Exploring Oxford

While the highlight of our most recent trip to the UK was certainly London, we had two other stops on our trip that were worth the visit!

First, we were in the south to visit Kris' family on Hayling Island, spending some (frigid) time on the beach.

Then we were up in Oxford to visit my friends Jen and Andy! 

Jen and I have been friends since high school, she's my surrogate little sister and has been living in the UK for a few years now. She recently began her MBA program at Oxford (because she's a smarty pants) and I couldn't wait to go visit her.

While she and her boyfriend Andy were very busy, we still managed to get in some quality visiting time exploring her college, enjoying dinner, and having a few drinks.

In between these moments, Kris and I explored the small university epicenter of Oxford and fell in love with it.

Much like this tiny door, most of the tourist worthy stuff in and around Oxford is very close together. It's not really a very big town.

One thing to keep in mind when you visit is that there's no University campus... the school sprawls all over the place! On top of that, many of the buildings don't offer access to the public (I mean it IS a school after all).

Luckily we had an in, and Jen took us on a tour of Wadham College, which is the one she is associated with. 

Wadham College is steeped in history, but all I could focus on were the beautiful gardens we were wandering through. 

Another notable stop was what could arguably be considered the focal point of the campus, the area surrounding the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera and the Church of St Mary the Virgin.

Exploring this small quad took us the better part of a full day, but because of availability of tours we had to split it between two days. Life lesson: plan ahead when travelling!

Unfortunately we were unable to go inside the Radcliffe Camera on either day as it was closed for an event, but this gorgeous round building had us understanding the term "Ivory Tower" better than we ever had before.

First up for us was the Church of St Mary the Virgin. 

The church itself is free to enter and so beautiful that it's worth the visit. But for a few extra dollars you can climb the stone steps to the top of the tower for a breathtaking view of Oxford.

Fair Warning: If you don't like small places, steep steps, or dark stone staircases, this part of the excursion is not for you. My claustrophobia had me feeling dizzy on the way up and the way down.

If you can muster your courage (or at least dampen your fears for a bit) and make it up to the top, you'll get to experience this gorgeous view! Thankfully our luck held and it was a bright and sunny day!

These stone archways sure weren't designed for comfort... Luckily Kris JUST fit (literally)!

Climbing back down (yikes) we sped off to meet Jen and Andy for drinks and dinner, with a plan to head back the next day for more tours.

I'm really glad we decided to spend the night, because we go to enjoy something really beautiful.

Morning in Oxford.

The town was quiet, the weather was beautiful, the students were only just settling in and the wide streets glowed. You really got a sense of the history wandering around this early.

Of course, we hit up a bakery for some croissants and coffee to take with us while we explored.

Though if you're not feeling like pastry, you could always get something else.

Our second day's tour involved a trip to the Bodleian Library. The Bodleian is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, dating back to the early 1300s. 

The part of the library we saw, Duke Humphrey's Library, dates back to the late 1400s and has some pretty strict access policies. Unless of course you're Daniel Radcliffe or Emma Watson, because this was the library they used for the first two films when they were shooting the Hogwarts Library scenes.

Cue my Hermione Granger/Belle moment...

We weren't allowed to take pictures in the library, but here's some snaps from the web for your viewing pleasure! Just close your eyes and breathe in the smell of 600 year old books.

With our tours now complete and just a few hours before we had to catch our train to London, Kris and I went back to St Mary's for some tea at their café.

The Vaults Garden Café is built into the side of the church, and is perfectly cozy and warm inside... but it was such a beautiful day outside we didn't want to miss it!

Luckily they have a nice patio area!

Picking out some tea and a Welsh Rarebit, we poured, drank and chatted about all the beautiful things and incredible history Oxford has to offer.

I can't think of a more British way to end this post!

Have you ever explored an old university town? Oxford or Cambridge in England; Kingston Ontario, Canada; Boston or New Haven, USA; Bologna, Italy? 

What did you think of it?

PS: Check out my London Posts! Exploring Borough Market, The British Museum, and a great Restaurant Guide!