Donald G. Miller of Bethesda is the latest contributor to our Your Vacation in Lights feature, in which we invite Travel section readers to share the dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. Your hot tip can be the next guy's day-maker; your rip-off restaurant, the next family's near-miss. To file your own trip report -- and win a digital camera -- see the fine print below.
THE TRIP: A one-week program called "The Oxford Experience," offered annually at Christ Church College, Oxford University.
WHO WENT: My friend Jerry and I.
WHEN: July 2005
WHY: Having graduated from a state teachers college, I was intrigued at the chance to attend a prestigious school like Oxford. The Oxford Experience runs for five weeks during July and August. For $1,823, you get a one-week course, a room with private bath and three meals a day. Classes are limited to 12 people, and 12 different classes are offered each week. I selected a course on the First World War because I knew so little about it.
HOW LONG: 10 days -- three in London and a week in Oxford.
I WAS IMPRESSED . . . with the resilience of the English people. We arrived just as the terrorist bombs went off in the Underground stations. The day after the attacks, the subway system was crowded with people as they returned to their daily routines.
IT MADE IT ALL WORTH IT WHEN . . . we had lunch in the Great Hall, where "Harry Potter" was filmed, then met our tutors and enjoyed a welcoming reception with a few glasses of wine. The Great Hall is a massive room surrounded by portraits of the school's famous graduates. The portraits include religious leaders such as John Wesley and John Newman, a number of prime ministers, and noted authors such as Lewis Carroll, who taught at the college and wrote "Alice in Wonderland," inspired by the young daughter of the school's dean.
BEST/WORST THING ABOUT MY ROOM: I had a large dorm room set up for two, and I had all to myself -- and a private bath, which many of the other rooms did not have. It was an unusually hot week and, since the British see little need for air conditioning, my room was hot with no ventilation.
FAVORITE MEAL: Each of us was invited at least once during the week to sit at High Table with the tutors. The farewell dinner on Friday, which was preceded by a champagne reception in the Cathedral Garden, required a coat and tie, and featured a multi-course meal with wines.
COOLEST ATTRACTION: The English pubs, with their hand-pulled ales, are havens after a long morning of classes or a long walk while sightseeing. Two favorites: the Turf Inn, frequented by Bill Clinton when he was a student at Oxford, and the Trout Inn north of Oxford, with its roaming peacocks, featured in "Inspector Morse" on PBS.
BIGGEST SPLURGE: $100 for a ticket to "The Producers" in the West End. It was the most impressive production I have seen, including shows in Washington and New York.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: After attending the non-air-conditioned theater in London, we stopped in a pub but were refused service. It was a little past 11 p.m., when pubs are required to discontinue service.
BIGGEST RIP-OFF: A Big Mac, for $3.50.
BIGGEST CULTURAL SHOCK: I was surprised at the casual familiarity of the tutors, who insisted on being called by their first names. Our tutor, Rob, sprinkled jokes, stories and poems throughout his lectures and held a wine party at the end of the week.
FAVORITE SOUVENIR: My Oxford University tie, which will be worn proudly even though I only attended a one-week, informal class. Jerry and I enjoyed a pint or two with two fellows from Towson who were in my course, and another from Columbia, so hopefully we can get together to form a little alumni association as pseudo-graduates of Oxford University.
Information on Oxford's 2006 summer program should be available in December from the Programme Administrator, The Oxford Experience, University of Oxford, Department of Continuing Education, 1 Wellington Sq., Oxford OX1 2JA UK.
Want to see your own vacation in lights? We'll highlight one report, along with a photo from the trip, on the last Sunday of the month. To enter, use the categories above as a guide (use as many as you wish, or add your own; for a complete list, go to www.washingtonpost.com/vacationinlights) and send your report to Your Vacation in Lights, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071; fax it to 202- 912-3609; or e-mail vacationin firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries chosen for publication will receive a Canon PowerShot A-95 digital camera or equivalent. Entries will be chosen on the basis of humor, originality and usefulness; are subject to editing for space and clarity; and become property of The Post, which may edit, publish, distribute or republish them in any form. Employees of The Post and their immediate families are not eligible. No purchase necessary.