A budding love for Oxford

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Image description: Christ Church Meadow

It goes without saying that the past year and a half has turned everyone’s world upside down. Every email I’ve received in the last 18-odd months has started with some variation of “I hope you’re well in these trying times”, and its relevance has yet to fade. The times have indeed been trying and tough but, in many ways, I am also grateful for some of the personal life changes the pandemic has necessitated. Had I not been forced outside by the numerous lockdowns introduced during my second year here, my knowledge of, and subsequently my love for, Oxford would be substantially more restricted. In light of this, and in light of the start of a new academic year, here are some loose recommendations and lessons learnt about Oxford as I attempt to impart my wisdom on the incoming cohort.

Gloucester Green

How did I never go here in my first year? It was so close and instead I voluntarily chose to continue eating grilled cheese every day for lunch? Since discovering the wonders of this outdoor market (located on George Street, near Cornmarket Street), it has become my personal mission to visit every single food stall they have. Despite having made a significant dent in this goal (and my bank account), there is still so, so much untapped magic awaiting me just behind the wooden counters. From arguably the best Indian food I’ve had in years (yes, I am now best friends with the owner, we smile and wave at each other whenever I walk past) to absolutely stunning paella and Greek wraps that make you salivate just thinking about them, I could genuinely eat lunch here for days. With each stall being relatively reasonably priced (lunch here might cost an average of £6) and extremely filling, it is a lunch-time spot I am so grateful to have discovered. If the temptation of Michelin-star quality food wasn’t enough, Gloucester Green also has a wide array of stalls selling clothes (quirky!) and various trinkets and jewellery (cute!). It truly is the perfect place to avoid writing an essay. My life has been permanently changed for the better and I know I can never return to having lunch the same way.

My life has been permanently changed for the better and I know I can never return to having lunch the same way.

Jericho

This is an area of Oxford still deserving of extended exploration on my part, making this more of a promise to myself to go more often. For the first year of my degree, “Jericho” belonged to the same calibre as the City of Oz and Alice’s Wonderland – a place to be talked about and admired from afar, full of excitement and adventure but, ultimately, not real. My lengthy lockdown walks, however, have certainly helped to disprove this, as I’ve ventured further and further into the mysterious land that is “the road past the Ashmolean”. Just today, I’ve managed to buy cheese from a real cheese shop, making me feel excessively Oxfordian, and have visited a hidden (to my unsuspecting eyes) indoor market. Highlights include Little Clarendon Street and Barefoot Bakery, especially for cute morning walks with friends! That being said, I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of Jericho’s treasures and could easily spend the remainder of my degree wandering aimlessly around its many streets.

Punting is stressful

I’m convinced that punting as a celebrated Oxford tradition is part of a conspiracy to inflict the maximum amount of pain on students as possible over the course of degree because restricting it to academia just isn’t enough. From a distance, from the safety of the riverbanks, it looks positively picturesque and idyllic. What could be better than floating gently down the river in the sunshine, watching the ducks paddle past and laughing with friends? The reality I have found, however, is far bleaker. Picture this: a group of incompetent students, already an hour late to the boathouse, frantically pushing the pole any which way into the water, inevitably crashing into the sides of the river over and over again. Pure and utter chaos, pushing you to the brink of tears out of frustration. And yet, it’s an activity that cannot be missed out on, one that I feel perfectly summarises Oxford, in all its tumultuous glory.

It is an Oxford I have wholeheartedly fallen in love with and, ironically, I have the pandemic to thank for that.

Cocktails are fun! But hard to make!

Lockdown brought with it, naturally, the closing of all pubs and bars. The student response to this was to simply shift focus to drinking with the rest of your household, armed with 40p Tesco lemonade and Gordon’s pink gin. The novelty of drinking only (poorly) mixed drinks quickly fades however, especially when there’s a lack of Spoon’s pitchers to buoy you along. I was lucky enough to have a flatmate who held substantial experience in the art of whipping up a good cocktail, but when I tried my own hand failed miserably. Now that things have opened up, I’m making an active effort to branch out and try new drinks – the excitement of ordering a cosmopolitan was unmatched. Had the past year gone any differently, I would probably be sat in Spoons, sipping my vodka cranberry, none the wiser as to the adventure I was missing out on.

The value of an evening walk

Walks have undeniably constituted an integral part of the pandemic. And yet, I have never found myself growing tired of wandering around Christ Church meadows after dinner, pointing excitedly at the cows and then at the sunset and then back at the cows again, unable to decide where to channel your energy like an over-hyper child. The sheer abundance of parks and green spaces that I have discovered over the past year has unveiled a whole new side to Oxford to me, one that is tranquil and quiet, bursting at the seams with the beauty of nature, worlds away from the bustling lives of tourists and students. It is an Oxford I have wholeheartedly fallen in love with and, ironically, I have the pandemic to thank for that.

 

Image credit: Tetiana Shyshkina via Unsplash

 

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