As Daphne told us in her blog post today, we were in Cambridge on Tuesday and Wednesday to see "The Taming Of The Shrew" which was put on for my benefit, of course. Yes it is true. I wield such power in this country.
It was my first trip to this historic University city, a city of dreaming spires and classy 'Big Issue' sellers. Well actually not all that classy as we'll see a little later.
So early on Tuesday afternoon, after dumping our belongings at the B&B, we set off walking to see as much of the city as we could before 7:30pm when we had to be at the Robinson College Gardens for the start of the play.
There is one famous view in Cambridge and if I only got one photo, I wanted my own photo of that view.
And this IS that view.
It's the west facade of King's College Chapel and even on a cloudy day, it was pretty damn impressive.
I'd hoped to get across to where those people are walking but that's when I first found out that a lot of things in Cambridge can only be achieved when money changes hands, and as anyone who knows me will tell you, my hands are pretty tight.
You see, to cross the river to get to most of the colleges involves a walkway and a bridge. You have to pay to get across even if you don't want to go into the colleges concerned. We didn't and so we didn't. I got my picture from a little further away but that's what zoom lenses are for !!
Thankfully not all the walkways and bridges led into colleges and so the ones that led to the city, had free access.
Here are some views from a couple of these bridges looking down onto the river which, at the time, was swarming with silly punts.
All cock-a-knee rhyming slang aside, the number of punts out on the river was frankly astonishing.
My semi romantic notion of loving couples being punted downstream past these wonderfully historic colleges and beautiful scenery was completely shattered when I saw the chaos unfolding before my eyes.
It was like Venice at rush hour. Tourists were being encouraged to take their turn at a bit of punting and the result was like an RNIB Boat Race.
I think this photo shows it best.
Maybe some local can tell me if it's like this all summer long or did we just visit during some sort of punting madness week ?
Yes it was all good clean fun but it did sort of spoil the atmosphere a bit.
As you can see from this photo and even better in the next one, the normal rules of the water were being broken at every opportunity.
It's very difficult to pass on the left or the right when approaching a punt which is coming at you sideways !!
This was the view looking the other way, north in fact.
I loved the way the trees formed a natural tunnel for the river to flow through and this view of people on the bridge neatly brings me to the only form of transportation more numerous than the punts.
Cambridge, in line with it's University rival Oxford, has more bikes per head of population than anywhere apart from the Raleigh factory in Chipping Sudbury.
These silent killers are everywhere and you take one step off the pavement at your peril. Two things struck me as particularly ironic on this first stroll around the city.
First, given the many thousands of bikes that fill the streets of Cambridge, we never passed a single bike shop.
Second, the only passengers we ever saw in the numerous bike rickshaws that passed us were as oriental as the bike origins.
I don't know why this would be. Maybe Brits don't like being taken for a ride in this way and prefer the more traditional mini cab !
I loved the numerous narrow passageways and alleys of Cambridge and I was reminded many times of York. These two photos show when I mean.
In most modern cities, such 'streets' would be dark, dank and frankly dangerous to walk along. The ones in Cambridge were clean, safe and with the lovely buildings on both sides, were interesting as well.
Many of the main streets were just as narrow.
I don't know if it was the absence of the usual fast food outlets but I found Cambridge impressively free of the litter we find in most other UK cities.
By the time we left on Wednesday, we'd walked around a large part of the place and I never saw a Burger King or a McDonalds or a KFC.
I'm sure they are there, maybe in one of the modern city malls that we never went into. But it was refreshing to see that the city was very well 'stocked' with eating places that provided food that didn't fit into a polystyrene box and a small paper bag.
Speaking of which, we decided to have an early supper on the walk back to the B&B. Daffy spotted a likely candidate and what a winner it was.
I had a huge wedge of steak and ale pie, mashed potatoes and peas with rich gravy and was very thankful that we'd not had to resort to fast food. It was delicious and filling and perfect for sustaining me during the 2 hour play later that evening.
Next morning, after a monster breakfast at the B&B. we drove off to explore more of the city.
After parking on a road near King's College, we again crossed a bridge to get into the city proper.
The tops of both sides of the bridge were decorated with several very large stone balls and they just begged to be photographed like this.
It doesn't come across in the photo but each solid orb was about 3 times the size of a bowling ball.
After crossing the bridge, we picked up our tour from yesterday as we'd left it at the lovely outdoor market.
Everywhere you looked, it seemed like you saw the towers and turrets of some college building or other.
It's just that sort of place.
Here you can see some of the market stalls on the left and if you look closely, you can see 4 old style red phone boxes that are only kept now for tourists to photograph.
Oh they work and have modern phones inside them but sadly they've been replaced in most UK cities.
Remember the comment I made back at the start about classy 'Big Issue' sellers ? Well for those who don't know about it, the 'Big Issue' is a magazine sold on the streets by homeless people so that they can earn a bit of money for themselves. I know it's not just a UK entity but just in case you've never heard of it in your country, take the link.
In the UK the homeless people buy each magazine for 70p ($1.35) and sell it for £1.50 ($2.95) and the 80p ($1.55) 'profit' is theirs to keep. Given that incentive, the sellers have a well earned reputation for high pressure selling and in Leeds at any rate, they practically challenge you to pass them without buying a magazine.
This seller didn't really need to jump in front of people to get their attention.
He was also the sort of person you tend to remember long after you pass him by.
I thought we'd entered a black hole and popped up in Tibet but no, we were still in sunny England and had managed to find the only 'Big Issue' seller in the country who didn't say a word.
He just stood there and people went up to him.
Well except me. I told you my hands were tight.
He was a classic example of why I love people watching. And here is another reason for it.
I mean these 3 girls could've been anywhere but as well as admitting that I like taking photos of pretty girls, I took this one specifically so that someone could tell me what on earth the two on the right are eating ?
I kinda hoped I was going to witness a replay of the scene from 'Lady And The Tramp' which would've been a damn sight more titilating than the original, but sadly it was not to be.
Before we reached the car, I was able to get a photo of yet another bridge.
Although it was a fairly plain, basic and simple bridge, I liked both its reflection in the still waters and the fact that those same waters were punt free.
It just remains for me to show and explain one more photo. The final college we visited was Trinity College (founded by Henry VIII in 1546) and although there was an admission charge as always, we found a small open door which led to a locked gate which in turn gave a great view of the college quadrangle - also known as The Great Court.
If you enlarge the photo (just click on it) you will see the water fountain a bit better but it's not easy as it's somewhat swallowed up by the buildings behind it.
In the middle is the Clock Tower, or King's Gate and it has a movie claim to fame.
In the 1981 movie, Chariots Of Fire, 2 track athletes hoping to qualify for the 1924 Olympics test each other by racing around The Grand Court hoping to complete the course by the time the clock has finished striking noon.
It helped that for some bizarre reason, the clock strikes each hour twice and so the total time taken is 43 seconds. The distance is 341 metres.
But as always, all things Hollywood are not as they seem, although this time, the inaccuracy wasn't their fault.
The Dean of Trinity would not cooperate with the movie makers and so the race was actually filmed at Eton College near London. There was a recreation of the race for charity in 1988 with the two best UK runners of the day, Seb Coe and Steve Cram taking part. The runners restricted themselves to a course dictated by the flagstones between the cobbles, and hence had to turn very sharply at each corner. Coe won, getting round in 45.52 seconds and it seems that over lunch after the race, the Dean admitted that it had been a great mistake not to have cooperated with the making of the movie.
See, who says my posts aren't educational ???
We had a lovely time in Cambridge. The play was good; the actor we went to see in it was good; the food was good; the weather was good. But the overall winner was - the city itself.
I liked it. I liked it a lot.