Tales From Abroad: Oxford and Vienna May31


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Tales From Abroad: Oxford and Vienna

You travel out of control and that’s OK

I am addicted to planning, and I have had some really memorable experiences that went just as planned. Incredible museums were visited across Europe, hikes were plotted out along Dover’s white cliffs for awe-inspiring views, and research led to delicious meals at restaurants. But things have gone unexpectedly, or sometimes flat-out wrong and turned out really well. When you commit to traveling hundreds of miles to visit a new place where you don’t really know anything about the city, despite reading a Lonely Planet summary about it, there is plenty that can happen.

In Vienna, I wanted to make it to a hill overlooking the city for what was supposed to be a great view. The morning that I planned on heading up there, it was raining in the city, so when the weather improved a bit, I seized my opportunity, hoping the precipitation would hold off. What I did not expect was for the elevation change and leaving the city where the temperature had been higher to result in that rain turning into snow. It also turned out that you had to hike through a very slick, muddy path to get to a point where you could take advantage of the view. A grand vista turned into hiking through snowy Austrian forest in the most powder this Texan had ever seen in his life.

On a day trip to the south-west coast of England, my traveling companions both fell ill overnight, so I was on my own. When I finally finished my journey by train and went to catch the bus to the coastline, the destination proved more popular than I thought and my planned method of transport considerably smaller. With all the seats on the bus getting filled quickly, I was out of luck. Always enjoying a nice stroll, I plotted out walking directions, with it being roughly six miles from the train station to Durdle Door, my destination. What I did not know was that those six miles were going to be half on a B-road with no shoulder other than narrow, tractor-rutted strips of grass. The other half was through the locals’ livestock pastures and farms via council-designated “Permissive Footpaths.” I did not pass a single pedestrian; my journey was accompanied only by the local sheep population. The landscape turned out to be absolutely gorgeous, rolling English countryside, and I wound up walking back as well just to enjoy it a second time.

Savor the moments where things turn out surprisingly better than you expected, and don’t panic when things go wrong. Realize that when they do, you just have to work it out. Walk further than you normally would, eat a lunch of Skittles and Snickers, enjoy yourself. It’s only study abroad.

On Oxford:

One thing I was not eagerly waiting to enjoy was Oxford’s relationship with nature. It simply never hit my radar. Gothic spires, sharp as spears, high-ceilinged halls, and warmly-lit libraries are what I was preparing for.

Searching for a direction for this essay, I asked Jacque Morrison what she enjoyed most about living in Oxford. Taking very little time, she responded with Oxford’s green spaces.

After walking around Oxford only for a week or so, it is no great challenge to identify with this answer and to see how much swaths of parks and bits of nature contribute to the distinct visual atmosphere of Oxford. With roughly 150,000 Britons calling Oxford home, it is considerably removed from feeling like a small village, an outpost of humanity surrounded by a rolling sea of nature.

Oxford is built up in such a way that it feels like it has slowly risen out of nature over hundreds of years. Even cramped flat-lined streets make space for small, scrappy gardens surrounded by wrought iron. A city, and its encompassing apparatus, must cover up the earth, but it seems like Oxford considers taking over soil a privilege, not the divine right of architects. Even the smallest patch of loamy, damp English soil is worth something.

With walking and public transportation belaying the necessity of car ownership, concrete fields of parking lots border on extinction. Where tree branches and chlorophyll-soaked leaves are hidden from view by businesses tightly lined together on city center streets, the feel is still cozy, not claustrophobic and sterile. Make you way to the next block and nature will likely be your companion once again.

Damp patches of moss and strong-willed weeds take hold in the craters of centuries-old stone walls, eschewing ground-level soil altogether.

It is all very different from my resident Houston, where the desired landscaping of choice is most often flowers of eye-watering color placed with a marksman’s precision, and having bi-weekly pruning appointments, surrounded by moats of mulch and rugs of the thickest St. Augustine grass.

Oxford takes a more patchwork approach. Modest shrubs; small lawns of matted, hearty grasses; and the occasional ground-hugging flower are the flora of the city.

Even the famed Radcliff Camera has a modest lawn surrounding it, an island of green in a cobblestone square.

A bustling city, Oxford is a gorgeous mix of centuries-old spires, permeated with nature throughout.