the other colleges, although I tried to make up for that this time by visiting a couple I’d never been in. They’re all unique and beautiful in their own way…
We didn’t have time to visit more than a couple of colleges – we would really have liked to do them all! And of course, there was the most important college of all – our own college, Christ Church. We saved that for our second day, together with Christ Church Meadow (check out Part 2 for the photos) – but we did wish we had more time, as you could spend hours just exploring the quaint little back lanes and quiet alleyways of Oxford. In a way, that is much more the heart of this university city than all the tourist hotspots – oh well, next time…!
Continued in Part 2…