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Summer Study Programme and Cambridge UK Trip Report

After reading posts on the forum, there appears to be some interest in the International summer programme at Cambridge University. I attended the Creative Writing Summer program in August 2019, and I’d like to share my experiences and also a trip report on what my wife and I did for a week in Cambridge. If the moderators think this should be in the Study Abroad forum, please feel free to move it there.

I had visited both Cambridge and Oxford over 40 years ago, while backpacking through Europe after college. I liked Cambridge more than Oxford because of its more outdoor and rural ambiance and ever since then, studying at Cambridge had been on my bucket list of things to do. I probably should have done this 40 years ago, but better late than never.

Institute of Continuing Education (ICE) International Summer Programme

You don’t have to be a genius with top entrance exam scores to attend a summer program. Although there is an application process, and you have to write a short essay on why you want to attend, my gut feeling is that if you pay the fees and can speak English (to the University’s satisfaction), you can attend the summer program. I don’t think you even need a previous college degree, but everyone in my programme had one. The official website for the summer program is https://www.ice.cam.ac.uk/courses/international-summer-programmes

There are many programmes to choose from. Popular ones are Shakespeare, Medieval Studies, English Law and History. Most summer courses are for two weeks during July and August, but a lot of students, including myself, only attend one week. Applications for Summer 2020 opens in December 2019.

In the Creative Writing Program, we had to choose one topic ( Fiction, Non-fiction, etc.) per week and each topic met for two daily classroom sessions with the professor. We were also required to attend a plenary lecture on a specific literary topic. Attendance was mandatory and we had to sign in every day to prove we attended the class and plenary lecture.
If you are living in the dorms, breakfast was from 7:45 – 8:45. Classes started at 9:15 am. There was an hour and 15 minutes lunch break at 12:30 pm. Class ended at 3:15 pm and then dinner was served in the college dining room from 6:30 to 7:30. Each evening there was optional lecture at 8 p.m. in Lady Mitchell hall that was open to everyone in all programmes. There was free time in the afternoon, but not for those who had homework assignments due.

Most programmes did not have homework assignments with deadlines, though all programmes had reading assignments, which could be done in the evenings at your leisure. But, the Creative writing programme did have a writing assignment due every day by 6:15 pm, just before dinner.

Location

While the course is sponsored by Institute of Continuing Education (ICE) out of Madingley Hall, the actual classes were held at the Sidgwick Site, very close to town. My class room was in the Alison Richard building and we also met in Lady Mitchell Hall. That location made it very convenient for students living in any of the four dorm locations to walk to class. The Sidgwick site is located west of the river and the Kings Parade, so if you were staying at St. Catherine’s or Gonville and Caius (pronounced “keys”) college dorms, you would walk from the Kings Parade area, past the old colleges, cross over the river on Silver Street with a wonderful scenic view of the Mathematical Bridge and the River Cam, and onwards to the Sidgwick Site.

Living in the College dorms

For those that stay in one of the four college dorms, most rooms are single rooms, some with ensuite (at additional cost). Otherwise the bathroom was down the hall. There were some double rooms for couples who were both attending the programme, but spouses who were not students could not live in the dorms with you.

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I really wanted to stay at St. Catherine’s college to get the full Cambridge student experience, but because I was in Cambridge with my wife, a non-student, we had to find alternate accommodations. I did research and found that anyone could stay at the Christ’s Church College modern residence Hall, which rents out dorm rooms to the public during the summer via the universityrooms.com website, and I considered that because the location was convenient to the classrooms.
But my wife reminded me that I didn’t like living in the dorms forty years ago, so why would I like it now? My classmates who did stay in the residence halls said the rooms were spartan but functional; the breakfasts and dinners were edible; and most rooms were in the newer buildings, so you didn’t get that old world ambiance. Those who did have rooms in the old wings, said the beds were lumpy and paint was peeling off the walls. In retrospect, our decision to live off campus was a good one.

If you didn’t want to stay in or couldn’t stay in the dorms, you would have to find your own accommodations (hotel or apartment) and arrange your own transportation to class. There was no need to rent a car as the walking distance was short; a lot of Cambridge is a pedestrian zone only; parking is expensive; and Cambridge discourages car traffic by having people park in one of 5 park and ride lots located outside the city center and take the shuttle bus into town. Uber is available in Cambridge, but because Ubers do not have taxi licenses, they cannot go to areas where taxis are able to travel in the central core district.

My classmates

My concern that I might not “fit-in” as a 60’s senior was unfounded. The oldest student was in her 80’s; the youngest students in their late 20’s. All of us were either retired or working people with jobs who were spending their short vacations to do something crazy like study abroad in a foreign country. My programme had students from Denmark, the Netherlands, Singapore, Australia and the UK and US. One of the requirements to take this programme was a decent command of the English language and if you were not a native English speaker, you had to prove English proficiency with a TOEFL exam.

The Student life- Homework (ugh) and my writing fantasy

The classroom day ended at 3:15 pm, so most people did have time to visit Cambridge in the free time before dinner, but as I mentioned earlier, the Creative Writing programme students had 3 hours to write and upload their daily writing assignments to the homework portal website by 6:15 p.m., which meant that the location where I was writing the assignment had to have good W-fi access and having your own laptop was a necessity. (In comparison, this modern “online submission” procedure sure beats the old way of pulling the last sheet of your homework out of your typewriter (Google it, millennials ) and sprinting across campus to drop it in the professor’s in box outside his/her office.) So, unlike my wife, I didn’t get to see much of Cambridge as a tourist, but what I did see as a student will be some of the my most memorable travel experiences.

My original plan to complete my writing assignments was to bicycle to a café, find a cozy spot with wi-fi and write (just like JK Rowling) but that plan was pure folly. The cafes with Wi-Fi nearest me were crowded with tourists buying coffee. They were also smoking and noisy, which made none of these locations conducive to writing. Instead, I found a quiet work area with a power port in my classroom building and wrote from there. Working there saved time because I didn’t have pack my laptop and cords up in my daypack, unlock my bicycle, ride to a crowded café, order a coffee, find an empty table, set up my laptop and hope the muse would hit me with the remaining time I had left.

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Arrival in the UK

With the announced and then postponed British Airways pilot’s strike and the power failure at Heathrow a couple days prior to our arrival, my wife and I were fortunate to have an on-time flight and no glitches in our travel plans. We arrived at Terminal 5, jetlagged but ready to start our adventure. Prior to this trip, I did not know that Terminal 5 was actually 3 separate buildings connected by an underground train. The immigration station and baggage pickup are located in Terminal A, so if you land in B or C you must take the connecting underground train. However, our plane taxied to an open area between B and C and we deplaned onto the tarmac and were brought to Terminal A in buses.
From past posts in this forum, I anticipated a long wait at passport control, but with the US Passport holders now allowed to use the E-Visa gates, it took my wife only minutes to get through passport control. I needed a student visa stamp, so I was required to use the regular port of entry queue and show my Cambridge admissions letter to obtain a 6 months entry stamp. Still, the wait was less than 30 minutes the day I was there.

National Express Coach to Cambridge

The easiest way to get to Cambridge from Heathrow is to take the National Express Coach.
This saves you the trouble of having to travel into London on the tube or Heathrow Express train, then take a taxi or tube to Kings Cross Railway Station and then take a train to Cambridge. The Cambridge train station is a way from the Central area, so taking a taxi from there is necessary.

To get the cheapest Coach fare to Cambridge, you must purchase advance tickets online. I had pre-purchased passage on a 2:30 pm coach to Cambridge, giving us ample time to get through Border control and some leeway if the plane arrived late. Buying ahead of time got us the lowest price seats, but they were non-refundable unless you also paid at the time of purchase a £5 option to amend or change the time of the coach ride, which I thought I had done, but I mistakenly did not. I caution others not to make the same mistake. Had our plane been late or passport control taken 2+ hours, we would have missed our coach and the tickets would have been useless. I would have had to purchase new tickets at the more expensive walk up rate.

Since passport control only took minutes, I was two hours ahead of schedule. I found the National express ticket desk in Terminal 5 and tried to change to an earlier coach, but I would have had to pay twice as much for walk-up tickets for an earlier departure time and my original tickets were non-refundable.

With two hours to kill, we bought a coffee at Giraffe Juice bar, found a table and slowly sipped our coffee and nobody kicked us out. A helpful hint is that most people go to Costa Coffee which is the first eating place they see when they exit the secured area in Terminal 5A. The lines are long, and the tables are fully occupied during peak hours. Walk down further left or right for the other two eateries, which are not as crowded.

National Express uses bays 9-15 for their coaches and we asked a coach agent where the coach would be, but he didn’t know. And he didn’t tell us that the coach would be marked “Norwich” and not Cambridge. In addition, the coach was late. It was good that we asked several times from different personnel what coach to board. The driver stashed our luggage in the underneath baggage area, so there was no need to haul it up the stairs on the coach.
The coach took 2 hours on the M-highways, so it was not a scenic drive and it was raining. After an hour, the coach stopped at Stansted airport (so why didn’t we fly there?) and the Trumpington park and ride lot on the outskirts of Cambridge before heading into central Cambridge to the coach stop at Parker’s Piece. There is no station. It just stops at the side of the road and lets you off on the sidewalk.

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Gonville Hotel

I wish we could have spent all week at the Gonville Hotel, but we needed more space than a hotel room could provide, so one night would have to suffice. We were too tired to go out and find dinner, so we just ate dinner in the hotel’s Atrium restaurant, which was excellent as was the included breakfast the next morning.

But the best part of staying here, even one night, was the concierge, Elliot, and the complimentary hour long tour of the town in his Silver Bentley. He drove us around the town to see the colleges and tourists were taking pictures of us! Elliot did his best to fit our ride into his Sunday schedule. But when he couldn’t fit us in on Sunday, he arranged to pick us up at our apartment to give us the tour the next day, even after we had checked out. He even arranged to transport us and our luggage from the hotel to our apartment in the Bentley! Now that’s what I call service! We’d stay here again in a heartbeat!

Cambridge Walking Tours
We checked out at 10 am and left our bags at the front desk and then walked the mile over to Kings College on King’s Parade, a car-restricted area. This was a Sunday, so the area was packed with people. We could barely walk on the sidewalks. The cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops were packed full of day tourists.

We found our tour guide, Will, a former Cambridge student, holding a green umbrella for the Cambridge Free Walking tours. We booked the free tour in advance on their website, but it wasn’t necessary. Many people just showed up and they didn’t turn them away.

I’m not sure why many people on this forum and on Cruise Critic seem to dismiss the free tour business model as not worthy of consideration. Of course, the tour isn’t free. No business would survive with that business model. They ask you to pay what you think it’s worth after the tour is over. I have never a situation where any free walking tour company tried to upsell us to a paid tour. And every free walking tour we’ve taken in cities all over the world, we’ve found to be excellent.

Our walking tour visited the outside of 6 colleges, letting us peak into the inner courtyards of several of them from the entry vestibule without paying the admission fee. The guide told us stories of the life of a Cambridge student and of course the famous pranks that happened. He walked us past the Eagle Pub, where Crick and Watson announced their DNA discovery, and old Norman church, over the river to see the Mathematical Bridge, then onward to the Backs, where we took the “Cambridge Postcard” picture of King’s College chapel across the river. We finished up near St. John’s college and back to King College chapel in two hours.

I will say that for any tour, paid or walking tour, you should never accept the information given as the gospel truth. While most of the information was historically accurate and dates were correct, after taking three different tours: the free walking tour, The Bentley tour and the punting tour, we noticed a slight variation in the stories told. One story has the students putting a car on the roof of the senate house, the other story has them stringing up the car hanging from the mathematical bridge and both stories have the college dean rewarding the pranksters with bottles of champagne. They both can’t be true.

After the walking tour, it was lunchtime and we wandered the marketplace looking for the Scotch Egg Booth, but other vendors said the seller stopped coming to the market a few months back, so we bought lunch from one of other open air food vendors.

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A credit card with the NFC/RFID Symbol ( a sideways Wi-Fi symbol)

In all of my purchases in England and Scotland, I found it very convenient to use a contactless credit card. All the major merchants accepted the card, and even the small vendors in the open market accepted them. (and some buses accepted them for bus fare payment. And now I hear, the London Transport accepts them to ride the Tube.) You just touch your card (instead of swiping it) to the handheld payment reader device and the transaction is completed. No signature or PIN was needed for purchases under £30.
I also like how the credit card device brought to table, so the credit card never leaves your sight. I wish U.S. restaurants would do that. It would cut down on all the back room credit card skimming. I recommend getting a contactless credit card before your next trip to Europe.

Lux Living, Marino Studio Apartment

We rented a studio apartment for a week called the Lux Living, Marino Place at 1 Hertford Street, across the street from Magdalene (pronounced Maudlin) College, a 10-15 minute walk to the city Centre, but over a mile and half from my classroom. It’s not an Airbnb, but a company that rents studio and 1-bedroom apartments. We had a ground floor studio apartment that had a separate kitchen area, bathroom area, and was large enough to a dining area, living area and bedroom area. It was the perfect place for two people for a week. It was a short 10-15 minute walk past shops, restaurants, coffee shops and the walk crossed a small bridge with scenic views of punters on the river. My wife walked the short distance from the apartment into Cambridge every day to visit the area of Kings Parade where all the colleges, museums and shops are. I rode a bicycle.

Bicycle Rental and riding to school each morning

Because of the distance from the classrooms, I rented a bicycle for the week from Rutland Cycling, located in the basement at the Grand Arcade in the back side near the car park entrance. The weekly cost for a premium bicycle was £48 which included Kryptonite U-lock and cable, and USB chargeable headlight and taillight, and a bell, but no helmet. The difference between the advertised basic bicycle for £25 a week was a kickstand and a cheaper brand of bicycle. If I were to rent again, I would go for the cheaper bicycle (and a helmet) as there were lots of bicycle rack stands, all over town, so the kickstand was a luxury.
There were bicycles parked everywhere, as most of the Cambridge city center is car-free, pedestrian only areas.
I ended up purchasing neoprene legging protectors to wrap my trouser leggings around my ankles to keep them from getting caught in the chain. Cambridge is not the place to being wearing shorts, if you don’t want to be marked as a tourist. And I never felt that it was warm enough to wear shorts. I asked the bicycle store clerk if they had rubber bands to wrap my “pants” around my ankles and he broke out laughing. “Pants” in England means underwear. The proper English term is “trousers.”

Each morning at 8 am, I bicycled from my apartment along busy Chesterton Road and then took a left turn to the car restricted area of Bridge Street and then pedaled to the pedestrian only area of Kings parade. I would cross the river Cam by the Scudamore punting dock, whose employees were just setting up the punts for the day.

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At that time of the morning, the car traffic was light on Chesterton Road. Cars restricted on Bridge Street and prohibited on Kings Parade Road. I shared the narrow, cobblestoned lanes with workers and other students also riding their bicycles to work or school. (Workers leave their cars at five park and ride lots outside the city center and are bussed into the center to get to their jobs.) Riding by the royal colleges in the early morning was exhilarating, with the wind in my hair and morning sun on my face, and I could stop to take pictures of outside of King’s College and chapel unfettered by the mass of tourists that would soon invade the area in two hours. By the end of the week, I felt like a local, yelling at tourists to look right before they stepped into the street in front of me.

On several afternoons, after I had submitted my homework assignment, I was able to bicycle around other areas and parks of Cambridge, so having a bicycle was worth the expense. It was not hard to keep to the left side of the road on a bicycle, since you are always on alert for cars and not lulled into complacency and revert to U.S. driving habits.

My other fantasy plan was to stop at a different coffee shop each morning before class (Café Nero, Bould Brothers, Indigo Café, etc) and have them fill my hydroflask with coffee and get a breakfast item to “takeaway”. I had hoped to determine which shop had the best coffee and write TripAdvisor reviews. But on my first morning, I visited Fitzbillies on Trumpington Street and bought a coffee and their famous Chelsea bun, and I was hooked. I never went to any other coffee shop. Every morning, I bought the same thing: a Chelsea bun and coffee to “takeaway.” (Takeaway prices are cheaper than eating in.) By the end of the week, the baristas recognized me and knew what my order would be. They told me if I really liked Chelsea buns, they could ship it anywhere in the world. I justified eating a Chelsea bun each morning because I was bicycling and burning the calories all off. (yeah, right.)

With over an hour for lunch and a bicycle, I was hoping to eat at nearby pubs like the Mill or the Granta, so I could write restaurant reviews, but it was much more interesting to go with my classmates over to one of the three student cafes near our classroom building. (These places are open to the public, but there’s no reason for the public to be here by accident or want to go out of their way to eat here.)

At one lunch time, I asked a British classmate about her views on Brexit and she passionately talked ten minutes nonstop why Britain should “remain.” She didn’t give the “Brexiter” the chance to express her views. The next day, I let the Brexiter explain her views to me. And I learned a lot from both of them on this very divisive British issue. It is interesting that both the Remainer and the Brexiter blamed their predicament on former prime minister David Cameron for even putting the issue up for a vote.
Although they asked me about our situation in the US, I promised my wife that I would not discuss American politics with other Americans we met abroad this trip and there was another American in our lunch group, so my American politics diatribes were short and polite.

Each evening, after I had submitted my homework online by the deadline, I would text my wife if I was running late to meet me at a restaurant near the apartment or in town, but most days it only took me 15 minutes to ride home and we walked to restaurants recommended by our walking tour guide.

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Restaurants

On the first Sunday night, we ate the traditional Roast dinner at St. John’s Chophouse. I tried cider for the first time and was hooked. It’s fruity and contains alcohol and throughout my trip I sampled different brands in each pub we ate dinner. We had excellent pub food and cider at The Punter and at the Architect Pub.
We also ate dinner one night at the “Galleria” restaurant which is right on the riverside with a view; and one night we ate an average but expensive dinner at “Six” restaurant, which is on the top floor of the Varsity Hotel and has magnificent views below of the city. Of course, you’re paying for the view, not the food.

Pubs
I did get to visit pubs for drinks with my classmates after our evening class events. We all just walked to the closet pub from the college, the Anchor Pub, on Silver street by the river Cam, where Pink Floyd played their first gig. It’s a historic, low ceiling place, so we sat outside on patio overlooking the river. We did try to have a drink at the Eagle Pub, where Crick and Watson announced their discovery of DNA, but it was packed full of tourists even in the evening, and they couldn’t accommodate a group of 8, so we went next door to another pub (whose name I can’t remember) which had the same pub ambiance but we could hear each other talk. Still, the Eagle Pub is worth a visit to look at the ceiling.

Punting
If you are in Cambridge, the quintessential experience is punting on the River. Punting is using a long 12-foot pole (the punt) to push your flat bottom boat downstream and upstream along the River. I had previously punted on the River Cam forty years ago while backpacking through Europe. But even as a strapping young man back then, it was hilariously difficult to maneuver the boat with a punt. So, this time, I paid for a guided group tour with a punter and all my wife and I had to do was sit and enjoy the ride and commentary.

A good tip here: The sales hawkers holding their signs advertising $22 per person punt rides aren’t set in stone. Our walking tour guide said you could get a ride for $12 if you booked in advance, but $15 was a reasonable price. As I walked up to the dock, the salesperson showed me the sign offering $22 rides and I told him the other punting company’s price was $15 and in his British clipped accent said “Right then. $15 it is.” And the deal was done. No haggling. So, offer $15.

The other special thing on my bucket list was to find the same spot where a picture of me was taken using the punt pole on the boat on the river 40 years ago. The guides looked at the background in the picture and knew exactly where it was. The ride downstream to the mathematical bridge is full of commentary and the views of the Backs and Kings college are marvelous, so my punter had to follow his script, but on the ride upstream, he agreed to stop at the spot, let me stand on the punt and hold the punt to try to recreate the image. The picture didn’t come out as exact as I wanted, and the lighting in the picture is dark, since the day was overcast, but he let me try and I tipped extra for it.

I recommend that you go with a well-known punting company like Scudamore’s, but we used Cambridge Punt tours because Scudamore’s was sold out for the rest of the day . Unless you are looking for strenuous adventure, I recommend a guided tour and not hire a self-punt. Some of those self-hire boat tourists were crashing into other boats, losing their punts in the river and riotously wreaking havoc for everyone else.

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My wife’s experience
Derek’s wife here.
Most people do a day trip via bus or train to Cambridge and then leave. But I had 5 days to “Do” Cambridge. On my first day, since I am a Grantchester show fan, I walked the 2-3 miles trail along the river from Cambridge to Grantchester. About halfway on the river trail, it started raining for a few minutes, but that wasn’t a problem. The trail wasn’t well marked and did diverge away from the river, but eventually I found myself in Grantchester, by the church used in the TV show. The church was closed at the moment because they were filming in it. I walked over to the Orchards and had lunch there, wandered through some shops and walked over to Bryon’s pool and then back to Grantchester. By that time, the Church was now open, so I went in to look inside. I took the bus back to Cambridge. The cost was £4.50, and they took my contactless credit card on the bus. Total walking miles for the day was 5 miles. I did some window and souvenir shopping and grocery shopping at the Marks and Spencer food hall next to the market square.

The next day was forecast to be a sunny day, so I walked to the Royal Botanical Gardens and spent a couple hours there and had lunch there. I also visited the nearby Polar museum and walked back to the city center to the Grand Arcade, which is an indoor multi-level shopping mall with the same retail shops you find in the states (i.e. Laura Ashley).

As my husband had an evening school event one night, we met for a quick dinner at the Galleria restaurant, which is right on the river with views of all the punt boats going by. I walked over to the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, which was playing on the “backs” of the colleges along Chesterton Road and saw The Tempest. The Shakespeare was good. I will say that hearing Shakespeare in an authentic English Accent, makes the script more understandable. The actors performed out on the lawn behind the Colleges, so there were no sets. My only complaint was there were no people of color playing any roles.

Wren Library
The next day rain was forecast, and it did rain, so that day was museum day. I had a late, leisurely breakfast at Fitzbillies and then went to wait in line at 11:30 am to gain entry into the Wren library which is only open from 12-2. Only 30 people are admitted at a time. I was fifth in line. They proctors ask you to be quiet while waiting outside in line and to be quiet while visiting the library as it is a working library. Upon entry, I was given a numbered ticket card, so the proctors could keep track of the visitors, and returned it to them when I left. I saw original works, many hand-written including Shakespeare’s first folio, a lock of Isaac Newton’s hair and his belongings, and A.A. Milne’s 1928 edition of The House at Pooh Corner, to name a few items. I stayed an hour, reading every sign. When I left the library, there were still 15 people or so in line. Not all of them would gain admittance for the day. So, if you want to see this, get in line early. It was worth the wait.

On another rainy day, I visited the Pepys library at Madelene College, the Heong Gallery at Downing College, which had a Yoko Ono exhibit, and I visited the free Fitzwilliam Museum and had lunch in their café. I also had afternoon tea at the Ivy, but I can’t recommend it as the experience and service was so poorly done.

Most people spend their one day here to see King’s College and the chapel, with its fan vaulted ceiling, as well as the grounds and that was worth paying the £9 admission. It’s a self-guided tour, so I lingered here for about an hour and a half.

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I did shop for Cambridge souvenirs: shirts, mugs, tie. But real Cambridge students get shirts and souvenirs with the name of their college on it, i.e. St. Catherine’s or Gonville and Caius, not “Cambridge.”

As my husband wrote earlier, we did go punting on the river and that is not to be missed.

Derek again:
I really enjoyed my week studying at Cambridge University and recommend the program. If you are interested in doing this, don’t hesitate if you find a programme topic that interests you. “Experiencing” Cambridge as a student will always be far more memorable than “seeing” Cambridge. And I’m sure you can say the same with any other place.

As for the academic value of the class, please PM if you want details. The writing class didn’t exactly meet my needs and the Cambridge writing level expectations were a bit snooty, but overall it was a fun and memorable experience and highly recommended.

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This is a really wonderful report - I appreciate all the detail. The first European trip my husband and I took (in our early fifties), was to a two-week "adult music camp" in Italy, where we stayed in college dorms. We quickly learned that we would skip eating in the college cafeteria and eat the in the wonderful restaurants in town. I had two classes a day and my husband only one. I quickly became jealous that he was wandering the town in his off time while I was stuck in class. This gave us the impetus to return to Italy the next year on our own and not be tied down to classes! And we've been traveling to Europe nearly every year since (20 years). It wouldn't have happened without that first trip.

At this point, if I found the right class, I think I'd love to do the Cambridge program.

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Derek and Mrs Derek, thank you so much for this detailed trip report. We spent a few wonderful days last autumn as guests at Christ Church College in Oxford and loved the access to the dining room and gardens, and common rooms. We eyed the Oxford summer courses but will probably need to retire first! We are off to Cambridge next week for our first real visit (we dropped a friend off there back in the 1990s), and this report is very helpful. By the way, the Cambridge courses look equally enticing.

Edit: I just read through your report more closely and am even more thankful for your advice. Knowing that the coaches at Heathrow say "Norwich" will be extremely helpful to us in our jet-lagged state next week! We were planning to take the coach from Heathrow to Cambridge. The ones to Oxford are much more flexible if you are early or late for your reserved coach, but it didn't seem to be the case for these, and that is borne out by your experience. Also very helpful.

and I love the fact that you stayed with Fitzbillies instead of trying other cafés. Others on this forum (e.g., Nigel) have highly recommended Fitzbillies, so we were going to check it out anyway. I'm not sure what a Chelsea bun is, but I intend to find out :-)
We will be in Cambridge for a week.

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26402 posts

Yes, Fitzbillies is a tough habit to break.

It is nice to know that if you need them but are up near the Pepys Library and the original location near the museum is just-too-far, they have a smaller, much more modern, location in Bridge Street. Same fabulous nibbles, different atmosphere....

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196 posts

Thank you, Nigel – I was actually just checking out the Bridge St location's menu. The grilled cheese looks good. I've never had Ogleshield cheese and must try it ... on sourdough, even!

And yes, we are staying on the north side of town (just north of the River Cam – we will be ringing tower bells in Chesterton) so I was eyeing that location, as we will walk by it every day :-) And the Pepys Library is one of my top "must do's" (along with the Polar museum and All Saints' w/the William Morris walls).

Getting very excited ...

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I hope you have a great time ringing at Chesterton. Six bells at St Andrew's, rung from the ground floor - no tower climbing needed.

If you - like I - love bell ringing and you are Cambridge, don't miss the ringing at Great St Mary's. A lovely full ring of 12, rung very well, and because it is Cambridge (full of swots and girly swots) there are some very imaginative methods.

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Thank you for your trip report.
I was sad when it ended.
I rather like your writing style. : )

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196 posts

Nigel, are you a bell ringer? You even know the term 'methods' which most (Americans) don't :-)

Thanks for reminding me about the bells of Great St Mary's. I will definitely make a pilgrimage there.
I rather like climbs up into bell towers ... it is part of the experience. In August I survived a harrowing climb up into the bell chamber of Old North Church in Boston (Mass.); such a thrill. St Andrew's Chesterton will be our first ground-floor ringing, which will be very interesting.

I am also looking to do a quarter peal on handbells while in Cambridge. And I can't wait to see rain again!

Derek, I'm sorry if I've derailed your thread. (I didn't want to fill up Nigel's in-box!) Thanks again to you and your wife for the interesting, entertaining, and helpful trip report! Perhaps I will meet you at the Orinda travel group meeting sometime.

P.S. And Nigel, I like the term 'girly swots'! I hadn't heard it before. I am trying to introduce the phrase 'everything went pear-shaped' here in California, but I get a lot of blank looks ... :-)

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880 posts

Thank you, this was a wonderful report, so much detail and so well-written. I have a friend who attends the Cambridge summer institute every year. It sounds like a highlight of her year and you made it sound the same. Onto the bucket list it goes...

Posted by
4538 posts

Roughly half of the coaches between Heathrow and Cambridge continue to Norwich and UEA; these are numbered 787. The others are the 727 service which terminates at Cambridge and uses a different route in between.

Posted by
26402 posts

derek, sorry for taking the thread off the rails just slightly - sorry.

Laura, my wife and I travel the country to towers and bell foundaries listening to bells and ringing, and are keen followers of the striking competitions. Neither of us ring, but my cousin does and was recently a tower Captain, and my uncle used to wind the village striking clock but now that he is in his 90s he's stopped - but the clock hasn't!.

Will you be ringing publically, or is it a private recital?

Posted by
26402 posts

oh, I forgot - "girly swots".

I hadn't heard it before last week either. Maybe a bit of background may help.

A particularly bright and pleasant lady has just left the BBC for maternity leave after several years of morning news and particularly consumer and business issues reporting, and has fronted and supported a number of consumer shows.

She is from the Northeast - Middlesbrough - where the stereotype isn't of bright, intelligent folk and certainly not females in their 20s and 30s.

She is Steph McGovern whom you can search on Twitter or google. She has done nothing to dilute her very strong 'Brough accent and relishes being a northern lass. A "swot" is an intelligent bookish nerdy smart studious type. What you wouldn't stereotypically expect in 'Brough. Two Fridays ago Steph chaired a current affairs "quiz" show (read satire and irony) called Have I Got News For You wearing a large sweatshirt (she was about to give birth) with the legend "Girly Swot" overprinted on a huge pink kiss.

That's our Steph. In the circles in which I travel the phrase has taken off like a rocket. Steph's sweatshirt was a charity fundraiser and it has succeeded in raising charity funds, in a typically British way.

Up the Swots and Girly Swots! shame about the rugger though...

Posted by
1259 posts

Surely the reason "girly swot" has become a media phrase recently is because Boris used it to mock Cameron. So far as I know it's only really used as an insult by a man against another man and even then only a fairly low-grade insult making fun of someone, not really rude (although the SJWs got their knickers in a twist over it).

Posted by
759 posts

Derek- (and Mrs. Derek ) a wonderful report. Thank you for all the detail, very much appreciated.

Travel safe,

One Fast Bob

Posted by
196 posts

Marco – thank you for the information about the coaches, in particular their numbers. That is very helpful! I had just been checking the website and was getting confused; I had just told my husband we should set our alarms for the Cambridge stop just in case the coach continues past Cambridge (I intend to take a nice nap!), but it certainly seemed as if some of the coaches did end their run there. I figured all would become clear once at Heathrow, but it is nice to know in advance.

Nigel – we are novice bell ringers so I'm sorry, no performances ;-)

The folks at St Andrew's kindly offered to let us come to their practice night and give us instruction beforehand. This will be only our fourth tower "grab"; as there are no towers in California, I must usually make do with handbells. Hence I am much farther along on handbells than tower bells and even have a quarter peal listed on Bell Board :-)

That is wonderful that your uncle used to wind the village striking clock. And I love that you and your wife travel around the country to hear bells. I will take this to PM so as not to annoy the nice folks on this board.

And Nigel, Nick, and Emma – thank you so much for explaining the recent political brouhaha over the term 'girly swot'. I had Googled it and it seemed to mean just 'nerd' or 'brainy person' which was the context here (Cambridge bell ringers). I do try to keep up with British news but I had missed that.

and SJW = social justice warrior, I believe.