Mon 7 Oct - Cambridge, England

Massive day with lots of photos; universities / colleges, punting, Jamie Oliver and Al Stewart.

Today started off as a true sightseeing day with our focus of on the world's 3rd oldest surviving university and its colleges (FYI, the oldest apparently is University of Bologna, the second oldest is... Duh... Oxford).

We started with a continental breakfast in our pub before heading into the historic heart of Cambridge and the university. We originally thought a punt was a good idea to kick off the day but they didn't open until after 10am and we were there much earlier. No one here yet...except one lonely worker.

So we meandered a bit and opted to try and find out more about Charles Darwin who was a student at Christ's College. Visitors can wander freely into the gardens at this college so we set out to find the Darwin Portico and a statute of the young Darwin.

Found Darwin's Portico...

We read some of the massive amount of information on the boards about Darwin as a student here and his mentor, Professor Henslow.
As most would know, Charles Darwin published the theory of evolution after his journey on the HMS Beagle. It apparently was pure fate that Darwin went on that journey - it was his mentor who was contacted first and Professor Henslow recommended Darwin.
Two strong brains... No, really... No, not really...
Di wishing she could have been allowed to stay and explore more.
After this short history lesson we realized that we would need a guide to learn more and the punt on the river was probably not sufficient for the purpose. We knew nowhere near enough about Cambridge and how their colleges and uni work.
After some research we opted for the 11am Original Cambridge 2 hour Walking Tour promoted by the Tourist Info Centre. Turned out to be a brilliant choice.

Janet, our tour guide and in the picture below, was a hoot. Full of knowledge, quick thinking and very funny.

One of the first stops was the Eagle Pub that briefly featured in yesterday's blog. It turned out that there was much more to that pub than being just the "most famous" in that the DNA discovery was announced there.
This window at the top floor must never be closed. Bad bad luck if it does (possible fire) and it's constant open state is ordered by management due to a tragedy many centuries ago where a young woman was caught in a fire in that room and could not escape.
Janet said that the window had been closed once in modern times...and that evening the pub's ice machine blew up and started to smoke...never again.

The RAF bar is one of several bars inside the Eagle.

The RAF bar was frequented by WWII servicemen during leave from the war and its ceiling is full of graffiti from that time, including a drawing of the bar hostess at the time, "very friendly" Ethel, dressed in "nothing more than a cigarette" according to Janet.

An inside plaque locating the spot where the DNA discovery was announced.

Inside this building and laboratory, the electron was discovered and a lot of the initial research about nuclear science took place... With some awful personal consequences, like cancer and loss of fingers, as the radioactive impact was very poorly understood at the time. Once the illness and cancer risk was understood, the rooms were ordered to be sealed in lead and not opened for 30 years.

Of course when reopened in the 1960's the rooms were still radioactive - and they ended up stripping everything down to the stone. They are now offices but we were not keen to go inside.

A plaque commemorating J.J. Thomson for his useful find (e.g. For nuclear power).

We soon learned about the intense rivalry between Cambridge and Oxford - in all things. Janet joked that Oxford was "that other place" not to be mentioned by name and took many opportunities to highlight where Cambridge was better.

The Cambridge logo. Apparently, Oxford has an opened book as opposed to Cambridge with its closed book. This, of course, has led to all different kinds of jokes and insinuations... Who is studying and who is lazy... Who has finished studying and can now party... You get the picture.

We then walked inside Queens' College to have a look. Amazing buildings and grounds... We let the pictures here show for themselves...

Several "courts" within each college and the students are allocated rooms with reference to a door and set of stairs. The names of the resident students are shown at each doorway.

We later learned that all rooms cost the same amount but obviously some are better than others (eg. Size, location and amenities). The "better" rooms in most colleges are assigned to the students with best results in exams.

Our group paying close attention...a nice mix of people including the American gentleman closest to Hans who spent 3 years living in Woomera in South Australia in the 1970's. Yep, he was an Air Force guy.

We were jealous of the students who get a chance to study here. It is a really cool place and would be very very inspirational.

This is a combined sun and moon dial, but it also shows a lot more than that.

Inside one of the beautifully decorated rooms of the Queens College, now used for dinners and presentations.

It used to be the old student dining room and the rules state they have to wear their "gowns" for dining, chapel and when visiting their head of studies. Each college has some variation on these rules and lots and lots of more rules.

Into another "court" and this lovely old building is the Masters Lodge - head of college, who lives here.

We moved on down to river Cam and this bridge that was not designed by Isaac Newton as apparently is rumored, even though he did study at Cambridge.

The next place we walked to on the tour, is THE college, the Kings College. There are 31 colleges for the 1 University and ALL students here must live in a college. As the uni is old the college and uni buildings are intertwined and hard to pick which is which. Basically the whole town is both uni and colleges. The giant gates tend to be a giveaway that it is a college entrance rather than a uni entrance.
All rookies i.e. first year students must wear their gown when out and about in town. There were plenty of them as apparently this is "freshies" week.

The inside lawn of Kings College. Only university fellows are allowed to walk on the lawn, and boy, didn't some show off.

The huge chapel of Kings College...started in 1446 and taking a hundred years to build.

If you were not sure where you were... If that is indeed possible...

This just looked funny. River Cam and punts are down below there.

Wow - what can you say - such an awesome space. This "chapel" has the longest ceiling in Europe (90 metres) which is not centrally supported.

The chapel is not part of any particular church - it is privately run by the college and as a result can change religious denominations to suit occasions. A service is held at 5.30pm each day and we vowed to come back tomorrow as the choir always sings during the service.

The choir stalls to the front and sitting behind, the Fellowes (teachers).

This ancient stained glass was paid for by King Henry VIII and tells the story of Jesus being sentenced, hung on the cross and taken down. During WWII the college dismantled every window in 4 days and packed them into storage. After the war it took 6 years to reinstall them - a giant jigsaw - with a rumor that not all completely matched up.

This giant Rubens painting was donated to the college and they didn't want it originally but decided the chapel altar was the best place to show it off.

The faint markings are old graffiti - from Oliver Cromwell and his troops. They kept their horses in the chapel and wrote on the walls. For centuries this was hidden by panelling and only discovered once the chapel was cleaned and restored.

A final batch of facts from Janet - all students have to be very very smart to get into Cambridge (something about 3 A's in your A levels PLUS an interview where you have to prove you can think on your feet and that you are an "all rounder". They want future leaders not just studious nerds.

Our walking tour finished outside the King's College. After our walking tour was completed with Janet telling us all to "now, go away", we did just that. Into the market square for a simple lunch of baked potatoes. We sat on the wall outside the college and enjoyed the sunshine and people watching.

Around 2pm we headed down to the Cam river for our intended punt trip along the river. We joined a group of 10 others with our punter, Gareth, and headed down. Gareth is Cambridge born and bred, doing his second year uni, staying at King's College where his mother is also a Fellowe.

Our obligatory self portrait...

Our group of "puntees"...with the back of St Catherine's College to the right.

This tour is known as the "Backs" as you see the back of 7 colleges. We think this was Queens' again.

Gareth doing fine with the low bridges, punting, talking and keeping us on the straight and narrow...

Trinity College is the largest and about the 3rd richest "organization" in the UK and quite famous for the amount of land it owns, including 25% of Manhattan! Prince Charles studied here (not with brilliant results) and subverted the rule about "no Cambridge student being allowed to have a car" by having his helicopter parked on the lawn nearby and flying home to mummy regularly. Ridiculous. No cred.

We then passed St. John's College, which is really stunning - this is the student accomodation. Right...

Their own Bridge of Sighs - college accomodation on the left, exam halls and Fellowes on the right...

We passed a series of ugly modern buildings belonging to Magdalene College and one of their oldest buildings with cheap brickwork disguised in this amazing Virginia Creeper.. Apparently this college for many years had the worst reputation of allowing students in who could pay, up to 10 times the normal college fee, who did not meet the academic qualifications. Gareth said that had changed.

After the punting had finished, we wandered back to the Waterman, had a break and recharged the camera battery as we had planned a huge evening. Dinner at Jamie Oliver's Italian before an acoustic evening with Al Stewart at the Cambridge Corn Exchange which are literally opposite each other in a narrow lane.

Before we entered Jamie's grub house, we picked up our concert tickets from the ticket office which took about 10 seconds. Given the number of printed tickets next to the cashier, it appeared that a lot of punters had done exactly what we did, ordered tickets online to pick them up at the office later.

As the signs say, this is the building for Jamie Oliver's Italian. We took this photo a bit later just before the concert started as it was still daylight when we arrived for our 5.45pm reservation.

Big space inside... Not sure what was here earlier, but could have been a bank.

Beautifully decrorated, with Jamie's blackboard specials behind Di. True to Jamie Oliver's style the menu of course, uses words like wicked, smashing and awesome when he describes his specials.

Hans enjoying a good Sangiovese called Torrione which according to the spiel was developed by a buddy of Jamie somewhere in the Toscana region. We agreed that the wine was good and we could easily drink it another time.

Our waiter was a charming and funny middle aged Italian gentleman also from the Toscana region, with unkempt wild hair and throwing in his standard Italian phrases in the language. We left a tip as he deserved it - as it was a busy night with several people around us dropping Al Stewart's name.

Our food was fine, with nice flavours, but no better than the nice Italian meal we had at Rhos-on-Sea. We shared a crispy squid to start with, then both had pasta. An ok meal but a nice dining experience.

We still had some time spare between dinner and concert and decided on a short walk around the block. The grasshopper clock was beautifully lit up at night.

The grasshopper, or the Clockroach as modern mythology apparently calls it, looked a bit scary close up. Of course, the whole thing moves like a clock meaning that a sharp photo was quite difficult to take.

About 15 minutes before the show we headed inside. This is the lobby of the Cambridge Corn Exchange.

The concert was very structured and this must have been an organiser's demand. Dave Nachmanoff opened with about 4 songs before Al Stewart entered the stage. David was very talented but of course we had been waiting for the man himself. Photography was really really difficult as we sat up on the balcony and light on the musicians was very bright while the surrounding were dark. Here are a few pics that we thought were acceptable.

The man, Al Stewart himself... A huge round of applause...

Al with Dave Nachmanoff.

After a scheduled 20 minutes interval, after an hour of music, a special guest, a third guitarist came up. Tim Renwick, who we heard had not only played on a number of Al's records, had also played with bands like Pink Floyd, Roger Water's solo tours, Elton John etc etc. Respect.

It was a very good concert, 2 hours of music, with great quality sound and fine guitar playing - and some of our favorites were in the list too (considering Al has recorded over 500 songs this was not guaranteed). We sang along from time to time but noticed that we were more vocal than most of the British crowd.

The concert finished 10pm on the dot, as per the published timetable. Afterwards, all three of the musicians came into the lobby to sign merchandise and chat to the punters. We had to be patient and wait about 15-20 minutes for Al Stewart.

Hans had bought an Al Stewart tour t-shirt (as you do) and it gave him the opportunity to have it signed... And to talk to Al.

The fan and his hero. Hans has been a fan of Al Stewart for 40 years or so. Can you tell from the picture?

Hans told Al that we were from Australia and had organised our holidays around his concert. He also told him that he had hoped that he would play "Baleka Doodle Day" as the opening line talks about Cambridge, but Al seemed a bit tired and replied that he had written more than 500 songs and he could not play all of them. Fair enough. He probably get questions like "why didn't you play..." all the time.

We leave Cambridge Corn Exhange very satisfied with the concert and Hans with meeting a long time hero, since childhood, and with a signed Al Stewart t-shirt. All in a day's work.

We finish off the day with a photo from the same spot as the first photo of the day, although more than 13 hours later.

Home again around 11pm and by midnight we say good night from us after a full full day.

Oh yes, one more picture, Hans with his Al Stewart signed Al Stewart touring UK t-shirt... :-)

 

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