In the states, a three day weekend is a rare and beloved treat that is usually spent in pajamas in front of the television because as a working society, we crave down time and need to relish in every minute of doing nothing. At least, that was my experience.
Over here, Europeans have three day weekends nearly every month, and in May, there are two of these cherished weekends. For the May Day weekend, Jeff and I went to see Oxford and Blenheim Palace.
We did decide to plan this a little late in the game, but at least at this point, we were used to the uncertainty of our travels. We booked a room at the Four Pillars hotel and happened to grab the last room since a large wedding was in progress as we arrived.
But first, we traveled via train and bus to see Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of the late Sir Winston Churchill. The palace was absolutely gorgeous and spanned 2,000 acres of land. It is also the only house that can call itself a palace outside of the royal realm. Not unlike Leeds Castle, the grounds were more impressive than the interior of the house, but the house itself was outstanding.
A lake surrounded the grounds and the green land went as far as you could see. There was no chance of getting road or train noise. For anyone wanting to visit the palace, the bus that takes you from the train station to the palace gates also acts as a ticket office. This was a great advantage since we didn’t have to wait in line with dozens of other people choosing to spend their weekend under the blue skies.
The interior was beautiful and focused mainly on Winston Churchill rather than his relatives, the dukes and duchesses of Marlborough. But also, it was not nearly as kitschy as the Historical Royal Palace renditions we have endured. After the brief tour inside, we made our way to the jousting festival on the lawn. It was great fun to watch and the kids surrounding us ate up the choreographed sword fighting.
We wandered around the palace gardens and lake for a while and came across some pheasants. Jeff loves to feed the animals, so he had his experience throwing nuts at them–throwing, not feeding since the squawk of a pheasant scared us.
That evening, after we heard the 101 bells for the 101 scholars, we enjoyed some drinks and peach/champagne sorbet by the river side at The Head of the River pub. We were surrounded by college kids which gave us the realization that we were in a quintessential college town. There wasn’t a lot to do in the town of Oxford except to go see the architecture and college campuses, so the next day, we raced back to our teenage years and walked around the campuses eavesdropping on the various tours given to prospective students and their parents.
I really wanted to see the Christ Church interior since it was an inspiration for the Harry Potter films. The Great Hall looked just like the great hall in the films so much so I expected to see Dobby pop out of a corner–which I did in several shops around town. Harry Potter merchandise was everywhere from your own wands to face masks of Voldemort.
The Picture Gallery inside the Christ Church had an exhibit for Geoff MacEwan’s interpretation of Dante’s Inferno. I’m a “fan” of Dante, so raced in to see the pictures. While some of them were vivid and picturesque, the others looked like scribbled done at a coffee shop on a Saturday rather than studio art works. I felt a little cheated as I expected to get a glimpse of what Dante’s world may have looked like through someone else’s eyes, but instead I got a glimpse of the inside of the eyelids of the artist.
We left the Christ Church and explored its meadow and then headed to the Ashmolean Museum. What an incredible space for a small, college town! I was floored by what they had in possession from ancient Egypt findings and mummies to the mantle that belonged to Pocahontas’ father, Powhatan.
The last place we briefly visited was The Eagle and Child pub which had on its wall a letter signed by C. S. Lewis, W. H. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. It was packed with patrons, so we could only spend a few seconds to take a picture and glance around.
There were not a lot of places that stood out for gluten free eating, but there were two cafes we stopped at that are worth mentioning. It turned out they were actually part of the same chain on opposite ends of the city, but they are the Art Cafe and the Green’s Cafe. They had a full menu for breakfast and lunch with tons of cakes and sweets for the gluten sensitive sweet tooth. Both places had funky and fun interiors and very nice staff. If you’re in need of gluten free places in Oxford, those are the places to check out.
We did run out of things to do in the city which made us glad we didn’t spend all three days out there, but we would recommend it for a quiet weekend getaway.