Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Visit to Cambridge

In an effort to tell you that, yes, Denis and I did enjoy the month we spent in the UK mid-March through mid-April, I thought I'd tell you about the day we spent in Cambridge. (Yes, all the photos are clickable so you can see them in larger sizes in new windows.)

If it hadn't been for the weather, we could've visited Oxford, too, but it didn't cooperate. You still might wonder why I would choose Cambridge over Oxford. After all, I love crime fiction... wouldn't Inspector Morse be the greater draw?

Actually a copper did make the deciding vote, but he was a television copper: Detective Sergeant James Hathaway of the British ITV program, Lewis. Hathaway was educated in Cambridge, so I gave my vote to him instead of Morse.

As anyone who's traveled in the UK can tell you, exploring its cities is not always a time for rejoicing. The streets tend to be very narrow. Cars are usually parked on one side or the other (or both), putting their side mirrors in mortal danger. Car parks (parking lots) can be few and far between. Oh... and the traffic can be horrendous. There were settlements in the Cambridge area as long as 3,500 years ago, and the University of Cambridge (one of the top five universities in the world) was founded in 1209. When places have been settled that many centuries before the combustion engine, they're really not going to be perfect for vehicular travel.

Map showing our route around Cambridge
Fortunately Denis came up with the perfect solution:  (This company operates in many cities and countries, not just Cambridge, by the way!) For £14 each, we would get a ticket good for twenty-four hours, and since one of the mottoes of the company is "Hop On, Hop Off," this meant that we could get on and off one of their doubledecker buses as many times as we wanted for an entire twenty-four hours. Even better, one of the stops on their route was right outside a huge Park and Ride lot. Denis and I wouldn't even have to drive into the city. Just park the rental car, walk out to the bus stop on the street, get on the bus, pay for our tickets, take our seats, and be on our way to see Cambridge.

Denis's perch on the top of the bus. It was COLD!
Each passenger could grab a cheap and cheerful set of free headphones to plug in at their seats in order to listen to the recorded travelogue. By this time, I was thoroughly sick and tired of being frozen to the bone, so Denis trekked up the stairs to the top deck of the bus all by his lonesome. As you can see by the way folks are bundled up in the photo to the left, it was cold. The sun was attempting to shine more than hide, but the wind blowing straight from Scandinavia and Russia went through a body like machetes!  In fact, according to the recording I was listening to, the highest ground east of Cambridge is in Russia. No wonder the wind wasn't having any trouble cutting us to ribbons!

Think how beautiful this park will be in spring and summer!

Orchard Street
Just in case you thought I was talking through my hat when I mentioned narrow streets, I thought I'd show you Orchard Street in Cambridge. Thank heavens the bus driver didn't have to turn down that one-- although I had every confidence in him within a few minutes of taking my seat!

The Cambridge streets are not on any sort of grid system. (We folks in the US are very spoiled in most cases.) And those narrow, twisting streets are jam-packed with traffic. The bus driver was incredibly skilled in getting through this traffic. At one point he aimed his unwieldy steed through a gap that left no more than four inches to spare on either side of the bus. Wow! (Not only was he skilled, he was a very nice man, too.)

Bicycles everywhere!
Students are not allowed to have cars. I can't even imagine how horrible the traffic would be if they could. Instead, the vast majority of students get everywhere by bicycle, as you can see in the photo to the left. In the city center, not only do you have to be on the lookout for fellow pedestrians, you also have to dodge bicycles that are parked everywhere.

Now, I'm going to be quiet for a while and let you see some of the sights uninterrupted.

Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs

Cambridge War Memorial

The Round Church, built in 1130 AD

Gate detail, Christ's College, Cambridge

Punts on the River Cam

One of many old houses that caught our eye

Our bus
We made one complete circuit of the bus route to see everything and to get the lay of the land before we hopped off. We rode past Christ's Pieces where there is a memorial garden for Princess Diana; the ADC Theatre where Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie and Derek Jacoby (among many others) performed; in front of one of the flats at the Radegund Buildings across from Jesus College (where Samuel Taylor Coleridge studied), there was a plastic crate labeled DIRTY CROCKERY outside one of the blue doors. I wondered if someone would pick up my dirty dishes and wash them for me if I did the same thing at home?

The travelogue through my headphones was informative. Cambridge has a population of about 111, 000. There are approximately 14,000 students-- and 35,000 bicycles.  But it was time to get off the bus and walk the streets of the city center. I was hunting for the Waterstone's bookshop in Cambridge!

Walking in Cambridge

Cambridge streets

It wasn 't until Denis and I got off the bus and started walking that I began to feel like an old fart, swimming against a heaving tide of bright young things chattering, laughing, texting. The closer we got to all the shops, the busier the streets became-- until I had to stop gawping at the old buildings surrounding me and start paying attention to where I was going so I wouldn't be mown down.

Hardy's Sweetshop across from the Round Church

The multi-level Waterstone's was a slice of heaven. We ate lunch in their café, and once we were warmed and rejuvenated, we began to look around. I found two books I couldn't live without, as well as three bookmarks, and a notepad to give as a gift. Then I wandered the Architecture and Crafts section, and I saw book after book after glorious book that I would love to have yet didn't have the space for in my luggage. Denis took out his phone and took photos of the ones that made me drool the most so I would have titles and authors to order them once we returned to Phoenix.

Once we'd had our fill of shopping and wandering, we hopped back on the bus for the ride back to the Park and Ride. I looked at the mistletoe hanging off the trees as we passed Churchill College. I'd gotten chills at Jesus College where one of my favorite poets studied (the aforementioned Coleridge), but when we passed Churchill College and I listened to the travelogue telling me that I was where the atom was split for the first time, that I was where DNA was discovered... I got a lump in my throat. Being in the presence of greatness does that to me. I only hoped that most of those 14,000 students realize how truly fortunate they are-- and that they will strive for future greatness.

King's College, Cambridge
There was a short pause at the Cambridge American Cemetery, created during World War II and where Glenn Miller and Joe Kennedy, Jr. are buried. Then in no time at all, we got off the bus at our stop, found our car in the Park and Ride lot, and made our way back to our cottage in Bedfordshire.

We'd been scoured clean by the ferociously cold wind, elbowed aside a time or two by the bright young things, and awed by the ancient buildings and the feeling of the power of knowledge all around us. It was a brilliant day made possible by a red doubledecker bus.

Where will my travel tales take you to next? You'll have to wait and see!


  1. Thanks so much for the tour! I'm missing the UK!

    1. So am I. Spending a month there made it harder to leave.

  2. I love these tours although they make me green with envy, or is it my jewelry? I like Hathaway too so I approve of your choice. We took the oh what is it they call their subway and got around very easily. We've been saying "mind the gap" ever since, and also swore we would stay in Kensington next time we go to London if we can find a place we can afford. No more driving in England though. We're entirely too familiar with the outside mirror danger on the cars. lol

    1. In London they call the subway the tube, everywhere else they tend to call it the underground. I don't do underground, hence the fact that I never intend to make use of a subway!

      A lot of cars in the UK now have side mirrors that fold inwards. I wonder why? LOL

  3. That sounds like a wonderful visit. I love to be around university students!

    1. I do, too-- unless there's a whole herd of 'em that's in a hurry to get somewhere! LOL

  4. Oh, how absolutely lovely! I think I would have chosen Cambridge, too, but not because of Hathaway, but because that's where Adelia Aguilar, Ariana Franklin's wonderful coroner/detective, settled. That's the setting of A Mistress in the Art of Death. (I just introduced a new person to this series, which she loves.) I read that Diana Norman's daughter (Franklin) is writing a fifth book based on her mother's notes.

    Anyway, the River Cam, breathtaking. I'm trying to remember if it's in the Franklin books. I remember scenes with rivers. That a university was founded in 1209 takes my breath away.

    Good you watched out and tried to avoid being mowed down.

    The Waterstone's -- yup, that's where I would have headed, and probably any crime fiction fan or reader. And the fact that one can eat there is even better. Why can't I find that in the Big Apple? Well, I could go about 10 blocks to Barnes & Noble, browse and get a dessert and tea. But Waterstone's sounds so good. Nice of Denis to photo book covers for you.

    And the heat here: just read that people in Las Vegas have been hospitalized in the 114 degrees. And while you Arizonians tough it out, it seems that Phoenix has been hit, not surprisingly.

    Time for reading those books you bought. We await the reviews.

    1. Yes, it's been 120° here for the past two days, and I've been out in the pool reading good books.

      I've already reviewed one of the books I purchased-- THE YARD. Fabulous book! And thanks for reminding me that I have MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH on my TBR shelves! I've brought it in here so it can yell at me to start reading it.

  5. Wonderful post, wonderful trip, Cathy. Thanks for taking us with you. I visited Great Britain many years ago and I still cherish my memories. We went to Oxford and had the best time. We visited not only England, but also Scotland and Wales.

    How fortunate you are to be able to spend a month over there. I can't imagine anything I'd rather do. :)

    1. Denis has taken me to Wales and Scotland. I absolutely love the Highlands and wouldn't mind living there part of the year. Come on, Lottery!

  6. I had read your review of The Yard, just checked on it. (And thanks for putting all your reviews in the search engine. I do consult it regularly.)

    I'm not a big reader of historical crime fiction, however, I am a fan of the Ariana Franklin books and recommend What Alice Knew by Paula Marantz Cohen, which Yvette suggested.

    I still can't believe you can go outside in 120 degrees, even to get to the pool..the sun is beating down. I stay in a/c during the day as much as possible.

    1. Phoenix got a bit of a break today. Clouds started moving in mid-afternoon, so it was only about 115°. Now a dust storm is trying to blow through. If it's as windy up in Yarnell as it is here, it bodes ill for all those fighting the wildfire. 19 firefighters died today. Words cannot express what a tragedy it is for all those knew them.

  7. Cathy - Cambridge is one of those magical cities that I've always wanted to visit. I just love the way you've caught the atmosphere in those 'photos!

  8. I have been watching the news about the tragic loss of 19 firefighters, experts at their jobs, heroes to the community. When I think of the loss to their families, I know it's terrible.

    And we just know they were wonderful, courageous, community-minded people, who had a lot left to give and to do. My heart goes out to their families, especially their children.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. Everyone here is still reeling from shock, I think.


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