O is for Oxford!
London is brilliant: it is the largest city in the United Kingdom, largest urban zone in the European Union, the world's most visited city, had a population of about seven million people in 2010, has the largest concentration of higher education establishments in Europe at an amazing 43 colleges and universities, and contains the oldest underground network in the world. The city, does, however, lack one thing: a feeling of British-ness.
This may seem strange, that the capital of England wouldn't feel British; however, since London is such a multicultural hub, and draws people from the world over, sometimes it is easy to forget that you are actually in London, and not, say, New York City. Believe it or not, you stop being struck by the British accent, and many Londoners are not actually English, or British, at all. There is a huge community of people from the Middle East and India living in London -- so large, in fact, that London's "signature dish" was just recently voted to be curry! Because of this, I and a few friends set out this past weekend to another, smaller English city, where we could hopefully fill our cravings for authentic British culture: Oxford. Oxford is located about an hour's train ride away from London, and the trip is worth staying awake during. I fought the urge to be lulled to sleep by the rocking of the train and was able to enjoy the beautiful views of the English countryside as we rocked and rattled our way to England's third largest city.
Oxford is most well-known as the home to the prestigious Oxford University. I was surprised to learn that the University is actually comprised of 38 different colleges, although once you graduate, your diploma comes from the University. Each college has its own shield, and all the different shields can be seen all over the city. Most of the city is owned by the University currently, although the residents of the city did not make that transition easily. At one point, our tour guide told us of a time in which multiple students were killed in fights at pubs around the city during the time which the University was starting to gain more property than those who lived there.
It was really excellent to be able to walk around this smaller city, filled with ancient churches and cobblestone streets. We were able to hear a choir practicing in one of the churches that is affiliated with one of the colleges. At one point, we walked through a high wooden gate and right into a beautiful green space that functioned as a quad for Brasenose College. We were immediately shooed out since were weren't students of the college, but it was the coolest discovery of the day. One of my professors at Saint Joe's got his M.A. and Doctorate at Oxford -- and now I realize why he speaks so highly of the area. It was a perfect day trip, and definitely felt more English than the areas which we had visited in London.
This weekend, I will hopefully be making a trip to the Tower of London, so check back soon to hear all about it!