05/18/2022: Today was a busy day! Our group set out nice and early for Oxford. From Birmingham, it is about a 2-hour drive, but the entire journey was lovely. I am still amazed at how beautiful the English countryside is. Once we arrived in Oxford, we quickly discovered the meaning of the phrase “college town.” When thinking of Oxford, the word may bring to mind the famous University, however just how this institution is set up is quite unique. We learned Oxford University is made up of 39 distinct colleges. And of all the studies offered, Medicine is the most popular. Each college has its own buildings and lands, which is similar to how American Universities are arranged. Oxford is on a much larger scale, encompassing the entire town.
We started out by viewing Balliol College which is the University’s oldest. As we passed through town we saw the spot where the 3 famous martyrs of the Protestant Reformation were burned at the stake. We also saw a science museum that houses the famous blackboard on which Albert Einstein first chalked E= mc^2. We passed by All Soul’s College which is for graduate studies only and is dedicated to the Great War. Next then headed to see Oxford’s most well-known college, Christ’s Church. By far, this college has the most stunning grounds and architecture. Christ Church, nicknamed The House, is home to a famous chapel, many great halls that have graced many a film (aka Harry Potter), and a lovely quadrangle. Christ Church’s grounds were also the setting of the Alice in Wonderland stories. With all the lovely roses and scenery, this college seems most appropriate for such a fantastical story to take place.
Examinations are in session and since Oxford is very much a working University, we didn’t get to see all the rooms, but that just means there is more to see when I come back one day. A fun fact about Christ Church is that it boasts many famous alumni, including 13 Prime Ministers, Boris Johnson being the most recent. We departed Christ’s Church hearing the sounds of the reverent organ resounding through the stone hallways.
Stomachs grumbling, a small group of students headed to the town square. We are at the covered market, which reminded me of La Rambla in Barcelona. After lunch, we did some shopping amidst all of the cyclists, then walked back to meet our coach for our next adventure. Prior to leaving, we passed St. John’s college. It is by far the richest college in the University. It is rumored that you can walk from St. John’s Oxford to St. John’s Cambridge without ever leaving its expansive lands. In passing, we saw one of Oxford University’s most famous pubs, The Eagle & Child. This is where two of England’s most famous authors, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would regularly meet and share a pint. Quite literally, this pub was the birthplace of both Narnia & Middle Earth!
We ventured 30 minutes outside of Oxford to visit the majestic Blenheim Palace. This is home to the Duke of Marlborough, and he happened to be home today. Blenheim is also the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Greeted by the most splendid gates, we drove up a large drive to the palace. Walking inside, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Everything from the view to the architecture to the sheer size, Blenheim Palace is stunning. The main courtyard took my breath away, and that wasn’t even the most amazing part. We got to tour inside the palace, and everywhere I turned there was something new to see.
The walls were covered in frescos and portraits of notability. There were some very unique decorations such as antelope heads lining the corridor. Oddly enough I also saw Sir Winston Churchill’s collection of 1000 toy soldiers; which is very fitting since he was Prime Minister during WWII. There also were too many tea sets displayed in China cabinets to count. My favorite room in the palace had to be the library. Its volumes, similar to the tea sets, were countless. It also was adorned with an organ.
We next took a saunter through the Blenheim gardens. Have you ever been somewhere and time just stops? That is how the view of Lake Dredge will make you feel. It was sparkling like diamonds, and the weather was so lovely. There were several fountains within the garden so I made a wish to return there with my family one day! As we walked we found a memorial to both Princess Diana and Sir Winston Churchill; it looked almost like a Roman temple, but still, it was fascinating to read about.
Luckily, we met up with our professor and she told us about the palace’s pasture. One really cool aspect about Blenheim Palace is how it is funded. Obviously gathers money through tours, but also through raising sheep, and growing various fruits. We got to see the sheep, and there were so many tiny lambs. Next, we wandered through the orchards which led us to a maze. I wish I could say that I successfully made it through the maze, but our time did not permit it. Lastly, before leaving the grounds we went through the butterfly garden. It was the perfect way to end our tour.
For the sake of science, I had to try some cherry ice cream in order to compare it to yesterday’s caramel. I think it is a tie, but the cherry definitely was refreshing after a long day. Tomorrow we will get to explore London!