I first visited Oxford for an afternoon during the summer of 2014. Even though I was only there for a few hours, I instantly fell in love with the tan brickwork and winding streets of the city. In 2014, I was visiting with a tour group—hence the brevity of the trip—and toured most of the ‘main attractions’ of the colleges, but little else of the city. Four years later, I’ve made it back to explore the city as well as the colleges.
I made a point to see the famous Radcliffe Camera! Nope, this building doesn’t function as a camera in the sense that we know it. Instead, it’s one of the libraries for undergraduates.
Little did I know the day of my visit was an ‘open day’ at Oxford so there were a bunch of high schoolers running around the city looking for the college of their dreams. The open day meant that most of the colleges were closed so that the potential students could access everything. However, I woke up really early, like 5AM early, and before all of the students arrived and was able to snap a few quick photos and see the picturesque colleges.
Once colleges began opening for the open day, I turned away from the university and began exploring the city. My first stop was, of course, the botanical gardens. Oxford boasts one of the world’s oldest botanical gardens, which began collecting medicinal plants in the seventeenth century. The gardens had quite a large variety of plants for being in such a small space. They also have information on many of their plants and how past humans have used them. If you’re plant obsessed like me, this is totally the place for you!
After touring the gardens I simply walked around the city, visited a few local clothing boutiques, and the Covered Markets.
After spending nearly a week in Scotland, it was time for me to return to England. I hopped on a quick train ride down the eastern coast from Edinburgh to York. Founded by the ancient Romans, York is a delightful city on the Ouse River. As an added bonus it has an incredible thirteenth century Gothic cathedral with original stained glass! Beyond the cathedral and river, the city boasts a lively city center with lots of shops and restaurants.
I stayed in an AirBnB while in York. This is the first time that I’ve stayed in an AirBnB as a solo traveler, and my host, Clare, couldn’t have given me a better experience. When I checked in, Clare welcomed me into her home and took me to my private attic room. It was so cozy and had a great view from the attic window! Once I was settled in, she showed me a bunch of maps and resources that would help me explore the city—including vouchers for York Minster and the Jorvik Viking Centre. Clare was so kind and sweet! If you’re ever in York, or just want to travel somewhere cool with AirBnB, stay with Clare!
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The weather got seriously warmer as I returned to England, making a stroll along the river a delightful experience. There was some sort of rowing competition going on on the river, so I sat on the original Roman walls and watched for a bit. The locals didn’t seem that interested, but living in the Midwest we certainly don’t have that sort of event ever so I thought it was a good time.
Although boats are cool, there is truly nothing like the York Minster. There just isn’t. Now, I’ve been to a lot of the greatest European cathedrals (Notre Dame de Paris, Florence Cathedral, St. Paul’s, Westminster, etc.), but in my opinion none of them live up to the York Minster. The cathedral itself towers over the city, and its towers dominate the skyline. The stained glass really steals the show for me. It’s original from the Medieval period when it was installed, and is currently undergoing restoration for preservation. The details in the stained glass were immaculate. I’m not an artist so I’m always impressed when I see great detailing in works of art, but somehow this seemed different and more impressive. I already want to go back.
Next stop, Oxford. Then, London where I’ll be for nearly five weeks while studying abroad at Kingston University.
Arriving at the Waverley train station was truly a magical experience. And I mean that quite literally. As all Harry Potter fans know, the seven book series was largely written in various cafes around the city of Edinburgh. I remember first reading about Hogsmead when I was in elementary school, and the imagery I conjured up in my brain was eerily similar to the aesthetics of the Royal Mile. Don’t even get me started on how the castle could literally be Hogwarts itself. The gigantic stone castle is perched atop a steep hill overlooking the city, and its everything I imagined Hogwarts looking like. From atop the castle you can see much of the city as well as the coast. And from below, you can almost pick out wizards darting about on their enchanted broomsticks.
I stayed at Haystack Hostel in a triple room with two real nice British girls in town for a festival. I think that it’s a fairly new hostel as they were still installing mirrors and light fixtures into the rooms during my stay. I’d personally describe the decor of the hostel as shabby chic—lots of faux fur pillows and blankets and pine. I chose the hostel because it’s basically right across the street from Waverley station. However, it was on the third floor of the building, without an elevator. I wasnt surprised because most buildings in Europe don’t have elevators, but I was sort of sad. I’m getting quite tired of lugging my big suitcase up and down stairs.
Scottish Gallery of Modern Art (one + two): Edinburgh has not one but two Modern art galleries within the city. I was pumped to see them, until I realized that they were quite a trek outside of the city center. Everything in Edinburgh is situated on a hill, including the two galleries. It felt like I walked uphill all of the way there, and back. However, I did enjoy getting out of the bustling city and seeing some proper British homes. The Galleries themselves were sort of lackluster, in my humble opinion as an art historian in the making. The One had an exhibit about Jenny Saville (read about her below), but none of the works touched me the same way that Aleppo did. Two had a good collection of surrealist paintings—Dalí, Magritte, and the likes. Both Galleries had large outdoor installations, too.
Scottish National Gallery: I’m not saying that I wasn’t impressed by the National Gallery, it just wasn’t my favorite museum that I’ve been to. With that being said, I had a moment whilst in the Italian Renaissance gallery. Surrounded by paintings of the great Italian masters was a painting by Jenny Saville titled Aleppo. Sticking out like a sore thumb in a room of oil paintings and religious imagery, Aleppo is made of pastels and depicts a contemporary scene of the horrific events from the city of Aleppo. Saville drew inspiration from the tradition of ‘Pieta’ (aka the moment where Mary is cradling the body of Jesus), which is why this work was included in the Renaissance room. Except instead of biblical figures, Saville used images of dying children. The pain in the eyes of the children shook me to my bones.
Royal Mile: Okay, so the Royal Mile is quite touristy, yes, but it’s also a must see in Edinburgh. Basically, it’s the major street that cuts through Old Town. It begins at the Holyrood Palace and ends at the Castle. There were lots of shops selling Scottish wool, trinkets, and souvenirs as well as pubs and diners. It was mostly up hill, which was a strain on my already over exerted calves.
Today is the summer solstice, and two days ago I tried to buy a winter coat to protect me from the winter like weather here in Glasgow (Wondering what I mean by try? Well, I was in line and getting ready to buy said coat in a Marks & Spencer when a woman walked by the checkout line and snatched it out of my hands. I was too weirded out to attempt to buy another). It’s seriously so cold here, especially when the dang wind zips through the streets.
Minus the weather, I really dig Glasgow. There are so many museums, parks, and bakeries that I couldn’t ever visit them all. Plus, you’ll be walking down the street when suddenly bagpipes will just start playing. I even saw a bagpipe band, which consisted of like 10 bagpipes and a few bass drums! They were leading an impromptu parade. This parade was unlike any other I had seen. Following the bagpipes were taxis and busses screeching their horns non-stop for the entirety of the parade route. I asked around and none of the locals were able to articulate what the parade was in celebration of.
I saw a lot, did a lot, and walked around 20 or so miles in Glasgow. Here are the specifics:
Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery (+ Park): I’d like to start out by saying that there are an incredible amount of parks in Glasgow, like so so many. Situated in this park, is one of the most visited museums in Scotland––the Kelvingrove Museum. It’s divided into two separate sections, Life and Expression. The Life portion is centered around the natural history of Scotland, while the Expression portion focuses on art. The Museum mostly has Scottish, like the Glasgow Boys, and European, like Dalí, artists. Unsurprisingly one of the highlights of the collection was my favorite piece––Christ of Saint John of the Cross. Dalí’s work is situated in its owned room, that’s darkened and lit from above with special lights. It was totally breathtaking.
Glasgow Cathedral and Cemetery: When I texted my mom that I was touring a cemetery as part of my explorations in Glasgow she was a little confused. I feel like it’s sort of a European tourist-y thing to do––visiting old cemeteries that is. This one in particular had really great views as it was situated on a necropolis of sorts. I was able to see stellar views of the city as well as the cathedral below. The art history major living inside my bones was saddened to find out that no bishop resides in the Glasgow Cathedral (aka it isn’t a cathedral), and instead a Presbyterian church now lives in the space. Even though it isn’t technically a cathedral, it was still a gorgeous building.
People’s Palace: When I heard that there was an indoor winter garden, I knew that meant one thing…succulents. And I wasn’t disappointed by their collection of plants in the indoor garden. They had cinnamon, lemons, tropical trees, and so many other types of gorgeous plants. Also included in the Palace is a museum about the people of Glasgow, and a cafe.
Glasgow Modern Art Museum: I had a hard time locating the gallery even though it was located in central downtown. The GoMA is housed in an old neoclassical building, which is probably what threw me off. The sprawling galleries were filled with art from many prominent individuals in the world of Modern art––can you say Andy Warhol (his mushroom soup can!!) and Andy Goldsworthy. I’m a sucker for all things Goldsworthy so I was delighted that they had a room featuring mostly his works.
Let’s talk about crossing streets in the UK. How do you do it? Which direction do you look? Cars seemingly jump from any direction and I just do not understand. Looking and seeing a passing car not having a driver in the correct front seat is terrifying. My brain doesn’t register that I’m in England and drivers sit on the left side of the car and instead jumps immediately to robot driving cars. I’m not sure why robot powered cars are so scary to me because it’s 2018 and those exist. Anyway, send me good thoughts so I don’t accidentally bump into a car while crossing the street––or rather a car doesn’t accidentally bump into me.
I feel like I didn’t do a ton of touristy things while I was in Manchester. I just did a lot of walking and ‘window tourism.’ I’m not sure if window tourism is a thing, but I basically I walked around the city and looked at things without going inside––sort of the same thing as window shopping but with architecture. Maybe this is just regular tourism, but I like the ever flashy window tourism term better.
I saw the Manchester Cathedral, the canals, the shopping districts, Town Hall, some of the train stations, as well as Chinatown. The canals were my favorite part of the city. Pedestrian foot bridges criss cross the waterways and larger train bridges sit further above the water. Lots of geese live on the canals, and several houseboats were scattered throughout the waterways as well. Trust me, it was as picturesque as it sounds. Independent galleries, restaurants, and bars are intermixed in the canals as well. I’d consider living in one of the houseboats if I knew how to swim.
One of the few places that I went to in Manchester was the Manchester Art Gallery. Most of the art that they had on display was from the eighteenth and nineteenth century, which are the periods of which my main interests lie. I think most, if not all, of the collection was by British artists. I feel like in art history courses we mostly brush over British artists––except Turner, Hockney, and Hirst––and I’m really loving getting introduced to new British artists! For example, I fell in love with Henry Moore’s Mount’s Bay. The Art Gallery placed two mustard yellow chairs in front of the painting, which is allows the viewers (aka, me) to sit and look at the choppy waves. The chairs make the museum seem much more home–y and sort of make it seem like you’re watching the ocean out the window of your beach house. Another cool artist that I saw was Kate Haywood, but they only had a few of her works on display so I gotta do some more research before I declare her a new fav artist.
It took four connecting trains to get to Liverpool from Bristol. Somehow I managed to not miss any of my connecting trains and arrived in Liverpool on a cloudy afternoon. My hostel was only a short walk up a big ol’ hill, and after I checked in I was led to my room. The room was at the bottom of a few set of steep stairs, and down a long winding hallway. If the walls weren’t painted, and the floors carpeted I would have thought that I was being led into a dungeon. I didn’t have WiFi or cell service, so maybe it was a long gone dungeon… who knows.
Beyond the things listed below, I sort of just explored the city. The architecture of the city is stunning. There’s tons of gorgeous bricks, and cute lil parks. Apparently there’s a band that’s from Liverpool, too. They’re called the Beatles, you’ve probably never heard of them.
What I Did:
Pho: After checking into the dungeon I realized that I was starving. Knowing that one of the coolest streets (Bold Street) in Liverpool was only a few minutes walk away, I decided to just walk there and find something that struck my fancy as the British would say. The coolest thing about Europe (maybe they do this in America and I just haven’t noticed?) is that they put their menus outside of the restaurant so you can decide before you walk inside. I chose Pho because I was seriously craving spring rolls, and theirs sounded hella great. I got the said spring rolls and a peanut sauce as well as the spicy green pho. The pho wasn’t spicy, but it was tasty so that’s what really matters.
Albert Docks: I think the Albert Docks are the traditionally touristy part of Liverpool. There were lots of shops, mostly ones selling Beatles memorabilia. Including a giant jelly bean sculpture––fascinating. Most importantly, in the water surrounding the docks tourists can look at jelly fish! I don’t know what they’re doing there, but I hope that they, too, enjoy listening to the Beatles tunes.
Tate Liverpool: One of many Tate galleries, Tate Liverpool is located at Albert Docks, It’s sort of a small museum on four floors that overlook the Mersey River. I was able to see some Rothko’s, Mondrian’s, an Arp sculpture, and even an entire exhibit dedicated to Roy Lichtenstein. The more pop art I see, the more I really dig it. However, the most exciting work that I saw was Glenn Ligon’s Untitled (2006). Basically, it’s a big neon sign that reads “AMERICA.” Except the sign itself is mostly painted over with black paint, and therefore, the viewer mostly only sees the black paint rather than the neon illumination. Commenting on Americans who are overly obsessed with themselves + neon signs = happy Danie
Walker Art Gallery: The best part about the Walker Art Gallery? How every room is literally filled to the brim with paintings. It reminds me of paintings I’ve seen of eighteenth century salons. It was wild to just be in a room and there were paintings covering every single space on the walls. I don’t think that I’ve ever been to a museum that was arranged in this manner.
Love Thy Neighbour: Let’s talk brunch. As a Millennial, I know for a fact that brunch is the most important (and best) meal of the day. In order to not skimp on brunch, I went to Love Thy Neighbour twice while I was in Liverpool and regretted neither of my choices. I got the avocado and tomato toast, fluffy pancakes, hot chocolate, and chai latte. The interior was decorated with plants, and unique lighting. It’s probably the most Instagram worthy places I’ve ever been.
Situations I Found Myself In:
I slept in a hotel room that didn’t have windows or air conditioning, and was at least 2 stories underground. A man knocked on my door in the middle of the night (this has oddly enough happened to me before).
I pretended to not be a native English speaker because I couldn’t understand a waitress when she asked me a question and I felt bad asking her to repeat herself multiple times.
Writing about all things travel, vegan, and sustainable living. You’ll find me drinking chai tea lattes, and admiring succulents from afar. Outside of The Color Gold, I’m a college student studying art history at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest.