This post has been written together with Mr. Q, a quiz master by profession and my travel partner across Europe.
I wasn’t planning to write about Cambridge any time soon till I saw the promos of the new Amitabh Bacchan and Abhishek Bacchan’s Bollywood movie ‘Paa’. Memories of my trip came rushing by as I watched Vidya Balan walking around the streets of Cambridge. The very same streets which I had walked around just 2 months back!!
A University town, Cambridge is the home for the highly reputed University of Cambridge. Completely cosmopolitan by nature, the students from the University contribute a substantial percentage of the population of the city.
Needless to say, the University with 31 colleges completely steals the beauty of the city. The architecture of each one of these colleges is a marvel by itself and the very proof of living history. Restaurants, cafes, bakeries and variety of other shops line the cobbled path. The King’s College even has its own souvenir shop! However, as you move around you will find other modern architecture sitting pretty along with the traditional ones.
While we were walking outside these streets I found this strange CLOCK – now named the “Corpus clock”. Just opposite the college in a one corner of the library is this gigantic clock which is absolutely spectacular. This clock is quite unique with a devious looking Chronophage (time eater), a Grasshopper (which was supposed to be till the maker Mattew Sanderson finished it off looking more like a part Lizard & part Stag Beetle) is perched on the top of the clock. The whole clock is Gold plated & made at a high security military base in Holland!! John Taylor, the creator and funder of an extraordinary new clock which was unveiled by Stephen Hawking at Corpus Christi College made this to let all the students know that “Time is precious & that every second wasted will be devoured by the Chronophage”.
There are three circles of serrations. With each circle standing for seconds, minutes and hours by the standard time formats. Moving inside these serrated circular objects is a Blue LED light source which denotes the time. To read the time as per the face of the clock one has to track the Blue LED in the three circles with the inner most circle being for Hour & the outermost being for Seconds!! When I saw the clock the time was 03:46:48 and my watch too was showing the same time. This Clock by the way also claims to have 6 patented technologies & is to last at least 250 years!! And by the way it’s the same clock you find Abhishek Bacchan and Vidya Balan looking at with a smug glee on their face!!
And when watching it for sometime, I felt that at a certain point the Blue LED designating the seconds hand was stopping still and then speeding up to catch up later on. Later on when I was chatting with a friend was when I discovered that it does in fact do that. And one of the patented technologies that is in the Clock is what contributes to this phenomenon!! So if anyone else notices this – its not your eyes playing any trick on you, the clock makers had it designed like that!!!
The centre of this quaint city can be covered on foot, which was mostly what we did besides punting on the River Cam! But like many other cities in Europe, Cambridge is the city of cyclists & bikes can be hired for exploring the city and beyond.
Punting on River Cam was a very calming experience as you moved around the university area with guides narrating stories and history of each of the college. These guides (the punter on the boat) in most of the cases are students from these universities themselves probably looking at making some pocket money. You always have the option to punt on your own with no help provided you are adventurous. All you have to look out for is that you do not go round and round without moving an inch just like the family we saw – mommy and two kids and an enthusiastic father punting and barely able to make the boat move! The sight was simply hilarious. There are multiple operators running the punting services, hence it is advisable to look around and check on rates before you decide. However, I must warn you as that it did come across as an oligopolistic market!
As the punters take you around the River Cam and show you at least 8 colleges they will regale you with stories about many of the famous students who have passed through the portals of these colleges. Names which we heard included Stephan Hawkings, Issac Newton, Charles Darwin, David Attenborough, Lord Mountbatten, Derek Pringle, Phil Edmonds, Mike Atherton, E.M.Foster, Alan Turing, Samuel Pepys, Germaine Greer, Jane Goodall,…etc. and another 85 Nobel Prize winners!!
There are many attractions to this city based on where you interest level lies. There are various lush green parks and gardens where you take a walk and just relax reading or just observing people. If you are into church and cathedrals, then a piece of architecture which you shouldn’t miss is All Saints Church that is said to be one of the finest examples of Gothic revival and architecture in the country. We were lucky to be able to get access into this magnificent church which we learnt was limited. The Scott Polar Research Institute offers information about the expeditions of Captain Scott and other polar explorers, however, the Institute was closed for renovation when I was there. It will be operational sometime in 2010. The Christ College holds reminiscences of Charles Darwin the renowned author of the publication ‘Origin of Species’. It being Darwin’s alma mater, has the biggest repository & collections of all the items & writings which Darwin had made over the trips in the H.M.S.Beagle. There was an on going exhibition in the basement of the University Library on Charles Darwin entry to which is free.
We were walking around the city with no set agenda and taking in the city as it unfolded for us. That’s when we discovered this grand building of that of the Fitzwilliam Museum. And what a delightful surprise package it turned out to be! By the end of our visit we can safely vouch for their claim of being “the finest small museum in Europe” for it houses pieces of art from almost all the famous painters like Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt, Degas, Van Gogh,…etc. A must visit for the art lovers! Various dance, drama and music programmes in the city satiate the artistic appetite of the people in Cambridge.
There is something for every one. That is the magic of this beautiful city. That’s Cambridge for you…a truly refreshing experience just around an hour away from London.