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November 25, 2008

Oxford Jaunts

Lindsey and I spent the entire day out and about in Oxford. No classes, no lectures, just roaming the streets and embracing the culture at our fingertips. We started our day at 9:00, walking down the main street in Jericho and passing buy a truck dropping off tons of kegs of pungent beer at a nearby pub. After we discovered that the would-be place for a photography lecture was actually so far away that it was off our map, we decided to climb to the top of St. Mary's Church to get a bird's eye view of Oxford. By 9:30, the clouds had cleared away, leaving the sun sparkling just over the horizon and the sky a picture-perfect blue. If only the wind hadn't been so strong from the top of the tower... Despite our hair blowing in our faces, we delighted in our prospect of the city. I can't believe I actually get to study inside amidst all the wonderful old books!

Throughout the rest of the day, we traversed from store to store in search of college memorabilia, before our remaining month would come and go all too fast. Lindsey tried on a pair of shoes, to which the clerk replied "Those shoes are really smart." No, the shoes didn't give Lindsey any special wisdom to aid her in her tutorials, but they did look quite posh. ☺

Our lunch at the Mitre Pub proved to be well worth the stop. After ordering a Coke from the bar (which automatically came with a slice of lime), we were the first ones to be seated for lunch. I've come to realize that a yummy, two course meal for £7.99 Is a great deal, even if it does come out to be $14.00. But I've stopped trying to think about converting currency because it just gets too depressing, although the exchange rate is at one of the lowest points it's ever been. The numbers for prices are the same as the states, but boy does that converting add up!

Later in the afternoon, we enjoyed desert at a coffee shop located inside Debenhams, one of Britain's main department stores. To enter the store, you automatically have to go up an escalator and then after that there are two additional floors of merchandise. The shops are much different than ones in America. The Brits take advantage of every inch of space, and since they can't spread out like stores in malls in America do, I suppose they just expand up and down instead of out. There was even a full restaurant on the top floor! While we took a break, two ladies sat down at the table and chairs next to us, apparently worn out from shopping as well. "Why does shopping always seem to make you tired?" the one lady asked. "Is it just me or do you feel like that to?" she asked her friend. Lindsey and I looked at each other and smiled, each feeling like we completely agreed. Despite being from two totally different countries, the effects of shopping are still the same. ☺ Christmas music was playing already, although Lindsey had to remind me that Christmas really is only a month away. Time seems to fly by so much faster here. Although Christmas is definitely in the air, it seems like there are not nearly as many decorations as we have in the States. It seems that we are actually a bit more commercial than the Brits, even though I think they are trying to catch on. I haven't seen one picture of Santa Clause here yet. I think I saw one Christmas tree in a shopping center today, but I haven't even seen where you buy trees or garland or anything. It's probably all hiding in a store's basement somewhere.

Our eventful day culminated in a cultural immersion of English music. We attended a concert given by Merton College by their newest choir group, "Voxabilis." The program of English folksongs, Negro spirituals, Yorkshire folksongs, and even American folk songs drew our attention. Eighteen young college students performed a cappella. I got goose bumps the first moment they opened up their mouths. The mixture of tones and melodies combined with the amazing acoustics of the chapel in which it was held heightened the experience. The only downside was that the old-fashioned wooden pews were lined up against the side walls of the chapel, which meant that the audience had to crane their necks to the front of the altar to be able to view the singers. When they sang the English folksongs, it reminded me of the songs my home town's playhouse sings in their annual performance of Dickens's "A Christmas Carol." Some were lighthearted, singing about the "merry month of May," and others were more sacred, a completely different feeling than the Yorkshire songs which told stories from characters' points of view. I think I actually burst out loud when they opened the American folk section with an elaborate version of "Yankee Doodle Dandy." In comparison, the American songs were much more soulful and jazzy than the English country tunes.

Now at the end of the day, I must say that I enjoyed our ramblings through the city's covered markets, clothing stores, and old buildings, and that once again I fear that I shall leave part of my heart here in Oxford when I return to America. I'm sure if someone looked hard enough, they'd find little traces of me in the lower reading room of the Radcliffe Camera, the bumpily pebbled alleyways, and especially the cozy nooks in the pubs. For now, I mean to enjoy the rest of my stay in my 'home away from home' to the absolute fullest.

Andrea Wilhelm
Fellow, Michaelmas Term '08

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