After the museums, I took a guided literary tour where I was shown different colleges of Oxford that were associated in one way or another with the likes of writers like Tolkien. I learned that on a main road, women used to leave their baby carriages along the storefronts while they shopped, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, mischief maker that he was, would swap the babies around while the moms were away. My guide, Peter, was a stereotypical older British gentleman who walked with an umbrella as a walking stick and complained that people have no manners today. He liked me, probably because I am quiet and didn’t keep trying to name drop (for lack of a better term) different Shakespearean companies I’d seen perform like one of the women on our tour. She was a bit of a thinks-she-knows-it-all-but-doesn’t and even interrupted him once. He was having none of it and at that point said, “will you let me finish the story?”
When we were done, I made my way to the Ashmolean, which is like a smaller British Museum. Smaller, but it’s still 3 stories. There were some items of note there including T.E. Lawrence’s clothing and a small sculpture of my philosophy crush, Blaise Pascal! Once finished there, I had dinner at the Eagle and Child, the pub where the Inklings hung out. I heard a group of people next to me talking about the Wesleys so I asked them if they were Methodists. Indeed, they were, and on a pilgrimage as they called it. They asked if I was Methodist. I said, “no, but I’m Arminian.” “So, related,” they replied. I wished them well before returning to my hostel and fully seeing what I was getting myself into. My room had 18 beds and I had a top bunk. There were only three showers for women in the whole hostel. To give you an idea, there were 11 rooms in the hostel and while not all of them had 18 beds, most had 6-10. So I showered around 7:30 to ensure I could have one. The bed linens were old and worn. I had to put down a deposit for them, suggesting people have actually stolen them (!) My pillow was so thin, I had to fold it in half. But when it came time to sleep, I didn’t have as big a problem as I feared I might.
The next morning, I tried to get a few sights in before my bus to Stratford. Unfortunately, many things didn’t open until 10 (the UK and Ireland were sluggardly in general that way). While the website said the Bodlein library opens at 9am, the exhibits they had on display didn’t open until 10. So I walked around and decided I’d climb the church tower for the best views of the city. It was supposed to open at 9, according to the signs, but once we finally found a way in, sometime after 9:30, we were told the person in charge of the tower didn’t show up for work, so the tower was closed.
By then it was close enough to 10 that I returned to the Bodlein and waited for the exhibits to open. One was an exhibit of their “treasures,” old and interesting things from their collection including bits of a Sappho manuscript and a Gutenberg Bible. The other exhibit was called “Shakespeare’s Dead,” which looked at death through the lens of Shakespeare. It was really well done and I wish they had it in book form so I could use it in my classes.
Then it was time to catch my bus for Stratford. I saw Shakespeare's birthplace, including the room they speculate he was born in, the home of his daughter, and the church where he was both baptized and buried. I was bummed that I didn’t have enough time to see Anne Hathaway’s cottage, but I did pick up a fold out poster of each of his plays boiled down to a few panels in comic form that might come in handy in the classroom. The bus back to Oxford was an hour and a half late, but I chatted with an Australian fellow who is also a teacher while we waited.
By the end of the day, my feet hurt and I discovered that the blister on the bottom of the little toe of my right foot, which I had had since about day 2, was joined by a twin on my left foot. Between that, the disappointments of that morning, and thoughts of a relationship gone inexplicably wrong, it was not the best day of my trip, but I reminded myself that even so, I still had seen Shakespeare's stomping grounds. And I looked forward to leaving the 18 bed dorm and heading to the north of England the next morning to get some fresh air, both literally and metaphorically.