london // day 6

It’s time for a day trip to Oxford! I board the Oxford Tube at a stop right near Shepherd’s Bush – incredibly convenient. The trip takes a little over an hour and a half, and the double-decker bus allows you to enjoy those parts of the journey that are actually nice to see (I’m thinking of the sheep in the countryside, not of the suburban housing complexes and factories). I will warn you, however: the bus is rather wobbly, and reading or working on board can be rather nauseating (I speak from personal experience).

My dear friend Emma meets me at Gloucester Green, Oxford’s bus terminal. We walk over to The Randolph, a very ‘posh’ place with armchairs and old people and flowery wallpaper and a view of the Ashmolean Museum. A waiter hands us the menu, but our choice has already long been made: we both order a full afternoon tea (£33). First, we are each brought a teacup of English Breakfast and milk. Emma and I catch up on life, and I try to absorb as much information about her life here at Oxford as I can. Soon enough, our food arrives on multi-level platters (I’m sure these have a name – help, anyone?). On the lowest level, we each get a set of five different sandwich samplers – cucumber, salmon, ham, and two others I can’t recall – all on white, crustless bread. Again, much posh. The second level is home to two scones. Though they are smaller than I am used to, they are probably the best I’ve ever had. Ditto for the clotted cream, which complements them graciously. Finally, the top level has four little patisseries, each as delicious as they are quaint.

After lunch, Emma takes me through the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, which is just across the street. There, we see an exhibit of works by Ed Paschke, whose work the museum pamphlet rather accurately describes as the ‘dark side of Pop Art’. I’m not a fan, but someone out there must be. Another exhibit, ‘Gods in Colour’, is a collection of colored reproductions of Greek and Roman sculptures. Indeed, I learn the unsettling fact that ancient statues were not, as we always see them in museums, uniformly white marble, but instead colored using pigments, mostly blue, yellow and red, and sometimes covered in gold leaf. I wish they had known how much better their sculptures look just plain white – that would have saved them some time and energy.

As an Oxford student herself, Emma knows her way around campus. She first shows me the Bodleian Library building (where were are rudely thrown out by a security guard – guests are visibly not welcome there). I am, however, able to see her beautiful college, Brasenose.

We then take a stroll in Christ Church Meadow. Usually, Emma tells me, there are cows roaming about – this explains the awkward gates at the entrance of the park. Today, no cows, but plenty of geese. We witness a male goose stalking a female, and the latter acting completely oblivious to his clumsy, indiscreet advances. You go, girl.

Our lovely walk is over and the sun begins to set. Emma shows me her dorm room, and to my great horror I learn that residents are forbidden to stream video content of any kind (even Netflix – gasp) on the university network. I guess studying must take precedence over watching Borgia here. Note to self: never take the Edinburgh or McGill WiFi services for granted again.

The day ends with a meal just as proper as the one we had for lunch. Emma has kindly reserved us two seats for a ‘formal’ at Brasenose. The dining hall is – as cliché as this sounds – a miniature version of the one at Hogwarts (everyone likes to compare their dining hall to the fictional one in Harry Potter, it seems. Trust me, the one at Brasenose is a pretty real deal). If there’s one thing I learned spending a day with an Oxford student, it’s that this university is full of traditions. Indeed, before the meal is served we must all stand; grace is recited in latin, followed by a quick amen, before we are allowed to sit. (On the subject of traditions: I nearly forget to mention the gowns: all Oxford students must wear a kind of sleeveless gown to the formals. As a guest, I am luckily exempt.) After a salad entrée, we are treated to a juicy marinated duck with cabbage and mashed potatoes. Emma takes me back to the bus and, sadly, we say our goodbyes – though we both know it won’t be the last time!