Oxford Calling

March 19, 2012

This upcoming weekend I’ll be in Oxford for a conference, and I’m really curious what it’s going to be like. Not so much the conference (which I’m sure will be great) but the city itself. The thing is, I’ve been to Oxford once before, and I didn’t like it at all. However, that was fifteen years ago and it wasn’t under what you’d call ideal conditions.

Not the best picture you'll ever see of Oxford landmark, the Radcliffe Camera... Taken way back in 1997, long before I had a camera with a wide-angle lense

You see, I was traveling with my family back then and… well, I won’t go into detail… Suffice it to say that we arrived in Oxford late in the evening when it was already dark (and it was in August, so it didn’t get dark too early), drove around town for an hour or so in search of a hotel or a B&B with vacancies and, after we finally found one, went for a walk in the city to see if we could find a place that still served dinner. By then it was already something like 11 p.m. and in the end we wound up at a kebab stand that was just about to close for the night.

Somewhere in Oxford (probably on High St, but I really can't remember), 1997

The next morning we had to leave immediately because we were already on our way home and had a ferry to catch (and it’s a good thing we did, because a couple of days later Lady Di was killed in that car crash and from everything that followed we were really glad to have made it out of England just in time). Anyway, I figured since I was in a town as famous as Oxford I might as well have a quick look around the place. So I got up early and took a stroll around the city centre before breakfast. Admittedly, I found some of the college and church buildings quite pretty, but my overall impression of Oxford was one of bleak streets, lined by long grey lines of sombre buildings under a greyish sky…

If I'm not mistaken this would be Oxford High St with the tower of the University Church St. Mary the Virgin visible centre-right, again 1997

To make matters worse, only a few days earlier we had been to Cambridge and our stop there had been absolutely splendid. We spent an entire day there, including an extensive visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum (which I loved), checking out King’s College Chapel (which I loved even more) and a leisurely walk along the banks of the river Cam in the warm afternoon sun (which perhaps was the best part of all). Of course I compared Oxford with Cambridge because the two of them sort of go together, and after everything I just said I believe I don’t have to tell you who came first in that race.

Boats on a canal (Thames backwater?) in Oxford, 1997

In short, I didn’t like Oxford the first time around, but I’m aware that the circumstances of my visit were such that it didn’t really have a chance to make a more positive impression on me. So it’ll be really interesting to see how I’m going to like it this time. After all, I can think of at least one precedence where I didn’t like a city on my first (short) visit but absolutely loved it when I returned years later (that city being Brussels, in case you were wondering). Then again, when I’m in Oxford this weekend I’ll be spending most of my time indoors listening to conference presentations, so I probably won’t get to see more of the city than I did last time. But if I do find a little time to play the tourist, I’ll be sure to let you know what my impressions were…

3 Responses to “Oxford Calling”

  1. kat said

    So then, my dear [c]: have fun, try to look at Oxford from a different perspective and don’t forget to visit [k] before spring is over!

  2. Sorry to have missed you, but I can at least tell you that the second photograph is the front gate of Magdalen College, and it is indeed on the High Street!

  3. […] realise I still owe you that account I promised to give of my trip to Oxford on the weekend of March 24-25. Well, there really isn’t that much […]

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