Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Day Out in Cambridge

Last weekend Keenan and I, along with a friend, took a day trip to explore Cambridge. I hate to admit after living in the U.K. for over two years now, none of us including my ex-New Yorker friend, have visited the famous college town located just 50 miles outside of London. Sad, but true. Even with 25+ out-of-town visitors, we never managed to take our friends and family to visit Cambridge, or Oxford for that matter.  

Since I've been traveling back and forth between London and Chisinau for work over the past few weeks, I treated myself to the architectural gems of Cambridge to rectify the uninspiring bleak Soviet architecture in Chisinau. The offers group fares to/from Cambridge for under a tenner, but the catch is you have to travel on the slow train (1hr 12 mins) from Liverpool Street Station, whereas the direct non-stop train (45 minutes) departs from Kings Cross.

We arrived to Cambridge around noon hungry and ready for lunch. We headed straight to Market Square to check out the bustling Saturday Farmer's Market which sold everything from fish, meats, vegetables and fruits. We grabbed some fresh orange juice and Pinklady apples to start the day, then went to a little tea shop called Auntie's for an artery-clogging full English "brekkie" (aka breakfast) and a large pot of Earl Grey. Tummies happy, it was time for serious business: touring Cambridge's famous colleges.

Rivalry between England’s two oldest and most prestigious universities, “Oxbridge,” dates back some 800 years ago when an association of scholars left Oxford after a dispute with the townsmen to form Cambridge University. Like Oxford, Cambridge is a collegiate university comprising of 31 independent colleges including Kings College, Queens College, and Trinity College. Whilst much bigger in size than its rival, Cambridge still retains its  scholarly atmosphere and the town is filled with cute coffeeshops, ubitiquous bookstores, narrow pedestrian pathways, and tons of bikes lining the streets of Cambridge. 

Our first stop along the King's Parade was King's College. Founded by Henry VI in 1441, King's College is the most architecturally stunning building in Cambridge in my opinion, particularly the College Chapel, a brilliant example of late Gothic architecture. We meandered through the Great Courtyard of King's College to "The Backs" to watch people go "punting" (pole-boating) along the River Cam whilst braving the winter chill. We came back later in the evening to enjoy a free concert by the internationally famous King's College Choir. If you have time, I highly recommend it!

Next: Trinity College. The largest of Cambridge's colleges founded by Henry VII in 1546, Trinity College's notable alumni includes Jawaharlal Nehru, Issac Newton, and Francis Bacon, and has produced over 30 Nobel Laureates. It is also home of the Wren Library designed by Christopher Wren, the 17th century architect who also designed St. Paul Cathedral in London.

Then: St. John's College. Entering through the magnificent Great Gate of St. John's College (£3 admission) takes you to the First Court built just south of the old hospital. The pathway takes you to the College Chapel designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, taking its inspiration from Sainte Chapelle in Paris through the Chapel Courtyard to the Second Court and Third Court to the River Cam where you can get a glimpse of the Bridge of Sighs, a smaller replica of the famous bridge in Venice.

Our last stop was Queens' College, located on the bottom of the King's Parade, which was unfortunately closed by the time we arrived at 4:00 PM. Hours vary seasonally so be sure to check before you visit. Oh well -- there is always next time, and yes, there will be a next time! We went to see the famous landmark of Queens College -  the Mathematical Bridge - straddling the narrow River Cam. I'm not sure why  this wooden bridge is famous; it was uninspiring at best and reminded me of the wood bridge we had to build using toothpicks in 7th grade science class. The popular fable was that Sir Issac Newton designed the bridge without the use of nuts and bolts.

With some time to kill before the King's College Choir started, we stopped at The Anchor, a nearby pub along the River Cam, for a pint and pear cider. Afterward, the three of us went to dinner at Jamie Oliver's Italian, which was a great way to end our wonderful little day trip to the famous college town of Cambridge. Until we meet again...


  1. good tips! we've done a lot of the same trips as you guys while living in London, but not as many..impressive amount of coverage!

    1. Thanks and Happy New Year Rowan! Where about are you guys in London?

  2. Replies
    1. So we're neighbors! Hope to run into each other, or drop me a line if you want to grab a pint! Cheers, L.