The four days I spent in Oxford felt like a much-needed vacation to an unbelievable reality.
There are places we travel to that let us embrace their history, aesthetic, and personality. Then there are those that are surreal and feel separate from our daily lives. My first experience with the latter was the seemingly quaint city of Oxford, England. It is home to the world-renowned Oxford University. It may have been due to the juxtaposition of the thirteenth century cobblestones and flying buttresses against the double-decker buses that the four days I spent in Oxford felt like a much-needed vacation to an unbelievable reality.
An hour-and-a-half bus ride took us from the urban bustle of Heathrow airport to Oxford. I began my adventure at the Turf Tavern Pub, which dates back to the thirteenth century. Yes, where I sat and laughed over a beer in the twenty-first century, knights had jousted just eight hundred years ago. There were, of course, some minor updates. The walls had undoubtedly been painted in the past eight centuries, and I doubt they originally had the same machines to dispense food and drink as they do now, but the tucked-away pub had the low ceilings and overall architectural modesty that one would expect from such an old building.
The theme of astounding antiquity continued the next morning when, between the flat and the bus stop on our way to the university, we took a shortcut through a church and graveyard that predated even the pub from the previous night. We walked by a row of houses with real thatched roofing. My mind was once again blown by the idea that I was wearing twenty-first century clothing, on my way to board a modern-day bus, and yet was standing in the final resting place of people who were never even aware of the existence of North America.
The surreal effect of Oxford really hit me while walking through the various colleges. Oxford University consists of thirty-six separate colleges, each of which has its own church, dining hall, living quarters for students and professors, and classrooms. All of these are situated in their designated area throughout the campus, generally around a private courtyard. The colleges range in size and accessibility to tourists, so we made an effort to visit as many as possible (thirteen, to be exact).
Aside from the setting of Harry Potter’s Great Hall at Christ Church College, my group’s unanimous favorite was Magdalene College, which had a beautiful dorm building on a remarkably green expanse of lawn. Of course, each beautiful new courtyard, with its unique combination of gothic spires, cobblestones, and elaborate style had its own sense of intimacy and history that gave me the feeling that little was significant beyond the surrounding buildings. Somehow, seeing how students from all over the world come to live, eat, study, and completely immerse themselves in a place so true to its history and removed from the inevitable modernization and urbanization that we had seen just sixty miles away in London was what made my experience in Oxford comparable to a dream.