Oxford has always attracted me. The history, the grandiose glamour, the elite academic excellence- it filled me with wonder, made me hungry. For these reasons, I chose to spend my first day-off in the web of one of the world’s most well-known university towns. Only once I arrived in the fog-shrouded streets did I realise how unprepared I was: no map, no concept of the sites (historic, literary, or otherwise), no plan. So I wandered.
I visited Oxford with minimal travel competency. Having done no previous research and being more-or-less ignorant, I saw the city without seeing any of the sites significant to CS Lewis or JRR Tolkien, or any other of Oxford’s numerous influential and historic personalities. While I kicked myself about this at the time, the experience inadvertently taught me a rewarding travel lesson.
I eventually found my way into the university’s natural history museum and a church featuring a commemorative Lewis memorial of sorts; an old-fashioned sweet shop and a cemetery crowded with eerily old and faceless tombstones. I took many photos of the beautiful old buildings and of the throngs of bicycles. Most of all I was simply steeping in the town’s atmosphere.
That’s what Oxford taught me about travel: sometimes the most enjoyable way to experience a city is to just loose yourself in its streets. While having a general knowledge and and interesting attractions hit-list can be constructive (even necessary for some cities), wandering off down that intriguing little side-street will give you a more holistic and personal experience. It allows you to feel the city. And if you like what you see, then perhaps you can return one day to see those things you missed…