Oxford University - August 3rd to August 22nd 1987
Fly to England from JFK
Tuesday, August 4th
We set out to visit the Cotswold Villages. Though we didn't see them all, we rode through and stopped in quite a few, giving us a good taste of English Culture.
The first village was Whitney. Dating back to the 1600's, it looked like a typical market town. One outstanding structure was a 17th century Buttercross, a roof supported by several large columns. Back in the 1700's people came to the buttercross to sell dairy products.
Our first stop was in Burford. In Burford was a magnificent church dating back to the 13th century. Outside the church were many tombs. Due to time and weather, most of them were unreadable. Inside, the church featured some beautiful stained glass. On the east end was the altar. People were buried under the stones in the church. On one of the walls was the oldest artifact in Burford dating back to 100 A.D. It was a Celtic carved stone, showing a goddess supported by 2 male figures.
We drove on through Bourton-on-the-Water which had more modern housing and shops. We then drove through Lower Slaughter on our way up to Upper Slaughter. The town was built around a gorgeous stream which ran down the middle of the town. Upper Slaughter wasn't as special. We crossed a small rock bridge which a stream was running under. The village had a church, a nice hotel and a slaughter house.
Our next stop was Stow-on-the-Wold, where we stopped for lunch. While the class went to the pub, The Queens Head Inn, I, still not feeling all that well, took a walk around the town. There was a market square with many shops and parking spaces. There was a small patch of grass on the far end where several people were sitting on blankets having a picnic. I made my way in and out of book stores and novelty stores. There were many antique shops.
The class regrouped and headed toward Chipping Campden. On the way we passed through Bourton-on-the-Hill and Moreton-in-Marsh, which was having an open air flea market that everyone wanted to stop for. But we didn't. We reached Chipping Campden and walked around for about a half hour. Here all the houses and shops were constructed of stone. In the center of the village was yet another buttercross. Chipping Campden, another market town, is associated with its history as a medieval wool market.
We then headed to our final stop, Woodstock. Blenheim Palace is the main attraction in Woodstock, but we're going to make a day out of it next week. In Woodstock, another market town, was a museum. Inside were several hundred bones which dated back to 2000 BC. We were given a short tour of the museum. We then took a walk up the main street. There were several buildings whose outside walls were totally covered with vines. I stopped in the post office to buy some postcards and stamps and then headed back to Oxford.
Wednesday August 5th.
We set out to walk the streets of London. As soon as we got off the bus there was mass confusion. It was difficult to organize 18 people especially when nobody was quite sure where we were. Before I knew it the group got split up.
Our first stop was Westminster Abbey. This 11th century church, established by Edward the Confessor, was truly spectacular. From the stained glass windows, the statues, the tombs to the ceilings, the altars and finally to the poets corner. I particularly liked the Henry the VII chapel. The sides of the room were lined with wooden seats for which each knight was given his appointed place. Halfway up the wall was flags, one right after another.
After leaving Westminster Abbey it was almost 11:30, so we headed to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard. There were thousands of people gathered up the streets when we arrived. Somehow, and pretty easily, we got right up to the front gate. I kept looking around to try to spot someone from the class but didn't recognize anybody. I was pretty impressed with the Buckingham Palace. The great statues and beautiful gate were amazing. It was somewhat difficult to see the entire changing of the guards because of the number of people in front of the palace. I took some good pictures of the bobbies as they came up the street.
Our next stop was through Green Park to Piccadilly Circus.
Later we went to Trafalgar Square. There were two large fountains along with several large statues. Nelson's Column, a giant structure, was covered with scaffolding probably for reparations. The outstanding feature of Trafalgar Square was the hundreds of pigeons.
We then headed down to Big Ben and Parliament Square to get some final pictures. Then made our way back to Victoria Station to catch our bus.
Thursday, August 6th.
Today we started our journey through the city of Oxford. After breakfast and a quick history lesson from our teacher, we were on our way.
We started down High Street, which I hadn't been down yet. The street was full of shops and food emporiums. Turning left on St. Aldates we were at Pembroke College. Pembroke has a famous student named Samuel Johnson. He was an impoverished student who would lock himself in his room. The story goes that someone had seen how badly worn his shoes were so they left a new pair for him outside his door. When Johnson found them, embarrassed, he immediately withdrew from school. It wasn't until many years later, when after he achieved fame, that he received an honorary degree.
Across the street is Christ Church, probably the most impressive of all the colleges at Oxford, which includes the Oxford Cathedral, Tom Tower, Tom Quad, and the War Memorial Gardens.
For some reason the sundial wasn't present. Grand larceny perhaps. Up from Corpus Christi is Oriel. Across from the school is the Cecil Rhodes Building for which the Rhodes Scholarship is named.
Next is the oldest college, Merton College founded in 1264. The present buildings date mostly from the 15th to the 17th century. The oldest library in England is found here.
Heading back up High Street, we came to Magdalen College. Oxford most famous landmark, the Bell Tower is here. All along the building, about three quarters of the way up, are gargoyles.
Passing the Queens College, we came to All Souls College.
Friday, August 7th.
Ttook a tour of England atop an opened double decker bus. The tour was an hour and a half and passed all the famous stops in London.
We got off the bus and then headed to the Marquee Club.
Saturday, August 8th.
Saturday morning we caught the 11:30 bus to Canterbury. We arrived about 2pm and immediately caught the last walking tour. The tour lasted about 2 hours, taking us all around the city and receiving a short history about everything.
Sunday, August 9th.
Sunday morning we caught the 10:45 bus to Maidstone to see Leeds Castle. . Leeds Castle was built using two islands, for defensive purposes. The land surrounding the castle was just as amazing. There were hundreds of ducks walking around, and even several peacocks.
Inside the castle was a Dog Collar Museum, featuring dog collars form the earlier centuries.
Outside the castle was an aviary. Many beautiful species of birds were here. Across the great lake, the hillside was full of sheep.
We headed back to London and then back to Oxford.
Monday, August 10th.
Today we set out to finish London to see several attractions we hadn't gotten a chance to see yet.
We arrived in front of St. Paul's, where the class was told to meet at 11:30. As we entered the church, before you knew it the class started breaking apart. St. Paul's, where the royal wedding of Charles and Di took place, was very impressive. Besides the beautiful and colorful altar, the striking thing was the domed ceiling some 500 feet up. There was a staircase that you could take up to a balcony that went around the upper dome. We decided to climb it. The ceiling was actually several tremendous paintings that went completely around the dome. A truly incredible sight. We then found out we could go even higher. So on we went. This time we ended up outside on a balcony overlooking London. The view was breathtaking. After a short rest we then decided to go even further, into the crypt. There were several tombs there.
From St. Paul's, our next destination was the London Museum. When we got the museum was closed on Monday. With that we stopped in a sandwich shop outside the museum for lunch.
At 2:30 we went to the tower of London. Infamously known as the place where people were tortured and killed. Public executions used to take place right up on the tower hill. Among the great armor collection, the ancient Tudor buildings and courtyards is the Crown Jewels. An incredible collection of crowns, septres and magnificent gold items which are priceless. After leaving the tower I walked across Tower Bridge right outside on the Thames River.
We left the about 10 o'clock and got back to Oxford about midnight.
Tuesday, August 11th.
After lunch the class piled into the van for a trip to Winston Churchill's birthplace, Blenheim Palace.
We entered the palace into the great hall. There was an elaborate lock made of brass on the doors of the main entrance. On the great hall ceiling was a magnificent painting. The halls and rooms inside the palace featured some incredible paintings, tapestries and china displays, and left a great impression on everyone.
The most beautiful of rooms was the saloon, which is the state dining room. Beautiful murals and a painted ceiling highlighted the room which had some beautiful silver table settings.
Wednesday, August 12th.
Today, after breakfast, we set out to see the Roman Baths, in Bath.
After finding places to park the two vehicles we went to the Roman Baths and museum. The Roman baths were found under the present city of Bath.
It didn't quite live up to my expectations. It was more like a museum. Instead of the actual raw evidence of the ancient city, everything was restored and displayed in such a way that it looked no more ancient than the bag lunch the school had prepared for everyone.
After the Baths, we went to Bath Abbey. The church, thou beautiful in it's own right, and nothing striking that would even compare to some of the churches we had seen previously.
We were then given two hours to walk freely in Bath. Walking up the streets, the array of musicians was incredible. From a flautist, to an accordion player, to a bassoonist, to jazz guitarists and finally to a heavy metal guitarist, who happened to be the best surprise in the whole city.
At 3 o'clock, everyone had returned so back to Oxford we went.
Thursday, August 13th.
By 10 we were on our way to Warwick Castle.
The castle was striking at first site. We entered the castle through the chapel, where we met our guide. There was an incredible woodcarving on the wall. Carved was a picture of a battle. It was one of the most beautiful works I had ever seen done on wood.
The rest of the castle, like Blenheim Palace, was beautiful, room after room. Each room had its own display of paintings.
We entered the Great Hall, also the state dining room. This was perhaps the most beautiful of all rooms yet. The room was full of armor. On the walls were racks from 7000 year old elk. The entire left wall was a wood carving. There was a stuffed bear on the far side. And a bear skinned rug, the head still remaining, on the floor.
We then went down to the dungeon. This was nothing special. There were some etchings on the walls of the cell, like "John Smyth was prisoner here 1642". Also an iron body cage hung from the ceiling.
From there we stopped in the restaurant for a bite. Upon exiting, we saw the Red Knight on his horse.
Friday, August 14th.
We started our 7 hour journey to York. We got on the bus at 8 o'clock in the morning. We stopped in Birmingham to change buses. By 4 o'clock we made it to York. Our first stop was the youth hostel.
We came across York Dungeon and decided to go in. It showed the different types of torture used in England several hundred years ago.
We then headed to the York Minster, the largest cathedral in all of England. The impressive thing about the church was the size of the stained glass windows. They were huge. Larger, by far, than any others we had ever seen. Thou it was too late for guided tours, a lady from the staff gave us a mini tour of the cathedral.
We stopped in the Jorvik Viking Center.
At 8 o'clock we went on a ghost walk. A town local named Haunted Harry took over 50 people through the streets of York. He stopped in front of certain houses and establishments to tell a story about a ghost that supposedly haunts the place. The stories all had a history behind them and sounded almost believable.
The tour lasted 2 and a half hours. Afterwards we went to the Three Tuns Pub for a pint or 2.
Saturday, August 15th.
We were up and out of the youth hostel by 7 o'clock.
We walked up to Clifford Tower. An ancient tower on top of a very high hill.
We then caught the 2 o'clock bus back to Oxford. It took 7 hours. By 10 we were back.
Sunday, August 16th.
I was off to Cambridge.
I took the 2 hour walking tour.
One very amusing thing was the front of Trinity College. There's a statue of Henry the VIII, and in his right hand where there was once a septre, was replaced with a leg from a kitchen table. The students replace it with a new one periodically.
The most beautiful of all the schools was Kings College. It had a huge cathedral. In front, by the altar was a beautiful painting which was given to the church anonymously after being bought anonymously in an auction for 3/4 of a million pounds. At that time, about 1960, it was the most ever paid for a painting.
After walking around a little more, watched some cricket in the park and punting on the river, I headed back to Oxford.
Monday, August 17th.
At 10am we headed to Windsor Castle. The castle was situated right in the middle of the city of Windsor.
We arrived at the same time as the changing of the guards. The class then banded together and went through St. George's Chapel.
Afterwards we went through the state apartments. It was spectacular. The rooms here were gigantic. We entered through the grand vestibule. From the walls hung all kinds of weapons, from guns to spears. Like the other big castles and palaces we've been in, this one also had a great display of paintings of the people who have lived or had some connections at the castle.
The class met again and headed toward Eton College.
Tuesday, August 18th.
Today we went to Winchester, Salisbury and Stonehenge. We got to Winchester and went to the Cathedral. The cathedral wasn't bad. It did have a beautiful altar. Sculptures of the crucifixion and other saints were up front. We then left Winchester and headed for Salisbury to see yet another cathedral.
We were given time to walk around. We got to the cathedral at 2:30. The outside was beautiful especially the front entrance which had many sculptures.
Our next stop, which may be my own highlight, was Stonehenge.
That night we did a little pub hopping. We went to Chequers, The Westgate and The Grapes. We were expecting to sleep late the following morning.
Wednesday, August 19th.
At 12:30 we decided to take the optional trip to Stokes Poges, not real expecting much. I would be deeply surprised. Stoke Poges Church is supposedly where Thomas Gray wrote his immortal poem "Elegy, written in a Country Churchyard". The church here was absolutely stunning. In contrast with the giant cathedrals we've been visiting, this was small and quaint. It had such a peaceful atmosphere and we were the only visitors there.
From Stoke Poges we went to see William Penn's grave in Jordan. It was a short journey and a short stay. It was interesting to see the grave site and the town of Jordan, which is very small.
Thursday, August 20th.
Today was our last class field trip. We went to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, the see "The Merchant of Venice" at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
Friday, August 21st.
One last trip to London
Saturday, August 22nd.
Fly back to NYC.