Oxford

Imagine a beautiful English city mixed with the Harry Potter movie set and loads of college campuses and students and you get Oxford. 

I was lucky enough to call this beautiful city home for 3 weeks while I was taking a course at Oxford Brooke’s University. 


Our first day there was May Day, where the tradition is to participate in May Morning. Complete with a 6:00 am start, singers on the church towers and Morse dancers, it was a neat experience. Al the students and locals were out, there were thousands of people in total. 

The best part of Oxford in my opinion is the mix of beautiful buildings and gardens and nature. Everywhere you look, buildings have unique features and amazing details. The narrow streets and loads of pedestrians and cyclists, mixed with gardens and green spaces make the town very picturesque. 

The Radcliffe camera is one of the most significant buildings to see in Oxford:


The Oxford Brooke’s Headington campus where I studied was very modern compared to many of the Oxford schools and campuses. The facilities were excellent and the campus was just a short walk away. 

Punting was one of the many popular activities in Oxford. It involved a group of people taking a long wooden boat out on the river with a large pole to push the boat along in the shallow water. Sounds crazy, and it’s definitely more challenging than it looks but it’s also a lot of fun! You can pack a picnic and some champagne and have a great afternoon. 

The Botanic Gardens are located right along High street near the river. These gardens are absolutely beautiful and offer a lovely area to spend time next to the water.

Oxford Botanic Gardens:


The Oxford High street offered lots of shops and restaurants. The best part of the city is that with all of the students, many places are very affordable or offer student discounts.

View of High Street:


Going for a tea was a classic English affair that we did in Oxford. Cream tea and scones became a favourite! My favourite spot was The Vault, which was right across from the Radcliffe Camera. 

A typical afternoon tea and scones:


Overall, Oxford was a lovely city and I was very lucky to spend three weeks here. I will definitely go back to visit! 

Portsmouth

Portsmouth is located on the southern coast of England. It was historically a naval base, and tourist hot spot and has a population of about 200 000. 

The city has beautiful views of the sea, beaches and lots of history. 

Lighthouse by the Sea:


Beaches with the historic walls:

An old building left as a monument:

Portsmouth has two piers, similar to many other cities by the sea. One is home to a small amusement park. 

One of the piers in Portsmouth: 

Portsmouth has recently struggled economically. Commuting out of Portsmouth, less tourism and less industry are contributing factors. One key redevelopment is GunWharf Quays, a shopping and restaurants on the water, complete with an observation deck. The development is very well designed and an inviting place to visit. 

An example of the boardwalks and patios along Gunwharf Quays:

Portsmouth is a lovely English city along the sea, and parts of it even feel tropical. I would definitely recommend it for a visit! 

London 

Over the course of my trip I have been lucky enough to visit London on a couple of occasions. London is a wonderful city that offers a lot of culture, and history but also feels a bit more contemporary than some other large European cities. It has a lot of important tourist sights such as Big Ben, the London Eye and Buckingham Palace and even just the red telephone booths. 

The London Eye:

Big Ben:

This will be one of my longer posts because I have gained a couple of different perspective, both as a planner and as a tourist. To make it easier I have separated this into two sections, so read whatever interests you! 

AS A PLANNER…

Like many large cities, London is currently facing a housing affordability crisis. As part of my program at Oxford Brooke’s, I was lucky enough to spend a day in London with a focus on planning and architecture. 
We started with a tour of St. Pancras International Station. Here we learned about the design of the station. We also learned about the history of the station, which was nearly torn down. An original hotel that was connected to the station has now been converted to a restaurant that contains a lot of the original building design. The station was designed as a Terminus station so that trains would end here and not travel through the City of London. Kings Cross is the connected adjacent station with Underground service for the rest of London. 

The station now services several British Railway lines as well as the Eurostar which travels to Paris and Brussels. It’s a great example of a station that could have been destroyed but instead due to vision an design was converted into something wonderful. The redevelopment and the connections the station offers also served as a catalyst for a hub of new development and redevelopment including world renowned destinations such as Central St. Martens, part of the University of Arts London, and Google offices. 

St. Pancras International:

The Kings Cross area redevelopment comprises an area of 67 acres of land and a rich industrial history. The area requires a mix of presevation, and new development. The area is anticipated to have 2000 new housing units. It will also offer shops, restaurants and even 40% of the area will be developed as open space. The area includes schools and spaces for children as well,  making it also an ideal area for families. 

Kings Cross Redeveloment Area:


Kings Cross is one area of London currently undergoing substantial redevelopment. Because the city is surrounded by a Greenbelt, development is limited to within the city, making brownfield sites very important. 

We were lucky enough to visit New London Architecture (NLA) which offers a giant model of the City of London:


The model showed all existing buildings as well as any proposed developments to show where growth and change is occurring. The model is accompanied by a lighting system which can highlight features such as parks, museums and underground lines. The company has also put together videos that work together with the model to explain current development in London.

A presentation from Transport for London concluded our tours. We learned about the management of the Underground (Tube) and commuter rail outside of the city. TFL is also investing heavily in cycling infrastructure to create cycling “super highways” and the new Crossline 1 and 2 – new rail services through London. Housing is not the only challenge London is facing, moving 8.5 million people around in their daily lives is not an easy task. 


This likely explains what I noticed to be very expensive transit. If I have any advice in London about transit is that it is great and easy to use, but buy an Oyster card because it will save you money! 

AS A TOURIST…  

I was lucky enough to see many of the popular sites in London. 

Step One is get an Oyster card because it will save you money on transit! 

Big Ben:

For anyone interested in seeing a great view of London, the Shard offers a viewing deck. It also offers a restaurant, the Aquashard, which is free to visit and you can treat yourself to a nice drink or meal with a  beautiful view.

The Shard:

Views from the Aquashard:

SOHO, The Convent Garden and Neal’s Yard are all great suggestions to visit that are more local spots. The Covent Garden offers a lovely market, with vendors as well as many stores. 

The Covent Garden:

Neal’s Yard is a hidden gem of Covent Garden. It can be found through several alleys and is full of lovely buildings, plants, lights and cute bars and restaurants. We went to Homeslice for dinner for the best pizza ever! 

The Tower of London is one of the most unique tourist spots in a London. It’s a great way to learn about the city’s history. While you could spend hours, even a couple hours is enough with all the tourists. Remember your student cards to save a lot here. 

Make sure you check out the Thames and all the awesome bridges and boardwalks it offers, 

Tower Bridge from the Boardwalk: 

Bath

Bath is a beautiful old town located in southwest England and is well known for its Roman baths. 

The Bath Abbey is located in the heart of the town. It is a former monestary and is now an Anglican Parish church. The building dominates the town centre and contains beautiful vaulted ceilings, and stained glass and seats approximately 1200 people.  The Abbey was majorly restored in the 1860s. It is still an active place of worship.  It’s free to visit, a donation is recommended but it is definitely worth even a brief visit.

Bath Abbey:


The Stained Glass in the Abbey:

Bath Circus was another beautiful space to visit. It has beautiful Georgian architecture, with now very expensive flats. The central area is complete with large trees and most flats have lovely gardens. There is also a nice view of Bath from this location. 
Bath Circus:

The Roman Baths

The Roman Baths are the most well known site in Bath. It includes the bath, hot springs and cold springs that were used for both bathing purposes, recreation, and healing and wellness purposes. The hot spring bubbles and reaches a temperature of 46 degrees Celsius. 


The water is greenish in colour because of the limestone.
The site contains a museum full of facts, artifacts and restoration works. There was so much more to it than a Roman Bath and the museum really makes you understand that. We spent about an hour in the museum but could have spent a bit more time.

The kind of thing you’ll find in the museum:

 

The history of the site dates back to 60-70 AD and is definitely worth visiting! There is so much more to learn than I expected!

The Cotswolds 

The Cotswolds is probably what a lot of people think of when they think of the English countryside. An area with beautiful landscapes, lovely towns and villages and thatched roofs. 

We stayed in a lovely B and B called the Bird in Hand near Witney for the weekend. It had 16 unique rooms and a lovely restaurant attached. 

Bird In Hand Inn:

We visited several towns and villages during our stay. We visited Burford, where we looked at shops along the High street and a cafe. On Saturday we had breakfast at the Inn and then visited Blenheim Palace in Woodstock. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. The grounds are equally as lovely as the palace. If we had more time I would have done one of the walks available throughout the grounds. 

Blenheim Palace and Gardens:


We went to Broughton on the Water, a lovely quaint English tourist spot with shops and a creek running through it.  

I had my first Cornish Pasty here, so tasty!


Finally, we visited Oxford which I will post about later…

East Sussex 

This past week has been spent staying with family in East Sussex England. This area is located about 25 from Gatwick Airport making it very convenient to travel to. It is also about one hour to the centre of London, and one hour to the coast. While a car is the easiest way to get around the area, all of these trips can be done by transit. 

On our first day, we visited an old town called Rye. It’s near the sea, and located where rivers meet. The town has roots dating back to 1200 and is a medieval town, which served as a historic port. 

Ypres Tower (Rye Castle) is a historic part of the town wall. You can climb several steep staircases and reach the top which offers beautiful views of the town:

Being such an old town, the buildings are historic, original and the roads are often cobblestone.  The town is complete with shops and lovely cafes, restaurants and inns. We visited the Mermaid Inn, where we were given a tour including the wine cellar:


Cobblestone street in Rye:


From East Sussex, it’s very easy to get to London by train. We did this one day, which I will post about later.
East Sussex is full of Beautiful towns, villages and countryside.  One afternoon we went for high tea in Horsted, a place the queen used to visit. 

High tea cakes:


 Our other days were spent visiting local towns of Uckbridge and Tunbridge Wells for lunches,  shopping and sight seeing. 

An example of the housing in Tunbridge Wells:


Overall, East Sussex is a lovely area to visit if you want to see both the coast and the countryside. Easily accessible to London, but less busy and expensive.