As a general rule I’m not particularly fond of people. Most are idiots and the rare few that have the same attitude as me do the sensible thing and don’t engage other people, which is why we meet so few decent fellow human beings. Bit of a catch-22 situation, I know.
It’s because of this I was very hesitant about going backpacking on my own. My budget would not allow hotels, hell it wouldn’t even allow private rooms in hostels because they charge per person and it ends up costing more than a hotel, so I had no choice but to book dorm rooms. My patience only extended to four bed dorms, so it could be worse I guess. This however, meant I had to talk to people and be super crazy paranoid about keeping myself and my stuff safe, because if something went wrong I was on my own.
I decided firstly to keep the trip simple by going to Oxford, Dublin and Edinburgh, as a way to test my backpacking skills in a country where a foreign language wouldn’t be a problem. Time isn’t an issue, so I chose to travel on the cheaper days of the week (Mon/Tues) and picked the cheapest modes of transport I could get (hello overnight buses). The catch with this was I decided to go carry on only for the two flights I had, and since I insist on bringing my DSLR and laptop, and I overpack everything, it was going to be interesting.
So I resolved myself to washing my knickers/socks in the sink every night and packed the bare minimum, praying that I could get my stuff past the Ryanair hostesses (spoiler alert: I did). Once I get to Scotland it’ll be ok cos I’m bussing it back, but I’ll have to take it easy in Ireland. Luckily I’m not really much of a souvenir person and I usually just get postcards. Which reminds me I need to send one to my old office…
So I set off to Oxford on the bus on a Monday morning, in the unusual sweltering London heat. I wandered around the city, checking out the rare books at the Weston Library (including the original hand painted Hobbit cover by JRR Tolkien himself) and did a tour of Oxford Castle. This was really interesting as the tour guides dress up as famous residents of the castle/prison and conduct the tour in character. We had Empress Matilda, and I’ll be honest it was hard to keep a straight face when she introduced herself and didn’t skip a beat or break character when she saw our confused faces. It was a very interesting and gross tour (ah England, you really loved your torture didn’t you?), plus another one of the tour guides was a bandit and tried to steal my bag. We also went into the crypt there, where they kept the bodies of criminals who’d been executed, and is apparently the most haunted place in Oxford. I didn’t see anything, but it was pretty creepy and I wouldn’t want to be stuck there by myself at 3am.
Then I went to go and see The Producers, a Mel Brooks musical. I’d seen it before many years ago in Sydney, but it’s hilarious and had Ross Noble as Franz Liebkind so I couldn’t resist a second helping. Apart from sitting behind a very pro-PDA German couple, I had a great seat and the play was fantastic. The only catch is I’ve had ‘Springtime for Hitler’ stuck in my head since then and it’s not the best song to start singing randomly in the street.
My first night in an Oxford hostel did not go well. The bed was rock hard, the room was boiling hot, and the dull *doosh doosh* of the club two doors up was reverberating through the walls. Not to mention my room is opposite the men’s bathroom, and there’s nothing like the waft of sewerage to keep you awake at night. I think I slept about 30 minutes in total, no matter how many ‘send yourself to sleep’ breathing exercises I did.
On the plus side the place was reasonably clean and the two other girls in my dorm were lovely. One was an Indian girl who’d just moved to Oxford from Cambridge and needed a place to stay for one night, and the other was a chatty Canadian named Kristen (aka Global Gal) who I ended up hanging out with the second day.
After checking out the Covered Market, I ran into Kristen outside the science museum that morning, so we decided to stick together and checked out the museum, went to the Eagle and Child pub to soak up more literary greatness from JRR Tolkien, checked out Christ Church college, had a picnic by the canals for dinner, laughed at the punters and then watched an impressive high school drama class production of Julius Caesar.
Kristen reminded me so much of my friend Rachel back home, she was even about the same age, had the same look, demeanour and everything. So weird how everyone has a doppelgänger around the world. I haven’t found mine yet, but I think maybe I will in Scotland.
On the second night’s sleep luckily the club wasn’t open so noise wasn’t an issue. I’d solved the uncomfortable mattress dilemma by sleeping on top of my duvet, and I stole another pillow from a spare bunk. Unfortunately our new dorm buddies arrived at 2.30am. Since they made no effort to be quiet I didn’t feel bad that one of them didn’t have a pillow, leaving it on top of their luggage when I left early that morning. Ha, evil.
So to sum up:
- Despite the hostel, I adored Oxford. It’s incredibly beautiful, full of history and easy to get around. I could easily see myself living there
- Solve uncomfortable mattresses by folding the duvet in half and sleeping either on top of the whole thing, or on top of half and covering yourself with the other half
- ALWAYS look for cheap theatre tickets. Oxford always has heaps on because of the university, whether it’s plays, musicals or choirs in one of the churches. There are posters on boards leaning against buildings everywhere in the centre of town so you can easily see what’s on
- It costs to go into the colleges, and they’re not always open every day to the public. The most expensive is Christ Church College (£7), but it’s worth it if you’re a Harry Potter nerd, as the staircase the first years go up in the first movie was filmed here. It’s also beautiful. Another good one is Balliol College (£1), and the food hall here was used as the basis for Harry Potter’s great hall
- If you’re a literary nerd, the Eagle & Child pub is where JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis used to meet up once a week to drink and compare notes on their writing. The whole magic ring thing going on in both author’s writing is now making complete sense. They sat in the corner at tables 6 & 7, and if you’re hungry the smoked cheddar pie, whilst a bit expensive, is to die for
- Sit by the canal and watch the punters – hours of amusement that won’t cost you a penny (unless you want to take bets on who’ll fall in)
Anyway that’s enough for today, next up will be my adventures in Dublin…