stark_raving's Travel Journals


What is your traveling philosophy?

As though to breathe were life! ...My purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die. -- Alfred Lord Tennyson, "Ulysses"

  • 30 years old
  • From Maryland, United States
  • Currently in Maryland, United States


Studying Abroad at Roehampton University in London, Spring 2008.

The City of Dreaming Spires

United Kingdom Oxford, United Kingdom  |  Jan 27, 2008
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 Mother Oxford, Venus-Minerva, triple-haunted, hundred-tongued. -- John Fowles, 1977 

The good news is that I've found my calling; the bad news is that I'm an English major and I'll never be able to afford it. Here's how it all went down:

Yesterday was the day trip to Oxford and the Cotswolds paid for by CIS. We left before the sun had even come up, around 8:00 am, and drove for two hours to Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds. It's a quaint little town built up around the River Windrush, a place of slow-moving streams, low bridges, thatched roofs and warm yellow stone that dates back to the Elizabethan ages. It's said to be centered around the stretch of river on which Lewis Carroll liked to boat with his real life Alice, Alice Liddell, and it's a popular tourist spot. To be honest, I thought it was charming but not as impressive as I had expected it to be. I'm glad we went, because otherwise I would have tried to arrange my own trip to the Cotswolds, and I feel like I've done it and don't have a real need to go back now. But still, I would rather have had the extra time to explore Oxford, because that was the place I fell in love with.

It was about a forty-minute drive through the countryside from Bourton-on-the-Water to the town of Oxford. When the whole group of us hopped off the bus, our tour guide led us through the town a short way to the Sheldonian Theatre. We started our tour there and for the next forty-five minutes walked through the Old School's campus, marvelling at the architecture and the sculptures everywhere. It's not just that the school buildings themselves are beautiful; the architecture of the entire town is breathtaking. On every street the buildings are ornately decorated with carvings, ornaments and gargoyles. Cathedrals, domed roofs and spires sweep up to the sky and deep green gardens dot the campuses. I desperately envy the students who call the place home, and I found myself wishing that I had applied for a year there when I had the opportunity.

After touring the Old School's campus we had almost two hours of free time, which of course wasn't nearly enough. Despite the cold, we got excited about Moo-Moo's Milkshake Stand (over 200 mix-ins) and ordered some to go along with our lunches, which were long overdue and wonderfully satisfying. I grabbed a delicious grilled panini with turkey, mozzarella and cranberry sauce in it and munched happily as I wandered a little way through the town with some friends. All too soon, we had to turn back and meet up with the group for a tour of the Christ's Church campus, which wrapped up the day.

Christ's Church is the largest college at Oxford and definitely one of the most beautiful. It's become famous recently for being the filming site of the grand staircase, Great Hall, and corridors of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies, though that isn't really my greatest thrill. The buildings, the oldest of which have been sites of worship since the seventh century, are incredibly beautiful both inside and out. I was awed by the abbey corridors, the Great Quadrangle with its famous statue and dorms rising all around it, and the cathedral with its 13th century vaulted ceiling, gleaming organ pipes and multiple shrines. Every corner, from the dining hall to the corridors, whispers of the centuries it's seen. All in all, it's breathtaking.

On the bus ride home, I found myself reflecting upon where I am and what I'm doing here. I was neither mentally nor emotionally prepared to commit myself to a full year at Oxford when I had the opportunity to apply in the fall of my sophomore year. I was deeply involved in relationships at home and too afraid of change to take that leap. Now, I'm living for myself more and I'm more daring, even to the point of seeking out things that will make me struggle to succeed or grapple with change. In retrospect, the timing of a year at Oxford would have been perfect, and it goes without saying that the education would have been invaluable. But that's not how things came to pass. What's done is done and will be important to who I am someday, no matter what. Though it's out of reach for the moment I will seriously consider pursuing a graduate degree at Oxford. I can see myself being extremely happy there for a long time.

My thoughts were pushed further by the book that I just finished for Subversive Children's Literature: Breaktime by Aidan Chambers. It was a metafiction about, in part, about a young man's coming of age and his search for new experiences and whatever they chance to teach him about himself. I find myself thinking that I'm still playing it a little bit too safe and not challenging some of my core values and beliefs. Those are important to me, no doubt, but I'm still trying to walk the line between preserving them and challenging them so that I can learn more about where I stand in the world. On top of that, I have an irreplaceable opportunity in this chance for a fresh start, and I'm not using it to my complete advantage. I have a new chance to show people who I am, which means a new chance to make myself what I want to be. I'm often aware of that, but I could (and in the future, will) make better use of it.

Well, all of that's plenty for now. Enjoy the photos - I'm throwing in some from the last week as well, simply because they don't have a place otherwise.
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