Throwback Thursday: A Day In Oxford

It’s been almost two weeks since two of my fellow travelers and I hopped on a bus to Oxford for a quick day trip. Part of my delay in blogging about the adventure is due to the fact that I packed the wrong camera lens with me during my hectic attempt to stuff everything I needed for three months in Europe all into one bag way back in May. I have my little f/1.8 50mm lens which is what I use for food photography and is awesome… but not ideal for travel due to zero versatility as it’s a prime lens. Ok, enough techy camera details. Moral of the story is I was bouncing between my iPhone and camera, all while trying to not spill tea on myself or my various equipment (there were multiple close calls). But I’ve finally uploaded all the photos and sorted through everything. This is the result:

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We had an incredible trip despite multiple main attractions being closed and getting caught in a downpour. Oxford is a charming, tiny town with endless history, gorgeous architecture, and home to one of the most prestigious universities in the world. And there was a gluten free crepe cart! (Is it terrible that was just as memorable as the university tour?)

Some Oxford fun facts:
– Oxford University is the oldest university of the English speaking world
– The city is the birthplace of the Oxford English Dictionary and is where the recent debate to add “twerk” as an official word was located (unfortunately, it’s now a permanent part of the English language)
– The university was established by monks, for monks and subjects besides theology were introduced relatively recently
Oxford 5– From 1878 through the 1920’s women were allowed to study at Oxford, but they were only allowed to be part-time students which meant they didn’t take exams (awesome) but also never received a degree (not cool)
– The Oxford dining hall was the inspiration for Harry Potter
Blackwell is the largest book store in the UK and has over 5 miles worth of shelving and a basement that runs under multiple buildings in the city

If you find yourself in London for an extended period of time, be sure to schedule in a day trip to Oxford! But, an insider tip: book the Bodleian Library in advance – space is VERY limited and is almost impossible to score a spot same-day! We unfortunately missed it! Maybe I’ll go back one day…

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Vienna

It’s been a long time since I’ve chronicled my European travel tales, but it’s time to jump back in. We left off in Italy, the country that requires you to eat gelato three times per day. But after making stops in multiple Italian cities and eating my limit of gelato (yeah right… like there’s a limit when it comes to gelato), it was time to move on to Vienna, Austria.

Vienna-2143We arrived to the hotel after the sun had set with just enough time to change into a nice outfit and rush to the opera and ballet. One of the items on my 101 in 1001 list is to see a ballet or opera. I don’t think I could have asked for a better location to cross this off my list. There was an amazing set of musicians, opera singers, and ballet dancers – sometimes all performing together. We weren’t allowed to take pictures during the performance, but I was so stunned by the room it was held in that I snapped a quick picture of the ceiling and chandelier.

Vienna-2141A classy evening of Mozart was followed by a gourmet meal in the town hall. But then we tried to go to club and ended up at some special event where everyone was dressed in outlandish costumes. We were obviously out of the loop and arrived in normal attire, but had a great time taking pictures with the many characters, dancing with people on stilts, and sipping on over-priced cocktails.

Vienna-2157I would call the first evening in Vienna a success, but the following day was even better. During our walking tour of the city we walked by the Spanish Riding School. A fellow horse-lover in the group and I took a tour of the stables, arena, practice area, and even met a couple of the horses. These beautiful Lipizzaner stallions were smaller than I expected, but had a magical quality about them that just can’t be explained. I was in absolute heaven, especially since I hadn’t been in contact with horses in 4 months – the longest amount of time I’d ever been separated from them since I was 5 years old.

After the tour, Karina and I snuck into a little café to enjoy some goulash, a delicious and piping hot stew that couldn’t have been more satisfying in the freezing cold. After dessert we walked around the city, snapping away at the stunning buildings as snow began to lightly fall. I took a picture with an elephant statue (I have an odd obsession with elephants) and then hopped on the bus with the rest of the group to head to the Schnapps factory. The founder’s grandson gave us a personal tour which of course ended with free Schnapps samples for all. I think it’s safe to say we all boarded the bus after that very happy and ready for the next leg of our adventure.

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Next Stop: Mauthausen Concentration Camp

Toledo: The Town That Took My Breath Away

Have you had a moment in your life when you feel like your breath and any ability to speak has been sucked out of your chest? You refuse to blink because if you close your eyes for even the slightest moment, the beauty before you might have just been a dream. That’s how I felt when I walked into Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, the 3rd oldest cathedral in the world and located in the historic town of Toledo.

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There was a guided tour I was supposed to be listening to, but the world tuned out as I walked around like someone who had just been let out of a windowless room for the first time in their life. I wandered so slowly that I might as well have been standing still. But mesmerized by the architecture and intricate detail of every square inch of the place, my motor skills seemed to have vanished. The only thing left functional were my eyes which tried to absorb every detail but failed miserably. It didn’t matter how long I stared at my surroundings, new details kept on coming to light and another wave of awe washed over me.

It eventually occurred to me that I should be using the camera I barely still had gripped in my right hand. I knew it’d be impossible to capture the true magnificence of what lay before me, but I also knew that I needed to have a little souvenir to take home or else this experience would slowly slide into the back of my subconscious, never to be fished out again. And with that sudden realization, I started snapping away.

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The Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo wasn’t the only sight to see in Toledo, but after such a striking first impression, the rest of the town seemed almost ordinary. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that the rest of the architecture, streets, and places of worship captivated so little of my interest. I am living in Madrid, Spain. This is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I was in such sever aftershock that I wasn’t able to appreciate that simply walking down the street here provides breathtaking views. Luckily I had the sense to put my camera to good use. These photos allow me to relive each step and appreciate every brick in the beautiful town of Toledo (including the original stones from a Roman road!).

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The Biltmore Estate

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The Biltmore Estate is a Chateauesque-styled mansion near Asheville, North Carolina, built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895. It is the largest privately owned home in the United States at 175,000 square feet and featuring 250 rooms. Still owned by one of Vanderbilt’s descendants, the house and gardens stand today as a historic landmark for all to enjoy.

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Charleston, SC Part 2: Downtown

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Plantation-8725Plantation-8724The trip continued with a tour of the town. Downtown Charleston is gorgeous and full of old, beautiful architecture. Brick alley ways lead you to upstairs stores and restaurants. Charming shutters frame every window. Large, crumbling blocks of cement that are over 100 years old adorn the sidewalks because they are illegal to remove. Horse carriages clip-clop through the streets full of tourists eager to soak in the history. Aromas from every type of food float into the streets. And as my mom and I shopped, wandered, and took pictures, I stumbled upon my future house.

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Dear Future Husband,

I know this a lot to ask, but this is our house. I’ve never house shopped before, but I’ve watched a lot of reality TV and when people walk into the house that is perfect for them, the just know. I didn’t even walk into this house, but I had that feeling. Hubby, it is absolutely perfect. It is a light lavender. I know, a bit feminine. But look at the garden! Of course we will have to hire a gardener because the only thing I can keep alive is a cactus, but that’s a minor detail. And the icing on the cake is that is right on the water. I can’t wait to move in and raise our family there. Well, as soon I meet you that is.

Love,
Your Future Wife