Oxford: The City of Dreaming Spires

Medieval Spires of OxfordOxford, located in central southern England, is focused primarily around its prestigious university which lies in the city’s medieval center. The architecture of the university’s 38 colleges led poet Matthew Arnold to nickname it the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’.

Legends claim that Oxford University was founded by a beautiful young princess named Frideswide. When her dreams of becoming a nun were threatened by a king who wanted her hand in marriage, Frideswide ran away to Oxford only to be followed by the king. But when he reached the town border, he was struck blind. Once he agreed to release her from marrying him, and begging her forgiveness, his sight was restored. Frideswide then founded a nunnery on the site of what is now Christ Church cathedral. The earliest of the Oxford colleges were set up around the nunnery as learning places for monastic scholars.

The numerous colleges make for an amazing place to just wander all day, lost among the historic buildings still clamoring with students.  There are numerous guided and self-led walking tours to be found such as University tours, ghost tours, literary tours, and (of course) Harry Potter film location tours. Oxford, England

Guided or not, however, be aware that many buildings have a fee to enter them, and tickets sell out well in advance. So plan your day carefully if there are specific places you want to visit, or make sure the tour company covers entry tickets. That said, it is common understanding that if a gate or door is open, passersby should feel free to wander inside.

And what tour of Oxford would be complete without a visit to the gravesite of J.R.R. Tolkien? Wolvercote Cemetery in north Oxford is easy to reach by bus from Oxford City Centre. It does have a small parking lot and public restrooms. There are signs and maps to get you to Tolkien’s grave readily available.

Finally, when you are ready for a break from the scholarly and more scholastic life, the Oxford Pub Tour is not to be missed. Take some time to enjoy some tea or a pint while looking out over the Thames. 

A visit to Oxford is a convenient day trip from London, and many tour companies will start and end your tours there, allowing you to forego the tricky prospect of finding parking. A parking violation in the city is quite the expensive souvenir.

The relationship between the City and the University wasn’t always grand, however. After one of a series of “Town versus Gown” riots, several scholars departed Oxford and founded the University now known as Cambridge in 1209.

Not quite as large as her sister university, Cambridge is made up of 31 Colleges, and is the top-ranked university in the United Kingdom, and second-best in the world (according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings). But much LIKE her sister university, Cambridge is an architectural marvel, and fans of historic buildings will not be disappointed. A walk through the numerous courtyards in the town and throughout the university is a must.

CAmbridge river sightseeingSitting along the River Cam, the town of Cambridge is host to a bevy of riverside restaurants serving up delicious meals. And those feeling especially adventurous can splurge on a punt ride, where a boatman will push your boat along with a pole while you wonder at the sights along the riverbank. Some of the best boat guides are former students who share their love of their city and campus with you as you drift up and down the river.

With literary, historical, and contemporary cultural sights to visit, a trip to Oxford and Cambridge is something the entire family can enjoy.  Let Endless Travel help you plan that perfect “Oxbridge” getaway!

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Recommended Reading:

  • The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  • The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
  • The Notion Club Papers, J.R.R. Tolkien

The Canadian Rockies – WOW!

The Canadian Rockies - WOW!

By Linda Lovin

I recently faced a critical travel decision. My husband was approaching a very significant birthday, and at the very same time, we would celebrate 34 years of marriage. Where should we go for a one-week vacation?  My husband left the planning to me but reminded me that he hated airports, long flights, and travel in general.  My goal was to make the right decision about location/supplier partner/excursions/dates of travel and to WOW!!!! my man in the process. I am thrilled to report that the decision to travel to the Canadian Rockies resulted in the most wonderful travel week of our lives (to date).

"...the expression on my husband's face was something between disbelief, shock, and pure awe."

In the course of planning trips of all types for my clients, I have dealt with a host of outstanding experts in the travel industry. For this personal and most special occasion, I chose Entrée Destinations as our partner supplier. Their motto of “service and hospitality are in our DNA” are not empty words. Beginning with my first telephone call, they were attentive to my every request and honestly did “sweat the small stuff and obsess over details.” As a Travel Advisor, I felt I shared a kindred spirit with Entrée Destinations.

On September 21 our adventure began. We departed DIA for an easy 2.5-hour flight to Calgary. After breezing through a friendly international arrival terminal, we were met by Min, a long-time resident of Calgary and our greeter from Entrée Destinations. Min ushered us through the Calgary airport, insured that our car rental experience was seamless and was an encyclopedia of knowledge about Calgary and all of the territory we were about to explore. She offered a multitude of travel suggestions – one of which was Gypsy Guide. This is an incredible app that gives practical, historical, and cultural commentary along numerous driving routes not only in Canada but throughout the USA.

Tip: Be sure to pre-load Gypsy Guide in an area with a strong Wi-Fi signal.

And then – it was WOW!!! All the way. The countryside around Calgary is rolling hills of farm and ranch land with jagged mountains thrusting on the horizon. As we drove on the Trans-Canada Highway, we simply became speechless. Please understand that we are twenty-five-year residents of Colorado, have traveled the Rocky Mountain West extensively and we love our home in Evergreen. However, we were totally unprepared for the majesty that was unfolding before us.

Tip:  Pre-purchase a Discovery Pass that allows access into all of Canada’s National Parks, marine conservation areas and historic sites.

After about two hours of driving through absolute jaw-dropping magnificence, I treasured the moment when the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise first came into view and the expression on my husband’s face was something between disbelief, shock, and pure awe. Located in Alberta’s Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Chateau was originally built over 100 years ago as a base for outdoor enthusiasts and alpinists and sits at the base of a glacial moraine that fills Lake Louise. The water is emerald green from Victoria Glacier’s sediments and is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful works of nature on the planet.

Tip: Lake Louise has been “discovered.” Each day, bus after bus stream into the area, all filled with tourists from around the world. By reserving a room at the Fairmont with a lake view, it is possible to enjoy the miracle of sunrise over the lake and glacier within the comfort of your room.

Lake Louise

We spent a day soaking up the scenery that lies within an hour’s drive from Lake Louise. Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park is a jewel that offers relaxed lodging and dining in a serene setting. Athabasca Falls and the mountains and valleys

of Yoho National Park provide one breath-taking moment after another.

The next day, we took the highly recommended Ice Explorer Glacier Tour departing from the Glacier

Discovery Centre on the Icefields Parkway.  It was the coldest and windiest day of the season so, while we did get to take a short ride on the Ice Explorer onto the 10,000-year-old Athabasca Glacier, we didn't get to spend as much time as we would have wanted on the most visited glacier in North America.

After two nights in Lake Louise, we drove the Icefields Parkway for the trip to Jasper. This road has been described as the most beautiful mountain drive in the world. My husband and I have not witnessed all the mountain drives in the world, but it is difficult to imagine scenery more spectacular. Initially, we stopped at every vista for photographs thinking that surely this was the most beautiful view of the day. The gorgeous panoramas just kept appearing with every curve of the road.

The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is a different experience from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Situated in Alberta’s magnificent Jasper National Park, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, comfortable cabins line the shore of a lake that often reflects the image of surrounding mountains. It is quiet and boasts a world-class golf course.

Our first morning in Jasper, we enjoyed a private walking tour of the area with Alpine Art Ecotours and learned about the history of the indigenous people in the area as well as the fauna of the forest. We thoroughly enjoyed talking with our local guide about everything from history to current Canadian politics.

That afternoon we cruised Maligne Lake with its beautiful azure-colored water. Alpine scenery, frigid glacial water from the three glaciers visible from the lake, and the haunting beauty of Spirit Island, a place of religious significance to Canada’s First Nation people, are part of our memory of that special day.

The next day, we re-traced our steps on the Icefields Parkway and took an exhilarating helicopter flight up, over, and

 

 

Spirit Island

down into the Canadian Rockies. Rockies Heli Canada also provided a short hike and lunch beside a waterfall as part of the experience. My husband remains in touch with our local guide in hopes of a future fishing trip into the wilderness areas we saw.

Our final days were in Banff and the Fairmont Banff Springs. The world-famous “Castle in the Rockies” has been providing legendary hospitality to guests for over 130 years.  Once again, we experienced unbelievable beauty, fabulous food, and people so genuinely nice that we felt like we were in our own hometown. The town of Banff is a quintessential mountain town with a myriad of lodging and excellent dining options.

Our last guided tour was a boat ride on Lake Minnewanka, the second longest lake in the mountain parks of the Canadian Rockies.  Stunning snow-capped mountains juxtaposed against the brilliant autumn colors of the trees were reflected on the water during our glorious morning outing.

Lake Minnewanka

On the closing day of our trip, we awakened to low clouds and snow showers. Reading books by local authors in front of a roaring fireplace provided us with the perfect ending to the perfect celebratory trip.  WOW!

8 Athenaeum – A Bibliophile’s Tour of Europe

It’s no secret that most modern Western literature either came from, was inspired by, or can be traced back to Europe in some way.  The continent is a literal treasure trove of literary locations, inspirations, and history. This is likely why so many literary aficionados make, at some point in their lives, a pilgrimage to bask in the wonder of the places that have shaped our lives in so many ways.

Bodleian Libraries – Oxford

https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Bodleian Libraries - Oxford UniversityAmong some of the most celebrated libraries in the world are those at Oxford. Their collections are incomparable. Some of their buildings have been in active use since the Middle Ages. The libraries group includes research, faculty, department and institutional libraries, the principal of which is the Bodleian Library (also known as ‘the Bod’), named for Thomas Bodley, chief benefactor and instrument of the Oxford library’s survival of the purge of Catholicism by the Dean of Christ Church in 1550.

Modern tourists can take 30, 60 or 90 minute guided tours of the library which include Duke Humfrey’s Library, the Divinity School, the Convocation House, Chancellor’s Court and a visit to the Radcliffe Camera, home of the Radcliffe Science Library.

Word on the Water – London

https://twitter.com/wordonthewater

Word on the Water, floating bookstoreOriginally a 50-foot-long Dutch barge built in the 1920s, Word on the Water is a floating bookstore on Regents Canal near King’s Cross in London. One of the few barges on the canal granted a permanent berth, the bookstore offers not only a warm fire for winter reading, but summer performances including everything from folk groups to jazz bands as well as poetry slams in its rooftop garden.

Mid-week visits tend to find the shop less crowded, with a higher availability of cosy chairs to relax in while you peruse new and used books. Keep your eyes open for Star, the shop’s resident dog, and a couple of cats which can occasionally be found roaming the decks.

Trinity College Library – Dublin

https://www.tcd.ie/library/

The oldest of the Trinity College Library buildings completed construction in 1732. With over six million printed volumes covering over 400 years of literary achievement, Trinity College Library is permanent home to the Brian Boru harp (the national symbol of Ireland) as well as the Book of Kells, the Book of Durrow and the Ussher Collection. The library’s main chamber, the Long Room, is nearly 65 meters (213 feet) in length, and holds around 200,000 of the library’s oldest books. 

For a crowd free exploration of the library, visitors can purchase a fast-track ticket and show up a little bit before opening time, making you one of the first people allowed in. Tickets to see the Book of Kells also gives entrance to the Long Room, and guided tours of Trinity College that include the Trinity College Library are available as well.

Gladstone’s Library – Hawarden, Wales

https://www.gladstoneslibrary.org/

Gladstone's LibraryMemorial to four-time Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, Gladstone’s Library was known as St. Deiniol’s Library from its founding in 1894 until 2010, when it was renamed for its founder. The current building wasn’t constructed until after Gladstone’s death, and currently it houses not only the library itself, but a restaurant, a chapel, conference facilities and 26 bedrooms which are available for those who are looking for a truly unique experience.

Throughout the year, the library hosts a series of events focused around William Gladstone’s personal areas of interest such as religion and theology, history and politics, and 19th-century literary culture. The Reading Rooms at Gladstone are filled with desks and comfortable arm chairs, providing a pleasant, peaceful atmosphere for students, researchers, historians, academics, theologians, and award-winning novelists, scriptwriters, poets, and playwrights.

Access to the Reading Rooms is as a member, residential guest or on a “Glimpse” tour which runs at 12pm, 2pm and 4pm completely free of charge. Glimpses take around 10 minutes and include a history of the Library before a short visit to the silent History Room. The tours cannot be booked in advance, and are offered on a first come, first served basis.

Hay-on-Wye, Wales

http://www.hay-on-wye.co.uk/

Located on the Welsh side of the border between England and Wales, Hay-on-Wye (Y Gelli Gandryll) is world renowned for having the most bookstores per capita in a single town. Trains run on a regular basis from London and other major cities to Hereford, a town about twenty miles away. From there, visitors can take advantage of a regular Stagecoach service that will take you from Hereford’s train station right to the middle of Hay-on-Wye. The town has about 1500 residents, and the average tourist can circumnavigate the town on foot in about 20 minutes, so you won’t find any sort of public transit within the city.

The annual book festival (The Hay Festival) is held in Hay-on-Wye to celebrate books and the town itself. The festival lasts for two weeks, and has happened in early June (usually) every year for over thirty years. Drawing book lovers, writers, and artists the normally tiny population jumps to nearly half a million during the festival season.

If major festivals aren’t your cup of tea, there are many other festivals and events that take place in the town throughout the year, including Hay-on-Wye Food Festival, Hay Arts and Crafts Festival, Hay-on-Wye Horse and Pony Show, Hay-on-Wye Winter Food Festival, and Hay Fever, the children’s book festival.

Strahov Library, Prague, Czech Republic

https://www.prague.eu/en/object/places/403/strahov-library-theological-hall-philosophical-hall-strahovska-knihovna 

Strahov Library (Strahovská knihovna)Strahov Monastery (Strahovský klášter) is a Premonstratensian abbey founded in 1143 in Strahov, Prague, Czech Republic. The monastery is home to the Strahov Library (Strahovská knihovna), the oldest section of which dates back to the early 1670s and is arguably one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.

The library has three main areas to explore: The Grand Philosophical Hall, The Baroque Theological Hall and the Cabinets of Curiosities. The Grand Philosophical Hall contains over 42,000 philosophical texts watched over by frescoes painted by Anton Maulbertsch, representing humanity’s quest for knowledge and drive to learn the secrets of the universe. 

Strahov Library (Strahovská knihovna)

The Theological Hall contains over 18,000 religious texts above which is a magnificently painted fresco depicting the ethos of the library that a person with great faith must also build on his knowledge and provide education for those who need it. Between the Philosophers Hall and the Theological Hall, are the Cabinets of Curiosities, each a tiny museum unto itself. 

The library is open daily from 9am to 5pm (with a lunch break from 12pm-1pm). The entry price for the Library and Pictures gallery is around CZK 120, and there is a small fee if you want to take pictures. 

Book Tower, Municipal Library, Prague, Czech Republic

https://www.prague.eu/en/object/places/860/prague-city-gallery-municipal-library-mestska-knihovna

Book Tower, Prague LibraryNot to be outdone, the Prague Municipal Library (Městská knihovna) partnered with artist Matej Kren to install “Idiom” an incredible book tower. With mirrors in placed at the top and bottom of a cylindrical tower made of books, Visitors peek through the opening on one side of the tower which presents the illusion of a tower of books which extends infinitely. There is generally a short wait before you can line yourself up to get the perfect photo, but the tower is a beautiful site to see and well worth the stop!

The Municipal Library is also home to the Prague City Gallery, a home for contemporary artists to display their work. Founded from the small collection belonging to the Prague Municipal Government, the gallery is situated in exhibition halls reserved specifically for it. As one of the most important galleries in the Czech Republic, it is a single facet of seven gallery locations throughout the city.

Abbey Library of Saint Gall, Switzerland

https://www.stiftsbezirk.ch/en/

Abbey Library of Saint Gall, SwitzerlandThe Abbey Library of Saint Gall (Stiftsbibliothek) was founded by Saint Othmar, who also founded the Abbey itself. While the Abbey of Saint Gall was destroyed in a fire in 937 CE, the original section of the library was untouched, and to this day it holds some of the oldest collections in Switzerland covering 12 centuries of continuous collecting.

Currently the collections reside in the new (mid 1700s) Rococo styled hall designed by architect Peter Thumb. With elaborate art installed on the ceiling whose frames flow into the curved molding of the hall itself, the library is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed inside the library as photographs of any kind (including cell phones) are forbidden.

If you are a book lover with an unquenchable sense of wanderlust, the Bibliophile’s Tour of Europe is just what you’ve been waiting for. To explore some or all of these phenomenal libraries, give us a call and we will help you plan an excursion to remember.