Gypsy's Travels

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Travels with Charley - A Morning Walk in Oxford

Our group stayed at Linton Lodge in Oxford. It was a most agreeable place and Charley and I were fortunate to have a room that overlooked an enclosed yard where the children played at every opportunity.

Our first program day in Oxford, started with an orientation tour of the neighborhood.
St. Andrews church was nearby and, like the American churches of my childhood, was open to the public during the day.
The old houses sported many chimneys from the days when heating must have been dependent on fireplaces. They reminded me of the rooftops in Mary Poppins.

Still smarting from the extreme Texas heat we had left behind, Charlie and I marveled at the English gardens flourishing with seemingly little effort on anyone's part. Several brief afternoon showers kept the flowers watered and the temperatures down.

One of the adult lectures touched on author J.R.R. Tolkien who wrote Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien lived just around the corner from Linton Lodge from 1930 - 1947.

We meandered down to the river where "punts" were available for hire. These flat boats with a broad front are propelled by a long pole. The pole is wielded by a person who stands on the flat portion of the front, much as a gondola is moved along.
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Travels with Charley - The Saxon Tower, Oxford, England

Road Scholar filled our days and evenings with varied literary and cultural activities but we did have a little free time. From the several church towers that offer good views of the city, we chose the Saxon Tower at the Parish Church of St. Michael at the North Gate. This tower dates from 1050, the oldest building in Oxford, and the only original portion of the church remaining. The church itself has been destroyed at various times, and has been rebuilt several times.

John Wesley preached from the 15th Century pulpit on 29 September 1726.

At least one of the stained glass windows dates from the 13th Century.

There is no charge to visit the church. There is a small fee to view the treasures in the tower and climb to the top.
Charlie could maneuver the many steps much more quickly than I.
There are six huge bells in the tower but ringing them would cause severe damage, so chimes are used instead.

For a few pence, a 19th Century clock mechanism will perform.

This is the door of the prison cell in which Archbishop Cranmer and Bishops Latimer and Ridley were held before they were burned at the stake on what is now called Broad Street. Their crime - refusing to convert to Roman Catholicism during the reign of Queen Mary in the 16th Century.
The cell was in Bocardo Prison which adjoined this church until it was demolished in 1771.

The stairs emerge on the roof of the tower for a commanding view of the city....

....and the street below.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Travels with Charlie - Inside the Museum of Natural History

Arriving a day early in Oxford provided an opportunity to catch up on rest and see a few things before the program started. Knowing the children would visit the Museum of Natural History, I did not want to spend too long there, but it would be my only opportunity to see it. My first thought on entering the neo-Gothic building, was that a church had been revamped to make the museum. I still can't help but feel that way way when I look around.

Construction started on the museum about 1855 with a plan centered on a large square court topped by a glass roof. The roof is supported by cast iron pillars which serve to divide the square into three aisles.

Columns, each formed from a different stone, and "cloistered arcades" cover the outer perimeters of the first and ground floors. What I first thought to be statues of saints were actually statues of important men of science - Aristotle, Bacon, Darwin , etc.- on the ground floor of the court.

Ornamentation of the stonework (which remains incomplete) features natural elements, like leaves and branches, funded by public subscription. Irish stone carvers were hired to "create lively freehand carvings in the Gothic manner." When the money ran out, the carvers volunteered to finish anyway, but members of the University Congregation accused them of "defacing" the building. The carvers retaliated by caricaturing the congregation as parrots and owls in carvings above the entrance. Those are said to have been removed.

The museum has a host of interesting artifacts, including the head and foot of a, now extinct, Dodo bird. This may have been one of the influences in Lewis Carroll's story of "Alice in Wonderland." I also found this diorama of a hatching Allosaurus egg interesting. There were several hands-on displays amongst the eclectic items.

The museum is free (donations encouraged), open 9-5 daily and also serves as an entrance to the Pitt River Museum (fee).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Travels with Charley - A Spot of Tea

Charlie and I had arrived a day early in Oxford and were pleased to have the time to rest a bit. Lunch the first day was to be pretty standard fare for our entire time there. The daily soup was pretty good. Tomato-basil and mushroom soups were the most prevalent. I wondered if they were made from the mushrooms and stewed tomatoes left from breakfast. A grouping of unrecognizable sandwiches was surprisingly tasty, but not well-liked by the munchkins. The hotel finally learned to put out plenty of peanut butter sandwiches with and without jelly. The children were delighted to show off their new vocabulary as they leaned "chips" were "crisps" and that almost no one in the world likes Vegemite unless they have eaten it from birth.

We were offered the usual coffee and tea to drink as well as a form of "soda-pop" which was a flavoring added to water.One day, I asked for iced tea, just for a change. I know they don't usually serve it, but I figured enough Americans had been through there to have some effect on the kitchen. The server was very accommodating and I watched as he made my "iced tea." He filled a white tea pot with ice, added water to an invisible line, put a tea bag in it, and put the lid on top, He handed me the "iced tea" and a glass of ice. An hour later I still had faintly colored ice water. The next day, I asked for a pot of hot tea and a glass of ice. I had my iced tea.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Travels with Charley - Breakfast British Style

The breakfast buffet British style is always exciting on the first day. We have a choice of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and juices, much like an American buffet. The similarity begins to diverge from there. Sausage is rather like the American hot dog; English bacon resembles thin American ham; the eggs are generally hard fried but can be ordered poached or scrambled. Various breads, crescent rolls, and bagels are available with accompanying butter and jelly. The bread can be toasted in a vintage looking, but very serviceable, toasting machine. About the size of a bread-box, the machine has a small conveyor belt inside that runs the bread under a broiler and spits it out, partially toasted, down below. Running it through once is not quite toasted enough, but twice is a little too much. Other enticements are offered at breakfast as well. Cooked mushrooms, beans (look like pork and beans without the pork), and stewed plum tomatoes, all ostensibly to be served over the ever present triangles of fried bread. The children were happy to have various cereals, yogurt, and fruits.

Not only were the foods different, the table settings were much more formal, even in this casual dining room. Charlie got this photo of the "rules" and how to interpret the place settings. This was project in the children's group meeting.
I am quite sure many of the "rules" were not new to our munchkins, but they were reinforced by two lovely young ladies who worked well with the kids. Pleasing their mentors, as well as "earning house points" for a prize, the kids had some interesting conversations around the dining tables. Learning some culture in England.....priceless.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Travels with Charlie - The Ghost Forest

Charlie and I arrived at Heathrow about 6:30 AM and were in the heart of Oxford by 11 AM. We had a quick brunch at the Giraffe Cafe before taking a taxi to our hotel. Charlie had a hearty meal of three huge pancakes, divided by thickly sliced bananas and topped with blueberry conserve. He took a photo before devouring the lot.

You almost get a 36 hour day when you cross the International Date Line from West to East. The overwhelming desire to take a long nap on arrival is best suppressed to avoid, or at least recover more quickly, from jet lag. Charlie's energy was flagging, but I coerced him into a walk downtown to explore our surroundings.
The display of massive tree trunks and roots out side the Museum of Natural History caught our eyes right away. Entitled Ghost Forest, the display of tree roots and portions of giant trees were from a commercially logged primary rain forest in Western Africa. Artist, Angela Palmer, brought the display to Europe "as ambassadors for all rain forest trees and to highlight the alarming depletion of the world's natural resources. Today, a tropical rain forest the size of a football pitch is destroyed every 4 seconds. An area the size of Belgium is lost every year."

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A nice long walk in the crisp air of Oxford, England and an early bedtime serve to prepare us for the beginning of our program on the next day.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Travels with Charlie- Austin to England

Two years ago, Em and I traveled to Oxford, England, for a literary based tour with ElderHostel. In July this year, Charlie and I made the same trip. I was a bit worried I would be bored since the basis of the trip, with its focus on Harry Potter, had not changed much, but there were enough differences to make it interesting. I just knew that Charlie would love the program, and he really did!

First, the name of the company has changed to Road Scholar and age limits have been dropped. The main group was still composed of grandparents and their grandchildren, but there were a few different relationships - aunt, friend, etc. The children were 9-11 years old, but Charlie, aged 12, was not bothered by the age difference. Being a little older actually gave him some of the advantages of maturity. He was a great traveling companion and the whole experience was quite different from a boy's viewpoint.

TranAtlantic flights are never fun, but Charlie took advantage of the opportunity to have uninterrupted TV time on tiny screens embedded in the seat ahead of each passenger. I, on the other hand, lamented the fact we could not fly first-class where the seats actually made into comfortable looking bed-like modules. Of course, the front and back of the plane arrived at the same time and since there was no big corporation funding our trip, we managed quite happily.

Immigration was a nightmare with several, fully-loaded, aircraft arriving at the same time. Charlie and I enjoyed the opportunity to do some people watching, a great wait-time "sport." I was entranced by a man in a kilt, not the first I have ever seen, but certainly the most unusual. The kilt appeared to be a pair of khaki pants down to the hips, complete with belt loops, pockets, etc. Just below the pockets in back, the pleated kilt / skirt(?) began, and continued to the knees, leaving hairy legs exposed. He topped it off with an ordinary shirt, black socks and a kind of sandal. The man appeared quite comfortable in his attire.

I took Charlie out of the U.S. with no problem, but the English authorities were stricter. I had to show proof that I had his parents permission for him to travel with me. They also questioned Charlie. He can normally be heard several blocks away, but in front of this British symbol of authority who occupied a stool making him even taller than normal, Charlie was all shrugs and mumbles. We were eventually passed on with a friendly smile.

Getting to London was the simple part of our travels. Just hop a plane in Austin, change in Houston, and get off at Heathrow many hours later. Now we had to rely on my searches of the internet to make our way to Oxford. As it turned out, this was not a difficult task. We walked a short distance to the bus terminal and took a comfortale, air-conditioned bus right into the heart of Oxford. The kindly driver was soft-spoken and helpful. We bought our tickets right on the bus, luggage was loaded in the hole below, and we were off to Oxford.

Charlie and I shared a similar thought later when we were discussing a lady we had seen at the bus depot. She was older, thin, somewhat eccentric looking, and appeared to have stepped right out of "My Fair Lady." She wore a vintage. ruffled trimmed, chiffon-like dress and sported a wide, vintage, flower trimmed hat. Underneath the hat was a nightcap and peeking out from under the calf length frock, was either pajamas or colorful tights. Both Charlie and I had ached to get a photo but chose not to invade the woman's privacy.