Saturday, December 20, 2008


I had Saturday all planned out. I'd wake up early, get some photos of Trafalgar Square, walk to Covent Gardens for breakfast then head to Knightsbridge to do some serious shopping at Harrod's. In the evening I'd check out a show. It was not to be, however. On my previous trip to London, I tried to convince my friend Sokyou to visit me. She was at a school a couple hours train ride from the city. Of course she tried to convince me to visit her, but I was determined to see as much of London as I could. On this trip I tried to get her to come into the city again, but she had just started at Cambridge and could ill afford to take a day off.

I pondered my plans for Saturday. I really wanted to do a lot of things in London. Then I thought of all the hard work Sokyou put in to get herself into such a prestigious university and how seldom she would have friends or family visit her. I figured I owed her lunch if nothing else, so off to Cambridge I went.

What's astonishing about southern England is that only an hour outside of London you're suddenly in rolling green countryside. I passed through numerous little villages that have probably been there for centuries. Somehow, much of England escaped the suburban sprawl so common in North America.

I arrived a bit earlier, so I had some time to inquire into appropriate historical pubs or restaurants in which to dine. The most interesting was a pub where the RAF hung out during World War II (unfortunately, we ended up in a fairly ordinary restaurant across from King's college). The narrow streets were packed with shoppers and students and I had to frequently step out into the street to avoid the throngs.

For some reason, I thought Cambridge was a blend of small town and large university. It turns out that it is indeed a town, but the university consists of collegiate enclaves strategically dotted about, each with their own exclusive territory. I was familiar with a few of the colleges, partcularly Kings College, but I had no idea there are thirty-one colleges! Each one we visited consisted of a quad with a green lawn in the middle (dare ye who trod upon said lawn for the wrath of the caretakers shall befall thee!). Some quads were quite small, while others, like Trinity, were large enough to host a rugby match.

Some of the colleges had outstanding chapels. King's College is particularly noteworthy. I've seen few buildings that manage to look both gigantic and intimate. The building is exceptionally long and comparatively narrow. The stained glass casts a beautiful glow over the interior of the building.

Aside from the amazing architecture, the wondrously winding cobbled streets, the air of academia and total Englishness of it all, I was quite taken aback by the students. So many of them wore their college scarves (or jacket with their school emblem) that you could identify them almost immediately. Even on a Saturday afternoon they had a just-returning-from-class look about them. The whole time I was there I kept looking around for a film crew, convinced I'd walked into a movie shoot.

Sokyou called her friend and the two of them guided me through the various campuses. You would think that after a few hundred years the different schools would pool their resources and start to merge, but they remain fiercely independent with strong individual traditions.

With only a few hours to explore, I missed a great deal of the place. However, the brief view I received was enough to encourage me to return some day. While I missed the shopping and the show, I managed to spend a bit of time in Trafalgar square before calling it a day. More importantly, I got a taste of a very different, yet familiar part of England.

A few more photos can be found here.

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