Sunday, September 23, 2018

How I Spent a Day in Cambridge for £22

Good morning, and welcome to my very first post as a newly-minted travel writer!

Last Monday, I took an impromptu day trip to Cambridge. (Seriously, I booked train tickets at 9 p.m. the night before—I'm trying to become more spontaneous throughout my semester abroad, and I'm off to a great start.)

I had a fantastic time, and I managed to avoid spending money aside from the £22 I spent on train tickets. Here are the spots I visited:

1. The Cambridge Visitor Information Centre

Because I decided to visit the night before, I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to do in Cambridge. So I asked the experts. There was a short queue, but the staff was welcoming and knowledgeable. I asked my favorite question—"What are your favorite hidden gem sites that people don't usually ask about?"—and stored the answers for later. 

Cambridge Central Library

2. Cambridge Central Library 

Every time I visit a new city, I have to visit the public library; it's a non-negotiable. Located on the second floor of a shopping centre, this library took a few minutes to find, but it was just as inviting as the visitor centre.

I browsed the UK covers of some of my favorite YA novels, spoke with the staff about libraries in the UK v. the US, and stopped by a small exhibit-slash-reading room housing documents about Cambridge history and genealogy.

3. Trinity College and the Wren Library

The Wren Library was the best recommendation I received from the visitor centre. Owned by Trinity College, it's a working library that displays a small yet impressive collection of historic texts. I only spent maybe 45 minutes there, but being surrounded by the work of so many brilliant minds was my most thrilling experience all day. Here are some highlights:

Sadly, no photography was allowed at the Wren Library,
but here's a photo of the beautiful Trinity College!
  • The original manuscript of A.A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner
  • A first-edition copy of On the Origin of Species, with annotations from Charles Darwin's professor, Adam Sedgwick. He deeply struggled to reconcile Darwin's ideas with his religious beliefs, and this book now gives insight into how religious academics grappled with the idea of natural selection. 
  • Isaac Newton's own copy of Philosophi√¶ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, with hand-written corrections for the second edition

Travel tip: the library is only open for about two hours each day, so make sure you fit it in to your timetable!

4. Reading by the River Cam

Because I'm student myself here in the UK, I did some studying of my own during my trip to this college town. I found a bench outside the Wren Library, which sits near a bend in the River Cam. Then I read a few chapters of Small Island by Andrea Levy, which I'm reading for my "Modern British Novel" class.

5. The Corpus Clock

Neither words nor my bad iPhone photography can truly convey the creepy beauty of this art installation-meets science experiment-meets timekeeping device. Unveiled by Stephen Hawking almost 10 years to the day before my visit, this clock is guarded by a metal insectoid "Chronophage" and keeps time through traditional clock-making mechanics.

I highly recommend sitting on the fence across the street, pondering the passage of time, and reading the clock's Wikipedia page as you watch the Chronophage march steadily forward.

The Mathematical Bridge

6. The Mathematical Bridge (plus other wandering sights)

Next, I spent some time wandering the streets of Cambridge, admiring the stunning architecture, scanning the storefronts for quirky shops, and keeping my eye out for local oddities. I made sure my path included the Mathematical Bridge, known for its unusually sophisticated (for its time) engineering.

Essentially, this bridge uses a "series of tangents that describe the arc of the bridge, with radial members to tie the tangents together and triangulate the structure, making it rigid and self-supporting." (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

I couldn't cross it, as it was part of a closed-off campus, but admiring its strong and clever structure from afar was more than enough.

The entrance to Gonville and Caius College

7. Gonville and Caius College

This division of Cambridge University, where Stephen Hawking first worked upon completion of his PhD, was closed to visitors during my time in Cambridge. But that didn't stop me from walking around the closed-off gate, feeling entirely star-struck. (Let's be honest: the entire day I felt star-struck, amazed that I was walking the streets of the town where one of the greatest minds of our time lived and died.)

My only complaint: just beyond the gates there was a memorial on the walkway to Francis Crick—and as an adamant defender of Rosalind Franklin, I cannot abide that. However, I refocused on the brilliant work of deserving scientists such as Hawking, Franklin, and more, marveling that I was quite possibly walking in their exact footsteps.

7.5. Evensong at King's College Chapel

Sadly, I couldn't attend this nightly choral service at King's College, as the student performers had only just arrived back on campus. (Daily performances resume along with classes this week.) However, I've heard wonderful things about this free serenade, so I had to mention it—I definitely would have gone had I been able!

The beginnings of a sunset over Pembroke College

8. Pembroke College

This school's grounds and chapel are free and open to the public, so I stopped by en route to the train station. I wandered through the maze of greenery surrounding the institution's buildings, imagining I was a real British uni student there, before the clock tower struck seven and I knew it was time to head home.

Overall, Cambridge is the most beautiful university town I've ever visited. It's extremely walkable, with more than a day's worth of activities within a few miles of the train station, and the stunning architecture alone provides hours of free entertainment. I highly recommend a day trip if you're in London!

Did I miss any sights? Let me know in the comments. 

1 comment:

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