“Who gives a f**k about an Oxford comma, I’ve seen those English dramas, too, they’re cruel. So if there’s any other way, to spell the word it’s fine with me, with me…”
As my train pulls into Oxford station, the catchy Vampire Weekend tune plays over and over in my head. But, as I was about to discover, there is more to this historic city than the posh university for which it is famous.
Today, the city resembles all things proper British — from the cream teas served in quaint little cafes, to stunning architecture and gardens — and it’s all just an hour from London.
A visit to Oxford is certainly not a strenuous one. Wandering the cobbled streets, browsing the many quaint stores, indulging in more than your fair share of food and admiring Oxford’s stunning architecture is what it’s all about.
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My friends and I arrive on a Sunday at 9.30am, and the city is silent. But with the sun beaming down and the air is crisp, it’s a nice change to the grey, polluted London we left behind. Within an hour the shops open, students and tourists appear and the place comes alive.
Before setting out on a day of indulgence, it’s important to know exactly who helped make the city what it is today.
Oxford University is the old stomping ground of some of the world’s most famous politicians, writers and actors, among other things. From playwright Oscar Wilde to authors CS Lewis (of the Chronicles of Narnia fame), Kenneth Grahame (Wind in the Willows) and Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), Oxford helped them perfect their trade.
More recently, the likes of former UK PM Tony Blair, comedian Rowan Atkinson (also known as Mr Bean), actor Hugh Grant, former US President Bill Clinton, media mogul Rupert Murdoch and former PM of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto also studied at Oxford.
Shopping in Oxford is a serious, relaxed and enjoyable affair. We kept ourselves amused before lunch by wandering the streets – some of the treats you’ll find include little boutiques that sell anything and everything from jewellery to heart-shaped tea strainers, and bookstores, including the official Oxford University Press Bookshop and another where all books cost just 3 quid.
Then there’s Mr Simm’s Old Sweete Shop on the High Street. It is the best lolly store I have ever been in — and as someone with a massive sweet tooth, that’s saying something. The variety and quantity of sugary treats — from chocolate-coated everything and truffles to old-fashioned boiled sweets and fudge — left me feeling overwhelmed. It took some serious self-discipline, but I managed to walk out with just a few hand-made chocolates.
Although, my restraint probably had a lot to do with the massive lunch that I knew was waiting for me in the café we had already selected. And following that, we were to have a traditional English afternoon tea.
Our shopping continued at the University of Oxford Shop — different to the university book store mentioned earlier — where you can buy all kinds of souvenirs. Tea towels, prints, keyrings, mugs – you know the deal — and, of course, the popular Oxford University hooded jumper.
The Alice in Wonderland store is also a highlight. As you would imagine, this shop is a treat for anyone who loves miniatures. But there’s more to it than just knick knacks. It was once a sweet shop frequented by the real Alice — Alice Liddell, the daughter of the University dean at the time for whom the Alice stories were written.
After exhausting the stores on the High Street and surrounds we ventured into the Covered Market. Although not very big, this maze of stores selling all thing pretty is well worth a look. But be warned, the smell of cookie dough wafting from Ben’s Cookies will have your tummy rumbling… again.
After all that shopping and sightseeing — or once the temptation of window displays filled with donuts, cookies, sausage rolls and pizzas took over — we decided to refuel. The hardest part is definitely deciding on where to go.
There are many cafés, restaurants and pubs offering a variety of lunch, snacks and dinner options but they all have one thing in common — cream teas.
While, of course, you’ll be sensible and have a proper meal first — tea and scones with jam and clotted cream are something you just can’t leave without trying, not that you need me to tell you that.
After all that eating and shopping you’ll need to take a rest, and what better way to do it than by floating along the Thames, the Cherwell or the Oxford Canal.
As I cautiously prepare to step onto a little, rickety rowboat I can’t help but feel like I’m on the set of a Victorian-period movie. While my worn-out black ankle boots, skinny leg jeans and Australian accent would make me stick out like a tom boy at a debutante ball, I still feel like a proper lady.
With a little help I step onto the boat and, rather gracefully, seat myself while managing to avoid falling into the drink. We choose the easier option — the pedals — after painfully watching a group of girls trying, and failing, with the punting. Stunning scenery passes by, including the botanic gardens — where, at this time of year, all the leaves are brown, but the sky isn’t grey.
The University buildings and the grounds they occupy are everything you’d expect — spectacular. The university occupies various buildings scattered across the city. We stopped in at the most famous of them all — Christ Church College — and while it’s somewhat different to the University of Canberra, I think you could get used to it.
The grounds — with stunning gardens and wide open spaces – are full of students studying and frolicking. The building itself is just as impressive — the best word would be grand. The university buildings are not all open to the public all of the time and some of them charge an entrance fee — but even just admiring them from the outside will spur on a “wow”.
The Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian Library are other university buildings worth taking a peek at.
Oxford is not all about food and shopping – there are a host of other attractions, from museums, galleries and the Oxford Castle. To put it simply, if all you can spare a day to visit this city then do it. That’s enough time for you to start to understand exactly why so many people give a f**k about Oxford commas.
Images courtesy of VisitOxfordAndOxfordshire.com