A few weeks ago I took a short trip (about 1.5 hours) to esteemed Cambridge, expecting the normal college town youth and rowdiness. I was honestly surprised by how low-key and tame the city was, and by the lack of typical souvenir shops. Cambridge was absolutely gorgeous, and despite the chill of February, I had a great time. I even felt the sun for a little while!
This was my first time being led by a tour guide in Europe, and I have to say it was an interesting experience. She began her spiel with the creation of Cambridge, spinning a story about a horrific tragedy in Harvard (involving a student being dragged from their bed and killed in the street after an incident with a crossbow) that drove the students from their comfortable city and into the small area of Cambridge. Colleges were quickly built to accommodate the new rush of students, and the city of Cambridge began to flourish. This was the first of several gruesome lectures, and the beginning of my journey through the deceivingly tame streets.
The tour guide also told the ghostly history behind The Eagle, Cambridge’s most famous pub. After a child was killed in a fire that raged through the building a few hundred years ago, the upstairs window (that of the child’s) has been left open in order to let their soul depart. This isn’t just a nicety — it is written in the deed of the building that the window can never be closed. That’s pretty serious business, especially considering how cold it gets in the winter!
Cambridge is a mixture of old and new, incorporating bustling city streets, reserved alley walkways, towering modern offices, and century old courtyards. Similar to Norwich, it seemed to be a city with a small town heart. The three attractions that intrigued me most were the colleges, the market, and the used book shops on St. Edwards Passage. The market was smaller than the Norwich market, but it was lively and full of interesting foods and knick-knacks (including a tee-shirt stand selling tea-shirts!). The bookstores met my three A’s: adorable, affordable, and approachable, and were located in a charming alleyway right outside of the market area. I could have easily spent an entire day browsing through books, but as my time was limited I was hardly able to explore. The colleges were impeccably built, and the history behind each was worth listening to. My favorite of the 31 was Trinity College.
Trinity was built by Henry VIII in 1546 after a suggestion by his wife (a secret plot on her part to save the preceding schools) to build the biggest and best college to show his importance. The outside of the building shows six plaques, separated in the middle by a statue of King Henry VIII himself. Each plaque carries one of his son’s coat of arms, except one which is blank (because the boy died before he was able to receive his own coat), and the statue holds a chair leg instead of the original scepter (which was also at one point replaced with a bicycle pump).
The college was home to the famous English physicist and mathematician, Isaac Newton. His room looked out onto the apple tree that would prompt his universal law of gravitation (which has been spliced to create a new apple tree that thrives in its place).
Cambridge was breathtaking. The river Cam was like something out of a painting, especially with the punt cruising by under the bridges in the sunshine. I can’t wait to get back to this incredible and intriguing city (especially to raid those bookshops more thoroughly!!).