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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Getting lost and facing fears: Cambridge and Ely


So glad to see you again.  I know I've kept you waiting lately...and I'm sorry.  There's really no excuse.  But it's not like I've been sitting on my butt watching you-tube videos...oh look a Green Lantern trailer...

...Okay maybe a little bit of procrastination has taken place...


So this outing will be a summary of two trips I made recently.  During the week I am left to travel on my own since my lovely host Jessica must nanny her sister-in-law's children 5 days a week.  Tyler and Johnathan. Nice kids.  I don't like kids.  But they're pretty cool.  A little loud. But cool.

So since the village of Sutton, in which I have planted my home base, is a mere half hour from Cambridge, I thought it a crime to miss this chance to explore one of the original "college towns."

The weather had been beautiful for the past week.  No English rain.  No wind.  I was really beginning to think my 15 sweaters and poncho should have stayed in Washington.  This day made up for it.

Waiting for the bus to take me from Sutton to Cambridge left me pretty damn drenched.  Brian didn't plan it out too well either because his sleeping patterns led him to missing the two o'clock bus and having to wait around for an hour until the next one.

So when I finally arrived in this fairly awesome town at around 3:45 I had just a bit of the day left to do my soggy adventuring.  It was still raining when I arrived, though the rain did not diminish the excitement I felt wandering these medieval streets.

This was a day of wandering.  Wandering because I hadn't thought to do any planning(like a map) for this trip.  It work out quite swell though.  Nothing like getting lost in a foreign land to familiarize yourself with the landscape.  Or get mugged.

Started off exploring the market streets.  Lots of cool little antique stores, some fresh produce, and countless student-employed coffee shops.  The young gent from whom I procured my caffeinated beverage told me he was working on finishing his third degree.  I asked him what he wanted to do.  He had no idea, just liked going to school.  Fantastic.

The city feels close. You have a few open streets but many that I spent time on felt more like alleys with motor traffic. 
You just missed the semi that drove through here.  Had a whole centimeter to spare.
Anyway, still drenched.  And the colleges that I came to see were closing fast so I had to do some prioritizing. Then King's College chapel sprung up out of the cobblestone and made the choice for me.
Easily the most recognizable building of the college, It was pretty sweet to see it up close.  The gothic architechture was incredible and I felt quite unable to absorb all the detail.  Guess it took over a century to complete.  No surprise there. The interior was just as dry-mouth inducing.
Look at the bloody ceilings man!!! It's like a late Gothic spaceship!!!
There was an elegance here that's hard to pin down. Unique to this place.  You can feel the sophistication, the knowledge both scientific and spiritual that was shared here. It's all expressed in this building. You see pretty lines on the ceiling, but I can also see the equations needed to keep it supported.  And it makes my head hurt.

Walking outside I swore, then slapped my face for swearing in the archway of a church.  The rain was still coming down, and all the extra time I had spent gawking was less time I could spend looking at the other colleges.  Most were, unfortunately, shut to through traffic.  Though when I put my hood up and acted like I knew where I was going, I was able to check out some pretty scholarly courtyards.

No sign can hold me!! I shall pass!!

 Really cool construction styling here.  I was getting many dirty looks from people in black robes, so I chose to avoid the slythern house and routed to the street.  Since I wasn't getting into any more schools, I set myself on exploring the city proper.  Saw some cool stuff. Like the Fitzwillian museum, like a shorter, slightly snobbier little brother to the British museum.  Many cool old relics held here. No pictures allowed. 

Much cool shopping as well. If any of the shops would stay open past five that is...

So Seven P.M. was rolling around and I was considering taking a bus out of here, when I stumbled across my last chance to tour all the colleges I had missed. By boat.  Win.

It's called punting. Like what I do to small yappy dogs.

I grabbed a quick pint and a bowl of tomato soup from the nearby pub, and then I was off.  Because of the rain, the boats were nearly empty and I had one whole punt to myself.  My guide was a cool chap from the town named Andrew.  Knew a ton about every college we passed by.  We even talked about British politics.
This is a fantastic way to see the colleges.  For 15 pounds you can see the city in a unique way and learn quite a bit of history in the process.  We punted down the river Cam and saw most of the major colleges from the other side of the road(Kings, Magdalene's, St. John's, Trinity, Clare and Queens to name a few).
The Bridge of Sighs was a favorite.  Guess they call it that because the students have to walk that bridge to get to their exam rooms.  No pressure.

By the time we finished the tour the rain had stopped and the first sunlight we got all day shone forth in a glorious sunset.  A nice way to finish off an interesting day.  If I had more time, I'd love to further explore this city, but I'm glad I got to see the buildings that made it famous. On my own private boat, I might add.
So therein  ends part one of our blog today.  Part two is shorter, but equally entertaining.


A day after my moist Cambridge quest, I caught a bus and rode the ten minutes from Sutton to Ely.  Ely is a small market town whose minimal fame is due to a couple things. Oliver Cromwell's house(which I didn't have time to see damnit!!) and Ely cathedral. Which is incredible.
This palatial palace of public worship was originally built by St. Etheldreda, a queen who turned abbess and then saint not too long after.  I visited her first church in London a few blogs back.  Her husband was  of Egfrith, heir to the Kingdom of Bernicia(not a happy marriage) but eventually she got consent to be come a nun.  Soon after she established a monastery where the Cathedral now stands. 

The building's interior is about fifty times more impressive than it's exterior, which is saying something.  Beautiful Romanesque and Norman stonework mixed with some Victorian windows and painting.

It was originally built in the 11th century and has a violent past.  The central Norman tower collapsed in the 14th century and one hundred years later it lost it's west transept.  This leaves it looking a little lopsided, but gives it a unique shape.

I joined a small tour to learn more.  We started on the floor, looked at some tombs and got our basics down.  Then we started to climb.  Now if you've met me you've probably heard me say how much I loathe heights.  Or rather edges.  If I'm in a glass bubble I'm fine.  It's just when falling becomes a possibility that I get nervous.

So yeah.  We climbed onto the roof.

Our journey was completed in stages.  First we went up a spiral stair leading to a door about two feet high. It led us outside on the first level of the cathedral roof.

The stone railing was sturdy but I did feel the need to scuffle quickly to the next midget door regardless.  The view was quite good, though the nausea took away from it a bit.

The next stair took us up into the support structure of the ceiling.  We were over 100 feet above the floor at this point.  This space was quite cool; I totally felt like Quasimodo in there.  The wind buffeted against the walls outside and I could hear the giant tree trunks holding the ceiling together shift in their settings.

But in there I was fine.  No edges. Until I opened a panel in the ceiling and looked down.

Pretty damn cool.  I just love dangling $900 dollars worth of metal over a 100 foot drop. And my head.

But we weren't done yet.  Up the stairs again and we were on top of the tower.  This made the whole jaunt worth it. Highest point for miles and miles.  I could even see Sutton from up there. 

Look it's Cambridge!!! And it's Dry!! Dern it all!!

Up there we were like kites.  Stand up to take a picture and you'll be pushed against the stone railing by the gentle 50 mph wind.  I felt much sympathy for the birds flying nowhere around the tower.  They flap and flap but just can't make headway.  Honestly though I didn't care.  This was an unexpectedly amazing way to see the shire around us.  Good weather, nice stone work, some history and even a good coffee after-wards.  Pretty good day.


Hope you've enjoyed this non-traditional blog.  Next I venture southwest, into the Forest of Dean. The dense, mystical wood is used as a location for countless films and was even the place that inspired Tolkien to write about walking trees and the like.  After that comes Scotland!! Which is the only place I've visited so far that I could actually live in long term.  It's that cool.

Cheers all


Lisa said...

Your call was such a great gift today - thank you! Your pictures are excellent but the narrative really helps us feel like we're with you. Plus we get your weird humor!

milburnak said...

Is one of your pictures of you hanging out of a cathedral window? How did you do that?