Return to the New World

Betsy and I are back from a week in the UK – primarily Oxford, with day trips to Cardiff (the capital of Wales) and Birmingham.

Pictures! Click to enlarge.

1 Oxford - Christ Church

Christ Church Cathedral, part of the Christ Church college in Oxford University. Stunning architecture here, Gothic windows and tall pillars, that photos (or at least my photos) can’t adequately capture. The word “hallowed” comes to mind. One of my favorite parts of the trip. Incidentally, the Christ Church dining hall was used as the Hogwarts dining hall in the Harry Potter movies, and the resemblance is obvious once you get there.

2 Oxford - somewhere

Oxford University summed up in a single image: ancient looming buildings, gray weather, and tourists. Except that makes it sound awful, whereas Oxford is actually charming and full of stories.

3 Cardiff

Cardiff, Wales. From the eight hours or so we spent there, Wales doesn’t seem – superficially – too different from England. You do see a lot of Welsh flags everywhere, much like Texas is full of Texan flags (but isn’t that different from Oklahoma). Those green and white flags with the red dragons, those are the Welsh flags. Also, lots of signs are in English and Welsh, which is interesting (linguistically) and annoying (practically).

4 Cardiff - Arab Room

The so-called Arab Room in the old residence area of Cardiff Castle (“Castell Caerdydd” in Welsh).

5 Cardiff - Castle

The central keep of Cardiff Castle, almost a thousand years old, surrounded by a nearly dry moat. Beautiful, but the ancient spiral staircases are hard stone and so incredibly steep that I’m surprised people don’t die on them every year. Or, who knows, maybe they do.

We did see a lot more in Cardiff than just the castle. Among other things: I was captivated by Cezanne’s painting “Provençal Landscape” in the museum; we stopped at a Forbidden Planet store, where I found (but didn’t buy) Claudia Christian’s autobiography Babylon Confidential; and we had a fabulous dinner at a place called Pie Minister, complete with a tall glass of Milk Stout.

6 Oxford - street

A typical street scene in Oxford, near our hotel. That’s Waterstones book store on the left. Oxford is very much a walking city, with many whole streets set aside for pedestrians. I was surprised at the sheer volume of foot traffic. Getting around in the city consists largely of dodging other people – which is tricky, because they’re also trying to dodge you, and if you both dodge in the same direction, then neither of you has dodged anything and you have to try again.

7 Birmingham - St. Martin's Church

St. Martin’s Church in Birmingham. Here, as in so many other places in the UK, I’m struck by the juxtaposition of the solemn and ancient with the sleek and modern. On the left is the Bullring, a huge multi-level shopping center, while on the right (not visible in the photo) is the Rag Market, an open-air shopping area that’s fun to explore, but which sells, uh, mostly crap.

8 Oxford - canal boat

A house boat on an Oxford canal, evidently owned by someone with a literary bent. The whole city is crammed full of literary stuff, which is hardly surprising: the university has been home, at one time or another, to Lewis Carroll, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, the Oxford comma, and the Oxford English Dictionary, to name just a few (not to mention the Harry Potter connection I mentioned before). Incidentally, this particular stanza is from the poem “The Temeraire,” by Herman Melville. American poetry, represent!

9 Oxford - OUP Museum - Alice

An original first-edition copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in the Oxford University Press Museum. This tiny museum is open to the public by appointment only, so Betsy and I and another couple – four in all – were the only ones there aside from our guide, the friendly and knowledgeable Dr. Martin Maw, Archivist for the Oxford University Press.

10 Oxford - OUP Museum - OED

The Oxford English Dictionary was an early example of crowdsourcing, long before “crowdsourcing” was ever a word. Countless word enthusiasts from all over the country sent in words, definitions, examples from literature, and etymologies. Above are handwritten notes from authors Thomas Hardy, Kenneth Grahame, and J. R. R. Tolkien. A fascinating little museum, at least for people like me.

11 Oxford - Christ Church

Another view of Christ Church, Oxford, beautiful outside as well as inside. That’s Tom’s Tower in the background on the left.

12 Findlay - Alice n Willow

A couple of souvenirs. That’s Alice on the left, of course, a print of one of John Tenniel’s original illustrations, which I bought from Alice’s Shop on St. Aldate’s Street. On the right is Willow, from that Forbidden Planet in Cardiff, an anniversary gift from Betsy. Alice and Willow: two ladies who know a little something about the dangers of magic (and dreams).

Anyway, Betsy and I did lots of other stuff too, but this post is already pretty long and I’ve gotta get moving. How was your week?

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