About two years ago, I was employed for a summer to teach English in China for two months. This experience was an eye opening, unforgettable experience where I learned a lot about the world and myself. I was one of eleven young people chosen for this program, and while you can imagine it wasn’t always smooth sailing, we got along well and I came away from the experience richer in more ways than one. Many of them were British and as this trip had David and I traversing the UK, I felt I should attempt to reconnect with my fellow travelers.
Conflicting schedules made it a bit difficult, however, one such friend, Henry, was planning on a small road trip through the west of England with his girlfriend, Claire, and generously invited us along. (Though he made it very clear that their car would not be up to our usual American standards.)
We met them at the train station and Bristol and after a very brief juggling of luggage were on our way!
They dropped us off at our hostel (which was a very nice private, two bed room) and then enjoyed walking around the city and viewing the graffiti festival taking place.
The next day David and I were left to our own devices and, despite the dreary weather, I chose to take a walk. The hills in England! Coming from the Netherlands, and before that Florida, the hills were nothing to sneeze at. But it was nice to walk unburdened by my luggage so I relished it.
I wandered the Bristol museum by Bristol University (the university, by the way, was GORGEOUS!), but I didn’t stay long due to many of the exhibits were being renovated.
After a bit of a relaxing day, we met up with Henry and Claire and it was off to Bath! (But not before we got to experience the joy that was Harvesters (a relatively cheap restaurant–think Ruby Tuesdays).
Finding the hostel in Bath was harder than expected due to insufficient signing, but we found it (whether or not thanks to our Navigation system is debatable) and soon spent the even playing a multitude of games (from Jungle Speed to Story Cubes to Set) before heading to bed.
The next day (Wednesday), David and I were once again fended for ourselves. (Henry and Claire were taking this trip as an opportunity to visit the universities in each city for graduate programs for Claire.) But Bath was probably the most welcoming city as everything was a maximum fifteen minute walk from our hostel.
Henry and Claire joined us for a tour of the Roman Baths. It’s truly amazing how they were able to survive for over five thousand years! Definitely something I would recommend for anyone (tourist or not) to experience.
(Though it is kind of amazing how the recorded tours can fit in as much condescension as they can. Especially the children ones. I mean, how many times can you ask them to count things?)
After that, well, what better to do in Bath than take a bath at the Thermae Spa? At a reasonable £21 we spent two hours lounging in heated pools and steam rooms of varying scents. Quite a nice end to a nice day. And it was possibly the best night I have spent in England so far.
Thursday found us heading to Oxford, but not before making two excursions.
The first: to Stonehenge, ticking of those bucket lists as we walked around the ancient stones. (Basically the only thing I took away from the audio tour is that aliens might have done it. Along with Machu Picchu.)
The second: to illegally trespass on the property of Highclere Castle, the filming location of the popular BBC show, Downtown Abbey.
Now, when I say “illegal”, there were signs but the gates were wide open and we were able to drive basically to the front door.
We took a few hasty pictures and then at the first site of a car (probably, though, notably, not a police car), bolted.
When we finally arrived in Oxford, I was surprised that the city wasn’t the college town I was expecting. Oxford, unlike FSU, is not a centralized campus but a collection of individual colleges scattered throughout very touristy shopping streets. In fact, to see most of them, one was required to pay an entrance fee! But we got to admire the beautiful Gothic architecture and did get to peak in some beautiful courtyards. (Not to mention the wonderful Ashmolean Museum! I was in art history heaven! There was an entire floor dedicated to the subjects I studied the most in school, including seventeenth and eighteen century European art!)
After our walk, we parted with Henry and Claire, two truly wonderful individuals and I do hope I get to see them again, if only to return their hospitality (and make up for the strain we put on their car).
David and I then attended an Oxford swing event, a small gathering not unlike FSU’s own swing dance club. It was so much fun! Their scene definitely had what we considered the “swing spirit” that makes the social dancing and the community so amazing.
I had some amazing dances and once we showed our willingness to dance with as many people as possible, they welcomed us with open arms. (Some even lamented our impermanence and invited us to stay indefinitely!)
David even got some leads for our project (which has not been completely neglected, but definitely not in the forefront of our minds), and so we will be trying to return to Oxford again. Hopefully.
Now, David and I are trying to figure out our next step before going to lunch at the Eagle and Child, the famous pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would meet up, before heading back to the big city of London.