After giving a 2pm talk yesterday, I was off and running for the airport and quick flight to London. To say that I am a laid back traveler is probably an understatement, and to say I vaguely plan things ahead and then forget to print out useful emails is perhaps more accurate (but then, I always have my laptop, so why kill trees?). I tend to travel light, plan minimally, and always be prepared for stupidity. My â€šÃ„Ãºone bag, one laptop bag, live anything I probably donâ€šÃ„Ã´t need at homeâ€šÃ„Ã¹ approach worked for me on the way to London, as I opted to take my luggage as a carryon (along with everyone else â€šÃ„Ã¬ no one wanted to check luggage through Heathrow 5!). Arriving in Oxford, where no one was even sitty in the â€šÃ„Ãºnothing to declareâ€šÃ„Ã¹ room, I just sort of get off the plane and wandered for the bus via an in airport coffee shop.
Airports here arenâ€šÃ„Ã´t quite like those in the US. When you get off the plane you are not where you get on the plane. People who are arriving do not mix with people who depart. This makes a fair bit of sense, and made for a much smoother departure (no tripping over folks camped out waiting for their flight). Customs was remarkably simple â€šÃ„Ã¬ they took my passport, looked at me, looked at it, put a stamp in it, and waved me through. Done. (and I love that they have baggage “reclaim” instead of baggage “claim”.)
A friendly chap at the bus desk did send me to the wrong bus station, and I had a rather confusing conversation with a bus driver as a result. I was standing at stop 10 when a bus labeled â€šÃ„ÃºOxford Cityâ€šÃ„Ã¹ pulled into stop 9. Now, in Massachusetts, Harvard University is in Cambridge and very little is in the town of Harvard. Still, a bit worried I was off by one, I went over and asked the driver if his bus went to Oxford University. He looked at me and said it went to Oxford City, which is Oxford. I asked if Oxford University is in Oxford City. He looked at me like a crazy person and asked if Oxford University should be somewhere different. I explained about Harvard, and he laughed and said heâ€šÃ„Ã´d remember that should he ever need to find Harvard. He then asked what stop I needed, to which I could only respond that I was getting off at some roundabout in Oxford, but the name was on my laptop and not in my head. He asked if I knew where I was staying, and I gave him the same basic answer. Again, he looked at me like a crazy person, and then he and another American who happened to be sitting in the front row of the bus promised to take care of me, just get in. They debugged where I was getting off without me needing to crack open my computer, and for the next hourish, we rove through beautiful country-side to Oxford. I arrived at night and (after dropping my belongings off in my dorm room â€šÃ„Ã¬ a tutorâ€šÃ„Ã´s room in St Hilgdaâ€šÃ„Ã´s College), walked through amazing maze like streets with Chris Lintott before hitting a pub. It was wonderful to spend an evening chatting with someone roughly my age, doing the same insane balancing job of public outreach and science, and compare notes in the richly historic environment. I think I can say, good fun was had by all.
You were right to be cautious about the location of the university: some of ours *are* like Harvard in that respect. For example, if you ever have the misfortune to visit Warwick University, you’ll find it isn’t in the pretty town of Warwick, but somewhere near Coventry. And the University of East Anglia contrives simultaneously to be in East Anglia and yet not in any location on planet Earth.
Welcome to England!