Exploring Oxford University, Day 2

After a brief introduction to Oxford yesterday, I’m excited to explore more of it today. I began my day with an English breakfast at Turl Street Kitchen, the restaurant next to my hotel. English breakfast usually consists of a toast (topped with poached or scrambled eggs), bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, and beans. I had all of the above except for the beans. The server asked me if I wanted ketchup. I looked at my plate but didn’t see potatoes so I told him I didn’t need it. Then he asked again if I wanted brown sauce. I gave him a confused look and asked what it was for. He said it’s usually to dip the meats with. I shrugged and told him okay, sure, I’ll try it. I dipped the sausage in the sauce and almost gagged. I’m not sure if it was the sauce or the meat that didn’t taste good but something certainly tasted awful!

After breakfast, I walked around Conmarket Street and found shops that I normally do not see back home. I met up with my son and he thought I might be interested to see the nearby mall. It’s a nice indoor/outdoor mall but it’s nothing spectacular if compared to the malls in the US or Asia that I’ve been to.

This is the view from the mall’s terrace

My son showed me several of the colleges, particularly All Souls, reputedly as the college with the toughest admission. According to him, the entrance exam at All Souls College has been called the “hardest test in the world.” There are only two students who typically get admitted each year.

All Souls College

Our first touristy stop was to go up to the tower at University Church at St. Mary the Virgin. I had read that the tower is a must-do in Oxford. But climbing a very steep spiral staircase to get all the way to the top was,for me, the difficult part. (Actually I had more issue with going down). I’ve been having issue with my left ankle and while going down the stairs, I almost sprained it.

Big first, let’s look at the insanely breathtaking view from the top!

Going back to my almost-sprained ankle, it was starting to feel painful to walk so it was a good excuse to rest and have tea at Vaults and Garden, the cafe on the ground floor of the church. They had an outdoor seating that’s looking directly at the beautiful dome, the Radcliffe Campus or “Radcam” as it is commonly referred to by the students. One of the things that I really enjoy in England is their tea drinking culture. I love that tea here is an equally (perhaps more) popular drink as coffee unlike back in the United States. Seriously, the tea makes up for their food! 😁 But seriously though, it is what inspires me to come back to London every time!

Next stop was at Christ Church, arguably the most beautiful campus in Oxford. It is also one of the film locations for Harry Potter. If you want to go inside and see the hall, you’d have to pay £8. It wasn’t open when we got there (it would reopen in a couple of hours) but we decided not to wait and not go at all.

Instead we walked towards River Thames (known in Oxford as the Isis), a popular spot for kayaking, punting, and for sports events at Oxford.

With all that walking, we were ready for lunch. I had roast and Yorkshire pudding in mind, recalling a delicious lunch from a pub somewhere outside London that I went to many years ago. But every restaurant we looked at had it on their menu as the Sunday roast special. That’s right—only available on Sundays!!! So we googled for the “best restaurants in Oxford” and from the selection of a handful restaurants, we decided to go to Quod. Its proximity to my hotel was definitely a factor in choosing it as I was planning on going back for a siesta after lunch (don’t judge, this is my vacation too and I can do whatever I want lol!). The restaurant’s modern decor was inviting and the food was also quite nice.

I could still feel the jet lag and I was too tired to walk around. I headed back to my hotel and we decided to meet up later for dinner at Turl Street Kitchen (where I had breakfast this morning). Turns out, it’s also rated as one of the best restaurants in Oxford.

Similar to what I felt last night, it was surreal and hard to believe that I was there visiting my son at Oxford AND drinking beer or wine with him! I pondered on the moments when this boy was just that—a boy! He’s now a young man who’s learned to be more independent, preparing to make his way in the world. I can’t help but wonder where the time has gone!

Exploring Oxford University, Day 1

My son is currently on a study abroad at Oxford University for two quarters. Oxford seems like one of those dreamy universities that only exists in the movies and if you told me a few years ago that my son would be attending classes there (even if he was only an exchange student), I would have laughed and wouldn’t believe you.

I decided to leave a day earlier because Oxford is preparing for a spring break and things will be closed around the university on the day I was originally going to arrive. Everything worked out with my flight arrangements in spite of going on standby. But before the plane could take off, there were a few obstacles. First, there was a slight maintenance issue, and then the captain announced he can’t legally fly the plane because it would put him over 12 hours of working that day. We waited if they could find a replacement and fortunately someone was available. We finally took off around 7:30 pm (not too bad since we were only delayed for 1:40 hours). During the dinner service, a man was walking wobbly past me and slammed his body towards the wall and fell by the exit door. I saw him grabbed the lever and I immediately yelled not to touch it for the fear of blowing the slide from an altitude of 35,000 feet. Everyone was panicked around me and I almost shit my pants thinking he was drunk and might do something stupid. Turned out he had low blood sugar level and became dizzy hence the fall. The 8 1/2 hour flight time seemed like it went by fast but being in coach is never a pleasant experience regardless of the length of the flight.

The immigration line took forever! There must’ve been only two officers working in spite of the thousands of arriving passengers. After leaving the customs area, I followed the signs to the terminal bus station. It’s just the most confusing thing where I enter a glass building, then take the elevator down, walk in a long tunnel, then take the lift back up again. I also got ripped off exchanging money at the airport. I only got £52 for my $100, and £24 went to the cost of my bus ride to Oxford! In only a few minutes, half of my money was gone! 😂

My son met me close to where the bus drop off (at Queens Lane). Oxford surely doesn’t look anything like London. It’s very quaint and expectedly has a vibrant university feel. He showed me where he lives, the Stanford house (where Stanford students on study abroad at Oxford live).

He toured me around Brasenose College, one of the colleges in Oxford University, where he did his classes.

**Fun fact: do you know that there are 38 colleges within Oxford University?

I haven’t really seen the other bigger colleges yet but I was already falling in love with Brasenose. He showed me all the places inside—the pub, the dining room where all the formal dinners were held, etc. but some of them were already closed.

On the way to Brasenose College, we passed by what everyone refers to as the C.S. Lewis door

This is where all the formal dinners are held

**second fun fact: spring break in Oxford is one whole month!! Compare that to our one week spring break in the States!

Following a British tradition, it was time for us to have our afternoon tea. We went to The Grand Cafe, one of the oldest cafes in Oxford. I chose one that included salmon and tuna sandwiches and scones. But ever since I had my afternoon tea at Harrod’s, I really couldn’t enjoy this one as much. I remember the scones at Harrod’s were to die for. I’m almost tempted to go to London just for that lol! My son told me I can’t go all the way to London just to have an afternoon tea but I reminded him I flew all the way from Dallas to London a couple of years back just to do that!

I went back to my hotel, the Tower Guest House (that’s situated on a 17th century old building), to get a few hours of sleep. We planned on going to Turf Tavern later in the evening for dinner. Turf Tavern is a historical pub, known for their famous patrons in the past including former US president Bill Clinton. As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, rumor has it that it was in this tavern where he smoked but did not inhale. 😜

One can’t visit the UK without having fish and chips. The only problem is I haven’t had great fish and chips yet with the few times I’ve been to England. And fish and chips at Turf Tavern was another disappointment. I’m not sure what it is but something was just lacking in taste.

Walking back towards the hotel, the night seemed silent. My son pointed to me the Bridge of Sighs, a skyway that connects two colleges, also a city landmark.

Quiet walk from the tavern to my hotel

Bridge of Sighs

I was very tired from all the walking and touring that day! But there’s so much more to see and do and I can’t wait for tomorrow. Retreating to my comfortable bed at my hotel, I thought that it is surreal to be with my son in one of the oldest universities in the world!