This is the fourth time I'd been to Cambridge. I have failed to document the first ever visit to Cambridge. Perhaps I have blocked it out of my mind. Let me set the scene for you. It was March, and it was cold and snowing. The cold wasn't so much out of character for England at that time of year, but the snow was a bit of an anomaly. Several other people were just starting new jobs here also, so the bosses thought it would be a good idea for the newcomers to meet the tenured people. Most of the 'seasoned' professionals, it was rumored, lived in Cambridge and so the group settled on Jamie's Italian restaurant. This is a restaurant owned by the much-famed Jamie Oliver who has his own cooking show and numerous cook books.
We map the restaurant on the GPS and jump into our "Carl's Automatics" rental and headed toward Cambridge. Well, this is where the fun started. Or rather, the lack of fun. Unbeknownst to us first time Cambridge drivers, the maze of one-way streets and major thoroughfares are blocked to vehicular traffic. When I say blocked, what I really mean is that unless you are driving a bus, or are a taxi with a special device in your car, huge bollards rise up from the streets and prevent you from entering the city. Here is a spiffy video illustrating the rising bollards by The Nodding Cat Channel. The child's piano playing in the background is just psycho enough to make you want to poke yourself in the eye with a sharp stick. Much like driving in Cambridge.
Here is what a bollard can do to your car, after hearing the phrase 'Dude, I think I can make it':
So, we're driving along, following our GPS and I just happen to look up and said, "Hey, what's that rising out of the street?" Then came the cursing and screeching of breaks. The little lady in the GPS refused to reroute us. We ended up driving in circles for about 15-20 minutes before swerving to miss a biker and hitting the curb rather sharply which resulted in a flat tire. Nice.
However, there was a can of fix-a-flat in the trunk. That would have been nice, but it did not work. So we ended up limping the car to a bus turn-off and attempted to change the tire. No problem, the Hubs has changed many a tire in his day. True to Murphy's Law, one of the lug nuts was a 'locking' lug nut and the special wrench was not in the trunk. We phoned 'Carl' whose business card claimed to have '24 hour assistance'. Apparently not. To make a long story short, we ended up leaving the car at Jesus Green and getting a cab to the restaurant. We show up 45 minutes late and the Hubs looked like he'd just left his shift at Goober's garage. His knuckles were busted and his hands were covered in grease.
To add insult to injury, the food was meh. I like Italian, but I do have a bit of a problem paying an absorbent amount for pasta I can cook at home for a fraction of the price. Jamie would have been displeased. There is nothing fantastic about 'squid ink pasta' if the sauce is rubbish and the scallops were shaved paper thin. The risotto dish I had that night isn't on the menu anymore. Want more insult? The other coworkers, who lived in Cambridge, didn't bother to show up for the event. Apparently, it was too cold and snowy for them.
The only break we caught that evening was one of our dinner companions had a 'saloon' (Sedan) (also from Carl's Automatics) and could give the three of us a ride back home.
So my first trip to Cambridge was not a good first impression. However, I do believe in second chances. This trip to Cambridge we would drive to the Cambridge Park and Ride. Much better. You park your car (duh) and a double decker bus takes you into the heart of the city. Armed with this brilliant knowledge, we wiped the slate clean and made it a point to enjoy Cambridge with our out of town guest. She just graduated with her Masters in English, so Cambridge was definitely on her list.
After popping into a few bookstores we stopped to enjoy the Cambridge Market. The market has tons of booths. You can find all sorts of food, from German wienerschnitzel to Asian noodle bowls. There is always fresh produce, flowers, and local cheese (I never understood why people would choose cheese as a 'dessert' until I tasted local cheese. Now I know.), clothing, tourist trappings, old vinyl records and books. I bought some gummy worms and sour bears from the candy vendor. He had just about every kind of candy imaginable. This was the Bean's favorite stop.
We just had to experience 'Punting on the Camb'. Which has nothing to do with football, actually. Punting is this:
A long, gondola-type boat you propel with a long pole. You can 'DIY' or you can hire a guide to take you down the River Cambs. Becky and I opted for the latter.Our boat-mates were Jenna and her daughter Daffodil. I feel the need to note this because their heads were in almost every single photo I/we took.
Here is our tour guide, Patrick:
He was fantastic. He was especially excited to learn we were American and amazed when I asked if we would be passing the 'Mathematical Bridge' and the 'Bridge of Sighs', because these bridges are the prints I have from the artist I referenced earlier in a post. I 'declare' having the least little bit of a southern accent will get you pretty much anything you want.
The Mathematical Bridge, he informed us, appears to be fashioned from curved wood, but all the beams used to construct the bridge are, in fact, straight. And the Bridge of Sighs gets its name from the last sigh prisoners would expel on their way to execution.
Here is the Mathematical Bridge:
And the Bridge of Sighs:
This is a must-do! We had a great time and learned a great deal about Cambridge, the architecture and the history. We probably got really lucky- there were just the four of us in the boat.
From there we ventured into the town proper. Becky needed to get a strap on her purse repaired so we stopped at a leather shop. You know what's better than getting your bag repaired? Yep, getting a new leather bag. I was slightly jealous. The bag she bought was rockin'.
We wound down our day by meandering through the 'The Backs', which refers to the backs of the colleges. Becky and I met up with the guys after our Punting in the Barron of Beef. After a local pint, we headed back to the bus stop to catch a ride back to the Park and Ride lot.
I wish I could think of a more exciting way to end my post, but it really was a relaxing and low-key kind of day. The weather was perfect, and, since we took our trip on "Furlough Friday", it was not super crowded.
OK Cambridge, I've forgiven you.
Until next post!!