Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A quieter day in Oxford....

We rose slightly later today to an overcast sky heralding rain. However, the clouds broke after precipitation just for a short while. After our delightful and brilliant excursion yesterday, we decided to approach today at an easier pace.

We first headed for the hairdresser whom the girls had recommended to Maria: Holly @ Lyster Hair Design. Arriving in Banbury Road we found it to be a hive of havoc and industry, and any available parking appeared to have dissolved. With time ticking closer towards Maria's 11am rendezvous we completed a circuit of this Circus Maximus, and once again Maria's Parking Fairy directed us to a vacant parking spot: right next to Lysters! So, with purpose in her step, Maria ventured into the hairdresser's, whilst I maintained vigil with the car as parking was valid for 30 minutes only.

I wasn't sure whether I was amused or alarmed at the lack of available parking, as drivers appeared to park anywhere and anyhow to secure a spot. Non-parking areas, driveways and pedestrian accesses were fair game for these errant consumers. Albeit, Maria exited the cosmetologists with aire of relief and joy at having her locks lopped - the first since the 8th March!

Dismissing breakfast at our hotel, we drove into Oxford to have brunch at a greasy-spoon, 'St Giles', as recommended by Eileen and Helen. The fare on offer was of a high cholesterol content - but, cooked with fresh produce providing a delicious repast. Breakfast consisted of: Sausage and egg on bruschetta, fresh orange juice and a hot chocolate (Maria)
'House' breakfast: eggs, bacon (to die for), sausages and baked beans (for self propulsion); fresh orange juice and black coffee (Michael). We also threw in a serve of chips for good measure!

As we did have a full day yesterday, Maria has resigned herself to some earned rest so we return to the hotel and whereby I would continue into Oxford by the Red Bus in due course.

The day has improved weather-wise with the sun gleaming, so I don our trusty backpack, my hat, camera and set forth! Walking round to Banbury Road to the Sightseeing bus stop #16, the traffic is in full flow and chaotic - completely different from yesterday's Bank Holiday. The bus arrives and upon boarding I am pleasantly surprised to find my short journey accompanied by a 'live' guide whose name is Allan. Allan's repertoire of Oxford's history is informative and entertaining, his anecdotes are applauded by the genuine laughs from the passengers. Whenever the bus stops for traffic or lights, our guide fills these pauses with local trivia.

The bus finally arrives at my destination: stop # 4, Oxford Castle. We have seen and stayed in many castles during our journey so far, and many of those which have been impressive have been off the main roads, devoid of visitors and entry is gratis for all and one to enjoy. However, this is not the case with Oxford's castle. Regrettably, the remnants of this once imposing edifice has been consolidated to a precinct of income generation. Oh, well, bills do have to be paid...?

Leaving the castle precinct, I make my way towards Carfax Tower and which is considered to be the centre of the city. The name Carfax is derived from the French, carrefour or crossroads, and is located at the junction of St Aldates, Cornmarket, Queen and High Streets, Oxford. The tower is all that remains of the 13th century St Martin's Church and is now owned by the Oxford City Council. Standing at 74 feet high the viewing platform provides the visitor with a 360 degree vista of Oxford city and its array of towers.

Leaving Carfax I make my way to the old Bodleian Library and grounds. This precinct is an amazing collection of architecture and stained glass windows which reflect their surroundings. The magnitude of these remarkable buildings can be gauged by the expressions of the visitors. Heads looking upwards, with outstretched hands pointing and mouths agape.

Making my way to St Mary's Cathedral where its tower is available to visitors. The Cathedral is a testament to past benefactors and scholars with epitaphs dating from 1609! The architecture reflects Renaissance and Gothic styles with large stained glass windows. Paying the nominal fee of 2 pounds, I make the long a restrictive climb to the tower's viewing platform. If I was amazed at the view from Carfax, I was taken aback by the vista from St Mary's. This vantage point gave a birds-eye-view over the Bodleian and adjoining colleges.
My thirst for heights being slated, I return to ground level and continue my walk onto Catte Street, heading towards Cornmarket Street and the Covered Market.

The streets are full of tourists standing in groups peering over their maps of Oxford. Buskers ply their trade and filling the air with strumming and piping. Finally, I reach the Market which is an adventure in itself. This is an amazing collection of purveyors offering a variety of fresh produce under one roof. Passing a green grocer who displayed a selection of berries, so handing over the required payment I purchased a punnet of English strawberries and cherries. This fine purchase should make a handsome breakfast.

Saying farewell to this purveyor I make my way towards Broad Street to catch the red bus for home. The day started out with rain and concluded with sunshine and a memorable walking tour.

For dinner we went back in to the city to the Bangkok House, a Thai restaurant recommended by the lass at reception of the Linton Lodge. Nice, but not a touch on the Thai Orchid that we found the other day. We both agree that the tastes have been a little too 'westernised' (i.e. lots deep fried, and sweetened). We begin with a mixed starter and continue with mains - duck with cashew nuts, sweet and sour king prawns and mosamun curry all with steamed jasmine rice. Our deep fried banana with coconut served with caramel ice cream just continued the theme - nice enough if you were hungry, but not really authentic. Service however was good. By the time we get back to the Lodge after taking a few night shots it is after 11 pm. We are finding it hard to get used to ending the days so late!

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