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  • Writer's pictureJane Ritzenthaler

I'm Really Here!

Updated: Oct 3, 2022

My 10-hour flight from Phoenix to London Heathrow left Tuesday evening at 6:06, and with plenty of seats available on the Boeing 777, I was given an entire row of 5 seats! After dinner, I popped in the earplugs, donned the sleep mask, and stretched out. I also took two Melatonin tablets just to be sure I'd actually sleep. We were awakened for breakfast, although since it was only 3:00 Arizona time, it was a bit of a stretch to call it morning. Our flight arrived earlier than scheduled, about 11:30 local time. After clearing customs and retrieving my bag, I headed confidently to catch the train to Oxford. Only I discovered there were no trains that day - seems there is a rail strike! My thorough planning failed to note that little detail. But not to worry, there were buses instead. Right. After finally finding the one automatic ticket kiosk that was working, that would recognize anyone's payment card and that had paper to print a ticket, I had a ticket for the bus to Oxford. After waiting on the platform for 1/2 an hour after my bus was supposed to depart, a loud voice announced that all remaining buses departing that day would now leave from Terminal 5. To say that there was a mad rush... the train to go to Terminal 5, then following bad directions to the buses, I was quite thankful when I finally found the bus (coach) that said Oxford! It was almost 5:00 when we arrived, and fortunately it was only a ten minute walk to Osney Arms Guest House.

A self-entry B&B, I followed the instructions I had been sent by email, to go around to the back door off a patio, open the keybox, roll the dials to the given code, take the key and unlock the back door, replace the key and twirl the dials. Once entering the B&B, I would find my room and front door keys on the dining room table. So far so good. Only on the dining room table I found a sticky note with my name and "Room 7"...but no keys. I searched the room, finding a basket with three sets of keys, but none were for Room 7. My email included a phone number to call if needed, but of course I couldn't do that. My cell plan didn't have an international option. Undaunted, I decided to check on Room 7 located on the second floor. The handle turned, and I opened the door to discover a very startled young couple from Germany sitting on the bed and eating yogurt. Thankfully, they spoke English, and also thankfully, her cell phone worked in England. She called the owner and found out they were assigned to Room 10...not 7. But where were their keys? I told them about the basket in the dining room, and that I'd seen ones for Room 10.

Anyway, by the time all that was straightened out, I was ready for a nap. Forget checking out the nearest pub. I made myself some hot tea (all hotels and B&Bs here have electric kettles and fixings for either tea or coffee) and ate the granola bar I'd brought. I video-called my son Mike on WhatsApp, and shared my travel adventures with him.

Thursday morning, I went down for breakfast. Again, self-serve. Continental, with several choices of cereals, granola, yogurts, breads and jams. There was a fancy coffee machine that made everything from espresso to lattes. I met a lovely 60-something couple from Australia, who now spend most of their time doing international house-sitting. My ears perked up at that one. Turns out she's published a book about their experiences, and she was thrilled to discover I'm an author too. After perusing my website, she decided to start with "The Widow's Travel Club." We went our separate ways after breakfast, but planned to meet later and have an early dinner at The Holly Bush, a pub not too far away.

I should mention the weather. Cold! At least to an Arizonan. I was very thankful to have brought a sweatshirt and sweater, but I wished I hadn't left the quilted lining at home. That morning was cloudy, but the overnight rain had quit. I set off into Oxford, pages of Rick Steves' chapter on Oxford in my purse. I few blocks away, the street went over the Thames, and I took a lovely detour down part of the Thames Path National Trail, which follows the 184 mile course of the river from its source in the Costwolds to London and the sea beyond.

I continued on into town, wandering around and taking photos of the beautiful buildings, stopping for coffee at a huge covered three-story shopping mall, visiting Blackwell's Bookstore that puts Barnes&Noble to shame, and ending up at Oxford University. Unlike universities in the U.S., with their defined campuses, Oxford's 38 autonomous, self-funded colleges are scattered all over town. But I went to where it all began in the 15th century, and took a one hour tour of the Divinity School and the Bodleian Library. The Gothic hand-carved fan vaulted hall was the first classroom, with Duke Humfrey's Library above. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take photos of that space with its hand-painted ceilings, but I've added a photo from the internet. (And if you're a Harry Potter fan, you might recognize it.) The wood-paneled room, adjacent to the original classroom, was the Convocation House, and its layout became the blueprint for Parliament.

This morning, Friday, I took the train to Moreton-in-Marsh, and then a bus to Stow-in-the-Wold for my four days in the Cotswolds. More on that tomorrow!

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