Our last day in England, wasn’t really our last day in England, it was our exit day, and just like our trip in, things didn’t go as planned. We had only planned one stop and admittedly, we didn’t do much research beforehand.
Big One has wanted to go to Oxford University since she was 11 years old. This may have been partially inspired by Harry Potter, as it is the closest a Muggle like her can get to attending Hogwarts. And of course, Alice in Wonderland is one of her favorite stories as well. When she first said this was what she wanted, we were supportive, but skeptical. I mean seriously, she was 11 years old. There is plenty of time to change her mind, and as it was inspired by a book, I wasn’t sure it would last. Two years have passed and while the Harry Potter obsession has faded some into other interests, the desire for Oxford was still there.
We had been staying near Cambridge in a small town for most of our trip, and Oxford was two hours away, on the wrong side of London from where we were going for the Chunnel trip home. However, as we had no other plans until our 16:20 Chunnel appointment, it shouldn’t have been a big deal. Just in case, we didn’t tell the kids where we were going, and just started plugging away, leaving early at 8:00 in the morning.
There were two major mistakes made with this trip. First, we didn’t research. I had no idea that there are actually about 10 Universities in Oxford. All I had ever heard was Oxford University, or possibly University of Oxford. We didn’t know which one we wanted, so that slowed us down a lot. Second, the city of Oxford has narrow roads and poor parking, so they highly encourage the use of the Park and Ride. This is a simple enough system; you park in the large parking lot, and take one of several buses going wherever you want to go. Just as a little tip, pay when you park. There weren’t signs that I could see, but when we tried to leave, we received major attitude from an attendant. The machine let us pay just fine, but he made it very clear we should have known better, and we were lucky he hadn’t issued any tickets that day. I’m guessing it’s a common mistake, but I’m not sure lecturing tourists helps much.
We found the right bus, but I think it was a miracle. I am generally good with understanding UK accents. I have a little trouble with Welsh, but I don’t hear it as much, so I think that makes sense. The attendant who I asked before getting on a bus only had half of his teeth and a VERY thick accent, so while I understood which number bus, I didn’t quite catch what stop we should get off on. It stressed me a little, but the kids just love being on top of a double decker bus. The novelty never wears off I guess.
Eventually, we got off the bus, not at the right stop, but a little early. A very nice girl who had been sitting near us on the bus pointed us in the right direction, and told us which University we wanted. I guess it is easy to assume the Americans walking around Oxford want the Harry Potter campus, also known as Christ Church. We were still a little lost for part of the way, but we found the official campus store, bought Big One an University of Oxford hoodie, and were on our way again.
Christ Church is the most well known campus, partially because that was where parts of Harry Potter were filmed. The Great Hall in the films is actually here, and I have heard that scenes were filmed in some of the corridors and the library, but I can’t find confirmation of that on any official site.
The outside of the building is beautiful. We had intended on going inside to see the actual campus, but we changed our mind. We were slightly worried about time, having hit traffic on our way there and then getting lost. The biggest factor that kept us to the outside grounds was the necessity to pay 7 pounds to visit, and then having the Great Hall closed for restoration. We would have been paying to see only half of what we wanted to see, and the fees for six people was a little much. Big One and I are both still very sad that we didn’t see the library, and if we’d known what was coming for the rest of the day, we might have gone ahead and enjoyed a little bit more fun before meeting our fate. Heck, we might have skipped Oxford all together and gone on the other side of London where the road might have been different.
No. With how excited Big One was to see the campus, there is no way we could ever have skipped it. Even the smallest taste and she is more determined than ever to attend. She knows it will be hard work, and require at least one scholarship, but she wants it so badly she can almost taste it now.
Big One wasn’t the only one to have fun of course. Little One loved the bus ride back. By sitting on the very front of the top of the double decker bus, she was able to pretend she was driving.
She loved it, but she wasn’t very good at keeping her eyes on the road.
The rest of our trip was, well, devastatingly horrible. We spent at least an hour in stand still traffic, working through a construction zone where no one appeared to be working. By the time we got through that, we were running excessively late to catch our Chunnel appointment. Even with a two hour window, we weren’t sure if we would be able to make it. I tried to use my phone to reschedule our appointment, but the website wouldn’t let me do anything. By the time we arrived, after what should have been a 2 1/2 hour journey and turned into almost 5 hours, we had missed our window. Fortunately we didn’t have to pay for a full extra ticket, just another 32 pounds to reschedule our time. We didn’t get on until 20:50, almost nine o’clock at night, and more than four hours after our projected time. We arrived back in France at about 21:30, and then proceeded to drive the three and a half hour drive in a mere four and a half hours. We arrived home exhausted, cranky, and hating being in the car.
But of course our travels did’t end there. No, we had a few more days of traveling. These are the times when I understand how the Europeans can consider us nuts. There is no relaxation in this type of holiday. But of course, if you want to see everything, you have to keep moving.