I always thought that it takes the knowledge of places, a camera, and later some quality storytelling to create a good travelogue. But, here’s what I found I could add to the list: a friend. I was lucky to have Geoffrey walk me around Cambridge (Cambridgeshire, the old name). And, while we did enjoy the day tour, the chilling wind and the last five minutes of Rugby (Six Nations, 2018) blew the wits out of me.
Let me start with the windy weather. The Saturday morning I underestimated the wind and wore my sleeveless jumper. Though the Sun shined bright throughout the day, the winds kept getting the better of me. And, for the creative sake of it, I will say that for all the while I kept walking my nose kept running.
We began the day strolling through Jesus Green Lido. The park shares its borders with the river Cam on one side and the Jesus College on the other. We walked on the quayside until we could, then we broke into a part of the city. Walking is the best way to experience any city, especially this city.
In Geoffrey’s words, the name of the city is a combination of the words Cam, which is the river that flows through the city, and bridge, which connects either side of the river. Oxford comes from oxen and ford—ford means a shallow river.
Just a thought: what if the word “shire” in Cambridgeshire has any connection with the Hindi word Shahar, which means an urban settlement?
There are a lot of old buildings in the city. Most of the old buildings have plaques that display the year of their construction—an age-old style; even Indore, my hometown, has buildings like that. Some buildings are as old as 1754. Maybe even older. The good thing is, the new buildings follow the design principles of the old buildings. This maintains the architectural aesthetics of the place.
After the Round Church, we decided to step into Caffé Nero. Over the coffee, Geoffrey and I compared the photographs we took—for an inspiration from the other’s works. Given that it was windy outside, a hot brew served its purpose reasonably well.
After the break, we walked past the Trinity College, which has the Newton’s Apple Tree. [Spoiler Alert: It is not the same tree under which Newton discovered the idea of gravity. Though seeds from the same Apple tree have planted this one here.]
While strolling the local weekend market, we stopped by a souvenir shop. We didn’t intend to buy anything, but we weren’t expecting what came next. The lady shopkeeper sat there soaking the gleaming Sun. She was getting only a little share of sunshine from between two buildings. She looked at us and said, “Enjoy the sunshine while you can. Don’t blame me later for not telling you.” True that inspiration can come from any source.
Throughout the city, I could find people taking photos. I even got a compliment for managing with a sleeveless jumper in that windy weather. This Southeast Asian guy didn’t realize that I wasn’t a local.
A side note: I am not a shopping person. But, I did visit places like the Poundland and Primark. The variety of products and the price range suit the budget of the middle class. That’s a given for any city. What’s special for Cambridge is that all major shopping destinations are about 15 minutes to half an hour of walking distance.
All major colleges in the University of Cambridge face the small area from the Fellows’ Garden to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Quite logically, the other side of the colleges is the Backs. The view from the rear of the buildings is comparably picturesque. [In the week that followed, Chris, a friend-cum-lead, helped me tour the Backs. We took some nice pictures there, too.]
Facing the Backs is Clare College behind which stands the Cambridge University Library. Yes, the same place that has a copy or record of every single work published from Cambridge.
I must say that I felt alive even as I walked past the colleges of the University of Cambridge. The energy that flows through the streets over the weekends is noticeable. If I were to compare it with India, I would say that it is Kota of the United Kingdom. But then, why compare!
When we walked past the Cambridge Corn Exchange, Geoffrey shared the history of the place. It is interesting how even after money becoming the medium of exchange it is still the word “Corn” that continues to be the term coined for it.
The word “interesting” reminds me of something. If you are in the local market, don’t forget to buy “gifts for interesting people”. See how those words make you think that the gifts are as interesting as the receiver of the gifts. I got some yogurt-coated candies for my daughter—not from the same shop though. The ones that have dried Banana or Cranberry are mouthwatering. If you are in Cambridge and wish to munch on your way through the city, get yourselves some. They have a reasonable shelf-life, too.
It is a British tradition to say sorry even if someone bumps into you. Chris says that in Britain you notice people singing their way through the crowd “sorry… sorry… sorry… oops… sorry… sorry… sorry” in rhythmic high-low-high-low notes. I must have caught on this habit because I remember saying sorry… only to realize a split second later that I had bumped into and was apologizing to a chair. Yes, I know!
Every country, every city has its own way of greeting people. Cambridge greets people with a combination of colleges and pubs. Other than university education if there is anything that defines Cambridge then I’d say it is three “Ps”: parks, pubs, and punting. Mathematical Bridge, where we stopped next, is opposite to the Anchor pub. And, most likely, there too, you will see people punting over the Cam river. A short walk down from the Anchor pub is the Darwin College of Engineering. It is notable how so many prominent personalities have had a part of their lives spent in this city.
We spent the longest time of our day-long tour at the Anchor pub. We initially chose to sit outside to enjoy the weather, but in due course changed our minds. That way, I got some relief from the weather, Geoffrey got his much-needed Rugby dose and we both got the food. I even gave my expert opinion as we watched the post-match analysis.
After the lunch, we set out to walk through Grantchester Meadows into the city walking past the James Dyson University of Engineering, the Judge Business School on the Trumpington Street, and Grand Arcade. As the dusk began to set it, we chose to skip two stops: The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Fitzwilliam Museum. I still managed to get some pictures around the areas.
While neither of us wished to end the day by spending time in a city mall—all malls are the same—we ended up at Costa Coffee, in Grand Arcade, because most of the coffee shops were either full or about to call it a day. I am not sure why we refer to it as “calling it a day” while it isn’t even a day anymore after dusk sets in. Quite a funny observation. Anyway, Geoffrey had ordered for large coffees. So, we continued to talk until the coffees lasted.
With the dusk setting in and the temperature beginning to steep further down, we decided to curse the weather—another British tradition—and “call it a day”.
This memorable, short tour of the city has a lot of for me as a takeaway. Let me summarize the day-long tour:
- Best guide: a friend
- Best time to visit Cambridge: any, particularly February-March
- Best companion: a camera
- Best munchies: yogurt candies
- Best food: any, as long as you top it with a beer
- Best modes of transport: walking and punting
- Best gear: well, surely not a sleeveless jumper if it is windy and February
Much like me, you too wouldn’t feel an outsider in Cambridge for long. Not because it is a global city. But because of the faces that smile back at you, prospering local markets, tourists looking for authentic local flavors, and the welcoming giggles of toddlers that attracts you as an outsider. The city grows more on you if you know a “local”.
I didn’t cover everything. I couldn’t. But then, I realize that if I cover everything in one visit, what will I plan the next visits for? Considering that I meant business when I flew into Cambridge, the city has intrigued me enough to shift the target of my next visits. As I head back home, I remain a travel bug hungry for more.