Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Oxford, Woodstock and Blenheim Palace

After a quick trip home for a wedding, it was time to get back to our local excursions. We needed a bit of down time -- Saturday was a lazy day browsing Moss Books, followed by the awesomeness of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World -- but struck out for Oxford nice 'n' early on Sunday. We'd booked a night at the Cotswold Lodge, which, while nice, caught our eye because it had a private parking lot. Parking in Oxford is both difficult and expensive, so this was key to us enjoying the day, and, more importantly, the evening we'd planned at Jamie's Italian.

We had time to wander around the Bodleian Library and one of the many covered markets before a light rain started to fall. That gave us the perfect excuse for an early lunch at the White Horse pub, nestled between the enormous Blackwell bookshop. (More on that playground shortly.) Two delicious Sunday roasts, some homemade apple and strawberry pie, and a few pints later, we were ready to face the elements again. Only the strong winds had carried the rain off for the moment; a trend that, as luck would have it, continued throughout much of the afternoon.

At the White Horse
We then made our way toward the Cherwell River, where the punting is like a little slice of Venice. After laughing at the silly Brits struggling with their poles, we wandered past the colleges of Merton and Christ Church before heading back to the covered markets for more shopping -- and some refreshments at Ben's Cookies; not to be missed! The rain started to pick up again at that point, so we headed to Blackwell for some sheltered exploration.

Christ Church College
Well, what to say about that place... The basement floor has a horizon, it extends so far. Nooks, crannies and staircases abound, lending it a fabulous air of adventure. But the best part has to be the second-hand room. It's tucked away in the sweltering attic; not that I noticed, grinning from ear to ear as the sweat rolled down my temples. I wish more shops set aside such a section.

The sun was out to stay as Blackwell closed, so we decided to pass some time in one of the recommended pubs we'd passed, the Lamb and the Flag, before seeking out what we knew would be a highlight of the trip, Jamie's Italian. And it didn't disappoint. We had many of the same things we've come to love there -- the antipasti board and selection of breads chief amongst them -- as well as a new favourite: lemon polenta cake. It's probably one of the best desserts I've ever had; just the right sweetness, wonderful texture... M'm...

Then it was back to the hotel. We had a nice lie-in the next day before heading to Woodstock, with a plan to spend the afternoon walking the grounds of Blenheim Palace. After a full English breakfast at Vickers, we were so taken with Woodstock that we just wandered for a bit. The Oxfordshire Museum had a superheroes exhibit on, which I had to check out, before we moved the car to the Palace grounds proper.

"You won't like me when I'm angry!"

The tickets were a bit pricey, but certainly worth it. It seemed to be a really popular destination -- whether because of the car show on the grounds that day or simply the bank holiday weekend, we couldn't tell -- but we still had great swathes of the walk around the lake to ourselves. After exploring the Churchill exhibit -- he was born at Blenheim Palace -- and the state rooms, it was time for some cream tea. (Well, I had coffee.) Sitting out amongst the gardens was lovely... except for the hornets. They took great delight in swarming over Tea's little pot of jam. It was only as we finished up our hastily-consumed snack that I noticed another of those pots nearby, clean as a whistle. I don't imagine it took them long to leave ours in the same state.

Up next: the Lake District

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