Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shrunken heads and food galore

The day awoke cool, windy and wet - what a change from two days ago when it was in the low 20s. It is really too wet to be bothered with getting too early a start. We go through all the papers we have been collecting of late and begin also to get some parcels ready to send back to family members in Australia.

We check out of Linton Lodge just before 11 am and head into Oxford to go to the covered market. But we are unable to get parking anywhere within the vicinity and so decide to give it a miss. So we head out to the Cherwell Boathouse Restaurant for an early lunch. It is amazing how different it looked today in the bleak weather. But the restaurant is indoors, beautifully appointed and looks out across the Cherwell River and all the punts, lonely, tethered to their posts and unable to escape to journey with the current.

The food was absolutely sublime - there is no other way to describe it. We were present with three menus to choose from - a-la-carte, set menu and lunchtime special. Each of them tantalised us with new takes on old favourites. We decided to choose from the lunchtime special as it was half the cost of the set menu (which was significantly cheaper than the a-la-carte) and looked just as appetising. And was it so! You bet!!!

As we received our drinks we were given home-made semi-dried tomato and chive bread. Once finished, Michael asked for more bread and we got home-made flour bread warm from the oven. They then brought out an appetiser - a shot of sweet potato soup, rich and velvety.
The entree choice was easy - we both had the Crayfish tails with julienne of cucumber and mango salsa. Mains were:
Pan fried gilt-head bream, River Teign mussels, black truffle potatoes, crayfish butter (Michael)
Grilled pork chop, mustard mash, apple & crisp fried sage (Maria)
And the desserts were too good to pass up:
Raspberry brûlée with rich vanilla ice-cream (Michael)
Lemon tart with marscapone (Maria)

As a lunch menu this was sublimely well balanced with flavours that complemented each other, with none over-powering the other. To celebrate Maria has a glass of champagne with lunch and we have some of that blasted Blenheim sparkling water. So just as our visit on Monday was memorable with Elaine and Helen, today was just as so, in a different manner.

By now, the rain has stopped although it continues to be very overcast and quite cool. So its is was back into the city to go to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum (within it). We get parking about a block away and walk down past some amazing architecture. The Museum entrance is set back from the road behind a truly Oxford grassed quadrangle. The facade towers over the arched entry into a foyer where you get a tantalising glimpse of what is to come up a set of worn limestone stairs. (You almost fall over the large number of baby prams left trustingly here too). So up we go . . .

The first impression is one of light and space. The Museum was designed as a 'cathedral to science', and home to the University's scientific collections. The architecture is as amazing as it's collections. The most striking thing about the Museum is the glass and iron roof of the central court. Evidently the first design of the roof using mainly wrought iron had to be taken down before it was completed because it could not support its own weight. The cast iron columns are ornamented with wrought ironwork in the spandrels representing branches of species including sycamore, walnut and palm. This gives this huge space an elegance that defies all the structural supports that are in place! Amazing space!!

And then there is the collection. One of the things that we have noticed with many of the museums here in Europe is that they are kid friendly and indeed encourage people to touch and feel and explore many of the exhibits. In fact, the first sign that you see when you enter the display area is PLEASE TOUCH. There are people everywhere and just as many big kids as little ones are touching! We found the oldest thing we are likely to see while we are away, a piece of quartz from the Ural Mountains in Russia that is eleven hundred million years old. Yep, 1,100,000,000 years old!! Might not interest everyone, but hey, I am a rocky kinda gal so you will just have to lump it (pardon the pun!).

There are dinosaurs, and marsupials, and insects and birds and snakes and rocks and rocks from outer space (meteorites) and the history of life and Deoxyribonucleic acid and then some. Could go on and on and on. Suffice to say I am in my
element (gosh the jokes are bad today!). There is the Oxford Dodo, the real 'Alice' and the museum's link to CS Lewis, gemstones in their natural state, and a fascinating special exhibition on Charles Darwin celebrating his birth 200 years ago. Altogether a fascinating place to spend the afternoon.

Ahh - and then there is the Pitt Rivers Museum that is attached to the Oxford University Museum. This is an amazing anthropological collection of the finest magnitude with the name referring to its initial benefactor rather than a place. Perhaps the most fascinating is the collection of shrunken heads. And where the natural history museum is light and airy, this collection is in a darkened space a few steps down from the main museum. Children are given torches - I would think more to take their minds off the dim and ward away any nightmares rather that for any real purposes of lighting. Even in the dimness, we have no trouble seeing where to go, or the exhibits themselves.

So with our natural curiosities aroused even more and hardly fully satisfied, we take our leave of Oxford. This is definitely one of those cities that you could come back to time and time again and still not see or experience it all. We are off to another De Veres Venues property tonight- Sunningdale Park - this one is home to the National School of Government and is located near to the Ascot Race Course and Windsor Castle. It is also very close to Anna and Gary's home and we will catch up with them tomorrow night.

We are not as impressed with this venue as with its sister Barony Castle. Our booking form had not been carefully read and we request a change of room - not a good start. Then we need to call maintenance and the list goes on - all minor issues, but certainly takes the gloss off. But the bunny feasting on the lawn outside our bedroom window is very cute!

After such an amazing lunch we decide to forgo dinner and just feast on the cherries and strawberries Michael got yesterday. And as there are a number of movies that we want to see out at the moment, we decided another movie night was in order. We need to keep them going if we want to see them in English as we only have less than a fortnight here now. So onto the web to try to find the closest theatre. It is 16 miles away at Fultham. And off to see Night At The Museum II - kind of appropriate after today - don't you think?! Light and fun in a nonsensical way, but not as good as the first one. Guess you kind of know what is coming huh? So we go to bed tonight filled with amazing facts and photos. Whew, hope we can get to sleep!!!!

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