Tuesday, August 30, 2011
It’s wedding season. This summer I have been invited to weddings in destinations as far flung as California, England, Indiana, and Washington. To that end, I traveled west on Friday to attend the nuptials of two good friends at their wedding in Oxford.
I arrived in town at noon and checked into my hotel, the Malmaison, which had offered me a complimentary stay. It was housed in a former prison in Oxford Castle, and the stunning hallways were reminiscent of the building’s history.
The rooms were not. Far from a barren prison cell, my room was composed of three former chambers plus a fourth for my bathroom. The high windows, thick walls, and arched ceilings were all that remained of past days.
The large bed was covered with a fluffy duvet and tartan pillows. There was a desk and a wardrobe, and a spacious shower and separate tub in the bathroom. I had a TV. I had Internet. It was comfortable in a way that no former prisoner would know, although it felt a bit eerie to think that former prisoners had stayed in the same room.
Downstairs there was a large bar and lounge area as well as a small sitting space in the lobby. In the basement a cellar housed a restaurant where I had lunch with another wedding guest after checking in. We started with a Champagne toast to the wedding couple, which seemed fitting for the occasion.
From there we delved into delicious seared scallops with potato puree and black pudding, Iberico ham with melon balls, lobster tortellinis with baby spinach, and seasonal berry jelly. A bottle of Italian white was just the thing to go with it.
I was full after lunch, which made me glad that I decided to go with an empire waist for my dress for the wedding. I quickly changed into it and ran through the pouring rain to the Oxford Town Hall for the ceremony.
The service took place in a large room with portraits of old dead white men and a rich feeling of history that only buildings in Oxford can have. The grooms walked down the aisle, and the ceremony commenced. It was short and sweet, complete with two readings and the music of a string quartet.
After the documents were signed and the couple was congratulated, I walked to the reception at Rhodes House with some friends. They had gone to Oxford for undergraduate and master’s degrees, and took me into their alma mater, Oriel College, on the way.
I was shown the beautiful interior courtyard of the college, as well as the dining hall. It was gorgeous, and came complete with the world’s largest portrait of the Queen on one side and an equally impressive painting of Edward II on the other. Beneath the king was a 6-foot long ceremonial sword dating back to 1423. The depth of history awed me.
But we couldn’t stay long. Back out in Oxford, we passed the famous Bodleian Library, that round icon of a building, as well as the famous Bridge of Sighs at Hertford College. We came across the Sheldonian theatre, where I had attended my friend’s graduation two summers ago, and a string of other famous buildings.
At last we reached Rhodes House. The beautiful neoclassical building was for the exclusive use of Rhodes Scholars, which one of the grooms was well-rounded enough to be. The interior was steeped in history with book-lined walls and historic inscriptions everywhere. It almost made me want to go back to higher education just to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship.
But for the time being, I was happy to enjoy the wedding reception venue as a guest. The weather had cleared up during the ceremony, so we enjoyed Champagne out in the garden while the couple was busy with photos.
We sat down to dinner shortly thereafter. During the meal we enjoyed several toasts and witnessed many of the guests getting shoed. What does it mean to get shoed? Good question.
Getting shoed is a strange Oxford wedding tradition. Well, it is really an Oxford rowing tradition. Basically, rowers come up with any excuse to make one another (and any other unlucky soul) drink out of each other’s shoes. People were shoed for everything from eating dessert with their utensils or hands (apparently this is taboo for Oriel college rowers) to being Cambridge graduates. It made for a very entertaining dinner.
After we ate there was a cake cutting ceremony at a large table covered in cupcakes that one of our friends had made for the wedding.
That was followed by several hours of dancing to the music of DJ Boogaloo Stu, a favorite of the couple and many of our friends.
When the wedding reception at Rhodes House wrapped up, there was an after party at Camera Club in Oxford. I popped back to my hotel room to grab flip flops, then spent the rest of the night on the dance floor with the other guests.
The next morning I woke up at feeling surprisingly well for a post-wedding day. I headed down to breakfast and had a heaping plate of smoked salmon and creamy scrambled eggs before meeting up with some of the other wedding guests at their hotel.
We drove back to London in the pouring rain, happy to have had such a good time at our friends’ wedding in Oxford, and excited for the post-wedding BBQ scheduled for later that day. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the bank holiday weekend in London recovering from two big days of partying. I needed to. I’m heading to another big wedding near Seattle next weekend.