This post will obviously expand as time goes on (as do most American tourists), but basically is about the various types of tourists you see around the city (hence, the title). I realise that I fall into most of these categories (including the ever-expanding American one). One thing Oxford should learn, though, is that if we don’t fight the tourists over there we will have to fight them over here:
The Judes–The most abundant of the tourists, they are also some of the most solitary (except that so many drag their parents along…although sometimes it is the parents that are most Judicious). I call them Judes after Jude the Obscure, which if you haven’t read before arrival for a long stay you should buy a copy your first week here and pretend to read it. They are wide-eyed and open jawed as they wander around the millennium-old and meter-thick walls separating them from the Colleges and they imagine themselves in some serial drama on PBS about their witty conversations and elegant lives inside these cloisters.
It can melt your heart to see the looks of wonder and inspiration on the faces of some of the Jude-sih kids here on their first trips abroad, but you become hardened against it as they treat the day-to-day lives of the people who actually work here as though you are all props in their little academia-themed amusement park. It would be so tempting to banish them to a life of poverty and toil in the Dorset wilderness, but they will probably return safely to their suburban lives and be the better for it (and, unfortunately, encourage their friends and acquaintances to come over on their next holiday). As a much older and reformed practitioner of Jude-ism, though, it can still give me a cheap thrill on the early morning walk to work through the mostly deserted streets…when the light is just right (and it so often is).
Snap-Happy tourists–Oxford is a giant tableau and no photograph you take here is going to convey any of the experience of being here. The Snap-Happies needn’t worry about that because their bodies occupy space while in Oxford, but their minds fret that some part of it is going by undocumented.
If you have only a couple of hours here, put the camera away until you have at least done this walk (then feel free to pull it back out as you try to find an alternative path back to images that will go some distance toward capturing this trail–and get lost doing so, there’s lots to see):
From the train station walk up Hythe Bridge and George Street going from some of the most modern architecture toward, but not yet to, some of the most ancient. There are some interesting pubs on George, but Gloucester Green, hidden behind some buildings and the bus station to your left holds a market square to load up on some snacks (Wednesday) or antique souvenirs (Thursday); exit by the cinema and cross George onto New Inn Hall then take the first left on St Michael passing the Oxford Union and a homeless shelter (scratch the ears on one of the hippies’ dogs). Either cross Cornmarket (hellish shopping) and do Ship Street past Jesus College or turn right on Cornmarket then left on Market to get to the Covered Market where you can get a real meal, or some kippers, or anything foodie you might desire if you look around long enough. Back out at the end of Market Street, follow Brasenose Lane straight ahead to the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian (wander the courtyard of the Bod but head back past the Radcliffe to High Street and turn left). A hundred meters or so on the left you’ll find Queen’s Lane (still no phots…you are taking in some of the air); this zigzags through some pretty bits and the Bridge of Sighs eventually looms (and you’d miss it if you were snapping everything else that catches your eye). Take the little alleyway on the right past the Turf Tavern (there are less-touristy places to stop, but they have a spectacular selection of beer), and you will pass the medieval walls of the city and come out a little east of the King’s Arms. Head west toward it and the Sheldonian and more of the Bodleian will appear along with the White Horse (which would be my recommendation for a stop to decide what was the best to double back and shoot–mind there are fantastic walks like this all over, for instance just ask the bartender how to get to the Chequers and the Bear and get lost over there for a while, too.
It-Was-On-The-List tourists–these are sort of similar to but not necessarily the same as the Snap-Happies. Either part of a tour group or looking for a guided tour or following the edicts of Frommer/Fodor/RickSteves religiously (which is to say, without critical thinking) their sense of duty supersedes their enjoyment of the holiday; ironically, by tomorrow at least one of them will have printed out that walking tour I just described and will follow it step-by-step, missing the point completely. These are the most depressing sorts to encounter.
Literary (and Film and Television) tourists–I like these guys the most although, like myself, they can be fairly polemical about their touristy aims. These are the ones that, for the C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein fans, stop in the Bird and Baby before heading toward the cemeteries just south of Kidlington or over in the Headington Quarries to see the stones covering the remains of their Precious. I’ve already mentioned the Inspector Morse fans, and other film and telly crews show up around town continuously. In fact, there’s a pub (The Plough) that Jerome K. Jerome featured in Three Men In A Boat out in Clifton Hampden near Culham that is just a mid-length run from the office I really should try to get to soon….