Oxford is not only the city of lovely colleges, strange rituals, academic excellence and terrible parking, it's also the city of kebab vans. Nowhere else have I seen as many kebab vans as here. They are, first of all, a useful invention. Every evening at around 6pm, kebab vans, i.e. vans with a hamburger and kebab kitchen in them, appear at specific places marked "street trader", and a few minutes later the penetrating smell of frying fat starts wafting through the air. From then on until 2 or 3am, they sell horrible kebabs and hamburgers to everyone who feels the need to indulge in something fat and unhealthy. Their main clients are of course students, but in front of some there are even queues of people who can't wait to bite into something wannabe-meaty. If you want to try them, you should pay Hassan's a visit - the kebab van parked on Broad Street opposite Balliol College. According to all (!) my students, he is by far the best of the kebab vans. I tried Hassan's once, not wanting to miss out on an Oxford tradition, but I can definitely not recommend it. I wonder how bad the other vans are...
(Interesting fact: Hassan's kebab van ranks 4th (!!!) among Oxford's restaurants according to Trip Advisor. On closer inspection, though, a lot of the reviews seem to have been written in a rather alcoholic state - and what's more, after a nightclub visit at 2am. You might want to consider this before rushing to a kebab van. See more "balanced" reviews at the website mentioned below.)Related to:
- Food and Dining
- Budget Travel
SCR, MCR and JCR
If you've read the Harry Potter books, you'll know that Harry, Hermione and Ron often retreat to the common room for studying, chatting or coming up with adventurous plans. A common room like that doesn't exist in most German schools, so it was something completely new to me. When I started my job at Oxford I was delighted to see that all of my 6 colleges gave me SCR rights, some also MCR and JCR rights. To clarify why I was so excited, we need to decode the abbreviations first:
SCR = Senior Common Room (for professors and lecturers as well as important administrative staff)
MCR = Middle Common Room (for master students and other graduates)
JCR = Junior Common Room (for bachelor students)
These common rooms are often the heart and soul of a college. The JCR caters for all the students' needs (which often means organising parties and making sure that enough alcohol is around), the MCR does pretty much the same on a slightly more adult level (although, come to think of it...) and the SCR, being reserved for the teaching and researching elite, caters for the senior college members' needs, i.e. making sure that newspapers are there for people to read, cookies and cakes are there for people to indulge in and port wine is there for people to drink (only after dinner, of course).
The SCRs in particular are a great place to spend some time between marking essays or planning one's lessons. In some colleges, like Exeter, they tend to be a kind of silent room where people interrupting the process of newspaper reading may be frowned upon. In others, like Wadham, the SCR is packed after lunch with people discussing everything from football matches to mistakes in somebody's equivalent to the theory of relativity. Every SCR provides the major British newspapers, the weighty tomes called "Who is Who?", a number of books written by college members, enough coffee and tea to survive a few weeks, comfy chairs and sofas to relax on, a writing desk for one's important snail mail correspondence and a nice, old-fashioned fire place. Imagine all of this in the atmosphere of a 19th century sitting room, and you'll get the picture. One thing you can sometimes find in SCRs are the so-called betting books. It seems to have been a common pastime among the fellows to bet on a lot of things, normally staking wine, wine and more wine. Here's an excerpt from the Exeter betting book:
3 November 1964 (?): "Mr Ellis lays the Rector a bottle of Claret that Mr Balosh will still be employed in the Cabinet Office on 3 November 1965." (The Rector lost and paid.)
Well, the old chaps are having a lot of fun, as you can see. In any case, if you are able to see an SCR from the inside (which, unfortunately, is only possible by invitation of an SCR member), you'll find out what Oxford really is all about. Theoretically, the same is true for the JCRs and MCRs, but don't expect a lot more than partying students...Related to:
- Arts and Culture
The second-weirdest ritual of the world
Admit it: the headline caught your attention, didn't it? Well, it was meant to do that. I'm proud to introduce the world's second-weirdest ritual, taking place annually in beautiful Oxford. Unfortunately, it's only for a very exclusive audience, but if you are lucky enough to belong to that audience - enjoy. If not, continue reading in awe and don't give up wishing to be part of that audience...
Ladies and Gentlemen, the world's second-weirdest ritual is: THE TIME CEREMONY AT MERTON COLLEGE!
Let's start with some facts. Every year since 1971, dozens of Mertonians meet late at night on the day when the clocks change back to winter time. After, say, 11pm, the college grounds get fuller and fuller and the amount of alcohol poured out increases dramatically. From then on, entrance to the college is monitored so that no non-Mertonians can enter the grounds anymore. Huge crowds of students stand together excitedly, toast to some completely random people ("A toast!" someone declares solemnly every few seconds) and wait for the time ceremony to start. Everybody wears sub-fusc, i.e. full academic dress - why not? The preferred drink is, of course, port, for nothing suits an occasion like this better. When the hands of the old college clocks approach 2am, everybody moves to the college's Fellows' Quad, Merton's most beautiful courtyard (or quad, as it is correctly called). Once it's 2am, the fun starts. Everybody links arms and starts walking backwards (!) round Fellows' Quad - anticlockwise, of course. At every corner of the quad, each group of students linked together will "swing", i.e. turn around 360° while squeaking "Swiiiiing!" with pleasure. Then the march through the quad continues. Ideally, the participants still have enough balance to take a huge sip of port every now and then. After all, nothing suits an occasion like this better. Have I already mentioned that? Sorry. Well, on and on goes the marching and swinging and drinking - but why, you might wonder? The time ceremony was invented by Barry Press, a former Merton student who was a tiny little bit troubled that after the months of summer time the clocks wouldn't go back to their normal time anymore. So he thought up a ceremony to help the clocks do just that - go back to their normal time - which, naturally, consisted of marching backwards anticlockwise round the Fellows' Quad. If this doesn't sound like a good explanation, then I can't help you. You can easily that it works every year: the clocks don't continue showing summer time!
Well, dear readers, so much for the world's second-weirdest ritual. If you don't believe me, have a look at my video. It was filmed during the 2010 time ceremony, and nothing is staged. Read more about this ceremony here.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Zealots on Cornmarket Street
You may find it weird to include a tip about Oxford's zealots in my pages. Well, I've done it for a reason: Oxford has an astonishingly large selection of zealots, and all of them are roaming Cornmarket Street. They won't annoy you personally if you don't stand still in front of them for more than a minute, so you can still visit the area for shopping or the like, but they are loudly presenting their world views whatever the weather.
It's interesting that there are not only Christian zealots in numerous kinds, but sometimes also Muslim zealots and even Atheist zealots. It's fun stopping for some time close by and listening to their theses. One black guy with a strong African English accent holding only a Bible in his hands tells passers-by day in, day out that Jesus has died for their sins, while an old man piles up loads of leaflets and brochures on a foldable table and underlines his message (basically the same as the one before) with drawings and pictures on a pinboard. The Muslims advertise Islam, the Atheists oppose all other opinions and try to convince passers-by that listening to the other zealots doesn't make sense as there is no such thing as God or Heaven and the like.
Oxford Affliations with Lewis Caroll
Famous for his book Alice in Wonderland he attended Christchurch college in Oxford. He developed a stammer it has been said only in adult company but there is no evidence to support this theory. He caricatured himself as the Dodo in Alices adventures in Wonderland which relates to the fact he had difficulty pronuncing his surname Dodgson. You will find the Dodo statue along with many other amusing faces & animals on the way to St Abingdons.
As you walk past the colleges its almost natural that you would look for the name of the college outside, but in Oxford it is only a coat of arms that identifies which college it is.
The wooden doors are very heavy and are often inset with a porters door. The main door is kept locked and it is the smaller door by which the students gain access it can be closed easily if there happens to be trouble.
Segregation Between Student and Regular Oxfordian
I came here to visit an old friend that invited me to come and visit her, her husband and baby as well as baby no.2 (then) still to come. And she was telling me that her experience of actually living in Oxford, although very pleasant being the small town that it is, is that she deplored not being able to mix more with the university crowd and life. She says that most students will go to their university bars and not regular ones, keep to their university grounds most of the time and so on and so forth. In other words, she didn't like the segregation between the student body, and the rest of the inhabitants of Oxford. She felt left out of an aspect of her city that she would have loved to explore more.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
- Study Abroad
- Work Abroad
Bicycling Around Town
Something that is quite remarkable, is of how many people travel everywhere by bicycle! Quite normal, you might say, since this is a university town. Yes, but the North American in me would tell you that even though many do the same at home, it is far from being in such great amounts. So definitely something to look up to! Something else that is quite remarkable is that they do not seem to be needing cadnesses...Something I would never dream of in my home city!Related to:
- Study Abroad
Great Britain may be famous for their love of queues, however the pub is the one place where all respect for queues are forgotten.
You somehow get yourself to the bar. You hold a tenner strategically in your hand, such that your bar maid can see it. You place your order. (Note: it seems that women always insist on paying for their own drinks or expect a guy to pay for their drink and men always pay in rounds...hmmm). You get your drink. You pay the price that you're told. There's no such thing as tipping in a pub, unless your bartender was particularly helpful or friendly, at which point you would more customarily offer to buy them a drink, which they could drink now or later, at that's usually just a half pint or so, unless you're particularly generous..
My mistake: I used to tip about 1-2 pounds for each drink, always going back for more (I never drink just one! haha). Until I met the man of my dream (again, haha) who told me otherwise.
So you can all learn from my mistake and don't bother looking around for a queue in a pub and don't bother tipping unless you really feel compelled.
'Hell's Passage aka St. Helen's Passage' 2
Another fun, likely improbable, story regarding Hell's Passage goes like this:
A long, long time ago, when students of the university had a curfew to obey (which, of course, they didn't), students and proctors would set up a certain agreement. Many of the students, as opposed to studying, would frequent the Turf Tavern. There are two entrances/exists to the Turf which are particularly appropriate for a quick getaway. The agreement was that the proctor would always enter from the front (i.e. the one with the Bath Court hotel in it now) so that the students would station a look-out at that entrance (the back end of the Turf Tavern) and when the proctors would turn up, they would yell to the rest of the students in the pub and they would all 'run like hell' out the other entrance towards the Bridge of Sighs - hence, Hell's Passage.
Cute story, but likely rubbish.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Hell's Passage aka St. Helen's Passage
The alley between Hertford's famous Bridge of Sighs (see picture) and The Turf Tavern is now called 'St. Helen's Passage', which is a sanitisation of the more traditional 'Hell's Passage' from earlier centuries. This is very similar to the sanitisation of what was formerly known as 'Gropecunte Lane' (referring to the prostitute who used to frequent the area, same as the Gropecunte Lane in London) to Magpie Lane.
Scholar's Guide to Oxford Pubs
Want an 'objective' view on pub ratings and critiques? Take a look at The Scholar's Guide to Oxford Pubs at http://www.oxford-info.com/Pubs.htm. An honest look at each of Oxford's historical, traditional and very much Oxonian pubs littered around the city. Personally, I agree wholeheartedly with the ratings, which are symbolized by little pints of beers! Definitely take a look at this site as it could be very helpful in designing your itinerary of pub crawls! :-)
If you're a student looking to come to Oxford, or a current Oxonian needing information, thestudentroom (popularly referred to as TSR), is a great Oxford website. They address all student needs, from places to club and party, pub ratings, restaurant critiques, college stereotypes, study stereotypes, admissions for graduates and undergraduates, for overseas students and local students, and more!
NOTE: TSR is not just focused on Oxford, but on Oxbridge and all other UK colleges. It's very much a UK based site for undergraduate students but it acts as a resource for almost everything, including technology, politics, religion, sex/health and relationships and more!Related to:
- Work Abroad
- Study Abroad
Daily Info Website
Daily Info is the go-to site for anything Oxford. Very similar to Craigslist in New York, Daily Info offers everything from accomodation (wanted and offered), sales of bikes, cars, clothes, etc, offering of services, jobs (wanted and offered), personal ads and local events! It's sort of a Time Out site for Oxford. Everything you'd want to know before visiting Oxford (or even while you're here!), you can find at dailyinfo.co.uk!
The guard's desk or porter's building of any college in Oxford is called the Lodge. This is where you ask about admissions fees, opening hours, visiting hours, tourist information, etc. It is located at the entrance of each college, right before you enter and you usually have to check in at the Lodge when visiting a college (unless otherwise stated).
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