Trip recap

I suppose I said I’d share the details of the trip, and fast-fading as they are, now is as good a time as any.

However I am still tired from the jetlag, further compounded by some various and sundry other illnesses that I picked up on the plane. So a brief summary will have to suffice. (Oh, and the pictures are all here.)

Stuff that was done in Oxford:

  • Three separate walking tours of Oxford, highlighting the history of the town and colleges that make up the university.
  • The Oxford Story
  • Drinks at the Eagle and Child (and various and sundry other pubs).
  • The Oxford Castle
  • Day Trip to Henley on Thames
  • The Hold Steady & Guests at the Zodiac
  • Awesome Indian (Aziz) and Thai (Thai Orchid) dinners
  • Stuff that was done in London:

  • Exploring of Picadilly Circus & the Trocadero
  • Drinks in Lecster Square with Neil’s 2nd & 3rd cousins
  • The Tower of London
  • Tate Modern
  • Borough Market
  • Milennium Bridge
  • Flypasts (looked, didn’t stop or pay to enter) at Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s, London Eye, Parliament Buildings, Buckingham Palace
  • Shopping on Oxford Street, at Selfridges and Harrods
  • Wander through Hyde Park and past the Princess Diana Memorial fountain
  • Theatre in the West End (Stomp)
  • Dinner at Sarastro – kitschy but good!
  • Impressions of Oxford
    Spending time there, it’s a beautiful town with incredible architecture and history. The longer I stayed though, the more my jealousy grew. Amazing scholars have been gracing those hallowed halls for centuries, producing some of the finest writing, and most significant math, science and economic breakthroughs in the history of higher learning. Watching the students, it seemed to be everything I wanted my university experience to be, but never was. I want a do-over. I wish I had the grades and finances to pursue a graduate program there.

    Perhaps it’s the academic intimidation factor (most college grounds aren’t open to non-students/faculty, and have large iron/wooden gates and signs to tell you so), but I felt very much like an uneasy tourist there. I actually found that the entire town had a very “fuck you” feel about it. Most people were oblivious, and those I encountered in customer service were ambivalent at best. I distinctly understood why Canadians are perceived as so friendly. Not that anyone was unfriendly – but having to interact with us, offer assistance, or (heaven forbid) do their job (even the cashiers at Sainsbury’s and Boots) came across as a huge chore. Everyone just came across as very… sour.

    Impressions of London
    The insistent and haphazard mix of centuries old buildings with ultramodern architecture was disconcerting to say the least.

    Charing Cross Road is now devoid of traditional pubs, with a slew of US and UK-but-modeled-after-US franchises, like TGI Friday’s, O’neil’s, and some now-forgotten but ubiquitous steakhouse. The iconic Spirit of the West song has now been ruined for me.

    Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s been to London in the past 6 years has said that “wow, the scaffolding over St. Paul’s was already up when I was there…” Not exactly a model of restoration efficiency or effectiveness.

    The one tourist thing we paid for was the Tower of London. The Yeoman Warden (Beefeater) tour was really entertaining, and while I couldn’t bring myself to believe that the jewels in the Crown Jewels were the real ones (having heard too many times that the ones on display are fakes), the artisanship that went into creating those pieces is still extraordinary.

    The London Tube is the least accessible public system I’ve ever encountered. Stairs everywhere – very few escalators and lifts, and even those that do exist only go to street level, and not between lines in a station. Example: you can get from a far underground tube station up to street level, but to change lines, you’ll still need to hike 3 flights of stairs up and over tracks to the other platforms. Highly inconvenient for those who are burdened by wheelchairs, strollers or (like ourselves) luggage.

    With the notable differences of modernization and obvious indicators to which trains are on which lines (for the slow and jetlagged, like myself), and the fact that the London Tube had significant service problems while we were there, it’s very similar to the Seoul subway system. I think that for the relative size and age of the city, Vancouver is doing just fine in terms of providing accessible, relevant and cost-appropriate transit systems. What we need now are longer trains and more frequent (and further reaching) service. Also, we need turnstiles and RFID chip payment cards. Seriously. Whoever decided against those is a first-class idiot as far as I’m concerned.

    Another tidbit in terms of being a “world-class city” – I didn’t find any shopping in London or Oxford that I couldn’t have reasonably done at home (different store of course, but essentially the same merchandise is available). I did pick up a few things at H&M and Dorothy Perkins, but again comparing the size of the cities, Holt Renfrew and Robson Street offer exactly the same shopping opportunities as Selfridges and Oxford Street. Except popular London fashion is about 6 months ahead of what’s being worn in Vancouver, and (as everything except beer is in london) about twice as expensive.

    Even though we had a great time chatting with both Neil’s colleagues in Oxford and family in London (proving certainly that the Britons can be great and friendly people), and that we were treated to a fantastically beautiful Saturday during which to wander the banks of the Thames, I never felt welcome in England. As a tourist I was merely an entity to be tolerated. The history, the beauty, the significance of the Empire and its role in the shaping of the world seems entirely wasted on the English, who would rather sneer at those of us who come to admire it, and adop0t an unexplainably sour disposition the rest of the time.

    Perhaps after another 600 years of history and tourists, Vancouverites will seem just as bitter and jaded, but I certainly hope not.

    Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t expect too much from a people who have collectively managed to completely bastardize, assault, and otherwise ruin the noble sandwich.

    Be Sociable, Share!

    11 thoughts on “Trip recap

    1. gillian

      Well, if you had gone to Oxford, and you lived in England, you might be brushed off as an Oxbridge snob by the people you meet. It and Cambridge aren’t the only good schools in England, they just have the history.

      Dad went to Oxford, and all he ended up doing was teaching math at Kwantlen. So, it was all downhill after graduation. I wouldn’t trade places.

    2. peechie Post author

      It’s true – education’s what you make of it. And there’s certainly still a lot of tension between the gown/town crowd.

      I’m just still bitter that my post-secondary experience was lame and mostly uninspiring.

    3. Jean

      I am so glad to see that you have survived your trip to Britain.
      I am saddened to note that your poor opinion of the UK and its population is based on a flying visit to two of its least typical cities, I am a regular visitor to your blog and find it,often, amusing and interesting but your offensive generalizations in this post do you no credit at all.
      As an example you seem to find the ongoing restoration of St Pauls rather slow and inefficent for your tastes, this is not a quick paint job going on or a couple of slipped tiles popped back on by the builder round the corner for 50 quid it is painstaking, expert RESTORATION and takes time as when things of age and merit here crumble we take care of them we don’t build a glass skyscraper in their place
      Today lady you have offended me….oh and the sandwich is a British invention, brought about by the Earl of Sandwichs’ insistance that he did not want to leave the gaming tables to eat a meal,so I think you’ll find that the bastardization (for better or worse)is all yours.

    4. Emma

      “but having to interact with us, offer assistance, or (heaven forbid) do their job (even the cashiers at Sainsbury’s and Boots) came across as a huge chore. ” Believe me it is not just tourists that get that!! The customer service industry here is appalling (Boots actually refused to serve me once as it was 1 minute after closing time despite me being already in the store and had been there for the last 10 minutes picking up purchases). And yes the Tube is a nightmare but given its age (bits have been going since 1863), the lack of funding it has received and the number of people it carries (around 2.5 million passenger journeys per day) it’s not doing too bad. it’s a funny old place, the UK. I love living here (been here over 8 years now) but it took me a while to feel at home. It is definitely true though that the smaller, provencial places are friendlier than London.

    5. Rita

      You are the first person who expressed the same “fuck you” attitude I found in Oxford. I once travelled there shortly after I graduated from University thinking “a university town – what a better place to meet people when I’m on my own”. In the end NOBODY would talk to me – nomatter what pub, cafe, restaurant, etc. I was in, everyone was so aloof. I ended up buying “Lonely Traveller” by Jack Kerouac in the book store and spent most of my time in my B&B reading!

    6. peechie Post author

      Jean: why are generalizations only funny when they apply to other people? I specifically related my experience to the two cities I visited – it’s certainly not coloured my opinion of the country and people as a whole. I suppose I did make a couple of statements regarding “The English” as a whole – but then, see my first comment.

      I’ll freely admit that I have done zero research into the process of restoring St. Paul’s. However, I have to say that there were more than likely some things “of age and merit” in the rubble beneath that atrocious easter egg thing, and those ubermodern buildings on the south bank near the tower bridge. Besides which, Vancouver is too young and its history as anything but a seat of power and prestige means that we don’t really have much of “age and merit” here.

      Finally, I stand firmly behind my sandwich comment. I’m well aware of the history of the dish, and while a more traditional sandwich of roast lamb, mint sauce and greens in a bun was awesome, Iceburg lettuce, tomatoes, sub-par deli meat and the complete absence of condiments between slices of wonderbread is a crime against humanity as far as I’m concerned – and I found no shortage of places passing that off as food.

    7. peechie Post author

      Emma & Rita – I’m glad I wasn’t the only one – and you two certainly aren’t the only people to share similar stories.

    8. English girl

      I’m a regular visitor to your blog, and usually find it to be intelligent and amusing. I find your generalisations about the UK quite surprising and disappointing.

      If you stuck to shopping on Oxford Street, Harrods and Selfridges, it’s no wonder you found the choice uninspiring and over-priced. There are plenty of great shops – you just have to head off the main tourist drag to find them.

      The London underground is an old transport system, and therefore isn’t state of the art in terms of accessibility etc. (although visit one of the new stations in Docklands and you’ll see they’re addressing that now). London Underground do publish a list of routes where you can travel from A to B or change lines without having to climb any stairs and they do provide assistance to wheelchair users.

      As for Oxford, no, the colleges don’t welcome visitors with open arms – they may look beautiful and historic, but they are working colleges, whose students are entitled to live and work undisturbed by hoards of tourists wanting to see how quaint the buildings are. (Sadly security has also become a very big issue in recent years)

      I’m sorry to hear you didn’t really enjoy your trip to the UK, but you were probably in the two most tourism-jaded cities. Try going further North next time – you’ll be welcomed with open arms!

    9. peechie Post author

      I fully admit that on my whirlwind tour I only had time for a few touristy things and very little independent exploring. Generally it’s not the way I travel, so I’m sure that had an impact on my experience as well.

      I didn’t expect to be welcomed into the Oxford colleges – in fact I admired their respect for students and education over the allmighty tourist buck. I’m just envious of the students’ potential experiences there.

      I’m certainly looking forward to returning to the UK sometime in the next few years, and will be much better armed to visit people and places that are much more representative of the country as a whole. Neil’s mum is from York – any advance info about that area?

    10. English girl

      Ooh – York is lovely. A visit to Betty’s tearoom (www.bettys.co.uk) is an absolute must – the yummiest cakes imaginable, and a very ‘genteel’ experience! Harrogate is an easy trip from there – with a traditional spa, beautiful architecture (and another branch of Betty’s!)
      The people will be much friendlier too!

    11. Sue

      So Betty’s has a website because it’s not touristy, right?

      This is the problem with travelling places – if the place is tourist-savvy enough to have a website, the “locals” will say you haven’t been off the beaten path. Yet with every little corner B&B getting their own website these days, is there really anything but beaten path?

    Comments are closed.