Our first stop of the morning was the Bodleian Library to sign up for a tour. We got on the list for the 10:30 tour and then went over to the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin to climb the tower.
And then the spires of Oxford spread out around us from the top. Matthew Arnold's line is often quoted for good reason, "“And that city with her dreaming spires, she needs not June for beauty’s heightening”. (Arnold wrote the poem "Thyrsis" in 1865 in honor of a friend who had died young.)
Alex took quite a few photos here too, no surprise. Find his photos on Flickr and a short blog post about our visit to Oxford here.
The space for people to walk at the top of the tower went around all four sides, but it was narrow and people had to go both ways to get back to the stairs, so there was a certain amount of back and forth negotiating who would walk where. I assume they have a limit on the number of people up there at any given time. It is well worth the climb and the small fee.
Many of the colleges have sundials we could see from the tower. Pereunt et imputantur, the motto under this one, means "The hours are consumed and will be charged to our account." (and yes, I had to look that one up!)
We came back down and went right to the library for our tour. We had been in the Divinity School building when we were here with the kids last time, since it is the Infirmary in the Harry Potter movies.
Beautiful views out the windows. Once we went upstairs to Duke Humfrey's Library we could not take photos. It was fantastic to see it, and the bits of the collection that are there. They are having the same book storage problems as all big depository libraries, and they are building a giant storage space in Swindon to hold most of the books.
At the end of the day we had coffee at Blackwells, and I bought another book (because I really need more books) and then we went back to the EuroPub to get our suitcase and catch the coach back to Cambridge. No trouble with any of that, although it confirmed for me that the train is just a better way to travel.
Alex had his conference at the Said School on Friday, so I set off to tour Oxford.
I know these signs are literal, but I feel like some of my sabbatical research shows that this is part of the problem. Historians need to engage with the public more, we have things to contribute, and the building should be open to the public. But look what has happened when we try. The case of William Cronin's blog Scholar Citizen should inspire us to be more engaged in public debate, not less.
The most beautiful parts of Oxford are for the college fellows, not for tourists. But I love the views through the doors when they are open. Of course many colleges do let visitors in, for a small fee, at certain times, which is, really, as it should be, since the colleges should be for teaching and learning.
I decided I wanted to get the wider view of Oxford, and maybe walk just a little bit less than I normally do, so I paid for the on-and-off bus tour (very touristy). At first, I had the bus all to myself, with my little red headset and the English-language recording on channel 1. After we got to the train station a live guide got on, and other tourists started to arrive too. The view was great from the top, and the guide was interesting. Sometimes it was harder to take good photos, the rails got in the way, and we moved quickly when there was no traffic. But well worth the price.
We went past the Eagle and Child. These photos from the tour will probably be out of order. I had two cameras, and the time stamps on both of them are a bit off, so if you know the tour well, please just ignore the order and go with it!
After I had been around the tour more than once, I got off and went to enquire about tours at the Bodleian Library for Saturday. It was complicated, and I was not sure we wanted the long tour I could reserve for the next day, so in the end I decided we would just turn up and take what we could get on Saturday. I don't think the "silence please" can be respected by the construction crew.
Spring is really beginning to be visible, not just in the bulbs, which are beautiful, but in the green everywhere.
Alex had a lunch meeting, so we did not set off for Oxford until later in the afternoon. We took the bus (coach) because it was much cheeper. I don't like it as much as the train, but for that kind of money, and in this case the time is about the same, it does make sense. And our hotel was right at the bus station!
Oxford and Cambridge have a lovely little rivalry, but I think as visitors we can enjoy both. I do think Cambridge is a more livable place, Oxford is bigger and more crowded. But we are not to live here, just visit for the weekend.
The view from our table at the Eagle and Child, the pub famous for meetings of the Inklings. We had a nice dinner. It was quiet, for a pub, because they don't play loud music. The people at the table next to us found that disturbing, I rather liked it.
I always think of the Miter as where Lord Peter Whimsey stays in Gaudy Night. I know he is not real, but Sayers makes Oxford feel real in that book, it is certainly as much a character in the story as anything else, and she has Peter stay at the Miter.
I'm a little behind on the blogging. Last week Alex was to give a talk in London, so we went early and took the tube out to Kew Gardens. I think the last time I was there was 1980, but I had good memories of it, and spring is upon us, so what better than the botanical gardens?
The one place I really wanted to go back was the Marianne North Gallery. I liked it so much then that I bought a book of her work. And it did not disappoint, but we were not allowed to take photos inside. So visit the official site for more information about this intrepid traveler and artist. Or borrow that old book, or the newer one I got about her art and her life.
Her is Alex setting up for his talk. He put up links to the Prezi here. The talk went well, there was some interesting discussion, and then we came back to Cambridge via King's Cross.
I went for a long ride today, feeling the need to be outside after a nice relaxing Sunday indoors. I just figured I would ride an hour or so up the Cam, and then come back. That took me though places we have been before, but also a few new places.
I kept thinking the sun would break through, it never did, but it is not raining, so I can't complain. And Alex was not there to take a photo, so I can't prove it, but I was not wearing my big black fleece jacket. I had on my TNT hoodie!
I rode back along the Cam for a while, then took a right when National Cycle Route 11 spilt into two options to return to Cambridge. Since I had seen the view along the river, I took the one that said Cambridge 2 via Milton.
After a few minutes on a regular road, the signs pointed directly left into the woods, so I followed, and found myself in Milton Country Park. It was beautiful, and totally unexpected.
I stopped to take a look at this war memorial. You can read more about it here.
The ride took me about 2 and a half hours, I never went very fast, and I kept stopping to look at things. But a nice afternoon's exercise, I think.
We had one more day in Bath before returning to Cambridge. It was much more crowded in the City Centre! I guess plenty of people come in for the day, and for the weekend. Once we were a little away from the center things were fine.
The light is terrible in this photo, but I loved this shop. It has tourist stuff, postcards, etc, on the left, but the right side is all dollhouse stuff. I would never have left this store when I was a kid!
We went to Topping and Company on Friday, but I did not take a photo. It really is an outstanding bookshop!
Our first stop of the morning was the Jane Austen Center.
There is not much information about Austen in the really interesting bits of her life, since most of what we knows comes from her letters to her sister, and in the times she was with her sister there are, of course, no letters.
Alex has already blogged about the museum, and his summary is brilliant, so I will quote it, rather than write my own (once the academic, always the academic):
We spent part of the morning at the Jane Austen Centre, a house converted into a museum for Jane Austen fans. Though these days, it's really devoted to that version of Jane Austen that's filtered through the movies; so much so that Austen herself (as well as all her other characters) are in danger of being upstaged by Mr. Darcy-- in particular the Colin Firth version of Mr. Darcy. Actually, most of the museum is about Austen and Bath in her time; it's more the gift shop that has turned into the House of Firth. (The "I [Heart] Mr Darcy" bumper stickers and tote bags) nearly sent my wife over the edge.)
Bath's relationship to Jane Austen is emblematic of the mix of honest and commercialism that at their best English historical sites manage to strike. The message can be reduced to, "Jane Austen reluctantly came to his city with her elderly parents, and over the next five years, endured the loss of her beloved father, the decline of her family's status, constant marginalization in a city obsessed with wealth and fashion, and a creative drought that represents an incalculable loss given her short life. Don't forget to visit the gift shop!"
For the rest of Alex' account of our days in Bath, click here.
One of the best things was a copy of Emma Thompson's acceptance at the Golden Globes for the Sense and Sensibility screenplay. There is video on Youtube here. Go watch it. Really, it is better than anything I will write here.
Jane Austen often sent her characters to the Assembly Rooms, and so that was our next stop. The Assembly Rooms are the same ones Jane would have been too, and they are fantastic.
Our next stop was the Fashion Museum in the basement of the Assembly Rooms. I remember visiting it when it was called the Costume Museum (I think that was the 1980 trip) and I liked it then. Now that it is the Fashion Museum, I am not so impressed. They had an exhibit of wedding dresses (celebrating the Royal Wedding this year). Some of them were very strange, and there was no analysis, just names and dates.
The 19th century room, "behind the scenes" was more interesting, because it was about how fashions changed by decade, and about how they store and conserve the costumes. But men apparently did not have fashion through most of the century, there was only one male costume and a few men's hats and shoes.
And the 20th century was all about fancy designers and the "dress of the year." There were a few men's outfits, but the exhibit was high on crazy fashion and low on analysis and historical context. Sigh.
We wandered away from the crowds, and did some window shopping on Walcot Street, and back into the center to see if we could get in to Sally Lunn's for the traditional Sally Lunn Bun, but there was a big line, so we walked about a block to a lovely tea place in a hotel, where there were plenty of empty tables and we could enjoy our tea and scones in peace. Then we split up, me for some shops, and Alex to take more photos. He puts them up on Flickr, his page is here.
We found our seats on the very full train to London (with some very loud Rugby players sitting just behind us) and then made the Tube journey from Paddington to King's Cross in time to buy dinner at the Upper Crust, our favorite sandwich place at King's Cross, and hop on the 18:06 for Cambridge. Our bikes were waiting for us at the station, and we rode home. The bag basically fits in my bike basket, but as it had gotten a bit more full (one big heavy book, and a few other things) it was a bit harder to ride. We went slowly, and I got off to go over curbs, and it all worked fine. What a lovely weekend.
We headed right for the Roman Baths when we got back to Bath, but of course we couldn't resist this house on Pierrepoint Street.
I'm glad we could see the Baths in the sunlight. They are a monument to Roman building, but also a real statement about Victorian values and sense of history. This is not what the top would have looked like in Roman days, they built a large covered building. But the Victorians finished it there way.
We left the Baths around 5:30, so most things were closed.
We had a proper English breakfast in our hotel before setting out into the rain.
We caught the 9:36 to get to Bristol for Alex's talk. The rain did not stop, and Bristol is great, but in a gritty industrial way. We walked from the train station to the harbor area, which is all redeveloped since the port shut down in the 1970s. Christy, this would feel very much like Hafencity!
And it turns out they are connected.
And here is the entire house. Although it was not this house, but rather a house on this site, where the Americans established their consulate. And it was there that Kosciuszko came to visit his friends from his time fighting in the American Revolution. All history is world history. And that seems even more more true on some days!
Pero's bridge, named for a slave brought to Bristol. The city made plenty of money on the slave trade and the tobacco trade.
It turned out that the Pervasive Media Studio is in the building on the right, but we did not know that when we were walking around in the rain. I like the juxtaposition of the Cathedral, the 19th century industrial building, and the new @Bristol (a science museum/center).
After walking around a bit, getting wetter and wetter, and then getting some directions, we found the door. When we were buzzed in we found a spiral staircase, and loud music started playing. It is some kind of art project.
Here is Alex giving the beginning of his talk. He blogs about the talk here. It was well received, there was some lively discussion afterward.
We were there quite a while, and when we emerged back outside the sun was shining.
Back in Queen's Square. We walked back to the station the way we had come, since we wanted to get back to Bath in time to see the Roman Baths before they closed. Of course there are plenty of cool things to see in Bristol, but that will have to wait for another trip.
The Bristol train station is an amazing bit of Victorian building. The station opened as the western terminus of the Great Western Railway in 1840 (built by Brunel, like just about everything in Bristol). This photo shows the main entrance built in the 1870s expansion of the station.
We caught the 13:51 back to Bath.
We caught the 11:45 to King's Cross (with not that much time to spare), and were off to Bath. I was a bit late getting out of craft group, and I had not really thought about how long it would take on our bikes to get to the station. But we made it, and had seats on the express, so that was what mattered.
It really is a lovely station. We wandered a bit, buying sandwiches, and looking into the London 2012 Olympics shop while we waited for them to post a platform number. We had seats reserved on this train, which was probably a good thing, it was mostly full.
A nice place, even if our room is in the basement (under the dinning room, as we discovered this morning!) We checked in and then went back out right away to walk around while things were still open.
We saw these in several parts of the city. They are advertisements for Banana Republic, and they are just a waste of bike racks! I did not see so many full bike racks here, so maybe they are not needed, but it does seem silly.
We went into the Bath Abbey, which is lovely.
One of the things I love about Bath is how many places I can remember from Jane Austen books. Who else knows who lived here?
Alex had the good camera, check his Flickr stream for more.
We had dinner at a pizza place called the Real Italian Pizza Company. Nice, but a bit empty. Which was fine, since they were training a new member of staff, and that took plenty of explaining.
We ended the evening at the Coeur de Lion, famous for being the smallest pub in Bath.
I downloaded Persuasion for my iPad, and read it for the rest of the evening once we got back to the hotel.