18 May 2011

Cambridge

Trinity St cyclists
The weekend before last I paid a visit to my sister Zoe, who is now working as a post-doctoral fellow in the chemistry department at Cambridge. I'd covered the main attractions before, particularly during my rather damp voyage in 2007, when I was soaked to the skin for the entire weekend. But this time around it was much nicer to have a 'local' to see the sights with, and it was a good opportunity to see how Zoe's doing in her new role. Naturally she is in her element at Cambridge, and the experience will be great for her career. And what a super place to live!

As I'm operating on a budget I took the coach up instead of the train, which meant that I spent an hour and 40 minutes in Friday night traffic before the coach had even cleared the edge of London. But I made it to Cambridge in reasonable time without too much delay. There was an opportunity to have a quick drink with Zoe and her chemistry friends at the nearby Panton Arms, which was full of students enjoying a Friday night wind-down tipple. Afterwards we enjoyed a movie and a bit of Friday night TV back at Zoe's apartment; Easy A was still entertaining on a second viewing.

On Saturday we fit in a great deal of rewarding foot-slogging around town. In the morning we took in the Fitzwilliam Museum, which I had so enjoyed in 2007. It's a lovely neo-classical temple of knowledge, akin to the British Museum and the Ashmolean in Oxford. The Fitzwilliam also boasts an excellent art collection, and the museum shop sported a marvellous collection of Cambridge-related illustrations by the children's artist Quentin Blake, completed in honour of the 800th anniversary of Cambridge University in 2009. I bought some lovely Blake postcards to add to the ever-increasing stack of such cards that I'm supposedly going to frame and hang on a wall someday. There's still no photos permitted in the museum other than in the entrance hall, but even that's pretty impressive.
Fitzwilliam Museum entrance hall

After an M&S lunch in the green expanse of Parker's Piece, the city park at which my coach arrived, we set off for a long walk around the Cam, circling Cambridge and admiring the famous Backs of the various colleges and the students punting tourists along the river. After a break back at the apartment to regain some energy, we returned to town for dinner and so I could take some photos in the dusk light. Then to round out the night I attempted to inculcate Zoe into the wonders of Radio 4 by listening to Sandi Toksvig's News Quiz podcast.
River Cam swan
King's College Chapel at dusk (HDR)

Sunday morning is Zoe's weekly sleep-in, so I took myself off to walk in the countryside, which is remarkably easy because her apartment is on the edge of town and overlooks open farmland. The main distinguishing feature of the fields I walked past was that they were inhabited by a burgeoning population of highly fecund and often cute rabbits.

Following my walk, Zoe and I headed into town for lunch, and there was time to fit in one more visit before my afternoon coach back to London. We climbed the winding, spiral staircase of Great St Mary's, the university's church, which occupies the area between King's Parade and the Market Hill. This incarnation of the church was finished in 1519, but the tower we climbed wasn't completed until 1608. It boasts a splendidly spooky bell-ringers' chamber mid-way up, and as the tallest structure in the city it also offers superb 360-degree views over the flat expanses of the city, the market and the colleges, and Cambridgeshire further afield. From this vantage point one can observe the busy streets, which are thronged with cyclists heading every which way - in a refreshing and long-standing university policy, undergraduates are not permitted to have cars.
Western view from Great St Mary's

Soon it was time for me to board my coach back to London. It had been a grand weekend enjoying the sights of Cambridge and seeing Zoe in her element. Perhaps I'll be back to stage a return visit before too long!
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