It has been a long time since I found the desire to post something here. Count on big trips to new places to trigger a desire to write. One of the nice things about traveling is that it provides you with many things to write about. Traveling alone even more so since you spend most of the time in your own head thinking about things. With my friend Leslie in Oxford for a year, the chance to see a new country was one I couldn’t pass up even if nobody else could afford to join me.
I will skip the story about the snow storm that almost ruined my trip. I will skip the wonderful flight on Virgin Atlantic where I upgraded a class for $300. I will skip the logistics of jet lag and sight seeing. These things are not interesting. What is interesting? Doctor Who, Harry Potter, and the fact that most of my favorite books came out of the UK or were very influenced by things there. To be fair, my book club did send me on a little hunt in Oxford. What, most people asked me, does your little lady book club care about the most academic city in the entire world? I have to remind people that just because we drink and cast movie versions of books more than actually discussing the book, doesn’t mean we don’t recognize quality. Also, we enjoy the Discovery of Witches series and the first book spends a lot of time in Oxford. Why would they care about All Souls, the most exclusive College in all of Oxford? Well, our favorite character is part of that College.
For me, this trip was pure indulgence. For an academic, going to Oxford was necessary. It was an hour bus ride out of London and I decided I had to stay at a College over a much more comfortable hotel. How many times in my life would I have this chance? Who cares that the tub, sink and toilet are all in the hall. It was worth it! I got to see the Ashmolean Museum. I got to tour of the Bodleian library. I walked around Trinity College. I saw the exhibits at the Museum of History of Science. I ate in the same pub where Bill Clinton failed in inhale. I realized that a pint of any beverage, cider specifically, is a lot to drink. I bought books and book related things. I found a lovely UK edition of The Goblet of Fire that I *HAD* to have because it was pretty. I did spend time with Leslie, but my own need for sleep and her schedule didn’t allow as much as I had hoped. These are the problems that come up when your plans change at the last minute.
I really enjoyed Oxford and wished I had planned for more time there. I felt like, if my Paris retirement plans don’t work out, I could easily enjoy myself in Oxford and get to Paris often enough. I could even imagine myself aging in the Bodleian library.
I couldn’t stay though, because I had to go to Cardiff. Why Cardiff? Doctor Who. Yes, I traveled 2+ hours out of my way to London to indulge in Doctor Who activities. Cardiff isn’t very special on Doctor Who, other than on Torchwood. What is important is that they film Doctor Who in Cardiff and this is where the Doctor Who Experience is located. This is a Doctor Who museum and show. I made and brought the 4th Doctor’s scarf especially for this one day of the trip. If everything else about the trip had gone wrong, this one afternoon in Cardiff would have been worth the entire expense of the trip. Here is why: I flew the Tardis. Not a Doctor Who fan? The Tardis is the machine in which The Doctor and his companions travel through space and time. On the outside it looks like a 50s era British police box. On the inside it is much bigger.
Why did I get to fly it? Well, because there were all of 7 of us on the tour. It was a week day afternoon. Only tourists and college students are out and about in a tourism area. I suspect, when the tour is packed with people, I would have given up my spot for someone younger. The fact was that there were seven spots and seven people. I took my time walking around the museum. The displays focus primarily around the most recent versions of The Doctor, but the classic Who stuff was fantastic. Having seen almost every episode of the show over the past few years, I recognized almost everything. What I didn’t recognize were small things from current seasons. There was just so much and great displays about the sound effects, costuming, and make up. For those at Torchwood geek level- I did the Millennium Center too. It was a wonderful evening for walking around so I did just that. I had dinner right there and then walked back to my hotel room.
So here is the thing about being alone. There is nobody there to take pictures of you. I was more than happy to pay for pictures of myself assuming I looked good. You see that above selfie of me? Yeah, that mirrored pillar made me look great. Another problem with traveling alone is the lack of people to talk to. Oh, I would make friends with people in cafes and pubs if they seemed nice enough. I had some great conversations with people. Nobody was mean to me, but then I was a bit self-deprecating and apologetic when it came to asking for help. I am an American and internationally recognized as jerks when we travel. I did it in Paris too and I think it makes a world of difference. People are willing to forgive and help when you are seem embarrassed by yourself. The point is, I was alone most of the trip. I know what it is like being alone. I tend to like things that way. When you are traveling and being a tourist it can be limiting and liberating. There was nobody to roll their eyes when I needed to take pictures of everything in the Doctor Who Experience. There was also nobody to giggle with about how accurate my scarf was. Nobody else cared (someone was dressed up as the 8th Doctor, which is far more ambitious than a scarf). There was nobody to push me to do just one more thing when I got tired. There was nobody there to make me do something I didn’t want to do and would end up loving. There was nobody to do anything with at night. Since it was early in my trip I was trying to budget too so I didn’t just keep going out to see shows every night (though, that is a great idea for next time). Most of the time I was in my head making up little stories of what it would be like if I was picked up by the Doctor and was his new companion. It was a lot of little fan fiction moments for Sara. Did I write them down? No, none of them ever really worked out well. Even in my head I was being too realistic.
London was more than I imagined it would be. Paris was the same way. The reason is that there are so many statues. I am not sure to seeing statues everywhere. The first day I spent taking pictures of as many statues as I could because that person could be famous. By lunch I realized this was a silly plan. Not only were there just too many, but I had no idea who these men were. I did a round on the tour bus before deciding day one would be spent at the Tower of London. I did a tour that had many routes and I had 48 hours on the tour to take as many of the routes as I wanted. The first route was mostly historical places. I loved the Tower of London. I saw the Crown Jewels (I want the things that sparkle in colors). I saw an exhibit about torture devices from the middle ages. I walked around aimlessly pretending I was a prisoner. It took me a few hours to get through it. I also made a point of getting back to the room early as the final episode of Sherlock was airing that night. I had watched the previous 2 episodes on the BBC webpage in Oxford just so I could enjoy the finale when it aired.
Day two was spend on the museum route of my tour. That meant the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Natural History Museum. I like the first two the most. When you wonder where artifacts are stored, remember: museums. When you wonder where they put the things they steal from other countries (let’s be honest), remember: museums. I saw things I know about from art history classes, television, and the world. I saw the Rosetta Stone. I saw pieces of that Parthenon. I saw a lot of Hindu deity statues. Everyone has a Shiva statue… well, everyone except me. I was tempted to ask someone if I could have one. I didn’t love the Natural History museum. I think it was part age and part experience. I have been to the one in New York. The Dinosaur skeleton was neat, but I have seen a T-Rex. Also, I feel like the wonders of the world for a child are different for an adult. The planet is cool, but not as cool as it was when I was 10. Art and artifacts were far more interesting for me.
Day three was my last day and the day I did things without the tour. I enjoyed the tour and hearing about all these places I have only read about in books and seen on TV. That was fun. I am a pretty self motivated traveler though. I didn’t really plan much on this trip, but I know how to get around without a taxi and tour bus. My hotel was right next to Paddington Station (yes, I bought bears for kids). I spend most of day 3 on the Tube. Years of NYC and Boston subway systems- plus having done the Paris metro in a language I don’t really speak at all- made is easy to know how to do this on my own. I wanted to see Kings Cross station. I wanted to see the British National Library. I wanted to hit the one yarn shop I knew about. I wanted to get tickets to a show. I wanted to see this tourist trap Beatles store I found a brochure for at the hotel. Turned out that most of that was right off the Tube and three of those things in the same area. I even managed to find the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street.
I have few pictures from day 3- especially when compared to the rest of the trip. It was just the nature of the day. I may have spent more time at Kings Cross than I should have. The thing is, I had to buy a wand at the Harry Potter store and they didn’t have what I wanted. I had a hard time picking out the alternative. The library had an exhibit on the Georgian Era of the UK. This is Austen era so I probably spent more time there than other museums. While many people had suggested I just splurge on the cab ride to the yarn shop, I realized I was but one stop away on the Tube and made the short trip. I went back to the room early to get ready to see Mojo.
The truth is, I barely had enough time to see the things I wanted to see. I need to go back. I can’t wait to go back, but it is probably going to be a while. I want to see so many more things and visit with more people. If Leslie hadn’t decided to spend a year in Oxford, this might not have happened either. It was one of those trips that ended up happening the way it should have. Plus, I have plenty of things to help me remember.