Happy Monday. How was your weekend? I was just scrolling through the photos (again!) from my friends' visit last week and thinking about putting together a photobook of their trip to make the memories really last.
Before they arrived in London, I'd planned a surprise trip to Oxford, with a stay in Woodstock and visit to Blenheim Palace - just so we could get out of London and also so that they could have a sneak peek at what the English countryside is like.
I also wanted to show them around Oxford because it's a special place for me: I studied abroad there as an undergraduate at St. Catherine's College, which is where John and I met (and then subsequently held one of our two transatlantic wedding receptions!).
We stayed in sweet little town called Woodstock, which is about a 20-minute drive outside of Oxford, and where I prefer to stay when I'm visiting Oxford with friends or family. I chose it for its proximity to Blenheim Palace (one of my favorite places in the world!), and also for its quaint, village-feel.
I'd love to share some photos with you, if you'd like to see!
When we arrived in Woodstock, I was starving, so we dropped off our bags and sat down for some cream tea (and a tiffin bar for Deborah!) before taking the bus to Oxford city centre to explore some colleges and familiar sights, like the Radcliffe Camera, Sheldonian Theatre, and Bodleian Library.
It was hard to believe that John and I met here over 10 years ago!
If you're familiar with Oxford and haven't visited the Bodleian recently, the new Weston Library has just opened (it was covered in scaffolding during my and John's time there as students) and I am so glad that we stumbled in - the most amazing exhibition is on at the moment called, Marks of Genius, featuring original manuscripts and first folios by Jane Austen, Kafka, Donne, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson and so, so much more. It's an English (and History) major's dream come true!
After spending far too much time gawking over the original letters that inspired The Wind in the Willows, we wandered to New College and admired their beautiful gardens and peaceful cloisters.
Even though it was the weekend, very few students were around, so we walked around in silence, listening to the breeze run through the trees. It was blissful.
The sky had been a little grey and threatening to rain, but by the time we'd left New College, it brightened up a bit, so we decided to ... go punting. Have you been before? I used to go with John and his friends in the summer, especially after exam time. We'd usually grab some Pimm's and snacks and grab boats from Magdalen College, spending all afternoon floating along the Cherwell.
I'd never fallen in, but did deliberately jump into the river once ... and had to be hoisted back into the boat by one of our friends!
John proved to be an expert punter that weekend, though we all had a try: Kara did pretty well, I kept steering us into the wall, and Deborah almost fell off - grabbing a tree branch (I kid you not!) to save herself. It was hilarious and stressful all at the same time. So glad that John was there to help! Otherwise, I'm not sure what kind of trouble we would have gotten ourselves into ... I think I was much better at doing this 10 years ago than I was last weekend.
After a yummy pub dinner, John had to go back to London for work the next day (boo!) but I stayed on with Deborah and Kara. We ate chocolate and cookies in bed until late and watched a movie before I finally decided to clamber into bed in my own room next door ... which is when the laughter started. I'm not sure who started what, but all I could hear was hysterical cackling coming through the walls next door in some kind of tag-team sychronization. Then I'd get a text telling me what happened and I'd start howling with laughter ... I'm really surprised that we didn't get a knock on the door from hotel management. We were all too hyper to sleep that night.
The next day, we ordered some sandwiches and took them to Blenheim Palace, where we also scored a student discount (YAAASSS!) on our tickets (not because we looked like students, mind you, but just because the ticket guy was being extra nice).
If you haven't been, Blenheim Palace (and its grounds) is one of those places that's picture perfect no matter where you look. I like to bring visitors from out of town, because I'm certain that there's really nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world. I've been about four or five times (the first was when John took me on my last day in Oxford all those years ago ... I remember it being such a happy but sad time all at once!) and it's just as magical every single time. I felt so grateful to be able to share the experience with my friends.
We walked until our feet were ready to fall off and managed to catch the local bus back to Oxford, where we took another bus back to London ... and snoozed on the way back.
It was the happiest time; the best time.
Have you ever planned a surprise trip for your friends or family? I'm the worst at keeping secrets! I almost gave the location away about 5 different times. Oops!