1 July 2006

We woke up about 7 to have breakfast, drop Allison off at the bus to go to Gatwick, and to get to the rail line for our 9 am train to London Paddington. We got there at 8:50, just as the 8:30 (late) was pulling in, so we jumped on that. It probably was a good thing that we did – we got in at 10:05, later than the 9:55 that we had planned, but the 9 was still behind us. We then had to get to King's Cross for our 10:45 train to Cambridge. But that didn't happen.

We were first misdirected by a railway attendant on which line to take, and then figured out that we had to take the Bakerloo line (who comes up with these names?) to Oxford Circus and change to Victoria for Kings Cross. When we got to Oxford Circus, waiting on the platform, I figured that we would probably miss our train – it was 10:30. But 10 minutes later, there was still no car, and the crowd was getting packed! Then they announced – there had been a fire and the investigation had shut down Victoria. A group of travelers started following one another, "You going to Kings Cross? Us too!"

The first problem was just getting out from the corner of Oxford Circus where we were. There were four escalators into our area, but all going DOWN. We used an emergency information booth to find out how to get to the Central line from where we were, then, they announced that the Central line was shut down for engineering work. At this point, an Underground representative showed up who told us to take Bakersloo to Piccadilly Circus, then the Piccadilly Line up to Kings Cross. That's what we did, and finally got there – with five minutes to spare for the 11:15 train, the last one to Cambridge listed for the morning. (So, we haven't made it to Platform nine-and-three-quarters yet.) At 12 noon, we finally get to Cambridge, two trains and three Tube rides later.

I have to mention here that one of the "hits" of our trip are Jenny's "Heelies" – shoes with wheels in her heels. She glides around all over the place, which was really useful for getting her through the subway and Cambridge without her getting too tired. The British have never seen such a thing! One man said to me in Gatwick, "I saw her and thought 'It's the second coming!' That girl is floating on the ground!" (At that moment, I was trying to figure out what to put in her belly so she'd stop puking, so I wasn't really interested in engaging in the conversation.) People all over the place point at her and talk about her marvelous shoes.

The kids were really hungry (I planned to get in at 11:30 which would have bought me more time), we've got all our bags (and no "left luggage" at the train station), and there's NOTHING by the train station. (We later learned that Cambridge did that on purpose – they didn't want the station too close for fear of the students being "tempted by the distractions of London.") I decided to take the City Sightseeing Bus, the kind where you can hop-on and hop-off. It would take us to city center for food, and we'd get the lay of Cambridge.

We ate at the Anchor Pub right on the River Cam. Matt was thrilled – the Anchor Pub's claim to fame is that members of Pink Floyd first met there. I tried a "Ploughman's Lunch," which includes (in the upper left of my plate) a whole onion, pickled. It was really pretty good.

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We then hopped-back on and took the rest of the tour. Cambridge is much more spread out than Oxford. The Cavendish Laboratories (where Rutherford split the atom) and the Microsoft Research facility are literally miles out of town. There is a bunch of colleges all together along the river Cam, but others are spread quite a ways away.

When we got back to the train station, we got off and took a taxi to our hotel in Stow-cum-Quy.

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I knew that it was a Cambridge address and knew that it was out of town. I didn't know that it was a 14 pd/20 minute taxi ride out of town! I asked the receptionist, "What's up in the town?" She corrected me, "Village" and "Nothing." Still, it was a cute place – the main building is a former mill (the waterwheel is still there, under the building) that dates back to the 11th century. It had a pool, so after we unpacked, we went for a delightful swim. It was unbelievably hot – upper 80's easily. (Recall that the British have not yet discovered "air conditioning." The hotel had no A/C, nor did any bus or train that we took.)

We then took the LONG walk back up to the main road–all the way up the old church. (The hotel was over a quarter mile off the main road.) Jenny bumped into a stinging nettle herself on the way up, so Katie (yay, fast runner!) ran back and got the anti-itch ointment for Jenny. We caught a bus back into Cambridge (7 pounds, round trip).

The church is just barely visible in the center of the picture.
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We walked down to the river and along the "backs" – the parts of the colleges that back onto the river Cam. We saw several bridges and beautiful sights, like the amazing cathedral at King's College.

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We stopped at a very Chinese restaurant for dinner. The waitress barely understood English. She suggested some things which we said no to, and ordered something else – and she brought what she had suggested! Her English-speaking daughter showed up as the food arrived who explained what it was and how to eat it. She grudgingly provided forks for the girls, who still mostly ate by chopstick. (She did comment on my chopstick form that, "I have seen Chinese eat in here who don't use the chopsticks as well as you do!" Something to put on my C.V.!) It was delicious, and all three kids loved it.

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This last picture for the day captures my impression of Cambridge after the first day. It's busier, with more construction. (We also happened to be visiting on Graduation Day, so we saw graduates entering the Senate House, graduation treats in the stores, special graduation menus at the restaurants, and tons of people everywhere.)

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It also feels like more of a high-tech town. The colleges are gorgeous, and clustering a bunch along the river only makes them more attractive. Oxford is more enchanted with its past, while Cambridge seems more focused on the future.

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We had to take a 7 pm bus home (or wait until 9), so we got in pretty early. The kids couldn't go into the pool after 6 pm (I don't get that one), so we sat in the room and played rat-a-tat-cat for awhile. I told the kids that they could watch TV, since they don't get to at Oxford, but they lost interest. After awhile, they were thirsty and hungry. There were no vending machines, so we went to the hotel pub. While we watched World Cup (France v. Brazil, with the English loss weighing heavily on the crowd), the girls had J2O's, Matt had a lemonade, and I had a Pimm's, and we ordered two plates of what turned out to the worst "nachos" we'd ever seen. (They treated salsa like hot sauce, with just a couple of splashes.) We got to bed around 9/9:30 for the girls and 10 for Matt and me. (Funny – when I came back to the girls' room to tuck them in, they were watching TV. More of the football game!)