It’s very difficult to be spontaneous these days. Everything requires careful planning and booking in advance. It’s always been the case but now it’s more important then ever. Sometimes no amount of planning can counteract that chaos we live in at the moment. ‘Safe’ countries being moved back to amber list while people are in mid air on their way to some well deserved holiday destination is just one example. I normally organize all my trips and mini adventures months if not years ahead. Sometimes though, I like to decide a mere few hours before I go. On Friday night I took a glance at Google Maps and saw that Cambridge is only just over an hour away and with the cloudy slash sunny weather ahead I thought I’d catch the 9 am train and go for a whole day.
The day turned out to be very hot indeed and I cursed myself for wearing a dark T shirt which seemed to be melting into my skin. I went to Cambridge once before. It was Easter a few years ago and there was snow, hail, rain and gale strong winds, so we left quickly and I didn’t remember much of it afterwards. This time it couldn’t be different. After an initial stroll from the station (they say 14 min but I’d say about 20 min at a normal pace), I found myself in what to me seemed like a European city. Yes, it is a quintessential and iconic British city that everyone has heard of, and yet I had a strong feeling of being back in Europe. Whether it’s the young, largely foreign student population combined with overseas visitors, or the cafe culture, or the city layout with a market square so commonly found in Europe, all of this creates a very familiar atmosphere. Loads of bicycles everywhere, almost like in Amsterdam! Retail seems to be doing well in Cambridge, no doubt thanks to the student crowd – they all want to get their clothing and beauty products from somehwere. Even Boots was better thany any other I’ve seen maybe apart from the Brighton one, with brands like Huda Beauty or Fenty – massive stands, not a couple of dirty shelves… What would the UK cities be like without universities and students and their money ? I asked myself that question upon my return to Chester, where the student population has grown massively and its influence I think is positive and brings both life and fun to the city. It certainly affects what’s available in terms of shopping and eating out, even what’s on supermarket helves (just look at ASDA’s choice of Middle Eastern and Asian foods and ingredients).
Since my trip was so last minute I had no real goal other than wander around and enjoy the sights. I noticed tours being advertised and next time I will definitely join one, because it’s a much better way of learning about the city history than from dry and often boring books or leaflets. I really couldn’t find the tourist information so relied on my phone maps and street signs. The historic centre isn’t large and there is no way one could get lost, not even me.
As I mentioned, it was a very warm, sunny day and Cambridge was absolutely packed…Queues everywhere, from the tower – I gave it a miss and it has to be booked online anyway – to cafes and even some shops…Luckily there is a M&S Foodhall on Market Hill (that’s the correct name for what I call a market square, or a piazza…) and there was also a nice Saturday market with food stalls, so I treated myself to a Brazillian chickpea stew with rice for £6. I consumed it while sitting on a grass next to King’s College and for a moment, surrounded by 20-somethings, I felt like a student myself 🙂
The colleges were pretty much closed to visitors, but I didn’t mind. On a lovely day like this, I’d much rather be outside, so I headed to the river to take a look at boats and punting – another trademark of Cambridge.
I am in awe of Cambridge architecture, vibe and beauty. There were simply too many people in the streets to allow for decent photography so I’ll have to come back and start my next trip much earlier, to enjoy the city when it’s still relatively peaceful. I can’t remember seeing such crowds since my 2012 trip to Prague.
Another famous UK destination off the bucket list 🙂