Category Archives: Oxford

UK, London and the surrounds – Oxford, Blenheim, Windsor and Dulwich

I am still getting out and about while in London and last weekend my friend Lorna organised a weekend in Oxford/Blenheim.

First stop was the Bodleian Library – one of only a handful of libraries that are copyright libraries – meaning that a copy of every book published in the UK MUST be sent there. Given they are now at a 1000 books a week being published here in the UK it is not surprising that they have had to expand their premises to other locations in Oxford but also several miles of underground space in Swindon to store all of these.

Only current Oxford students (and the odd expert who can prove they really need to) can look at the books in this library and no-one can take them out. All a bit elitist if you ask me but of course but Oxford can be like that and at least they are slowly digitising all the old books (this roots of this library started in the 1300s) so that the rest of the world can access them too. No pics allowed inside which was a shame as it is all rather splendid.

Bodleian library and surrounding colleges

The Divinity Room at the Bodleian and the Bridge of Sighs

After lunch we headed over to the Ashmolean Museum for a wonderful exhibit on food and Pompei. Basically because of the carbonisation caused by the volcano they have been able to accurately identify the Roman diet of the time and this exhibit focussed on Stuart, frescos and real examples of what and how they ate. Strangely mesmerising.

Extracts from Pompei. They used to rear door mice in the jar (this mouse is fake) but the jar isn’t.

The resin lady of Oplontis – perfectly preserved at the time of her death and holding both gold bangles but also cheap beads – maybe given to her as a gift by a child and had sentimental value? The mosaic skeleton was to remind the eaters that however much they ate they would all end up looking like this:)

On Sunday morning we stopped by the Oxford Botanical Gardens which were charming and looking lovely even though the main flowering season is long gone.

In the Botanical Garden which are just at the edge of town so very accessible

Sunday afternoon was my first trip to Blenheim Palace – the place Winston Churchill was born – but which he didn’t inherit as he was not in line to do so. This is an impressive “pile” as they say but what made the visit great for me was the addition of a temporary artist in residence – Maurizio Cattelan – who is known for his satirical sculptures including the one of the solid gold toilet which had been installed for use as part of this exhibition but was then stolen three days later. He is irreverent and questioning of the status quo so I admire the people who allowed him to include his work here – it was very cool – but some of the more traditional little old ladies and gentlemen who were visiting were clearly a bit horrified.

Lorna and I both thinking we own Blenheim!

Cattelan works sprinkled amid all the old stuff

The beautiful Consuelo Vanderbilt who was forced to marry into the Churchill family by her mother – and who was welcomed only because she brought in lots of money that could be used for upkeep of Blenheim – does this sound like Downton or what?

More of crazy Cattelan and what remains of the gold toiletO:(

A little boy kneeling from the back? An evil dictator begging for forgiveness on the right?

And on Monday I spent the day in Windsor with a friend from my last cruise Sian. She lives there and kindly agreed to spend the day visiting the castle and having lunch. We had an excellent time and this is another very impressive British castle with amazing artworks inside – but no photos allowed.

External views of Windsor Castle, plus the Queen’s apartments – bottom left and a view over the countryside of Eton College

And one more to finish off with – a visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery with Marjory to see the Rembrandt and Light Exhibit. Dulwich is a leafy area of SE London that most people have never heard of. And the gallery in it is equally unknown but it shouldn’t be because it is delightful and a nicely manageable size. This exhibit was lit in conjunction with a well known cinematographer so that the light effects that Rembrandt was so good at – whether external, natural, internal or candlelight can be shown off to best effect. Well worth a visit.

Rembrandt intimate females and light

Rembrandt shows everyone else how to do light