A Journey Through Time in Oxford

I spent a significant amount of time planning our trip to the UK, and although the hubs gave a lot of great input and did some helpful research, much of the ideas and implementation was up to me.  Having already traveled in England six years prior, I was the “expert” of the two of us.  I knew I didn’t just want to stay in London the whole time.  Using London as a home base, however, made for easy accessibility to a number of day-trip destinations.  With seven full days in England, four of which were in London, I utilized three of the days to explore 2 cities I had been to, and one other I had been longing to visit.

There are a plethora of day trips you can take from London, as my new travel buddy, Rick Steves, mentions in his guide book for London (aka my travel Bible).  Having been to a number of them already thanks to my incredible study abroad class, I picked two of my favorites: Oxford and Canterbury.  My third selection is a place my romantic British literature heart had always dreamed of experiencing: Bath.

Oxford is the quintessential origin of all Ivy-League schools, except that it is truly old.  The gothic style buildings, rather than replicas of past creations, were truly gothic.  The university itself is comprised of 38 colleges and 6 permanent

View from Christ Church Meadow.
View from Christ Church Meadow.

private halls, each of which are self-governing.  You don’t just go to Oxford – you go to a specific college in Oxford.  The university formed originally in 12th century, and the oldest colleges represented are University College, Balliol and Merton, all constructed in the 13th century.  Needless to say, it is delightfully old, in that “Wow, there is so much history around here my head may explode,” kind of way.

We took a mid-morning train to Oxford on September 2nd, and thankfully it was just over an hour to reach our destination.  Both Oxford and Cambridge are exceedingly accessible via train from London, and given that we could walk to Paddington Station from our hotel, it made the trip that much more simplistic.  We arrived in Oxford at about noon and walked our way into the city center in search for the local bookshop.  Rather than try to meander our way through the interwoven web of colleges, the hubs and I decided to take a tour.  We were thrilled (okay, maybe it was more I was thrilled) to find out that there was a literary tour of Oxford set to start in just about 20 minutes after our arrival at Blackwell’s Bookshop (as my professor put it, “The best bookshop in the world.”).

Our incredible and exceedingly knowledgeable guide, Peter, was a sophisticated older chap who loved regaling us with stories of his travels throughout America.  His literary knowledge, although daunting, was fascinating to listen to, and made my English major heart so happy.  Two other visitors joined us for the tour, one fiery woman from Scotland, and her British friend.  Our little group set off, first passing by Trinity College, where a number of period pieces (aka Jane Austen) have been filmed.  Instead we crossed the street and meandered through Wadham College.  The beautiful structure housed Sir Christopher Wren (St. Paul’s Cathedral, among many other incredible architectural gems), and boasts one of the most incredible English gardens I have seen, including another designated just for faculty.

Stained glass windows in the Wadham College chapel.
Stained glass windows in the Wadham College chapel.
Beautiful study gardens at Wadham College.  This is much better than the UMD Mall....
Beautiful study gardens at Wadham College. This is much better than the UMD Mall….

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The formidable Wadham College, honoring King James I.
The formidable Wadham College, honoring King James I of England (James VI of Scotland).
The infamous Turf Tavern, and an excellent spot for a pint.
The infamous Turf Tavern, and an excellent spot for a pint.

After touring Wadham, we moved on towards the original wall built around the city, as Peter put it, to “Keep out the rubbish and poor-folk.”  We passed the infamous Turf Tavern, where former President Clinton “did not inhale.”  We made our way onto the “right” side of the wall and worked our way through an alley to the Hertford Bridge (the Bridge of Sighs) which arcs over New College Lane, and into the “center” by the Bodleian Library (which boasts columns of each of the five orders in classical architecture), Radcliffe Camera (the gorgeous round reading room), and University Church.  This area is what stood out the most from our original trip, and it was surreal being back here.  The age of the buildings range from the 13th century to the 18th century, yet the styling works seamlessly together.

Making our way to the Turf Tavern.  Why is everything prettier here?
Making our way to the Turf Tavern. Why is everything prettier here?
Scoping out the site of our future beverage...
Scoping out the site of our future beverage…
Bridge of Sighs, so beautiful!
Bridge of Sighs, so beautiful!
Five pillars in one building! This is unheard of!
Five pillars in one building! The Bodleian Library is truly unique.
Loving the  Radcliffe Camera architecture and ambiance.  Soak up the smart!
Loving the Radcliffe Camera architecture and ambiance. Soak up the smart!
It's just such a stunning structure!
It’s just such a stunning structure!

We crossed over the High Street, which curves along Oxford with a number of other colleges, and wandered down Magpie lane to see the now-converted inn where Shakespeare would stay during his travels through Oxford.  Devastatingly enough the building is now a Pizza Express (think Pizza Hut), but the room he slept in has been mostly untouched (except for the tables and chairs running through the middle).  Finally we passed by the Bear, the oldest pub in Oxford, The Bear, established in 1242.  Finally, we passed Christ Church College, birthplace of “Alice in Wonderland,” and then entered the main square of Exeter College, the fourth oldest constituent college of Oxford.  Even with this incredible tour, we barely scratched the surface.

The original wall coverings and fireplace of Shakespeare's Oxford getaway.
The original wall coverings and fireplace of Shakespeare’s Oxford getaway.
The Bear Inn and Pub, established in 1242.  Inconceivable!
The Bear Inn and Pub, established in 1242. Inconceivable!

 

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Beautiful Exeter College.
Beautiful Exeter College.
The chapel of Exeter College.
The chapel of Exeter College.

After the tour, the hubs and I wandered back towards High Street to make our way to the beautifully peaceful Christ Church Meadow.  We made our way back to the Turf Tavern for cider and cask ale, grabbed dinner along the High Street, and ended the day with another beverage at The Bear.  You can’t go to Oxford without going to their oldest pub!  Supposedly there used to be bear fights in the basement, but I haven’t yet verified this information.

Just a little walk in the park!
Just a little walk in the park!
The back building of Christ Church College.  What a place to go to school.
The back building of Christ Church College. What a place to go to school.
Back to the Bear!
Back to the Bear!
A fond farewell to my beloved Oxford!
A fond farewell to my beloved Oxford!

After a fantastic end to a very productive day (we did take 22,103 steps that day…), we made our way past the Oxford Castle to the train station, and back “home” to London.

Have you ever been to Oxford – what’s your favorite pub there?  What is one day trip you’d recommend from London?  Anyone else just love getting lost in time in the history of the UK?

The Land of Sunshine and Gold: Weekend in Vail

Is summer really over?  It doesn’t feel like it here in Denver.  Supposedly yesterday was the first day of autumn, and although I hung my autumn wreaths on my front doors, and switched out my summer scented candles for those of cinnamon and spice, it still doesn’t quite feel like fall.  To get more in the spirit of the season, however, the hubby and I spent the weekend in Vail with our dear friends Peter and Ade, at Peter’s parents’ home.  Nestled in the valley, East Vail is truly picturesque mountain living.  Surrounded by towering mountain sides covered in now-golden aspens and evergreens, it is a perfect escape from the hustle of Denver.

We left around 4pm on Friday afternoon and battled a little traffic to get to the home of Betsy and Arlen, Peter’s folks, around 6pm.  We beat our friends, but had a great time catching up with their family (they are very much our home away from home), drinking wine, and smelling the delicious home cooking wafting from the kitchen.  Peter and Ade arrived about an hour later, and we all sat down for a great dinner, chatted about everything going on, and planned the next day’s activities.  Ade and I planned on doing a substantial hike, while the gents were going to play golf at Red Sky Ranch and Golf Club (one of the most stunning courses imaginable).  Betsy had done a hike a few days prior on the Bighorn trail, about 10 miles total from where we were staying, and this would be prime time for the changing aspens.  With that decided, we finished the night with delicious chocolate mousse, and hit the hay.

The next morning we got started around 8am with a hearty breakfast and we ready to go for the hike around 9:30am.  It was in every way the perfect day for this hike: the sun was shining, barely a cloud in the sky, high of 72 degrees… all around ideal.  The trek up to the “top” of the trail (you could make this hike longer by connecting to the Gore Creek trail for about a 6-8 hours round-trip hike), was steep in a few sections, but I could feel it more given I am hiking at an even higher elevation than normal.  The five miles up from the house felt like they took forever, and for Ade and I, both recovering from a cold, seemed fairly slow in spots, but that allowed us opportunities for amazing pictures and taking in the view.

Perfect day for a hike.
Perfect day for a hike.
The aspens were amazing. I'd never seen them like this!
The aspens were amazing. I’d never seen them like this!
This trail followed a stream throughout, and boy was that some clear water!
This trail followed a stream throughout, and boy was that some clear water!
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We were going up for quite a while…
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Hello beautiful golden aspens!
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Straight up snow melt: cold, clear and refreshing.

By the time we reached the cabin, which everyone on the trail was using as a landmark, we reached 10,788 feet in elevation and hiked a little over 4 miles from the trail head.  The infamous cabin was very old and on the verge of collapse, but as the Forest Service website said, it could be used for hikers as shelter during inclement weather.  Thankfully, no such weather occurred during our hike.  Ade and I walked around it and crossed the stream to sit at the base of the peaks to the right of the cabin.  We brought grapes and nuts to snack on while we chatted and basked in the gloriousness of this perfect day.

Some of the rock fields on this hike were intense.
Some of the rock fields on this hike were intense.
"The hills are alive" anyone?
“The hills are alive” anyone?

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So beautiful it looks fake.
So beautiful it looks fake.

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This is where we sat and had our snacks.  Doesn't suck.
This is where we sat and had our snacks. Doesn’t suck.
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She could totally be an outdoors sports model.
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I could swear I’ve seen this in a magazine…
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Aspens as far as the eye can see!
I was tempted to never leave.
I was tempted to never leave.

We ventured back down, taking significantly less time to get back, and started chatting with a local who lives at the base of the trail and has hiked all of the 14-ers in Colorado at least once, if not twice.  I was wowed, not having hiked a single one… yet!  My goal for next summer, needless to say.  After returning home, and following a most delightful shower, we made a quick salad lunch and went for an early evening yoga class at the East Vail Racquet Club.  We got home, and shortly afterwards our men arrived, and we ended the evening with steaks, grilled veggies, and oven roasted potatoes.

The next day was cloudy and rainy, so rather than a short morning hike, we decided to hit the road around noon and stop by the outlets in Silverthorne on our way back to Denver and Boulder.  I will never say no to outlet shopping, and we

What's a post without a picture of my pup?
What’s a post without a picture of my pup?

even got great items for the hubs (he was so excited about the deals we got, I may have converted him to the dark side…).  Before reaching home, we picked up our pup from my hubby’s parents and then got back, made a great dinner, watched the Bronco’s game (alas…) and called it a day!

Thankfully this week I am finally back into the routine of work and workouts.  This week kicked off the LacyFit Fall Fitness Challenge (of which I am SO excited, more on this later), and I finally feel like I have regained my sense of normalcy post-vacation.  Maybe every vacation should end with another vacation!  This weekend should be a fun one for spending it all at home, given we have dinner plans on Friday and Saturday!  Friday the hubs and I are getting dinner with his folks at a steakhouse I haven’t yet tried in Denver, Grace and Guard.  Saturday we will meet up with our foodie friends Scott and Danielle (our typical Foodie Friday couple, but on Saturday, oh my!) for dinner at Lower48 Kitchen.  We’ll definitely fit in some long runs, given that our first half marathon of the season is only 25 days away (eek!).  But for now, let’s just get past Wednesday!

What are your favorite signs of autumn?  Where do you go for an easy weekend getaway?  What are your weekend plans (it’s never to early to think about the weekend)?

Post Vacation… Vacation? UK Trip Part I

You know that feeling you get after an incredible, phenomenal, epic vacation?  It’s like a punch in the gut type of sensation when you return to reality (especially as an adult… with responsibilities).  Well I am trying my hardest to avoid that feeling by following up my adventures through the British Isles (and Scotland is still part of the UK!) with a mini mountain retreat.  This afternoon the hubby and I will be making the drive up to Vail to stay with our friends and their folks (thank you, Betsy!) for a relaxing little getaway weekend.  I adore Colorado in the “fall,” which is really like a two week whirlwind of beauty in this state, so I finally really get to take advantage of it!

I do feel that I should finally comment about the amazing holiday the hubs and I were able to take in England and Scotland.  About six years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to study abroad with ten other students in the United Kingdom.  We lived in London, but traveled to numerous other parts of the country over a month long excursion.  My husband has not really left the country, except to go to Canada and Turks and Caicos (for Mrs. BakeNBurn’s wedding!), so for years we have been planning this trip to the UK, knowing it’d be a great gateway to European travel.  Being the anglophile I am, I could not wait.

We left on Saturday, August 30th to begin our 14 hour journey to London.  We flew from Denver to Dulles, outside of Washington DC, and then took a red-eye to Heathrow.  We arrived in London around 10am local time (after both of our flights arrived EARLY – when does that happen??), after maybe 2 hours of sleep… but we gathered ourselves, made our way to our charming hotel north of Hyde Park, cleaned up and hit the London streets.  We walked first through Hyde Park southeast toward Buckingham Palace.  Of course we took some obligatory photos of the palace and the guards.  We then followed the Princess Diana Memorial path towards Westminster Abbey and the Westminster Palace (the Parliament building).  We crossed the Thames and meandered along the bank for some time through a festival taking place, then crossed back over into Charring Cross, worked our way to Trafalgar Square, and stopped for a quick bite at one of my favorite chains, Pret a Manger (yum!).  We had walked this whole way, got our bearings, and appreciated the absolute gorgeousness of the day.

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Gates to Buckingham Palace.
Necessary photo op in a red telephone booth!
Necessary photo op in a red telephone booth!
Big Ben and the Queen's Clock Tower.
Big Ben and the Queen’s Clock Tower.
Beautiful day wandering around the Parliament building.
Beautiful day wandering around the Parliament building.
The ever-beautiful Westminster Abbey!
The ever-beautiful Westminster Abbey!

We ended the day by taking the Tube back to Paddington, one of the two conveniently located Tube stops, and had a filling pub dinner at the Pride of Paddington.  Of course I ordered fish and chips and my first Bulmers of the trip.  Let me tell you, the ciders of America will never compare, even the imported Magners and Strongbow are bottled in the US, and the essence of true cider is lost.  I will step off my soap box, but just know, if you go to the UK and want a great cider, Bulmers is a true delight.

Really, try a Bulmers.  SO GOOD.
Really, try a Bulmers. SO GOOD.

The next day we arose, after a lengthy night’s sleep, to our only rainy day of the entire trip.  We decided it was the perfect morning to spend at the British Museum.  We took the Tube to Tottenham Court Road and wandered towards the

Who doesn't love a rainy day at the British Museum?
Who doesn’t love a rainy day at the British Museum?

beautiful wrought iron gates of the museum entrance.  We made our way through ancient Greece and Rome, ancient Egypt and Cleopatra, and ancient China, with a good long look at the Rosetta Stone and the Pantheon freezes.  Occupying much of the morning, we found a quaint little eatery, Salt and Pepper, to grab a sandwich and cup of tea.  I realized the Brits love sandwiches and toast.  I haven’t had that much bread in a long time.

 

Glass ceiling surrounding the round reading room.
Glass ceiling surrounding the round reading room.
Freeze from the Pantheon in Greece.
Freeze from the Pantheon in Greece.
The incredible Rosetta Stone.
The incredible Rosetta Stone.
Moai!!
Moai!!

That evening we had dinner at a restaurant recommended by the friends we are visiting this weekend: The Gay Hussar.  It’s a tiny, obscure, and nondescript Hungarian restaurant on Greek Street full of history, political drama, and some of the best caricatures I have ever seen!  After an incredibly delicious dinner, we strolled down the street to the Queen’s Theatre for a show of Les Miserables.  Overall, it was a fantastic start to our trip.

The hubby's first live performance of Les Mis!
The hubby’s first live performance of Les Mis!

On that note, I must ready myself for the weekend ahead.  I anticipate a lot of R&R mixed with hiking, running, and enjoyment of this beautiful state in which I live.  Cheers!

 

Esprit de She: Where the Ladies Lead the Lanes

You don’t have to tell me, I already know… I stink at blogging abroad.  What can I say?  I was caught up in the awesome that is England and Scotland.  And can we talk about what an interesting time to be in Scotland?  Today is decision day!  More on that later.

Rather than reminisce about the adventures the hubs and I experienced while gallivanting (a word not used nearly enough) throughout the British countryside, I wanted to blog about a long overdue race recap.  The Thursday before my hubby and I left for the UK, I was invited to participate in the Denver Esprit de She!

As per usual, the pre-race selfie.
As per usual, the pre-race selfie.

This race series is designed specifically for women, and I can say with certainty has been one of my favorite races to date.  The incredible support I received from women on the course and off was truly spectacular.  My friend Christie used to work for Athleta, one of the major sponsors of the event.  Along with sponsorship from Lifetime Fitness, this race took place just north of Denver in Westminster, Colorado, outside the Lifetime gym along I-25.  Thankfully the race took place with enough time after work that I was able to fight the traffic to get there with 30 minutes to spare.

Before the race began, there were vendors lining the outdoor pool area, which would be available post-race as well.  In front of the starting line was a stage, and fitness instructors were leading the awaiting runners in fantastic choreographed

Race photographer must peg me as a sportswear model!
Race photographer must peg me as a sportswear model!

dances.  Given my affinity towards Jazzercise, kickboxing classes, and Zumba, I obviously jumped right in!  Christie arrived with about 10 minutes prior to the start of the race (post-work races aren’t always easy to commute to!).  She and her friend Karen came together, and thankfully all three of us have similar paces.  We made our way up to the starting line.  Because the race hosted both a 5K and a 10K, the organizers made sure to let the 10K-ers go first, given the extra distance and later end times.  As you might expect, given this was a ladies only race, I had to accessorize.  I wore my Race Junkie “This Beauty Runs Like A Beast” shirt with my purple Under Armour leggings and purple Sparkle Skirt!  I like to make an impression, even when I run.

 

We all started the race together, but about 2.5 miles in decided to each go our own pace.  I was feeling particularly good during this race, despite the unexpected hills.  Unlike with the BolderBoulder, I didn’t want to psych myself out by looking at the elevation chart.  I should know by now that if it is in Colorado, there will be hills, and the elevation is high regardless.  I might have wanted to prepare for these hills though.  The course itself left much to be desired.  It was an out-and-back course, and for those doing the 10K, it was out-and-back times two.  Much of the course looped around the Lifetime Fitness facility and parking lot, and ran right along the highway.  In some ways this was good, because I couldn’t hear my Nike running app telling me my pace, which probably reduced my stress and anxiety over the need to run faster.

The 10K course was just double the 5K.
The 10K course was just double the 5K.

Although the course was lackluster, the race volunteers were fantastic.  They were full of spirit and great cheers, and of course, I elicited lots of sparkle skirt enthusiasm.  These were the folks, again, primarily women, that kept me going.  The

Myself, Christie and Karen before the race began!
Myself, Christie and Karen before the race began!

best part of the course was that the finish line was at the bottom of a hill, so you could truly speed your way through the finish line.  At about mile 4 I began running behind a woman that had my ideal pace, and I followed her through to the end of the race.  I crossed the finish line, feeling this had been my best 10K yet, and indeed it was!  A new PR for the books: 1:01:53, a 9:58 average pace.  In all honesty, my best time ever.  With the amazing race support, the women on the course and off cheering me on, and not worrying about my splits, I had a fantastic time.

We made the most of those props.
We made the most of those props.

The fun, thankfully, wasn’t over yet.  Great volunteers were there to greet me, as our names were announced over the loudspeaker, with chocolate milk (always a favorite in my book), Aspire natural sports drinks, and bottles of cold water.  As the ladies and I made our way back to the pool area, tasty bites were prepared, including peanut chicken and rice, roasted tomato hummus and quinoa, and other yummy nibbles.   White wine was provided by Joel Gott wines, with a cute little plastic souvenir wine glass, mini manis were available (although the line was long enough to deter me), and samples of Lifetime’s spa items were available.  Of course Athleta had items available for purchase, and freebies were offered by Luna, Aspire and Yoplait.  The best part, however, was truly the Aspire photo booth, with an appropriate assortment of props, and the ability to send to your e-mail or post to Facebook or Twitter.  Awesome!  Christie and I enthusiastically partook.  I had an amazing night surrounded by awesome women, and happily got a PR out of it.  And thanks to Christie’s connections with Athleta, this race was free!

At this point I knew I was happy with my time!
At this point I knew I was happy with my time!

Registration for the 2015 Denver Esprit de She opens in November… I have a feeling I will happily pay for it this time around.

Have you participated in an Esprit de She or other lady-only races?  How did you like the experience?  Any recommendations for smaller national races to try?  Who cannot wait for the weekend (can you tell that I am stoked?)?