Cambridge, UK

(Alex)

I thought for this one, we might depart the usual chronological order of things we’ve followed to date, and branch off to start something new – the UK experience. We’ve been living here in London for well over a year now, and thought we’d probably better start sharing a little about why we love our adopted homeland. Don’t worry – of course we’ll keep writing about all the big adventures as well, but in amongst all that you’ll now start to hear a little more about London, the surrounding countryside, and some of the things that make life over here so much fun.

So here we go:

Back in October 2015 we visited the university town of Cambridge for a day. Although many people don’t know it, Cambridge in England is in fact so called after the sleepy New Zealand town by the same name, and, as somewhere back home we’re pretty familiar with, we thought we’d better go check the new version out.

That may have been a slight lie. Cambridge in England has actually been around longer than the entire human history in New Zealand – the university there was founded in 1209,  whereas our country was only sighted by westerners for the first time in 1642. In fact, it was of course almost certainly the opposite way around. In any case, we love Cambridge back home and had high hopes for the English version.

It’s a little over an hour by train from London, which makes it a very appealing day trip. We left pretty early in the morning, as always, and after the standard croissant and coffee that mark the start of most of our morning travels, we alighted in Cambridge.

The walk from the train station to the middle of town takes around 20 minutes at a leisurely pace, and the stroll is quite a nice one. In fact, our first impressions were very good – all cosy little lanes and pretty buildings. The only downside was that we spent much of the walk immersed in a fairly large crowd of other tourists. We assumed we’d all find our own space once we all arrived in the old part of town.

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We were a little wrong about that, of course. Cambridge apparently receives over 5 million visitors each year, according to a news article from 2013, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to find those numbers had grown even more since – incredible numbers for such a small place. We could hardly complain I guess, as tourists ourselves, but there were a couple instances I found it to be just way too busy, nearly as bad as anywhere in London. However, that is my one gripe, and I’ll now move on to all the fun things we did.

The one thing I was really keen to do was hire a dingy to go rowing. As an ex-rower myself, going for a little scull in one of the original homes of the sport would have been awesome, but unfortunately it was a punt or nothing (although I was informed that if you’re really keen, and you time your visit well, you can go out in an actual skiff during one of the fairly regular open days at the main club). The walks around the canals and surrounding streets are more than enough to make up for the slight disappointment of not being able to relive past adolescent glories.

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Our first proper tourist attraction was a visit to Queens’ College. One of my favourite things about Cambridge (and Oxford too, but that’s another blog) is that you can go and visit the grounds of pretty much any of the amazing colleges which represent so much of the town’s rich history and culture. It’s cheap, at usually just a couple of pounds each (plus a couple more for one of the very informative guidebooks), and always just such beautiful places. Its incredible when you remember that they’re all still active as schools, as well – it must be quite an experience to actually live in one of them.

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After following the guidebook around the grounds for an hour or so, we left and headed towards Kings College, the most well-known of all the colleges, and decided along the way that we were getting a bit hungry (Kings was also closed that day, so we had to find something else to do). Auntie’s Tea Shop popped into view, and we popped into Auntie’s Tea Shop. Auntie’s does a great scone and tea combo, and although I didn’t try one I was very envious of some of our dining neighbours’ cakes that passed by us. Also, and I know I mention this at some point in nearly every post, compared to London prices it was actually quite a reasonably-priced little snack. Worth a visit.

Next up we paid a visit to Great St Mary’s church. This had a tower which you could climb, for a small fee, which offered some great views of the old part of Cambridge from above. It was also surprisingly empty of other tourists, which was a little odd as I think it must be one of the best vantage points from which to look out over Cambridge.

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In the main square beneath the church we could see there was a nice little weekend market, and as I absolutely love market food it was a given we’d check it out once we made it back down. This one was focused more towards crafts than food, but after I’d found something to eat I decided this probably made it more interesting to wander – as everything seemed to be homemade it was all new to us, which is quite refreshing coming from a big city and all it’s chain stores.

Our next visit was to something a little new – a Cambridge college grounds! We saw a glimpse of a beautiful looking lawn through an ancient gate, and despite risking a college overload we decided we had to check it out. This time it turned out to be Trinity College, and I think this one was even more amazing than the first.

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After a short while of pretending we lived in Trinity, we got down to our favourite activity in every new place – just wandering around the streets. Around the old town, along the canals, out to the main library; Cambridge on a nice day is just a very agreeable place to simply stroll around and enjoy.

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We just managed to sneak in a beer at a cosy little canal-side pub before we headed for the train station (at a fair pace too, because the trains back to London started to get quite far apart at the end of the day and we wanted to get home). The final verdict – I thought Cambridge was a very nice place, ideal for a day trip. It was perhaps a little busier with tourists than I’d expected, but it more than made up for it by being quite beautiful and more than just a little charming. All in all, a great day out.

Until next time, B & A.

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