Our trip to Cambridge required two legs with a change in Birmingham. After making enquiry, we discovered that the train from Birmingham to Cambridge looked identical to the train from Gloucester to Birmingham, and left from the same platform. Hmm...mm. We did learn that one can change from one's reserved seat to a much better non-reserved seat. As always, we enjoyed the ride. Not a real fisherman
We walked up from the railroad station to the first modern hotel of our trip, the Best Western Gonville Inn, midway between the station and downtown, with an elevator and a free computer in the lobby.
Cambridge is definitely a university town, with crowded streets and younger pedestrians and bicyclists, although the University would not begin its 8-week fall term until October. Walking along one street we did a double take: the old fisherman standing on a balcony overlooking the passing parade was really a lifelike statue!
The University of Cambridge has 31 colleges - many more than we had realized. The colleges are scattered all over the town. The older colleges are fully surrounded by walls, and gated, with security to allow students and faculty in, but keep intruders and gawkers out. Because of the enormous number of tourists throughout the year, most of the colleges have instituted visitor fees, to allow visitors to admire the old architecture while maintaining some semblance of privacy for the members of the college.
On a city map we saw a sign for the "Mathematical Bridge," and, since Bob is a mathematician, and Cambridge was the home of Sir Isaac Newton, we thought it might be worthy of investigation. So we purchased admission to Queens College (the current Queen, Elizabeth II, is the patroness) and oohed and The Mathematical Bridge ahhed our way through the quadrangles until we came to the Mathematical Bridge. There were no theorems inscribed on the bridge, no tricky mathematical puzzles to solve to reach it, and, according to the brochure, no truth to the myths that it was designed by Newton and had no nails. Still it was an old, well-designed bridge over the river Cam, and we could see the punters below. So we decided to go punting.
Drifting along the River Cam in a punt is a feature of many romantic novels. We purchased tickets for a 45-minute trip poled by a young man and somehow we managed to enter the boat without hitting our heads or falling into the river. Along with the other six passengers, we reclined luxuriantly as we were poled up and down the river, under bridges and willow trees, past a collection of university buildings, listening to the punter's spiel. Since many of the colleges front on the streets of Cambridge, with their backs to the river, this tour is known as "The Backs."
At least half of the punters were doing it themselves. This group seemed to be divided into two parts: old Cambridge alums who wanted to recreate the pleasures of their college days; and crazy youngsters from all over the world who were happy to do anything! Miraculously, no one took a splash all the time we were watching.
In each of the cities we've done one laundry, about 5 days worth. Wash and fold by the staff runs about ten to fifteen pounds. Since the hotel laundry rates are ridiculous, like two pounds for one pair of underwear, we definitely recommend our approach. Punting on the Cam
Our major Cambridge sight to see was the Fitzwilliam Museum, part of the University for several hundred years. It's a big place, with lots of art, antiquities, manuscripts, coins, pottery and crafts.
We spent some time with a wonderfully well preserved Roman sarcophagus. Another major exhibit was an epic poem, Shahnameh, celebrating the beginnings of Iran (c1000). To make the exhibit the museum had borrowed copies, most of them illuminated by hand, from other major libraries, so that visitors could see the illustrations of battles and feast scenes and the intricate script written so long ago.
We were also impressed by the large collections of French impressionists, and intrigued to see a painting we had just viewed in the Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum - "The Last of England," by Ford Madox Brown, which depicts a rather unhappy young couple emigrating. It turns out the artist made two copies of this work.
We did not plan our visit well, because we were hungry before we'd seen half the museum's collections. But there was no helping things - we had to eat. Loch Fyne is a chain of British seafood restaurants, about the same high quality as Legal Seafood in the United States. In Cambridge, Loch Fyne is right across the street from the Fitzwilliam Museum. We were seduced by the menu into a two-course special. Our table was right at the center of the building, where we could watch the assembly of seafood starter dishes as we waited for our lunch. We enjoyed our food greatly, but the biggest discovery was samphire, a green vegetable which grows only in the marshes of this area, looks somewhat like rosemary and tastes of the sea. King's College Chapel
Another case of bad planning was our trip to the University Library. Had we read the literature from the Tourist Information Center, we would have known that the library was closed the week of our visit, for the Annual Inspection of Books. Still, the walk was enjoyable, and we recovered by visiting the Round Church, with an exhibit on the religious history of Cambridge, and also Heffer's Bookstore. Returning to our hotel, we stopped to walk through the Garden, Food and Produce Fair which had been set up in the park across the street.
Before we left, we visited King's College Chapel, which has intricate, lavish architecture -- from the lacy-looking fan vaulting of chapel ceilings to the statues and the glorious stained glass windows. Bob was a little offended that the guard reminded him to remove his hat before he had entered the chapel. It's not the sort of thing he forgets.
With the crowds of pedestrians and whizzing bicycles, we found walking to be quite tiring. Cambridge is the regional shopping center, and there may have been as many shoppers as tourists. In any case, we spent the next days on trips to quieter towns.