On the coach to Oxford. The longest part of the journey, as in most places, is getting out of the city. There’s no way to magically part the traffic, so you may as well sit back and enjoy the scenery.
The seats on UK coaches are raised up to make space for luggage compartments. So you can see a lot from a coach that you won’t see at the pavement level. I hadn’t been on this particular route for a few years. We passed a row of luxury car show rooms … McLaren, Ferrari … the type of gaudy wheels Donald Trump would love.
We passed my favorite hideous but marvelous building, Trellick Tower.
I turned my head and there it was … the ill-fated Grenfell Tower.
Grenfell had gone up in flames in June, when I was in Ethiopia. I recalled being in the canteen at work and how everyone stopped eating and stared at the TV, in disbelief that this was London, not Addis Ababa. Seventy-one people died in the Grenfell Tower disaster.
We passed the Hoover Building, as in hoovers, which Americans call vacuum cleaners.
This art-deco bonbon is being converted into luxury flats. I’m sure they’ll be fab, but they’ll still overlook a motorway clogged with traffic that produces plenty of noise and exhaust fumes.
In England, there are Green Belt policies aimed at preventing urban sprawl. And they really do look like belts. (image by Hellerick). The big one is London.
While my fellow nature lovers and I love green belts, they have been criticized for pushing up house prices, since 70% of the cost of building new houses is the purchase of the land (up from 25% in the late 1950s).
There are no signs stating, “You are now entering a green belt,” but I have been on a coach many times where I was surrounded by relentless concrete high rises and industrial areas and suddenly it’s like we’ve been transported into a Nature Valley Granola Bars commercial.
We entered the Chiltern Hills. I have friends who have hiked these, camping along the way; I prefer to enjoy them from a coach for now.
In under an hour we were entering Oxford from the east, along the Headington Road. It felt so familiar and I felt nostalgia well up.
I have never been so in love with a place. I think it was because of what it represented in my life at the time. From the teenage welfare mom living in subsidized housing, when I arrived in Oxford I had a master’s degree, I had traveled all over central America and Israel and some of Europe, and my son was stable—for the time being. Moving to Oxford was my triumphal escape from St. Small, and I was never going back.
Of course I did come back, because my work visa couldn’t be renewed. And I have come to appreciate many things about St. Paul, like how affordable it is. It’s clean. We’re a hub for theater and other culture. I can drive five minutes and be at the Mississippi River or two hours and stand on the shores of Lake Superior. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are one of the most progressive metropolitan areas in the US, which I appreciate a lot right now.
But Oxford is a medieval city that is home to the most storied university on the planet. It’s called the City of Dreaming Spires, and I won’t gush on about it but here are a few photos from some sight-seeing days I spend with my niece when she came to visit me.
I believe we’re atop Carfax tower here.
This is a tourist and TV detective-series directors’ favorite.
There are the Harry Potter-esque colleges.
Everywhere you look there are gargoyles and grotesques.
Oxford is also surrounded by woods and rivers and meadows.
Moving to Oxford is how I met Lynn, and Sam, and Possum, and Heidi. It got me started in the international development biz.
How lucky am I to have lived there and returned again and again? Most people never get to visit once.