Weather: Intermittent rain though it wasn't cold
MP3 track of the day: Schools out for summer - Alice Cooper
Now before I go on, I suppose I should explain what 'snap shot' means within the title of this blog. It basically means that this blog will be a shortened version of my usual blogs, due to a variety of reasons. It is, in effect, a 'snap shot' of my trip.
In the winter of 2014, I came back to the UK for three weeks to eat 'proper' food, meet up with friends and family and to smuggle a years worth of UK chocolate back into the 'land of the rising sun'. Though this was a very busy time, I did manage to spend a few days travelling around the UK trying to even the score in regards to 'home sites I've seen Vs foreign sites I've seen'. Being a very busy time, It is only three weeks later that I have found the time to sit down, with a cup of tea and my last remaining 'Cadbury's Caramel' chocolate bar (knew I should have bought more of them), and write a proper account of the day. One final thing to note is that, on said day, my father accompanied me.
Today, Saturday 27th December 2014, my father and I would drive forty minutes east to the wonderful university city of Cambridge. Though my father had visited Cambridge before, I had not. The three cities of 'Oxford, Cambridge and Bath' had always been on my UK 'to do' list and, like most people with regards to their home countries tourist attractions, I'd put it off in my 'yoof' not thinking that one day I could be living in Japan, almost 6,000 miles away. Today was therefore an important day; I would settle an old score and finally visit a city that even one of my Japanese English teachers have visited.
I awoke much earlier than my father and so I consumed breakfast at a leisurely pace. Once consumed I had to wait a little longer though, as it turned out, it really didn't matter. I had spent the night at my grandparents house which is located within the county of Northamptonshire, making the drive to Cambridge shorter than my drive, within Japan, to buy foreign cheese. At 11 am we were both dressed and fed, and ready for the off.
Being a good 'old sport' my father drove his large silver'ish' Kia from my grandparents house to the outskirts of Cambridge without incident. The drive highlighted quite a few differences between driving in the UK and driving in Japan. Overall I would say that driving in Japan is less stressful as, where I live at least, there are a lot less cars on the road and a lot less lanes (having cars, on both sides of me, reminded me of just how stressful UK driving can be). Having said that; the plus side of driving within the UK is, as mentioned above, the fact that our trip only took us forty minutes due to a speed limit of 70 miles an hour, round-a-bouts and those said lanes. In Japan, the same trip would have taken over an hour and a half due to a speed limit of 40 miles an hour and an unhealthy obsession to paint all roads with 'double-yellow lines'.
As mentioned above, my father drove to the outskirts of Cambridge where we parked the car in one of Cambridge's large 'park and ride' sites. These ingenious sites (which consist of a huge car park and a regular bus service taking you into a city centre without the hassle of city driving) are now used in most UK cities however, this one at least, seemed a little different. Once we had parked the car we waited on a platform for the bus to arrive. I choose the word 'platform' carefully as it would appear that the road laid out beneath our feet had been 'purpose built' for buses only. In fact, when said bus arrived, it had bumpers attached to it's sides which hit the side of the purpose built bus lane which kept the bus heading in the right direction without aid from the driver. After paying £6.50 for a return bus ticket (not bad) my father and I sat down and tried to peer out of the 'milky' coloured plastic windows. Though the weather had been beautiful in Northamptonshire, across the boarder the sky was filled with grey clouds and every-so-often they would release a light shower whenever they felt like it.
It wasn't long before we found ourselves within the centre of Cambridge. Having had enough of sitting within a vehicle, we alighted at the first stop within Cambridge's CBD area. This is one of my most favourite moments when travelling; when you just arrive within a place not really knowing which way to go or what to see.
Once the bus had gone we looked around and walked in the direction which we felt looked the most 'alive'. A little way up the street we found the 'round church' (its real name is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) which, true to it's name, was round. Built around 1130 (year, not time) this church now housed an information centre, which we did not visit. Instead we proceeded onwards, down the cobbled footpaths which seem to cling for dear life to Cambridge's narrow roads. As we proceeded, stone buildings of all different shapes and sizes came into view with each building built for a different purpose though, all of which seemed to fit together perfectly. The largest buildings of all were the religious buildings, followed by the colleges themselves. Finally the terraced houses and narrow shops clung together in between these giants. It was strange but to me it appeared that the buildings themselves took on their own lease of life. Within the chaotic narrow streets, the tightly cramped smaller buildings appeared to be in a hurry and always busy. Once away from these, a road or square separated them from the larger religious and academic buildings where time seemed to stand still. All-in-all, the feelings I got when I past from one area of Cambridge to another was worth the visit.
We had alighted the bus at around midday and now the time was 2pm. Both feeling hungry we had scoured the city trying to find a restaurant which took our fancy however, none had beaten the 'fish and chip' shop we had seen when we had first arrived. We headed back in the direction we had come and found the restaurant. Previously – when we had gazed into the window earlier – it appeared that every table was taken. It was only on our second visit that we found out that the restaurant had a 'downstairs' eating area as well. We were shown to our seats before being served by a very pleasant chap would took our order; two 'fish and chips', a tea and an orange juice please.
We did have to wait a little while for our order to arrive however, it mattered not. This gave us time to reflect on what we had already seen plus have a gaze at other customers meals. Though the price didn't reflect it, it would appear that we had chosen a rather 'posh' fish and chip restaurant for lunch. The plates were the brightest white I had ever seen and the condiments were well chosen. When our meal eventually arrived, the fish was lightly battered and the chips were just the right size. For me, this was the first time I'd eaten fish and chips for three years and, though it was like heaven, I had forgotten that cod is pretty much tasteless and requires sauces to make it even vaguely interesting.
Once dinner had been consumed we left and walked back into the centre of Cambridge content that the 'busy shopping streets' had been well and truly searched. We now focused our attention on why Cambridge is so famous; we walked towards it's colleges.
According to 'Wikipedia', Cambridge has 31 colleges which all make up the University of Cambridge. Though all colleges were closed, I enjoyed viewing the outside of the buildings and peering into any window I could find wondering what life would be like inside ('Harry Potterish' I'd hoped). The most famous college is called the 'Kings college' and we managed to get a good look at the buildings from the 'Backs'; a long stretch of fields running in between the colleges themselves and the river Cam. It is along this river which the famous Cambridge 'punting' takes place though, today was far too cold to go punting. Though most of the 'backs' were out-of-bounds' to the general public, it wasn't hard to imagine students of old lying on the grass and studying under a tree during the summer months. Most of Cambridge could have fallen out of a 'Pride and Prejudice' period drama, it was that pretty.
Once the backs had been completed my father and I headed back into the city centre (passing two Japanese tourists) noticing that the sky was getting darker. After another walk around the city we ventured into a café for a quick bite before proceeding to the cities bus station which we had found on an earlier adventure. The time was now around 5pm and we boarded a bus which got us back to our car at around 6pm. Being a Saturday, the traffic was light and we managed to get back to my grandparents house in time for dinner. As I sat and ate I thought about the day and, though my visit to Cambridge had been short, I don't think there was anything I missed. I had enjoyed the day and Cambridge certainly has 'future home' potential.
Another place has been ticked off my list