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The Noble Oxford


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Alternate Routes · Europe · united kingdom · Oxford · Darja Siņicina

The Noble Oxford

Author: Darja Siņicina4 COMMENTS

The Noble Oxford

"I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all . . . like an opera."
- William Butler Yeats

Days went by, and the frantic pace of London never gave a moment's peace, neither day nor night - neither at St Paul's, nor at the Strawberry Hill tube station. There was nowhere to hide from the incessant noise of the dusty megalopolis. Days went by, and, as the New Year approached (the way it often happens with superstitious romantics keen to link this date with the beginning of all things new), I packed my bags and, without thinking twice, headed North-West driving along the River Thames.

Distance: 97.6 km. Road: M40/A40. Time: 1 hour 23 minutes.

As I arrived in this 'paradise city of dead philosophers', my first impressions matched everything I had ever imagined. If only I had two hearts, I would definitely leave one of them in this city. And if the 'art of living' had a birthplace, I would very much like it to be none other than Oxford. It is here that art and poetic moods merge perfectly with our everyday life that unfolds against the background of medieval castles, cathedrals, churches and university colleges, every single brick of which is steeped in noble antiquity.

The first thing that struck me: I had never in my life seen as many bookshops as in the city centre of Oxford. There are as many of them as there are fast food eateries in London or cafés in Paris. It may very well be that it is rather the matter of picking the right book instead of their choice of sandwich that the locals ponder on a sunny summer day as they plan a picnic lunch in Christ Church Meadow, the spot where the two rivers meet and countless boats with loved-up couples pass by and students train for their famous annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race.

It is partly true. And yet, despite the fact that I wear glasses, I was nevertheless not admitted to the reading room of the Bodleian Library, not even for ready money. The impressive library of the University of Oxford boasts Britain's largest collection of books and manuscripts - a true treasury. At one time the books had even been chained to the shelves to prevent particularly passionate book-lovers from borrowing a volume or two. Hardly surprising: it seems tempting to take home with you a copy of 'Magna Carta', Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' or perhaps even Tolkien's 'The Hobbit or There and Back Again' and 'The Lord of the Rings'. And you do not have to be a bibliophile to appreciate the incredible beauty of this amazing library, both inside and out.

Remembering good old J.R.R.Tolkien, it would not go amiss to visit The Eagle and the Child (1650), one of Oxford's oldest watering holes which, literally a 10-minute walk from the library, is famous as the hangout of Tolkien and his friend C.S.Lewis (of the 'Chronicles of Narnia' fame), as well as other adepts and aficionados of the genre of literary genre of fantasy, a.k.a. the Inklings group. You can have a whale of a time here feasting on a pint of choice cask beer and the best traditional English pub grub: venison bangers and mash or cod fillet with jacket potatoes. And a dram of top-class whisky, should you so desire. And be warned: anywhere you go, you will be followed by the intriguing history of the city and its past denizens. Oxford is like a bottomless poetic lake: if you reach the middle, you will find yourself dying to explore the deep.

Foto: The Noble Oxford

However, before you decide to try your hand at the traditional British sport of pub-crawling, do visit a tiny bit of Alice's Wonderland - the world-renowned Alice Shop which owes its name and status to the fact that a hundred and fifty years ago Lewis Carroll described it in his Alice books. In Carroll's time, just like the Old Sheep Shop in 'Through the Looking-Glass', it was a grocery shop where little Alice Liddell used to buy sweets. Today, the place is more like a Carroll pilgrimage destination, a Mecca of sorts, one that caters to every wish the fans of the fairytale may have - well, every wish within the reach of the customer budget-wise.

Foto: The Noble Oxford

Having purchased a pocket watch with a picture of the White Rabbit, you rush off to a 'mad party' at a favourite place of mine, the Turf Tavern, well-hidden in a narrow side street opposite the Bodleian Library. Once you start to get the feeling of being lost, you can be sure that you are on the right track. It may be hard to find the entrance of the tavern and even harder to find the exit but being there makes everything worthwhile. That's why it's always packed like a can of sardines. A very atmospheric and special kind of place. They have been serving proper English ale for seven centuries here; also, the window sills are incredibly low and the walls - insanely lopsided. Bill Clinton is said to have spent quite a portion of his free time here in his Oxford days. 'When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn't like it. I didn't inhale and never tried it again.'

A mere couple of steps from Turf Tavern, look for another landmark you simply must not miss: the Hertford Bridge. Built in 1914, it connects the northern and southern parts of Hertford College. It is popularly known as The Bridge of Sighs in honour of the Venetian bridge of the same name (Ponte dei Sospiri): they are considered to be very much alike. A pure coincidence, no doubt. I am reasonably sure that, should you decide in favour of giving the Oxford Ghost Tour a go, you will eventually find yourself standing under the bridge in a dark and quiet night, listening to the Christ Church bells ringing: it is a place frequently passed by Inspector Morse in his Jag, on the lookout for yet another corpse...

Despite the fact that Oxford is the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely and indolent life, I ended up spending the whole of my half-year here with a book in my hands and spectacles on my nose. And just like the young T.E.Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia) in his childhood, I loved to explore the vicinity of Oxford on my green bike. In those days, Lawrence did not even dream of the events he was to take part in later in his life or of his future contribution to the world history - nor, of course, of the fact that a collection of his Arabian ceremonial robes would be held at the Ashmolean Museum. Incidentally, the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology (1683) was the first English museum to be open to the public. Masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Rubens, Picasso and others are among the things you can contemplate here, also including the famous Messiah violin by Antonio Stradivari.

It is sometimes said that happiness lies in communication between people. Forget the subtleties of the magnificent history of the noble Oxford; in an ordinary shop selling replacement bike parts, at a market place: everywhere you can have an easy and nice chat with people you have just met - sometimes on completely unexpected and quite intellectual subjects. Perhaps this is where the mystical appeal of the city lies, the city that made me fall head over heels in love with it, inspiring to enjoy the art of life instead of just passing the days, and to take pleasure in every moment I spent there.

Foto: The Noble Oxford

"So poetry, which is in Oxford made
An art, in London only is a trade."
- John Dryden

P.S. Without a hint of irony: I think Oxford might be the only place where you can witness a situation where a man flirting with a girl in a bus stop embarks on a story of an astronomic discovery of a stellar flux in the Northern hemisphere of the sky, moving at an angle of 45 degrees...

Photo: Darja Siņicina

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