Sunday, May 24, 2009

Oxford Day 6, 7, 8 and 9

My 6th day in Oxford was a busy one and particularly interesting to me. In the first session after breakfast Eric Meyer of the Oxford Internet Institute spoke about e-research at Oxford. After a tea break, Michael Popham, the Head of The Oxford Digital Library spoke about the partnership between Google and Oxford and the digitization of more than 300,000 items in the collection which are now available online. I love browsing through digital collections and it was fascinating to hear the behind the scenes story of how things make it from the archives to the Internet.
We then walked to the Bodleian Library and met with Clive Hurst who is the Head of Rare Books and Printed Ephemera at the library, absolutely one of my dream jobs. He had about a dozen rare items that represented the evolution of books in England that we were allowed to view, but not handle. Some of the items were the only surviving copies in the world. Amazing.

After lunch we had a private tour of the Oxford Botanic Gardens which are the oldest in the UK and one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world. Lisa Campbell was our tour guide and she is the curator of the Glasshouse Collections, a series of conservatories that house plant specimens from all over the planet. The Botanic Gardens are home to the "Tolkien Tree" a massive tree that was a favorite of writers such as Tolkien who based the Ents on this tree in his book Lord of the Rings. (See pic) After the gardens we were hosted for a private tea at the home of a former Oxford University librarian. Beautiful house and gardens and we were treated to a real English tea party.
Over the weekend we went to Windsor to visit Windsor Castle and to tour Eton College. It was nice to stay in a posh hotel (cable and down pillows!) but by Sunday I was ready to go "home" to Oxford. Windsor Castle was huge and very beautiful but touring Eton College was even better. Our tour guide was the Master of the buildings at Eton (over 400) and gave us a lively and historic tour plus details on the daily lives of the boys. Getting to Eton from Windsor visitors must cross a pedestrian bridge over the Thames which is picturesque and lovely and on the Eton side is a restaurant called the House on the Bridge where we had delicious "cream tea" which is tea with scones, clotted cream, jam and strawberries. Best we have had yet in England.

Monday was a bank holiday in England (no classes) so we went to Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill and one of the largest homes in England. The grounds were enormous and seemed to go on for miles with gardens designed by Capability Brown in 1764. The "Long Library" is one of the longest rooms in a private home in the UK and was full of books and priceless portraits. The 11th Duke of Marlborough lives most of the year at the Palace but was out of town for the long weekend so were were able to pay for a private tour and see the family apartments. Shabby chic is how I would describe the rooms they live in. Lots of books, magazines, newspapers and remote controls for the televisions laying around like any normal house. There was a wonderful art and music festival on the grounds of the Palace and we walked around and enjoyed a beautiful sunny day. When I closed my eyes I could picture the grounds full of horses and hounds and ladies in period dress enjoying garden parties and gentleman on the hunt. It was such a mix of the old and new, totally fascinating glimpse into the aristocracy.

No comments: