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We stepped off the coach into the bustling city of Oxford for the second walk of our day tour. Richard had told us that students at the university were in the middle of exams, and sure enough, he pulled us to the side of the street to spy on a student in full robes, which they are required to wear to exams, as he mounted his bicycle nearby.
We crossed the street, full of cars and double-decker buses, bikes and hordes of quick-moving pedestrians. Bustling, indeed. Then we entered the relative calm of the university campus. The 38 colleges have separate, secured courtyards — with their own dorm and dining facilities, sometimes even a chapel.
The streets in Oxford are remarkably clean and are often bordered on both sides by high walls and sidewalks that create these narrow, curved lanes that snake through the town. As far as the eye can see, buildings are sharp and squared, gothic and yellow-weathered. I’d heard people say that the architecture in Oxford is boring, but I actually found it intriguing.
We continued past the Radcliffe Camera and the famous Bodleian Library. The Bodleian Library is one of the largest libraries in England — the Harry Potter movies were filmed there, and apparently, with most of the steps you take in Oxford, you walk over millions of archived books in sub-street level vaults. On the other side of the courtyard from library is the Tower of Five Orders, with each column highlighting the five major types of architecture: Doric, Tuscan, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite. That’s a sight my father and stepmother, the architects, would completely nerd-out over.
Richard took us into Jesus College to give us an idea of what one of the colleges is like — we walked through wrought-iron gates and a wood-paneled entryway, past a windowed reception area and into a manicured courtyard. We didn’t go into the living quarters, but toured the dining room and chapel. The dining room had a very “Harry Potter” feel, though on a much smaller scale. Queen Elizabeth I was a patron of this particular college, so the room was decorated with her bust and several portraits.
Toward the end of our tour, we went past the college where Bill Clinton lived while he was a Rhodes Scholar. Once Richard had exhausted his knowledge, he gave us about 40 minutes to walk around and browse. I peeked into a few shops, but regret that I didn’t walk over to the Bodleian Library. You can’t go in, I don’t think, without the right credentials, but the library shop is supposed to be interesting. Instead, I browsed plenty of art, books, tourist trinkets and everyday shopping outfits, like Cath Kidston — which is huge in England! (I’d never heard of it.) Once our group reunited, Richard walked us all back to the train station, where we promptly boarded the next train back to London.
On that ride, I sat with three teenagers whose parents from Hong Kong were now living in London. (Which I know purely from eavesdropping.) One of them was very concerned about how to apply to university in the U.S.; another spent the latter half of the train ride arguing with her mother about how she had told her she was going to Oxford for the day! And, why does she have to tell her everything! See, 16-year-olds are the same all over the world.
We got back to London about 4 p.m., and even though I was bone tired, I felt the need to keep going. I tubed back to the Buckingham Palace area, but they were disassembling the stage from Monday’s concert, so everything was still blocked off.
I returned to the hotel and repacked … ready for one last day in England. When I switched on the TV, I was delighted to find a new episode of “Inspector Lewis.” How apropos.