4.18.09 Cambridge and London
Cambridge Travel Blog› entry 34 of 114 › view all entries
Fantastic day today! Beautiful Spring weather, fast train to Cambridge, delightful college town- wonderful!
We managed to get up at 8:30 pm- our bedtimes have gotten so late that we have been more on European time of sleeping and playing later. But we made it onto 2 buses, the tube, and a train, arriving in Cambridge before noon!
The King’s Cross rail and tube stations are side by side and we bought 48.50L (total for 4) for a return tickets. I got a “Friends and Family” pass, (discount off this trip and 1/3 off any rail trips for a year, Ned included)- you just never know and it was cheaper.
Then we waited at the Departures board for a platform to be assigned until within 9 minutes of the train leaving and I could stand it no longer. As I joined others asking at the Info Desk (“platform 9”) and we headed there, they put up the platform number on the departure board.
A huge mass of hurrying people swept like a stampede to the far away platform. It was so crowded that as I looked right to grab Lia’s hand, I tripped some man in front of me, but I caught him too, so he couldn’t be too mad (although he did look a wee bit horrified.) You have to be ready at the turnstile to put your ticket in, pull it out and go- it was crazy busy! But the kids are used to the masses now and we all swept onto the train and found 4 seats facing each other. Sure enough, within just a few minutes, the train doors sealed closed to a silence.
Then the train whisked us off, smooth and fast. It was so fast that when we passed another train or went through a tunnel, our ears hurt as the pressure sucked in! Wow! We arrived in Cambridge (nonstop) in 50 minutes. I couldn’t even figure out how to connect to internet in that time!
It is interesting how quiet everyone is on public transportation (and elsewhere). There are many people, but a low decibel level- very low. Very nice!
We walked the mile into Cambridge, which is still really in-town, so we enjoyed it. We stopped at cute stores along the way, trying to improve our own skills of Rick Steve’s’ exotic picnicking. There were chocolate croissants, sushi samplers, yogurt drinks, sausage buns, steak pie, milk in cartons, and fruit smoothies- the Saturday market in the middle of town made it soooo easy.
We also enjoyed the market for watches (5L each) and scarves - which are all the fashion here (5L for 2) for Jazy and Lia. We found a needed navy backpack and t-shirts at the Cambridge supply store. The kids are reading “Your Money or Your Life” and I sometimes must insist that they buy some of the souvenirs that I think they’ll enjoy later.
There was also a special Arts & Crafts market today with local Artesians selling their pottery, blown beads, artwork, wooden bowls, etc. I bought just one beautiful pottery mug for 2.5L. We found postcards and mailed our first few at the Post Office. At about 1L each, they are not inexpensive, but we hope enjoyed. Email is such a great thing when you can get it.
Speaking of email, we found a Café Nero, which are all over and have Boingo, and since I packed our laptop today, got us all set up with our important goodies – espresso, triple chocolate muffin, and crisps (potato chips)- no worries about losing weight here!
Then Charles got Boingo just fine on his iTouch and I had no luck at all connecting on the laptop. It was exceedingly frustrating, especially since I suspect the problem is me. I’m so happy that Ned will be here in a week and will surely figure it out. I would have done far better to just go to an internet café and use my memory stick to transfer blogs, etc.
On the train home to London, I asked a train worker but he said, “No internet on this train.” While I don’t believe it from all their literature bragging about internet, I instead listened to French on my iPod, which surely did me more good.
We loved Cambridge- we walked the whole town- we saw the amazing fan- ceiling of King’s College Chapel (12L entrance fee), the market, the arts festival, the lovely colleges throughout town (31 are there), the beautiful old buildings- everything was perfect!
We enjoyed sitting along the river watching the punting boats. A boatload of young nuns were smoking and drinking champagne- they pulled into dock to run buy more bubbly, popping the cork and taking off again with their punter dude pushing the boat with a long pole, like gondolas in Venice- that was amusing!
All the people we met in town were very nice. An energy and smallness to the town is just right. Cambridge is just the quintessential British college town.
Jazy and I prefer Cambridge, although Charles and Lia enjoyed the Harry Potter aspects of Oxford better. Oxford seems bigger and rougher to me- graffiti and scruffy characters. We saw none of that in Cambridge, home of the big college green for grass-lounging and the bike parks (parking lots with hundreds of bikes). A delectable place!
We enjoyed Cambridge to the hilt and then just made the 5:15 pm train, (although a nonstop to London runs every half hour). The poor girls sitting beside us heard “This is a nonstop train to London” and before they could exit, the doors locked closed. They’d wanted to exit at Hitchin, an intermediate town, but that train left 8 minutes later-they’d gotten on at the wrong platform. Lia gave them our extra train schedule so they could determine their return train after the London stop. I felt bad for them - I’ve done similar stupid things.
London on this beautiful Saturday night- the last weekend before school resumes from the two week holiday- was festive, very crowded, and great fun. We took the tube to Leicester Square but had to wait for a second train to even get on!
Then we were second in line at the “Tkts” booth at 7pm, for cheap tickets to Lion King or Mama Mia, when the booth closed. Asking about tickets was laughable anyway as the entire area was mobbed with people. I cannot imagine there being any seats left. We’ll perhaps check on a matinee tomorrow.
We enjoyed wandering all around Chinatown, getting takeout boxes (13.50L total) from a dinner buffet and eating while standing along the street with the throngs. Great fun!
Chinatown in London is pretty mild- there are some Chinese restaurants, some ladies making dumplings in a restaurant window, women in silks promoting their restaurants, and some Asian signage and people. However, the overall area is very small, English pubs are interspersed, and Caucasians equal Asians there. So I’d probably call it a more token, touristy Chinatown compared to such cities as Vancouver, Washington DC, or even Houston where it appears many Chinese people really work and have daily activities within their Chinese culture. But we still had fun wandering around.
Then we were tired. Should we do the London Eye? It was getting late and we were worn out, so we caught our #3 bus- finally back home to the campground by 9pm- to showers and bed. It’s been a fun full day and we look forward to one more day in London before we head on.
There’s never enough time to do and see everything to the degree that we want, but we’ve seen much of London and gotten to do so many fabulous things while here.
The city’s transportation requires much time to use it, so it is important to learn bus/subway/train skills. We feel more confident now.
The kids are now rather adept at:
- handling their own tickets
- walking through crowds (not easy upstream)
- determining routes
- asking questions
- crossing busy and dangerous streets
- jumping quickly to get on vehicles
They’ve learned how to:
- stand on the right and walk on the left on escalators
- read subway maps
- plan ahead to find bus and subway exiting locations
- balance while standing in moving vehicles
- survive in extremely crowded moving masses of people
London is a terrific city- teeming with energy, gorgeous architecture, history, free museums, fun areas to just walk, royalty, river walks, cozy pubs, wonderful international and cultural diversity, and nice people. London is just an amazing city!