London Day Trip to Cambridge
Or The College Experience.
Act I: Cambridge
In terms of intellectual achievement, Cambridge University is like the old general who snaps at the snot-nosed-fresh-out-of-boot camp Harvard that by Harvard’s ninth birthday he was in Nam running black ops into China. But Cambridge didn’t just use all of that genius to change the world with breakthrough poetry and breakthrough mathematics. It also gifted the world one of the most fun days you can have in the U.K. So if it’s a nice day and by that I mean you could take an “accidental” plunge into one of the most beautiful rivers in the world, then take an hour’s train from Kings Cross station to Cambridge and we’ll learn not just the true definition of fair-weather fans, but that it doesn’t matter if the Queen claims this particular title for herself, if he spent his youth at a place like Cambridge, Prince Charles must be the real cool kid of the royal family.
You can get a ticket in advance but what I like doing is to wake up in London and, if it’s a lovely day, I head to kings cross station for a train to Cambridge. The station in Cambridge is about a thirty minute walk to the university, but because Cambridge is actually a smattering of some 31 colleges sprinkled all over the place, I say hop a taxi at the station and let the driver get your bearings for you. There are a few combinations with which you can ninja your way to the university from the station but really you’re not going to save but a buck or two so just hop onto a quick cab and let’s get the day going.
As to which colleges to visit for the day and how many: I recommend doing two. You wouldn’t want things to get redundant on a day like this and if we’re all being honest the best view of Cambridge is from the river. So first have the cab drop you off at a college that was attended by one of your heroes and imagine walking along where people like Milton walked along while dreaming up things like Paradise Lost. If you like, you can check opening times before you head out there because they change them up a bit for concerts or exams or etc., or you could just be a bit flexible and walk down the road to a different one if the other is closed. To help you decide which colleges to do, I’ve listed a few of my favorite Cambridge alums along with their nicknames from long lost frat/sorority days.
Charles “Fresh Prince” of Wales: Trinity
Isaac “Apple Is Code For Chugging Ten Beers” Newton: Trinity
Stephen “E=MC Of The Party” Hawking: Trinity Hall
Rachel “Definitely, Wasted” Weisz: Trinity Hall
John “Paradise Lost Along With My Car” Milton: Christ’s College
Sacha Baron “Most Likely To Use His Degree” Cohen: Christ’s College
Charles “Intelligent Cocktail Design” Darwin: Christ’s College
William “Bromantic Age” Wordsworth: St. John’s
C.S. “Token Tolkien” Lewis: Magdalene (chair of medieval and renaissance literature)
Emma “Buzzed, Actually” Thompson: Newnham College
Then, after taking a nice little stroll through the college days of your intellectual heroes, head to Kings College because, for one, there’s a Rubens painting called The Adoration of the Magi in the Kings College Chapel, under the stone arches, like an altar for genius. It’s the most romantic setting for a piece of art I’ve ever seen. It was the number one answer when on Family Feud they asked a hundred famous artists, “What painting is displayed in the setting you most fantasize about?” Also, Kings College is a very convenient location for lunch.
Act II: Lunch at The Anchor
From Kings College Chapel, stroll south on Kings Parade for a few minutes and that becomes Trumpington St. and then a few minutes later, take a right to head west on Silver St. and when you reach the River Cam, look to your left, see the pub called The Anchor and whisper to yourself, paradise lost my ass. It’s right bloody here.
I like to sit outside on the water if there’s an empty table, but if it turns out you’re not the only person in the world who sometimes finds it appealing to sit outside with fish and chips and a pint while wobbly-kneed people try to balance on little flat-bottom boats called punts for the first time, then you’ll have to sit inside and take a relaxing time in an English pub with a pint and fish and chips. Damn. And you know what. Forget those sniggers from your English buddies. You order a cider if it’s calling to you on a sunny day and you know sometimes it just does.
Act III: Punting on the River Cam
From The Anchor, you can’t miss where the punts launch down the river. It’s right down from your fish and chips. You have two punting options: You can let a college kid guide you down the River Cam and its English shores of ancient landscapes and Tudor architecture (or like the Johnny Book team have your super secret consultant for all things England and who just happens to be a Cambridge university grad do it), or you can punt yourself. Though, that won’t be so much a guided tour as it will be a giggling, zig-zagging, twirling in circles tour down the River Cam and its English shores.
If you’re asking, I say go at it yourself. You are at one of the elite universities of the world, so why not learn something? Sometimes, a little bit of complete immersion is the order of the day. But speaking of complete immersion, leave your phone and wallet and keys and anything else you don’t want some Cambridge historian to salvage from the bottom of the river in a thousand years, because though punting seems easy in that it’s just pushing a giant stick along the bottom of a river, doing so while balancing on the end of a narrow and wobbly boat while playing footsies with a cheeky current…well, I’ve seen more than one over-confidant fellow humbled by River Cam. Welcome to a day trip to Cambridge, the real reason they coined the phrase the college experience.