Tag Archives: gallery

University of Oxford Botanic Garden

The forecast for tomorrow is 16 degrees with rain all day, a sure sign that autumn is right around the corner. Today, however, was a scorching 27 degrees. The Baberoo and I took advantage of summer’s last hurrah by visiting the University of Oxford Botanic Garden (Rose Lane, OX1 4AZ).

Riotous colours

We’ve been big fans of the botanic garden since the Baberoo was only three months old. I first took her there at the end of March, when the hellebores were nearly the only thing blooming and the rain and my baby-induced sleeplessness made it seem as if the winter would never end. We’ve been going back ever since on our annual pass, which is the best £15.50 I’ve ever spent (and it gets you into Harcourt Arboretum too!). Every few weeks we’ve gone back to see the changes in the botanical season, from tulips to peonies to dahlias. And that’s only the herbaceous borders: there’s also a fabulous vegetable garden, fruit trees, seven glasshouses, a rock garden, a bog garden, and the new Merton Borders, which feature an ornamental, environmentally sustainable display using direct sowing of seeds.

Merton Borders

Today the vegetable garden was a pretty amazing sight, with corn, beans, rhubarb, and squash all looking like they were at their peak (we missed the giant pumpkin, though, as I discovered to my chagrin when we got home). The Merton Borders were full of bees (a good thing!) and blooming splendidly; I remember seeing the area in March and there was nearly nothing in it. I can’t believe it’s the same garden! There was some riotous colour in the herbaceous borders, and the bog garden – where we sat for an alfresco lunch – was so lush that you could hardly see the water for all the plants.

Corn

Not only is the botanic garden a treat for all the senses, it’s baby-friendly too. Here’s how it stacks up against my four criteria for baby-friendliness (space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding – see my About page for a full explanation of my criteria for rating attractions that aren’t eateries).

Space: There’s an entrance for prams and wheelchairs at the side of the garden on Rose Lane. There’s plenty of space in the two outdoor gardens (the Walled Garden and the Lower Garden), so you can wheel your baby carriage around as much as you like. It’s a bit more difficult getting into the glasshouses; the conservatory (which houses the citrus plants) has plenty of room inside but it’s difficult to get in the doors; usually I need someone to help me because you need to open both doors to fit a stroller in. Happily, today they were already open because of the hot weather. The other glasshouses are more difficult; a larger pram might not fit the width of the very narrow corridors (especially since there are huge plants coming at you from either side), and if you do fit, there’s no chance of anyone being able to pass your carriage in the space so you might have to do some backing up. The rose garden facing the High Street isn’t accessible to strollers unless you have wheels that can roll on gravel; mine can’t. To be fair, I don’t think that this is actually part of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden so isn’t managed by them – but when you’re going for the experience of a garden, you don’t care about technicalities like this: you just want to see the roses!

Ambiance: Couldn’t be nicer, at any time of the year. Whenever I visit I marvel at how quickly things change and how beautiful each season is. The staff at the reception are very welcoming and helpful, and so are the garden staff if you happen to meet any of them working outside. Even the ducks are friendly!

Borders

Facilities: There is a baby-changing facility in the disabled toilet. It’s spacious and has a pull-down changing table. It’s clean and presentable, although there’s no place to put your changing bag.

Baby-changing

Feeding: There are plenty of benches to sit on throughout the garden, but you can also bring a blanket and sit on the grass with your baby. We dined alfresco on a bench today (with regular food, although I’d have been happy to breastfeed as well). If you go in the winter it might be too cold for breastfeeding, though!

As an attraction, the Botanic Garden is a wonderful resource and a haven of peace and quiet away from the crowds in the city centre, and a perfect place to bring your baby to relax. I give it a 7.0 out of 8. If you love gardens, treat yourself to an annual pass and go throughout the year.

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Crisis Skylight Cafe

This week the Baberoo and I, both fighting jet lag, got pretty tired all of a sudden during an excursion to the city centre. This was all very well for her, since she could sleep in her carriage. I, on the other hand, having no one to push me around town while I snoozed in my own personal perambulating bed, needed to find somewhere to eat and recharge myself, pronto. I had been meaning to visit the very welcoming-looking Crisis Skylight Café (at the Old Fire Station, 40 George Street, OX1 2AQ), so I headed over and managed to make it there without actually collapsing.

The café is run by Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people, and it trains people on-the-job in order to provide the experience needed for employment. It’s a great social enterprise, and the café offers good, inexpensive meals and snacks. They’re housed within the Old Fire Station, an arts centre that works with Crisis by providing opportunities for Skylight members to create and show work as well as to volunteer at the arts centre. (I’ll have to review the Old Fire Station itself in a future post, as their current exhibition, RAJ, wasn’t open yet when I visited.)

I chose the Spanish tortilla with two side salads and a green salad (£4.95 for the whole thing, an amazing deal), plus a lemonade (£1.85). The potato in the tortilla was cooked perfectly, and the tortilla was full of other roasted vegetables. It was pleasantly, if unexpectedly, curried. The side salads I chose were the rice with asparagus, olives, and egg (a combination I’ve never seen before, but which worked well), and tomato and green bean. The meal revitalized me and my seat at the open French doors gave me a great people-watching vantage point onto busy George Street.

Tortilla and salads

So, how did the Crisis Skylight Café measure up against my five criteria for baby-friendliness? The criteria are menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding, all of which are explained in more detail on my About page.

Menu: The usual café-style fare is served here, so if you are up for eating a jacket potato or a sandwich with one hand while you hold a baby in the other arm, go for it. But for those with less dexterity, there are the daily specials, which are a hot entree plus salads of your choice – all pretty easy to eat one-handed. They also have a good selection of breakfast items, as well as pastries and cakes.

Space: It’s a bit tight at the café for a baby carriage if it’s busy. There was room for me to wheel the Baberoo all the way through to the window seat, but that was because we were past the main lunchtime hour and several tables were vacant. If they had been full we’d have been hard pressed to find a way through the café, and because many of the tables have wooden benches instead of individual seats it would also have been hard for patrons to move their seats to let us through. However, there are some smaller tables against the walls that would be the best place for parking a baby carriage. (Sorry for the not-great picture below; I told you I was jet-lagged!)

Tables

Ambiance: This is a very light, homey, friendly café and the diners I saw were happy to be relaxing and taking their time over their meals. The opening hours run from 8:30 am to mid-afternoon (check the website for times) so it’s great if you need somewhere to go early in the day; these are very baby-friendly hours. The fact that the French doors were open was even nicer and made it feel airy and fresh. The art on the walls is for sale.

Facilities: The bathroom with the baby-changing facility is located in the Old Fire Station, a half-level up, and is accessible via the lift. I was a bit nervous about the lift because it’s the kind where you have to hold down the button until you reach the floor you want, and you open the door yourself. There’s one like it at my husband’s work and I always get stuck in it! Luckily, I didn’t get stuck this time since this lift is in good nick. The changing room is fine, with a pull-down table and enough space to move around with the baby carriage. The hallway leading to the changing facility is a bit narrow if two prams are trying to pass each other, though.

Changing table

Feeding: I didn’t feed the Baberoo during this visit, but if I had wanted to, I’d have probably been more comfortable at a table with individual chairs rather than a long bench, since I can move a chair much more easily to the position I need. I don’t think I’d have had any trouble feeding her there, though, and it’s the kind of space that feels welcoming to anyone who would want to feed their baby.

In total, the Crisis Skylight Café rates a 7.25 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. I will be back because I like to support a good cause, but also because of the nice ambiance and the fact that it’s probably the cheapest lunch on George Street!

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Modern Art Oxford

I needed a quick snack while out with the Baberoo this morning, so we dropped in to the café at Modern Art Oxford (30 Pembroke Street, OX1 1BP). What started off as a pit stop for a piece of cake turned into a much longer visit, as I became enthralled with both of the current exhibitions, Chapters by Haris Epaminonda and Black Drop by Simon Starling.

Our visit started off with cake and tea, though, and boy, was it good. The Butterscotch Cake I ordered (£3.10) was moist and not too sweet for a butterscotch confection, and my pot of Earl of Grey tea (£2.10) from local company Jeeves and Jericho had a delicate bergamot taste without any tannic bitterness. I also got a Biscuit and Brazil Nut Tiffin (£2.50) to bring home to my husband, but it was half gone before he got any.

Butterscotch cake

Being a museums person myself (until very recently I led the Digital Programmes team at the V&A), I can never pass up an exhibition, so the Baberoo and I entered the poetic, ethereal world of Haris Epaminonda’s Chapters (exhibition ends 8 September). Four film installations comprise the main part of the exhibition, and the staged scenes and shots of natural elements, accompanied by an eerie, haunting soundtrack, were mesmerizing. Chapters also comprises another two rooms with three-dimensional installations.

I was then just in time for a showing of Black Drop, Simon Starling’s 30-minute film about the transit of Venus and its relationship to the beginnings of cinema (exhibition ends 26 August). The film is beautifully shot in black and white, and although I’m not sure I understood everything about the astronomical phenomenon (last seen in June 2012 and not scheduled to happen again until 2117), just watching the film and being swept away by thoughts of the vastness of the universe was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Entrance

So, how did Modern Art Oxford’s café and exhibition space rate on my scale of baby-friendliness? My five criteria are menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (all explained in detail on my About page).

Menu: There’s one soup and three paninis on the menu each day, plus lots of cakes and other sweet snacks. Paninis aren’t the easiest thing to eat with one hand if you’re holding a baby, and neither is soup – but if you’re dextrous you can do it, and the cakes and other baked goods are easy. Go for tea/coffee and a sweet pick-me-up.

Space: Plenty of it, and there were lots of parents with prams there today. During the summer the café is located in the side entrance to the museum off St. Ebbe’s Street. It’s a vast cavernous space that presumably must have been an entry for trucks or deliveries, but they’ve transformed it into an area that holds several tables with lots of room for baby carriages all the way through to the entrance to the gift shop. In winter the café is indoors on the ground floor, and has just as much space for carriages. The first time I went, in fact, there was a group of mothers with about seven baby carriages.

Tables

Ambiance: In the café it’s laid-back, colourful, and streamlined. Because of the high ceilings it’s light and breezy but also sheltered and quiet. You feel like you could stay for hours. Café staff were very friendly and brought sugar and cutlery to my table, seeing that I had too much to carry. In the museum, the ambiance is what you might expect from a modern art museum: spare and plain, concentrating on the works of art rather than on any décor. Museum staff were also very friendly and held open doors and curtains for me so I could manoeuvre the baby carriage through the gallery spaces.

Tea selection

Facilities: The baby-changing toilet is on the lower level, past a space that is used for talks. Unfortunately, although the facility was clean and fresh-smelling, it caused me problems in terms of space. I could bring the baby carriage in, but then there wasn’t enough room to pull down the changing table or stand next to it to change the baby. I also couldn’t leave the carriage right outside the door because it would have blocked the entrances to both the men’s and women’s toilets. So I had to leave the door open with the carriage half-in and half-out of the bathroom. There were further problems with the layout of the room; once the changing table is pulled down there’s no way to reach the garbage can to throw away used diapers and wipes.  It wasn’t an easy experience and the Baberoo also screamed her way through it (you would too, if the bathroom door was open so everyone could see you).

Changing table

Feeding: I was at a table where everyone could see me breastfeeding, although I didn’t mind, and I got a few smiles of encouragement from museum staff who passed by. There aren’t really any private, quiet corners in the layout of the café, so it’s not for shyer nursing mothers.  There are no benches, sofas, or pillows, but if you and your baby are OK nursing from a standard-sized chair then it’ll be a fine experience.

My final rating for Modern Art Oxford is a 7.75 out of 10. Despite the difficulty with the baby-changing facilities, I’ll be going again for cake and the chance to see world-class art in my new city.

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