Thursday, April 21, 2011

Retro-Blog #5: A Visit From Mum and Dad, Part II

The morning after our Quod dinner my parents came with me to Santander, where I was FINALLY able to close my account (after dealing with this all year, as those of you who have been following along will remember).  Then we went to Costa Coffee on Queen Street for some breakfast.  My parents had discovered Costa Coffee at the airport, and since it is our last name, they were tickled by it.  Daddy especially enjoyed stealing the napkins with our name on them!  From there we walked over to the Bodleian, and I tried to take them into the Shelley exhibit, but apparently they had closed it that very day.  The lady at the desk said, "well, it has been open for four months!"  I told her that I had been there, but I wanted to show my parents.  Showing some sympathy, she said that if I had my Bod card I could show them the Divinity School, so I did that instead.  The Divinity School is most famous for its elaborate ceiling--and for having been used as the infirmary in the first Harry Potter film.  The back room of it (which is not open to the general public) is the Convocation House, used to host Charles I's parliament when he stayed there during the English Civil war.  It was also the room where I had my first swearing-in as a user of the Bodleian Library, back in the summer of 2008.  Inside, the Divinity School feels sort of light and airy, as the huge windows and high ceiling give the impression of a church.  You can see Thomas Bodley's private chest on display, with its intricate system of locks, and you can put donations into it if you wish.  Daddy enjoyed reading the info signs and looking up at the magnificent ceiling--and talking to a random man from New Jersey who happened to be in there, and who was involved in township zoning and knew a lot of people my father knew.  They chatted for a long time, and Mom and I talked to the man's wife, who said they were on their way to Blenheim palace, her third visit there, and she kept gushing about how we had to go, as it was just so amazing, and had we been to this castle or that garden or this town and blah, blah, blah.  After a much longer time in the School than we meant to stay, we finally escaped into the gift shop, and browsed for a bit just to make sure we would not bump into them again on our way out!

Next we headed toward the  English Faculty Library, so I could return some books from the paper-writing adventure, and while there I showed them the silliness of the structure (like an Escher drawing, with staircases going up and down and no single path to walk across the building).  Then we went through the beautiful Holywell Cemetery, and Mom and I had a fun time (though it took ages) searching for Walter Pater's grave, which I remembered as a round stone, but ended up being a cross.  We saw a really cool red and black quail-type creature in there, and got some photos of him on mom's camera.
Then we walked back into town on our way to Christ Church park, and as we were passing by the Golden Cross I suggested we lunch at Pizza Express, so we did that, which was lovely.  Daddy enjoyed seeing the back rooms, where they have wall paintings preserved from the 1500s.  They are actually quite ugly, but interesting as remnants of the past.  After a leisurely lunch, we took a walk through Christ Church meadow, waving at the cows, on our way to Boathouse Island.  I got to show them inside Lincoln's boathouse because someone had unlocked it to take a boat out, so they got to see the blades hanging on the wall, and are now convinced I should get one, hehe.  We took the twisty path back, and saw punters and paddle-boaters and kayakers and all sorts of people walking, and we took some photos of each other in front of trees and fields.  We came out by the Botanic Gardens, and I had to explain to Daddy for the umpteenth time that Magdalen Tower is NOT a church.  Then we walked over to Shepard and Woodward so he could buy coloured handkerchiefs, which he has had trouble locating in the States.  After a short rest, we went to dinner at the Turf, which was much less crowded on a Monday night, and made plans to go to Woodstock the next day.

Of course, we had a late start the next morning (well, they did; I was rowing at 6:30 a.m.!) and so we had brunch at Brown's Cafe in the covered market--which is much more like a diner than the fancy Brown's Restaurant we went to after church on Sunday, but is wonderfully inexpensive and simple and delicious.  Stopping by Lincoln to use the loos, I took my parents into the chapel and dining hall so they could enjoy them, and one of my favourite servers, Sue, asked if they wanted to come for lunch one day.  They would have to eat in the Buttery, since the Hall was being used for a conference, but it would be a nice way for them to experience what meals are like.  She told me to go ask Richard, who was in his tiny office just off the kitchens, and he said it would probably be possible to fit us in the next day--and then he offered us a tour of the kitchens!  I had never been into them, so we all wandered down, and were shown what Richard says is one of the oldest still-functioning kitchens in England, from the 1400s.  There were enormous copper pots--he let me heft one of the small ones, and it nearly took my arm off!--and alcoves for storage and an old wood-burning oven, plus a number of modern upgrades to make it function.  Richard was very proud of it, and it was adorable to see him show it off.  He is hoping to get the head chef job when Chef Jim retires this year, and I think he deserves it, though it is required by law that they advertise the position rather than just promoting him, so there is a chance he won't.  Here's hoping for him!

We spent the rest of the day in Woodstock at Blenheim Palace, which you may have seen as Elsinore in the Kenneth Branagh film version of Hamlet.  It is also famous for being the birthplace of Winston Churchill, and is still home to the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.  The gardens were designed by Capability Brown, and are definitely a highlight. (We had a lot of fun imitating the statues there!)  The state rooms you can see on the tour inside are just what you would expect from a palace, with rich furnishings, gilded ceilings, and lots of paintings and tapestries depicting former residents.  On the second floor they have an exhibit called 'Blenheim Palace: The Untold Story," which was a really strange and semi-creepy animatronic affair with robots and video clips and a ghost as your host.  It walks you through the history of the palace, from its construction as a victory memorial given by Queen Anne to the First Duke, to its present residents, and a video of the current Duke concludes the presentation, which spits you out into the gift shop.  It felt really discordant with the stateliness of the rest of the house, and I really wished they had thought of a more respectable way to fundraise--as, like most stately mansions, the palace is outrageously expensive to maintain.  We had tea in the Water Terrace Café, and then explored the terraces for a bit before returning to Oxford.  We had dinner at the Mitre, and then fell, exhausted, into bed.

The next day was grey--surprisingly the only grey day while my parents were here!--and we spent it largely in the Ashmolean Museum, which I had never visited.  I would like to go back, as there is so much I did not see.  Daddy, of course, liked the Roman stuff best; I swear he only tolerates England because it was once part of the Roman Empire!  Mom liked the china room, and had me take a photo of her in it.  I liked looking at the different types of jewelry worn in different eras and cultures, and hoped to find some nice replicas in the gift shop, but was disappointed.  We had a cream tea in the café there (my parents learned to love teatime!) and did a little shopping before an afternoon nap.  Later we dined at Quod again, because my parents like to reward good service with repeated patronage, and because it is a nice place.  We had a different server this time--a girl whose name I forget--but Joe came over to say hello, and Will sent us a minty creation from the bar.

Then suddenly it was my parents' last full day in Oxford, and they planned to use it to purchase souvenirs for themselves and my siblings back home.  We began the day at the Grand Café, known as the first coffee house in England (according to Samuel Pepys' Diary), on High Street, and then went next door into an antiques store that despite having a small storefront seemed to go on and on in room after room of treasures.  We spent at least an hour there, though we didn't eventually purchase anything, and then, because it was Thursday, I took my parents to the open market at Gloucester Green.  Such a great place!  Vendors selling everything from housewares and furniture to clothing and jewelry to books and toys, most of it used and/or very old, but generally of better workmanship than modern stuff, and all at very reasonable prices.  I got a lovely 50's era turquoise hat made of felt ribbon, covered with a brown netting, for £5.  While we were browsing, Daddy got a headache, so Mom and I sent him to Café Nero to get a drink and get out of the sun while we wandered the market.  He made friends with a large family sitting nearby, so he was happy to be left there. After the market we went into Ecco, where Dad bought me some comfortable shoes to wear with skirts and dresses.  He had been trying to buy me things all week, and this was the only expensive item that I needed and would never have bought for myself, so it was wonderful all around.
Come on, Dover...come on...
We were just around the corner from Costa Coffee, so we went there again for some afternoon refreshment--and the girl at the counter, who had now seen my parents four times and had gotten to know them, gave them her email address!  So cute.  Then we went over to Marks and Spencer's, where Mom and I had way more fun than two grown women should trying on hats and fascinators, and later we did the same in Debenham's.  I wanted to stay and try on all the pretty dresses, but we really weren't there to shop for me.  We stopped downstairs in the fragrance department to try to get Dad's Pi spray deodorant, but they didn't carry it (which is contrary to what they told me at Christmastime, which was that they did carry it but were out of it at the moment), and then my parents spent some time sifting through perfumed and colognes.  This got a bit overwhelming for me, so I moved away to a place where I could breathe comfortably till they were finished!  They came away from the register with some fun free samples, most of which they gave to me, so now I have perfumes for those rare occasions when I want some, hehe.
  That night we had dinner at the Chequer's, a pub which is located down an alleyway off of High Street.  In my ongoing attempt to drink things that look like beer but aren't, I tried a pear cider, which I greatly enjoyed and will have again (can't seem to remember the name of it, though...).

We met the next morning for brunch at The High Table...and then learned that they don't do brunch, so we wandered a bit looking for a new place to eat.  Near the Westgate Centre, Dad saw a sign for a 99p brunch, in a department store!  We decided we had to learn what that was all about, and went in.  Up two floors there was a cafeteria-style dining area, and if you bought a hot drink you really could get 5 breakfast items for 99p.  This resulted in an excellent breakfast of eggs, hash browns, mushrooms, bubble & squeak (look it up if you don't know!), and sausage, plus a hot tea.  We even got a lovely corner-window seat that overlooked the square, and a cute little boy at the table next to us amused us by giggling at the pigeons landing on the ledge.  Daddy was quite pleased with himself, and Mum and I were very happily fed.  We moved on from there to one of the Oxford University shops, where we got two shirts each for my sisters, Christina and Corinne (and a maroon sweatshirt for me, just in time for the nice weather, hehe! But sweatshirts are infinitely useful, and this one is a large, so it fits nice and loosely over anything).  I think they had already bought shirts for themselves earlier in the week, when I was at the concert, and I don't know if they got something for my brother, but I was sending them home with his belated birthday card and gift of (mostly) woolen socks, which he had requested, so hopefully he will be pleased with that.
It was almost checkout time by then, so we went back to the hotel to finish packing them up, and then I accompanied them to the bus stop and kissed them goodbye.  It had been a very full trip, and I think everyone was a little tired, but it had been so much fun--a holiday for all of us, and a chance to see what this little town has to offer.  Hopefully they will come back to Oxford some day, but at least now they more fully understand why I love it here--as my mother said, "Now I know why she may never come back home!"

As soon as their bus pulled away, I went back to the print shop to do the collating and binding of the book we had made, and then went back home to begin packing, myself, as I had only one day before the Lincoln College Boat Club left for its Spring Rowing Camp in Banyoles, Spain!

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