London, day 2

Tuesday 4/7:

I’d purchased a breakfast voucher for Costa’s next-door to my hotel.  For five pounds I got a cream-filled croissant, orange juice and a latte.  What a come-down from Sweden!  I must find a real restaurant.

undergroundI tubed and trained out to Oxford (map).  The most difficult part of the train system is the hidden platforms.  It seems that they design a station for an expected number of platforms, and later realize they need to squeeze in one or two more.  So they stick them someplace obscure with bad signage; and it’s always these oddball platforms that I need to use.  In Paddington, finding platforms 1-12 was simple; but I needed platform 13.  As departure time neared, I asked an officer at a turnstile.  Solution; go to Platform 12.  When I was nearly there, a side-hall led to Platform 13.

The train to Oxford was packed, with people standing in the aisles for the one-hour run.  This time I wasn’t able to make any friends.  The woman sitting next to me ate at a steady, rapid pace, as if she were doing a job.  The two across from me slept, heads lolling.

My online friend Ben was waiting for me in the Oxford station.  We caught another train to Lewiston Spa, a pretty Georgian town with a nice park.  We bought picnics in a small grocery, and toured the town on foot.  Graceful, long-windowed, tall-chimneyed white Georgian houses line the streets. On one dead-end street, three student drivers in driver-training cars were awkwardly making U-turns.  A “Royal Pump House and Baths” building houses the springs that made the town’s fortune in the 1700s.  I saw lots of double-decker buses trundling tourists around.  “Do they still come for the spa?” I asked.

“No, they come because it’s England,” Ben told me.

cupolaWe returned to Oxford and rode an open-top tour bus.  We saw the college that Bill and Hilary Clinton attended (there are lots of colleges in Oxford, all associated with the university).  Many other luminaries attended school, lived or worked here, including C. S. Lewis and, surprisingly, Mark Twain.

We strolled thru the castle and prison (now a hotel).  In the ’70s they suffered some ill-considered modern additions built of steel and smoked glass.

rail bridgeOn one of the pretty canals, Ben showed me the ruin of a 19th century railroad swing bridge.  A set of tracks on a turntable was once hand-cranked to rotate over the canal and match track-ends on the far bank.  When it was replaced, the railroad built the new bridge next to it and left the old one to rot.  The bridge is scheduled for restoration, but they’ll have to hurry.  The elements have about done it in.

We had tea and cakes in a cafe with a view of a comfortable old courtyard across the street filled with cherry trees.  Later, we had dinner in a pub.  When I asked a server for water, she said “Still water or sparkling?”  I told her I didn’t understand; so she said it louder.  We worked out that still water had no bubbles; it had nothing to do with a whiskey still.

courtyardOn my trip home, the rail system I’d so grown to admire fell short of perfection.   My train was delayed 20 minutes due to signaling problems; then it ended its run at Reading instead of Paddington.  But another train to Paddington collected me at Reading 10 minutes later.

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