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An English summer. The heart leaps at the thought. For nine long months of the year, the British Isles are bathed in cold and rain, but then comes the recompense. This is England clothed in its true majesty: bright skies, sunny days, pleasant clime (temperatures much above 80 degrees are termed “heat waves”), and a flowering of the earth that is simply spectacular. In London itself, a long noontime spent at either St. James’s Park or Kensington Gardens is hard to beat. But a one-hour train ride will take you into the English countryside and the glories that are “Oxbridge.” To the north and east of London lies Cambridge. Very much a small regional city now making the transition to an international high-tech center, the town itself is renowned for its low-key atmosphere, bookshops, open-air market, and parks. The university straddles the river Cam along a series of green spaces known as “the Backs.” Tourists and undergraduates alike can take walks through this area or rent a “punt,” a small flat-bottomed boat, and pole themselves along the river. Of course, if you’re of a mind to, you can hire a “punter” to do the dirty work, while you and your party picnic out of a straw basket and sip champagne under the mild, sunny skies. When not punting, you’ll want to visit the colleges at Cambridge. The most architecturally significant of these include King’s (with its famous chapel and choir), Trinity (the largest and wealthiest college), St. John’s (with equally stunning architecture), and Clare (a small college with lovely buildings and gardens). All lie along the river and are open to the public. Admission charges are nominal. Also worth a visit are Queen’s College (farther down the river, but with particularly fine early architecture); the Fitzwilliam Museum on Trumpington Street (perhaps the finest small museum in Europe); the University Botanical Gardens (near the railway station); and the Church of St. Benet and the Round Church, both in the center of town and which date back to the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods, respectively. Booking a room in Cambridge isn’t quite so tough as in Oxford during the summer, but advance reservations are strongly recommended. The Cambridge Garden House Moat House (Tel. 1223- 259988 or fax 1223-316605) overlooks the river Cam and boasts modern rooms, a good restaurant, and, for those with the passion, fishing. Arundel House is less chichi but still charming (Tel. 1223-367701 or fax 1223-367721). The best restaurant in town is the Midsummer House (Tel. 1223- 369299). The menu is seasonal, the food stylish. Getting to Cambridge is a snap via rail from either King’s Cross or Liverpool Street stations. Those traveling by car may want to stop at Hatfield House, just off the A10, the seat of the Marquis of Salisbury. The estate includes the vestiges of a Tudor royal palace, impressive formal gardens, and the House itself, one of the most important examples of Jacobean architecture in the country. To the north and west of London is Oxford. Once a great automobile manufacturing center, Oxford is larger and decidedly more urban than Cambridge, with less of a university-town feeling, though with more uniformly interesting architecture. The covered marketplace in the town center is worth a visit, as is the Church of St. Mary Magdelen and the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. The university itself remains one of the greatest in the world and boasts dozens of places well worth visiting. The best of these include Christ Church College (founded by Cardinal Wolsey and refounded by Henry VIII) and its chapel (which doubles as the local cathedral); Magdalen College; St. John’s and Balliol (both wealthy and distinguished); the Sheldonian Theatre; the Old Bodleian Library (the repository of Oxford University’s early rare book collection); the Ashmolean Museum (the University’s art museum); and Merton College (tucked onto a back street behind Christ Church, it has the oldest extant courtyard of any college.) The only downside to visiting Oxford is the crowd. Oxford is thronged with tourists during the summer, accommodations are at a premium, and advance reservations are absolutely necessary. The most famous hotel in Oxford is certainly the Randolph (Tel. 1865-247481 or fax 1865- 791678). It’s a stately old Victorian pile located across from the Ashmolean. The afternoon tea here is notable, even by English standards. Rates are what you might expect — high. The other principal hotel in town is the Linton Lodge (Tel. 1865-553461 or fax 1865-310365). There’s a handsome wood-paneled bar here and croquet lawn to match. Chef Raymond Blanc’s Le Petit Blanc (Tel. 1865-510999) offers robust brasserie food. Blanc’s vastly more famous restaurant, however, is Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons on Church Road in nearby Great Milton (Tel. 1844-278881). Be forewarned: Prices are commensurate with the reputation (easily over $100 per person). The food, however, represents a spectacular offering of nouvelle cuisine. Getting to Oxford is as easy as getting to Cambridge. Trains leave from Paddington Station. Travelers with cars will probably want to do some exploring outside town. One possibility is to drive from Oxford along the A40 through the Chiltern Hills and into the Cotswolds. Villages such as Burford, Stow-on-the-Wold, and Bourton-on-the-Water typify English village life, and the entire region is highly picturesque. Alternatively, one might leave Oxford via the Woodstock Road and the A34 and spend a few hours in Woodstock and Blenheim Palace (seat of the Duke of Marlborough and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill). The visitor could then proceed along the A34 to Stratford-upon-Avon. Places to see include Shakespeare’s birthplace on Henley Street; the Harvard House in High Street (birthplace of John Harvard, the founder of the university and a good example of sixteenth-century architecture); Holy Trinity Church (where Shakespeare is buried); and the three threatres run by the Royal Shakespeare Company. One mile west, in Shottery, is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, the birthplace of Shakespeare’s wife.

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