Travelogue: Photos of Jane Austen’s Bath

We arrived in Bath at 7PM. The sun had gone down and it seemed to be much later than it was. There was a slight drizzle, in keeping with the forecast which said it would rain much of the time, but I did not mind the rain. It seemed right that it should rain in Bath – the rain would dampen the town and intensify the color of things. Greens would be greener. The roads darker, the cobblestones shinier (and more slippery).

Continue reading “Travelogue: Photos of Jane Austen’s Bath”

A Saturday Afternoon in Oxford (With an Australian)

I’ve definitely seen uglier houses. Atalia’s room is the top right window. (Atalia, hopefully I did not just invite random cyber stalkers to your window. If I do, I hope they sing you sonnets).  

A month before I arrived, POI suggested we take a weekend trip from London.

“Somewhere not too far from the city,” he said, “We can go by train or car.” 
I nodded enthusiastically into the phone – we had recently just “upgraded” from texting – and a few moments later thought it wise to say aloud, “Yes, yes, I’d love that.”

We batted around a few ideas – Southampton, the Lake District, until POI solicited ideas from actual British people – namely, a talkative teller at the HSBC near his office.  
Baththe teller said with an air of national authority. It was a wonderful town (though the website insists it is the city of Bath): charming, quaint, historic and filled with cozy romantic restaurants. During the day, there were wonderful cobble-stoned streets and quiet parks to stroll through. And of course the actual Roman baths, which one did not use anymore, thanks to a flesh-eating brain virus an unfortunate bather contracted in the seventies, but could safely explore while fully dressed alongside hundreds of school children on field trips.
POI wondered if I’d be interested in watching a Rugby double-header. 
“Oh I’m quite certain the young lady you’re seeing would certainly not like that,” the teller advised. POI did not describe her to me but his impression of her seemed spot on. And she was spot on. One rugby match, perhaps. A double-header? I’d rather not. 
POI began to plan our weekend getaway and I consulted a map. I had a good friend from community college who was just starting her Master’s in English Literature at Oxford. We had taken one required English class together and became fast friends, mostly because we saw each other as we saw ourselves: not idiots. Also, she was Australian and I am in general, attracted to that sort of thing (foreignness). 
The map indicated that Oxford was somewhat on the way and it seemed almost rude not to drop by. I mentioned it to POI. He was game. He had never seen Oxford. 
“We’ll drive,” he said, “It’ll give us more flexibility.  
On Saturday morning, we fetched the rental car – a black mini-mini van made by a brand neither of us had ever heard of- at Paddington Station and drove west from London towards Oxford. POI soon learned that I was terrible at giving directions. My navigating vocabulary consisted mostly of, “How far are we? Well…(squinting at Google maps), it’s kind of far, but like not really that far, so like…medium far?” but POI, thankfully, is a patient man and spent much of the drive laughing. And navigating himself. 
Eventually we arrived in Oxford right on time for a late lunch with Atalia, a strong, direct writer who had earlier via email, provided excellent directions of her own:  
We ended up arriving closer to 1:30PM-ish because I did not understand roundabouts. 
Oxford: Where religion and bicycles peacefully coexist, until your bicycle is stolen and not even God can help you recover it, no matter how vehemently you say his name in vain.   
Two community college success stories (until I am unemployed again) standing before Hertford Bridge, more commonly known as the Bridge of Sighs, though according to Wikipedia that is a misnomer. 

We strolled thirty minutes from Atalia’s residence onto campus, stomachs growling. POI had made breakfast that morning: two slices of toast, one smeared with butter and marmalade, the other with butter and marmite, which is his lifeblood and which, to give you an idea of the class of food it’s in, is marketed as a “food spread” with the motto “Love it or hate it.” To borrow a phrase from POI, I did not care for it. Breakfast was a sweet gesture, but paled in caloric comparison to how much I normally ate.

“Lunch, Atalia,” we reminded her, fearful of having to walk much more, “Lunch.” 
We arrived thankfully at the Kings Arms of Oxford only to snigger at the menu:

“See anything good?” “Traditional as opposed to…” “With mushy peas. Wonderful.” Eventually a young, naive-looking waitress explained in absolutely earnestness that they were meatballs. “What’s so funny?” she wanted to know. 
None of us, though all quite liberal, were in the mood for faggots. 
Bellies full with meat and potatoes, the tour recommenced.

POI and I wondering/marveling/ talking about Harry Potter within the Bodleian Library Quadrangle. I was certainly the only person wearing cheetah print jeans on campus. Thank you, cousin Michelle.  
The Radcliffe Camera, probably Oxford’s most recognizable building, was built from 1737-1749 in the English Palladian Style. FYI “camera” is the Latin word for “room.” And that’s about as Highbrow as this post will get. 
More bicycles and cobblestones en route to The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. 
Obviously this shot came first. I don’t backtrack. 
And this shot before last, of Atalia, our wonderful tour guide. There’s something tremendously refreshing about being guided around one England’s most English institutions by an Australian educated in America. 
The courtyard of the Queen’s College, where Atalia is studying. 
From another angle. POI had really wanted to take a photo standing in the middle but the girls on the path would not move. 
Mail for the students arrive not at their dormitories but at their colleges. That day, Atalia received a postcard from Mickey Mouse. 
Lunch in Oxford had turned into a leisurely four hour stroll. The sky began to darken and POI and I had to be on our way. Given my navigation skills and our diminishing phone batteries, driving on dark, unfamiliar roads seemed to be a bad idea. 
“One more spot!” Atalia said, “They filmed parts of Harry Potter there!” 
POI and I looked at each other. Time could always be made for Harry Potter. But unfortunately, because I had wanted to eat an ice cream on the way there, Christ’s Church college was closed by the time we arrived. I felt badly. 
 POI and I replay scenes from the movie in our heads, wondering how much trouble we’d get in if we broke in. 
But not too badly. 
Basically my expression for the entire trip. 
We walked back towards Atalia’s dormitory. Sometimes, I fell back to take a photograph. Sometimes, I watched them talk – POI and my Australian friend whom I’d met in the states some five years ago – on a sidewalk in Oxford. It was a strange and strangely familiar scene. 
Oxford work-study.
We’d barely pulled out of her driveway when Atalia texted me: 
“POI IS BRILLIANT!” 
I laughed, showing POI the message. 
He chuckled, shifting gears, “And she wasn’t so bad herself.”
Ding. Atalia texted again: “DON’T FUCK IT UP.” 
I snorted because I didn’t intend to. Though I was in danger of getting us wildly lost. Bath was still an hour and a half away and the light was fading fast. POI needed directions. It helped though, that we were heading where the sky glowed gold, gilding all that faced west. 

True story.