Ah, Oxford. The city even smells like learning. Gothic spires poke out between buildings, students and professors ride their bikes while black robes flap in the wind, and there are signs everywhere stating: Not Open to Visitors. Oxford was very touristy, but yet, it's charm kept me all day. We chose to start out at Oxford Castle which was opened to the public in 2006 by the Queen's decree. Going on a tour is the only way to see inside, so we signed up, and were two of the four total people on the first tour of the day. The castle was a prison up to 1996, and has experienced a multitude of torture, entertained a variety of villains, and has seen British history come and go since the 11th century, in which it was built. The visit includes a trip to the top of St. George's tower with an impressive view of the countryside, and also a trip to the crypt, a must for any castle visit.
Lunch was had at Cafe Creme, a mix of British, Middle Eastern and French cuisine. My white cheddar and tomato grilled panini was perfect, and I chased it with a double shot of espresso and a cake-brownie creation covered in Cadbury Flake. Inexpensive and delicious, this was a great place for a quick stop.
We took a quick visit of the Natural History Museum, one of the many free museums of Oxford. Unfortunately due to timing we were unable to see the Pitt Rivers Museum which is housed in the same building and looked to contain an impressive variety of artifacts from around the world. The reason for this timing was the culmination of my visit to Oxford - a tour of the Bodlean Library.
The Bodlean Library is a must see. Reserved for students, faculty and visiting scholars, if you are a regular traveler like myself, the only hope you have is to book a tour. Extended tours are offered only on Saturdays (so unfortunately we missed out). Many of the books of the library are chained to the wall, and no books are allowed to leave the library - ever. It is one of Britain's few copyright libraries, which means it is granted a free copy of all books published in the UK. In fact, they build two miles of shelving every year to handle all of the books they receive (many are located in satellite locations).
If you are ever in Reading or London, take a moment to visit this beautiful city. Wander the narrow cobblestoned streets, gaze up at the churches, browse through the used academic bookstores, and make sure to purchase something to commemorate your visit - I am now the proud owner of a quite unique Oxford University t-shirt.