Yesterday some friends and I went on an Arcadia-sponsored day-trip to Cambridge. Since most of my housemates are currently cavorting about in Ireland this weekend, it was a perfect way to procrastinate even more on my research paper and get a bit of a history education, too :)
Ashley, Miranda, Natalia and I met at the Arcadia office early Saturday morning and took a chartered bus with 20 or so other Arcadia students to Cambridge. The drive took about an hour and a half, with a little less than half of that time dedicated to getting out of the city itself. London is a massive place! I napped along the way since I can never seem to resist falling asleep on buses unless they’re traveling overnight to/from Scotland. When we finally reached Cambridge we were greeted by streets full of other chartered tourist buses, huge crowds of people, student groups, and screaming children/tour guides. It was a day of very un-English weather, too, since the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun beat down on us all day long.
We met our tour guides and split into two groups – ours was led by a lovely lady who had grown up in Cambridge and been a tour guide there for 20+ years. She was very giggly and effervescent, plus she was wearing an awesome sun hat, which made me love her all the more. Too bad I can’t remember her name :(. We’ll just refer to her as Marge instead :). We walked into the city where Marge pointed out various historical buildings along the way: Newton’s “Mathematical Bridge” across the River Cam (built without nails or glue of any kind!), the store where all the students buy their school robes (and where Prince Edward used to buy his clothes when he was a student there), the building where Stephen Hawking used to have his office. Marge commented that since many of the buildings in Cambridge are “listed” (meaning certified historical landmarks) they cannot be knocked down or expanded, so many of the academic buildings and offices have now moved outside of the city. She pointed out a restaurant called Fitzbillie’s famous for its Chelsea buns (glorified cinnamon rolls with currants inside), and also took us past a church dedicated to St. Botolph, the patron saint of travelers. The main road through Cambridge used to be the direct route to London, and since many travelers took this road they would often stop in the church to pray for a safe journey. Upon their safe return, they would come back to the same church to thank St. Botolph for protecting them along the way.
Next, Marge led us down the street to see The Eagle Pub and RAF Bar. The Eagle Pub is one of the oldest pubs in Cambridge, and also holds the particular honor of being the first place Watson & Crick announced they had discovered “the secret of life” (DNA’s double helix). The RAF Bar is in turn famous for its ceiling, where WWII soldiers inscribed their names and initials during the war using lipstick and cigarette lighters. Across the street from the pub/bar is St. Benet’s Church, whose tower (built in 1033) is the oldest building in Cambridge.
Walking up towards King’s College, our tour guide took the time to point out The Corpus Clock, also known as the Chronophage, which sits in the old doorway of a library and faces out towards the street at Corpus Christi College. It is probably the most disturbing and fascinating clock I have ever seen – a giant demonic grasshopper sits atop a golden disk, opening and closing its jaw and moving its legs as it “eats” time. My pictures of the clock were pretty terrible because the glass in front of it produced a rather strong glare, but here is a better photograph of it, as well as a short video and a news article from The Times. I could describe the clock’s mechanisms, but it’s probably easier to just have you watch the video instead – the clock-maker can explain it far better than I can!
Walking past the Chronophage we came to the outside of King’s College Chapel, one of the most famous buildings in Cambridge. After our tour was over (and after grabbing a much-needed lunch from the outdoor market across the street) Natalia, Ashley and I paid to get into the Chapel. It was definitely worth the £3.50 student price! The chapel was commissioned by King Henry VI in 1441 and is famous for its vaulted ceiling, which utilizes a fan technique that is truly a spectacular feat of architecture and design. A massive organ (whose wooden casing dates back to 1533) is in the center of the chapel and The Adoration of the Magi, painted by Rubens, is on display at the altar. The chapel has a mini-museum dedicated to explaining the history of the church as well as an explanation of its engineering, which was also really fascinating.
A couple doors down from the Chapel at Trinity College is the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences. Of course the Institute is renowned for its scientists, discoveries, etc., but the coolest thing about this building? The apple tree outside it, which is a direct descendant of the famed apple tree that inspired Newton’s Theory of Gravity! (Its ancestry has beven een confirmed via DNA-testing!)
Ashley, Natalia, Miranda, Sean and I spent a couple free hours after the tour exploring the Chapel (and getting delicious sticky sugary treats at Fitzbillie’s) before heading back to the Cam River to engage in the traditional English activity of punting (boating along the river in long, flat-bottomed boats steered by using long wooden poles, similar to riding the gondolas in Venice). I had been looking forward to this all day long, and I was not disappointed in the slightest! The river (which is fairly shallow and very lazy) was chock full of punts – it was an especially hot summer afternoon, and the city was teeming with tourists anxious to have a dip in the water. We passed by punts full of screaming French children who would whip out their umbrellas as shields while they splashed each other; lazy Spaniards and Italians lying on their backs and enjoying the sun; punts steered by inexperienced teenagers trying frantically to keep their boats straight; even one or two wedding parties with brides decked out in their gowns! At one point an experienced punter got his pole stuck in the river and had to dive in after it as his boat and its passengers floated away without him! Nearly all of the boats were steered by bronzed, chiseled, friendly young men, and punts selling Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and peddling free samples of wine were dotted among the water. It was a seriously good day!
Back home in London after our Cambridge tour and anxious to avoid writing our papers, Natalia, Miranda and I headed to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, one of the oldest pubs in London (built in 1538 and rebuilt in 1666 after the Great Fire). The pub is mostly underground – you walk down several flights of stairs and emerge into dungeon-like rooms with low lighting and rickety wooden tables, where you can enjoy your beverage(s) imagining you’re sitting next to the likes of Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson, and Charles Dickens (all regulars in their time). After enjoying a cider and some lovely conversation, we all headed home happy to shower , thoroughly pleased with our choice of procrastination techniques :)