As is my habit when visiting a new place, I did some research on the train to inform how our day would be spent. Pubs, towers, churches and of course the university colleges were on the agenda.
The first thing that surprised me was how small Oxford felt. Cambridge is small too but perhaps as I've become more familiar with it over time, I've ventured further afield so Oxford actually felt smaller even though I was expecting it to be larger (not sure why). A mere 5 minute walk from the station and we were in O'Neill's enjoying brunch / breakfast. Fuelled for the day we then headed straight to the first tourist attraction, Carfax Tower, to admire our first view over the city.
We withstood as much blowing about as we could to feel that we'd got value for money, then retreated back down the teeny tiny spiral staircase to the ground. From here we took to slightly aimless wandering, easily distracted as always by little nooks and crannies that looked interesting. There was another tower I had on my list but as there was some ceremony or another happening and the bells were therefore being rung, it was closed until they had finished. Here I drew parallels to the Carillon in Belgium where we had been totally deafened by bells in a bell tower. Us Brits are far too health and safety conscious.
Having taken in a few more of the tourist sights along our wander, we took a rest in a pub on an incredibly comfy sofa and spent time people watching and apparently sheltering from the rain as we discovered when the ground outside was wet upon our leaving.
Perhaps not in the right frame of mind or body to climb another tower in the immediate future, we instead wandered on to Christ Church Meadow where we strolled around enjoying sunshine, punting mishaps, long grass and cows.
Having had food when we first arrived, we hadn't really thought about lunch but after walking such a long way we decided it was time. It was here that we encountered my first small criticism of Oxford; there are a) not enough food places for b) the number of tourists and c) the number of places to sit. In fact, there really is nowhere much to sit outside apart from in the meadow where we'd just been. Nevertheless, we eventually found a cute little tea-shop with lots of empty tables so it was here that we frequented and I enjoyed finger sandwiches with an 'Oxford rose' tea.
As we had been trying to find somewhere for lunch, we had stumbled upon one of the film locations for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (the cloisters at New College). Too hungry to go in before, we decided to return and were totally blown away by the gardens enclosed by the old city wall and the beautiful chapel where rehearsals for evensong were taking place.
In the end, it was a good job that we'd waited to climb the second tower as by this part of the day, the sun was truly shining and the sky was nothing but blue. I decided that the views from University Church of St Mary the Virgin were the best ones as the church sits nestled amongst some of the prettiest buildings in the city and the bird's eye view of them was gorgeous.
Always surprised in different places by how early everything closes (at least in comparison with London), we had no choice but to end the day in another pub. This time we chose to visit the Eagle and Child where CS Lewis and JR Tolkien amongst other authors ('The Inklings') met every Tuesday for several years to discuss the books they were writing. Good stout, more great people watching, it was a lovely place to end our visit before we made our way back to the station.
I'm very glad to have finally been to Oxford. Historically, I think it definitely had a lot more to offer than Cambridge but I think architecturally (and let's be honest, for the shopping), Cambridge definitely has my heart.