The tourist trail

first_imgImagine the smug feeling; you’ve finished your tutorials/essays/labs for the week and you’re sitting in your room basking in well-deserved contentment. Aweekend of debauchery inevitably featuring a sticky-carpeted Oxford nightclub no doubt awaits you. in fact you’re probably about to hit the pub in a minute for a few cheeky daytime pints. hold on just one second.As amusing as the world will seem in a semi-drunken haze as you stumble back to college a few hours later with the overdraft a few increments higher, there are other options. the city of Oxford, the city of ‘dreaming spires’, lies before you in all its glory. it might be ten years since your parents last dragged you round a myriad of castles, museums and stately homes hoping to improve your mind, while all the time you yearned to visit the joke shop, but ‘touristing’ in Oxford is an underrated and little-explored pastime. choose not to numb your intellect in front of vacuous television or dVds you’ve seen thousands of times. there is another option, which will give you numerous anecdotes for the conversation in the bar in the evening, as well as something constructive to say to your parents during the inevitable weekly phone conversation. Believe me, your mother will be impressed. Gaggles of tourists crowding the streets during the summer months can’t be wrong.So without further ado welcome to the tourists’ Oxford. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to attractions, so in order to cut through the dross, here are a few recommendations. start your day with a brisk climb to a vantage point from which the city can be viewed as a god. essential for this kind of behaviour is one of those cold crisp days without a cloud in the sky; the view is spectacular. Often in an Oxford student the view also produces a kind of warm yet slightly self-satisfied feeling as, viewing the ancient college buildings, you can point out ‘home’ much to the excitement of the Japanese tourist standing beside you. there are three towers or spires in Oxford city centre: carfax, st Michael’s on cornmarket and Mary’s on the high street. While all of them give 360-degree panoramic views of the city, my particular favourite is Mary’s with its unrivalled outlook towards the camera. it is worth bearing in mind in your choice of tower that the saxon tower at st Michael’s is Oxford’s oldest building; quite an achievement in a city such as this.Next head up to Broad street for your original education in all things Oxford. the Oxford Story is a little pricey for the average student budget, but is the ubiquitous Oxford attraction. Also for those new to touristing as an activity this one’s just like a theme-park ride, complete with life-size plaster models illustrating scenes from Oxford past and present. The little train which takes you through these scenes creaks and groans on the steep inclines of the ride, but be assured you will make it to the end. at the beginning there is a short film detailing the brilliance of Oxford university, which inevitably brings out more superior pride in the Oxford student as they realise that this amazing stimulating university is in fact the one that they attend. In a swell of golden satisfaction head towards the jewel in the crown of Oxford’s libraries, the Old Bodleian. Of course, all Oxford students can enter the Bod free of charge and if the mood takes them even study there, but the daily tours can provide you with plenty of impressive information to regale friends with as you stumble towards the stack of books which need reading before that essay can be written. For the true bibliophile library experience, a visit to the duke humfrey’s Library is essential. Here, where the air is thick with centuries of dust and the books are chained to the walls, learning seeps through the very pores of the walls. standing in the should make you cleverer and if it doesn’t at least you can admire the ornate ceiling and the terribly intellectual people who actually need to read the manuscripts this library houses. tours of the Bodleian leave every hour from the divinity School and the tour guides are clearly absolutely passionate about their topic, which can’t help but rub off on even the most cynical anti-library tourist. in particular i’ve always liked the idea of the underground system of stacks of books, housing the Bodleian’s vast collection. my mind it’s just like the vaults of Gringott’s bank in harry potter, although Inever quite had the audacity to ask my tour guide whether it’s staffed by goblins. While you’re in the vicinity, it might well be an idea to have a little nose round the radcliffe camera if you haven‘t done so already in conjunction with your studies. although not open to the general public, the rad cam will be open to all Oxford students via the magic of a Bod card. the real joy in this pursuit is the jealous looks on the faces of tourists standing by in the square, forced to take measly pictures of the exterior of the building as you stroll merrily in. Be sure to get your bag checked for lighter fluid and food on entering; a sandwich packet can be a dangerous item in an enclosed library. points of interest include the staircase to the upper camera, the scene for the stairs to the divination classroom in harry potter, and the dome roof which, according to the testimony of an Oxford walking tour i once heard, opens up mechanically in the sunny weather. this, must stress, has yet to be proved and seems just a little unlikely. Leaving the rad cam make your way through the Bod to the Museum of the history of science. don’t scoff at the name, congratulate yourself on how intellectual you’re being and proudly ascend the steps (just avoid the displays of ancient compasses). top floor of the building is the earliest purpose-built museum in the world and was the original precursor to the ashmolean, but it is in the basement, the former university laboratories, where the real gems can be found. most remarkable article on display is one of albert einstein’s blackboards from his 1931 lectures, on which he outlines a relatively simple model to explain the apparent expansion of the universe. Naturally this goes entirely over my head, but it is difficult not to be impressed by the significance of the item and the personality of its one-time user. There is also a large collection of old cameras among which is one belonging to charles Lutwidge dodgson, better known as Lewis carroll. he was considered to be one of the best amateur photographers of the time, renowned especially for his photographs of children and in particular alice Liddell who would eventually be immortalised in the literature for which he is now better known.Having briefly absorbed some science in this visit, it’s then time to move on to the ashmolean itself, the Granddaddy of Oxford’s museums and by far the most imposing building. the ashmolean can be viewed by visitors as a calming, reassuring entity. it’s just so big and austere that somehow things couldn’t possibly go wrong where miniscule pieces of ancient history are meticulously preserved and labelled for all eternity. As a museum in this particular guide to touristing in Oxford, the ashmolean doesn’t really fit in. it would take a veritable lifetime to absorb everything on show and the speed with which people reach saturation point when it comes to ancient artefacts is relatively rapid. still, a quick look round one of the galleries is always rewarding. My special favourite is the Egyptian gallery; you simply cannot ask more from a museum than phallic statues and mummies. Finally then, with sore feet and bursting mind, head towards the Museum of Natural and the pitt rivers Museum. Both of these museums are housed within the same building just by the radcliffe science Library. the Museum of Natural History is fun in an eight-year-old ‘look at the big dinosaurs’ way. as well as marvelling at the enormity of a t-rex, you can also see the sad remains of the Oxford dodo which is now little more than a small, blackened bone. original Oxford skeleton disintegrated, but will live on in the imaginations of many in the works of Lewis carroll. the Oxford don used to bring Liddell and her sister to the museum on rainy afternoons and based many of the stories he told them around exhibits they had seen when out touristing with him. tale of the dodo was a particular favourite as it played on Carroll’s stammering when he pronounced his own real last name, ‘do-dodgson’. Moving on from the Natural history Museum, you can enter the rivers which is somewhat akin to entering an alternate universe. By far the most interesting museum in Oxford, the pitt rivers Museum is officially a museum of anthropology, made up of items donated by General augustus henry Lane Fox pitt rivers from his extensive travels around the world and then built upon over the years. the museum is dark, pokey and old-fashioned, but it’s also absolutely brilliant. the artefacts are arranged into cases, each under a different theme and supposedly showing the differing ways in which cultures attack problems. case entitled ‘treatment of the dead’ therefore shows how african tribes created death-rattles from human skulls, while in the upper amazon regions these heads were shrunken and worn in a ceremony to prove the killer’s manhood and avenge the deaths of relatives, a tradition, learnt to my surprise, which only died out in the 1960s. while we might all try to take the moral high ground and affect a kind of aversion to such practices, the overwhelming popularity of this particular exhibit testifies that our interest in the macabre is alive and well. in fact, at the height of their popularity in private collections and museums the demand for shrunken heads was such that many fakes were created, using sloths’ heads. these specific shrunken heads, or tsansta as the custom is known, are especially illustrious because of their appearance in the his dark Materials trilogy by philip pullman. Other disgusting and therefore compelling exhibits include fly-headed ballerinas, which consist of a tiny model of a ballerina with the head and thorax of a large fly mounted on the shoulders to constitute a head. the dinginess of the pitt rivers simply adds to its colonial charm and it is one of the few museums where the collection, its layout and ethos have become objects of curiosity just as much as the items themselves. And now, as the closing bell rings in the pitt rivers, you are ejected blinking into the late afternoon sunlight and can head to a bar, full of interesting facts with which to divert your friends. touristing in Oxford will never die because of the bus loads of foreign tourists who wish to experience the delights of such an auspicious seat of learning, but the student body should share more in the innumerable diversions afforded by the many attractions of Oxford.ARCHIVE: 6th week MT 2005last_img read more