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Cats, Cathedrals and Ciders: The South of England: Day 13

04 Jul

Tues. May 24, 2016:
Oxford to London suburb

I awoke feeling amazing after 11 hours of sleep. We had breakfast at the hotel, I had the usual again. The fresh chocolate croissants made up for the bacon being lame and the delay in coffee service. This was one of our less fancy breakfasts, a hotel buffet. We headed back to Oxford and left the car in the same parking lot as before.

We started the day off at the Ashmolean Museum. I had read that it was one of the first university museum’s established, therefore I went in expecting something along the lines of the museum we had seen yesterday. Man was I ever wrong. It was so big and the collection so varied. It did not feel like a university museum at all. Throughout our tour we saw some Egyptian mummies and tombs, paintings by Pissaro and Kandinsky and yet again a tonne of ceramics. It was still too soon for Delftware. One room had over 900 pieces of European ceramics, giving me flashbacks to work and a school project from a few years ago. In total we spent about 3 hours in the Ashmolean Museum. It would have been longer but we breezed through the ceramics rooms, it was just too much. Lunch was a disappointment: the Wispa and Yorkie bars were both just plain chocolate. Thankfully the Cherry Coke saved the day.

We went back to the Bodleian Library. The upcoming tour was sold out and we would have to wait an hour for the next one. Instead we paid the admission fee to just see the Divinity School. It had a beautifully carved ceiling and was exactly what you would expect to see of an old university. It turns out this was the first lecture hall in the University of Oxford and had been built in the 13th century. Next door was the Museum of the History of Science. At first it seemed really small and like we would be done in no time. I was blown away by the museum, despite the small size. We got to see photographic plates taken by Talbot, Lewis Hines’s camera which he used to photograph Alice Lidell and even Einstein’s chalkboard. There were also some really old telescopes, it had never occurred to me that they would be made of wood.

Afterwards we went across the street to the Weston Library which was associated with the Bodleian Library. They had two exhibits of books from the collection. The first one presented treasures from the collection and the exhibition title did not lie. It was an amazing exhibit. They had a written copy of Plato’s works from 900AD, and Robert Hook’s nature illustrations (open to a drawing of an ant that he fed brandy to keep still). One book had purple pages and gold writing, it was stunning and beautiful.  The second exhibit featured books of Shakespeare’s work paired with books on the subject of death. There was an engraving of a student with a skeleton looking over his shoulder, I joked that was how I felt in school. This was a definite highlight of our vacation, so many wonderful books for me to geek out over.

Walking by Trinity College we noticed that the entrance was now open. We tried to go in but were told we needed to pay admission- oops. The buildings were beautiful and the student chapel was jaw-droppingly gorgeous with stained glass and wood carvings for decoration. There was a guy playing croquet on the lawn, it just seemed so stereotypical of what one would expect in the setting.

We stopped in at a convenience store for some more snacks. I finally got my Cornetto ice cream cone fix. It was peanut butter flavour and it was old. The cone had started to go soggy. We also grabbed a Star Bar which was like a Wunderbar and a white chocolate Twix that was just not as good as a regular Twix. We split a can of Irn Bru as we walked along the River Thames back towards the car (in a roundabout way).

A cat came out of nowhere, meowing his cute little head off at me. The ducks were afraid of him, but he could not care less, he did not even seem to notice them. He was too busy meowing and avoiding my attempts to pet him. This ended up for the best as soon after he started rolling his head in goose poop.

The walk along the river was very pleasant. We stopped to watch the locks fill, but it was taking way too long and the boat had a few sections to pass. We saw a bunny in the grass. As we walked we knew we were getting close to the parking lot, Brent had Google maps open on his phone. And across the river we could see the parking lot, but how to get there? We were so close! We had to keep walking to get to a bridge. Once we crossed over to that we side we back-tracked, except we reached a fork in the path. We could continue on the right, or go over a bridge to a seeming island on the left. That made no sense, off to the right we went. For a few steps anyways. Brent looked at the map and realized we had to go over the bridge. Soon we could see the parking lot, we were so close now! Except our path was blocked by a million ducks, geese and all their progeny. We had to go around them, through the grass that they had sullied.

In the car I was getting antsy. The sunscreen had started running into my eyes. I drowned my sorrows in Jelly Babies that had been warmed up in the car. It was the perfect snack. We drove to our next hotel, which was near London. When we arrived there was a rabbit on the lawn of the hotel, it was so cute. The internet at the hotel was great, alas we only had an hour before we had to leave for dinner. As we left I saw six rabbits on the hotel lawn. They were becoming less cute as they became more common.

Dinner was at the Cliveden hotel, except the GPS took us to the National Park that the hotel sits beside and opens onto. The instructions on having dinner at the hotel warned that we would have to be buzzed in, so it made sense. The park was closed but we got buzzed in and they let us in. We drove in and it seemed wrong, we made a loop and left. We kept driving up the road looking for the entrance, following the walls around the hotel grounds. Eventually we found the actual entrance. Why had they let us into the park we wondered?

Brent parked far away from the entrance so as not to have to deal with parking by another car. The driveway was made of loose stones. I was not having it, heels and loose stones do not mix. I slowly, awkwardly, made my way up to the front. There were plenty of empty and roomy parking spots closer. The hotel was super fancy and I would be correct in describing it as grand. In the entrance there were plush textile wall hangings, everything was mahogany wood-panelled and there was a suit of armour. It was too bad we did not know this place was so amazing or that there was a national park, or else we would have planned time to visit it all.

The tasting menu featured a salad and a chocolate mint dessert, it was easy to pass on that and go a la carte and get three courses instead. My app consisted of a veal and oyster tartare that I was supposed to spread on a sourdough melba toast, except the toast kept breaking and the whole thing just became a giant mess. I tried a bite of Brent’s foie gras, but I am still not a fan of it. The texture is too thick and greasy for me. Each of us claimed that our own dish was the clear winner. The “locally stalked” deer was ok, but it did not hold a candle to the squab pigeon. Even after I found out that squab pigeon refers to a pigeon that is 4 weeks old or less. As I found out this trip, baby birds are delicious. On the dessert menu nothing really caught my eye. I got Brent to Google what a “French brest” was. Turns out it was a pastry. Pastry and pralines? I was sold. It was delicious and way easier to eat than I had anticipated (I pictured myself battling a pastry with my tiny dessert fork). It was more of a biscuit than a flaky pastry. A table had been set up by the windows, looking out on the park. The staff had placed flowers in a vase. We were instantly intrigued and we started betting on the occasion. I had suggested proposal, but that theory got thrown out when they set up a third chair. Brent correctly guessed birthday.

There were bunnies in the parking lot and then outside of our hotel, the Taplow House. I was beginning to think they were quite common in these parts. We stopped at the hotel bar for a nightcap. I had finally looked up how to drink Campari (from Call The Midwife) and had that with soda water. It was ok, light and refreshing, tasting slightly of licorice. It turned out that the internet was set up in a stupid manner. It was free for the first 2 hours and then you had to pay. It was not 2 hours of use, just 2 hours from the time you signed in- as in the time we had spent at dinner. Without internet, I got ready and decided to make an early night of it.

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