Have you ever wondered how the seat you pick in a train journey may say something about your mood? For instance, when I sit by the window facing the front-end of the train, I am curious and eager. I am ready to take in the freshness of the world. I see the view outside emerge out of a single point and quickly grow up to life size. And I want this view to hit me in my face at 100 kmph. I am open and I am ready to embrace.

And when I sit by the window with my face towards the rear-end of train, the view outside is diminishing, quickly vanishing into a thin line. I leave behind everything that I see. It's as if I am escaping from something. Running away from it at 100 kmph. While one is exhilarating and thrilling, the other is more calm and serene. But both are equally stimulating experiences.

And if I choose to sit anywhere, then I really don't care.

Anyways, on my visit to Oxford, I sat by the window, facing the rear-end of the train, and enjoying the view. Traveling through the English country side can be very refreshing. The yellowish brown mound of hill beyond the rail track rose about 10 ft high. Just where it ended, it contrasted with the blue sky behind it. The bright sky was patched with a few white clouds which expressed no intention of coming down any where near earth. On the crest of the hill ran a wooden fence. The fence ran as fast as the train did. Almost. And while the fence was huffing and puffing in an attempt to keep up with the pace of train, the clouds lazily lurked staying where they were. Soon the train outran the fence, and the mound of hill flattened into a lush green carpet of grass dotted with cream colored sheep. The view of my train window was surreal.

I wanted to bike around in Oxford. I went to the Information Center and asked if I could rent a bike nearby. The lady behind the counter smiled and said, "No bike rentals on Sunday". Ouch! I was now left to the mercy of my legs. And vice versa. I studied the map of Oxford for a while to acquaint myself with the city's orientation; looked at the sun to figure out my own orientation; and stepped out of the railway station.

The first building I saw was a late 20th century business school. Straight lines, right angles, plain facade, minimalist architecture. Now this is far from the typical image one has about Oxford. I walked for a while, and the typical image did live up to its reputation. Half a mile out of the station, Oxford is a garden of 500 year old stone buildings, most of them colleges and churches, which have grown around narrow alleys in an organic fashion. Like the rivers in heaven, two high streets cut this garden of buildings into four quadrants. Among beautiful architecture and weathered stone wall faces, the gargoyles on building roofs are worth a look in this city.

The Radcliffe Camera is an imposing structure somewhere around the center. It was a clear day with blue sky and a gust of wind carrying white clouds with it. I craned my neck to look at the top of the building. Against the backdrop of the fast moving clouds, the entire earth seemed like a giant ship moving in the stationary sky. At that moment, when I felt we were all floating, two pigeons burst out from a corner behind the pillar into a fantastic flight. Was this the second surreal view of my day? No camera would have recorded what my eye captured at that moment.

So after miles of walking in the city, picking up a couple of books from a bookstore and treating myself to roast lamb with mint sauce for lunch, lying down in the museum garden and reading a book, I reached the end of my day. While I was walking back to the station, I passed by Oxford castle - an odd amalgamation of 500 year old stone and 5 month old glass and steel - part of it being used as a hotel. Wandering into the public area, I reached a quadrangle with a high stone tower on one corner and stone walls with small windows on the remaining sides - very much like an ancient prison. Orange lights at the bottom of the walls dimly lit up the place. It was very silent - I could hear myself breathe. This was the moment of arrival, when I felt the entire castle was mine, when I didn't have to share it with anyone else. I so enjoyed the intimacy between me and the stone walls that I could have stayed there for a few hours, perhaps a few days.

The feeling at the end of the trip is always the same. I wish I had more time. I think I will make amends to this recurring feeling next time.

Finally, a real chat conversation between J and Z on Monday ...

J: Dudeshwar
Z: Jude!
J: Oopar kya hai?
J: Kahan latke iss hafta-khatam?
Z: Bail-gaadi

Normally, the conversations between J and Z are a little saner than this :-)

Tags: Europe

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