1 – 5 May

We headed to Cambridge with one night back in Oxford along the way, perfectly (or inadvertently) timed to coincide with May morning. Thus on the 1st of May I was scrambling out of bed at 5am, donning all my warm clothing and heading to Magdalen College amidst thousands of others to listen to the traditional dawn chorus. It was brutally cold but we squished in amongst still-drunk revellers, traditional dancers wearing jangling, bell-lined greaves and people in all manner of floral garlands. And thus spring was summoned to British shores, as the hubbub fell away for an entrancing series of hymns as the sun rose.

Magdalen College, May Morning
The crowds at Magdalen College in the early morning – insane!

After the early start we headed out to Cambridge to stay with Lyndsay’s friend Alex, a PhD student at Cambridge University. He’s a super talented computer scientist (who also dabbles successfully in water polo and ballroom dancing) and he’s currently living at Trinity College. Trinity is basically a fortified castle with wings of student rooms and an enormous, grand entrance gate manned by porters at all times (identifiable by fancy hats and bodyguard-like ear headsets for rapid communication). Basically, it is Hogwarts. And we got to stay there. It was the BEST. Lyndsay and I squatted in Alex’s student room and got to experience life as Cambridge students, without the study. SO THE BEST!

Trinity College

We spent our days in a pretty similar pattern, with Lyndsay and I exploring the city during the day, meeting up with Alex and some of his friends for lunch and then assorted revelry in the evenings. It was quite a good formula. The sun was out in force and the entire time we spent in Cambridge was glorious. The best weather we’d had so far. Cambridge is a gorgeous, ancient city where the university basically IS the city – it’s an interconnected warren of colleges (29 in total), all of which are housed in beautiful buildings with their own private chapel, gardens, libraries and basically every amenity known to man.

We explored some excellent museums, with my personal favourite being the Scott Polar Research Institute and Museum. The entire place was crammed with artefacts from the Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, including the original last letters from Scott’s ill-fated expedition party on returning from the South Pole. It was incredible to wander through the amazing stories of so many explorers. A close second was the Zoology Museum, which housed several of Darwin’s collections in addition to physical specimens of nearly every living thing on the planet (at least that’s what it felt like). There were plenty of dinosaurs, birds, insects, marine mammals and a kick-ass shell collection.

After a typical morning of traipsing through Cambridge, exploring museums or simply agape at the beautiful old college buildings, we would catch up with Alex who whisked us into the Trinity Great Hall for lunch. Envision the Hogwarts Great Hall and that’s exactly how the students of Trinity dine. Four enormous, long tables in a huge, vaulted room, all overseen by dozens of portraits of influential Trinity graduates. At the high table the professors congregate under an enormous portrait of a stern King Henry VIII. I half-expected to see Dumbledore up there. The food was seriously good too (house-elves, probably).

Trinity Great Hall. Image courtesy of http://www.trin.cam.ac.uk
Hogwarts Great Hall. The similarity is UNCANNY! Image courtesy of http://www.polyvore.com

Trinity College even has its own gated, private garden estate for the use of students. It was absolutely gorgeous and there was even time for a quick broomstick-riding lesson.

My Cleansweep 7

On Thursday (3rd May) the weather was divine so we convinced Alex to ditch his lab-work for an afternoon punting along the canals, along with his friend James. We took our pick of the private Trinity punts (obviously, we were not going to mix with the tourist rabble), and pushed off from the private Trinity docks. James and Alex deftly punted us around the canals, easily avoiding the inept tourists blazing a trail of destruction. It was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon that we happily spent lazing along the canals with several bottles of cider. If this is how a Cambridge student lives, SIGN ME UP PEOPLE (obviously, you would actually spend 99% of your time stuck in a laboratory or library and never see the light of day, but I can dream). Alex spun many good yarns about the history of bridge climbing in Cambridge and convinced us it was THE thing to do while visiting. Thus emboldened, Lyndsay scaled one of the bridges directly from the punt amidst raucous applause from a crowd of French students on the river bank. I don’t know how she managed it, there were no handholds and it was quite a climb! Lyndsay is spider-woman. So, picture the scene – Alex is busy poling us along, Lyndsay is risking a soggy failure as she scales a sheer bridge, and I am the only one who could possibly take a photo or obtain other evidence of this amazing feat. And what do I do? I completely forget to whip out my camera and thus this deed goes un-recorded. But let it live on here – Lyndsay conquered the infamous Cambridge bridge-climb. As she scaled the top, no less than four policemen turned up to see what all the fuss was about. Luckily, Lyndsay also has the stealth skills of a ninja and avoided arrest by blending in with the crowd.

Lyndsay and Alex on the canals (pre-bridge climb)
Alex punting just after Lyndsay’s bridge-climb (note police in background)
POLICE! Bridge-climbers beware

On the Friday night (3rd May), we accompanied Alex to a formal graduate student dinner at Trinity College. How exciting, right? Mentally I ran through the limited wardrobe I’d packed. I definitely hadn’t thrown in an evening dress or heels suitable for an evening event at one of the most high-brow institutions in Britain. Alex was in a full suit and most male students also wore their full academic robes. It was sounding all too fancy for my limited apparel. Lyndsay had brought a nice dress and shoes over from Australia for just an occasion such as this (she is honestly prepared for anything). With mixed feelings, I donned my less-than-formal-denim dress and boots and had an excellent evening with some of the most intelligent and fun people I’ve ever met (of course, excluding you, dear readers). Once we were in the hall toting a gin and tonic from the pre-dinner meet, I didn’t feel too badly under-dressed, but I was definitely not feeling like Cambridge-student-material. Attire-worries aside, the Great Hall was particularly Hogwarts-esque, illuminated with candles as we were served a delicious three course meal with unceasing bottles of wine. Then on to the bar where the drinks flowed freely, all thanks to the generosity of Trinity College. The evening revelry continued in Alex’s tiny student room with games of uno and late-night chats with about 20 other people before finally getting to bed in the early morning.

Saturday (4th May) we watched some of the Cambridge vs Oxford dance finals, particularly the ballroom and latin sections. The costumes and the incredible dancing skills were pretty amazing to watch! It was also a good way to spend a tired afternoon and finish off the Cambridge trip. Cha cha cha!

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