Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Christmas Holiday: road trips.

I mentioned it briefly in the last two Christmas holiday posts (catch up here and here), but over that two-weeks in December, my family and I squeezed in a mini-vacation to Oxford, Bath and Wales. We really packed those two-weeks, but it was still more relaxing than our original plan of Europe-hopping.

To start, we made the short trip to Oxford to visit the university. We paid for a walking tour, so I'm packed full of factoids now, but I'll spare you and let the pictures do most of the talking.

Oxford University is one of England's oldest universities. You can't actually go to the "university;" rather, you apply to one of the colleges within the university and are then a part of the college. I think most American universities are like that too, but maybe not as stringent. I remember floating between colleges a bit during my time at Ohio State.

There were many references to Christopher Wren in the architecture and planning of the colleges. This is All Souls college with a bit of the Kamera building peeking on the left. The main building is topped with a "W" for Wren, the circumference of the Kamera matched that of Stonehenge (as Wren was the first to measure it), and there's an astrological clock on the left as an homage to Wren's studies.

I don't remember much about this bridge, other than it's iconic and there's a little alley off to the left behind it that leads to a pub that has part of the original Oxford town wall in it.

The bridge isn't far from The King's Arms, a pub where Shakespeare is rumored to have stayed and presented Hamlet, among other plays.

Rowing is big at Oxford, and next to the hall doors, which I think are like dorms, the teams will paint their championships. Oxford is set up pretty uniquely - you're admitted solely to a college, and that college has your dining room, dorms, chapel, and everything else. Sunday chapel was once a graduating  requirement. You don't have to go out to the university because everything's within your college. It was funny to me that they didn't share resources, but at this point, it's such a unique quality. Other fun tidbits about Oxford: J.R.R. Tolkien studied as a student and returned as fellow and likely wrote Return of the King while at Merton College.  Bill Clinton also studied here as a Rhodes Scholar.  The Harry Potter scene where Malfoy is turned into a ferret was filmed in a tree on Oxford grounds, and is the most significant scene to be filmed at Oxford.  There's so much more, but that might be all I've got before I start boring you.

Then we traveled to Bath, England, home of Jane Austen and the Roman Bath houses.

Bath's another really old town with awesome architecture. Which I didn't say about Oxford, but I'm saying that now. Above, clockwise, is the Roman Bath, the Jane Austen house, the Royal Cresent, and the Bath Abbey. Bath also offers FREE walking tours, which are AWESOME. I highly recommend. I've been to Bath before, but that was six years ago (Katelyn, when did we get so old?), so it was really nice to see everything again.

We started in the town center, looked at old houses, heard some cool stories, yadda yadda. I'm playing it cool, but I eat that sort of history up and skipping to the pictures for you. Then there's this bridge. The name escapes me, but it's a bridge with shops built into it. If you're on the street looking across, you can't tell that you're over water, or that the shops aren't on solid ground. The architectural accomplishments of that time period are so impressive; especially when you hear about building follies in the present day. They just don't make them like they used to. That's Dad's favorite line, though he's decidedly not old enough to know what they used to make them like - just an old soul. 

We then found ourselves in the circus with wild animals! Just kidding, that's Veronica photobombing. The amounts of pictures I had to sort through to get her out of them is a little ridiculous. It wouldn't have been appropriate to not include one of her random body parts in a picture. And if you look past her to the left, you'll see a little sign that says "Circus." The Circus is a circle of houses with the exact circumferences of Stonehenge. They really like their Stonehenge references here, and rightfully so, as it's smack dab between Oxford and Bath. The houses are majestic, as you can glimpse from the three-sets-of-columns-tall height, and only for the richkins. That's a made-up word, but I like adding 'kins' to things. I'll skip to the baths before things get weird.

This is the main bath at the Roman Bath house. Bath sits on a natural hot spring, which pumps in the mineral water and all of its supposed restorative powers. Over top, you can see the Bath Abbey hovering. In its heyday, there were dozens of baths, all for different purposes, most of them being social. Now, there are probably a dozen left to tour through, which is still impressive for their hundreds-of-years lasting power.

This one simultaneously reminds me of Hugh Hefner's grotto (is Girls Next Door still a show? I miss that) and a starry night sky. Opposite ends of the innocence spectrum, I know.

I'll throw in an obligatory human shot to break up all the stone. Hey yo!

This is the front of the Bath House and the Bath Abbey, which are obviously close neighbors. We toured the abbey, and it has some crazy impressive stained glass. Other Bath highlights include the gravel walk and assembly rooms mentioned by Jane Austen, the Royal Crescent, which is a half-mile (I think) arc of houses, the architecture, which ranges from medieval to Georgian, and the history. I'm always enthralled by the old cities and the daily lives of those that lived then - we just have no comparison in America. I'll stop there before getting too philosophical and wondering how our future generations will remember us - by airports? government buildings? what significant, lasting things have we built?

That night, we drove through the Welsh countryside to Leicester, Wales for the night. We ran into a bit of a snafu when we couldn't find our hotel, only to learn that our hotel had an electrical fire earlier in the day and was then deemed unfit to reopen, scrambled to get into the only other hotel in the small town, battled one-way streets and a different language, and then tried to calm down. A walk was in order.

As we were in for less than twelve hours and during the hours when most was closed, there was nothing too exciting. For the American traveler, though, all you really need is a phone booth.

I wonder if they think us really simple-minded.

We did find this cool little alley named Draper's Lane that I wished we could've caught during opening hours. Draping sounds like sewing which sounds like crafting! Dad was probably happy we missed it, though.

In the morning, we drove to Caernarfon Castle in Caernarfon, Wales. This is where the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, was crowned.

The castles is mostly in ruins, but the towers are accessible by dark, wet, winding spiral staircases and rope railing, the walls between the towers are open, and it's the quintessential medieval castle that you imagine as a child. Or that I imagined, at least.

The castle's right on the water is quite the impressive fortress. It was built by the English as a sort of show of power over Wales, a new ruling force.

We did a lot of exploring, just climbing around, ducking around corners hide from each other, and taking self-timed pictures.

I also learned that Welsh was a language I couldn't fake. Thankfully, they're generous with the English subtitles.

This is the view from a tower down the river. Those boats aren't that tiny in reality; the castle's just that big.

That was our road trip - a bit of mid-southern England and a bit of Wales. We did a good job of sightseeing without running ourselves to exhaustion, which was our goal, and different from most other trips we planned. In just over a week, I'll be back in Europe, so there's a lot more to come! Also, more sporadic posting, I imagine. Hang in there with me, and let me know if there's something I need to see, especially if it's in England!

1 comment:

  1. 6 years since we were in Bath?! We are old. But your pictures here are wonderful- I'm especially loving the castle pics!


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