Cambridge: Gardens, Churches and the Beer Festival

I’ve made an effort to see a few things that I didn’t do when I lived in Cambridge. So before I get into the Beer Festival here’s a couple of things I did when I wasn’t taking advantage of Andrew’s washing machine, tv and couch.

Kings College Chapel

Despite the fact that this is one of Cambridge’s most iconic buildings I didn’t even consider going in until one of my co-workers, Tim, came here a few years ago and I saw pictures of the inside.

It’s £9 to have a wander around. There are side rooms with informative displays but the main attraction is the long room and it’s astonishing fan ceiling.

The big dark thing in the middle of the first photo is an oak room divider that was donated by Henry VIII. I think it’s awful but my opinion seems to be in the minority. It houses the pipe organ and keeps the riff raff in the back half of the chapel out of sight.

When visiting these kinds of edifices it always pays to look for amusement in the small details.

I don’t know what led up to this scene, but this guy’s thinking ‘I have made a terrible mistake.’

This guy looks like the textbook definition of ‘chief executor’. Or possibly ‘grand vizier’ .

The Cambridge University Botanical Gardens

I wandered down here before our first Beer Festival session. Beautiful.

The gardens were much bigger than I expected and full of students, draped like cats over every available sunny bench and table.

The gardens have lots of ‘rooms’, as well as actual rooms in glasshouses. All are well-labeled and interesting.

The chronological bed was a concept I’d never seen in any other gardens.

I had two favourite parts to the gardens. The first was the lovely scented garden, which is a bit hard to share on a blog page.

The second was the way that grass/meadow plants had been left to grow into islands and borders around perfectly manicured lawns. The contrast of soft meadow and smooth green was delightful. Also difficult to really convey in photos but you’ll just have to trust me.

I sat for a while and read my book – Great Expectations. If anyone had told me how funny Charles Dickens was I would’ve read it years ago. Although perhaps I wouldn’t have appreciated it then? Who knows.

The 45th Annual Cambridge Beer Festival

One of the longest-running beer festivals in the UK (and probably the world.. outside Germany maybe?) it is put on by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale society, who are a group that works hard to promote small scale brewers and keep traditional English Pubs out of the hands of criminals who gut the insides and replace all the dark wood with IKEA pine board or worse – turn them into offices.

The Cambridge Beer Festival is no small deal. It runs for six days, two sessions a day (12-3 then 5-11) and costs £3 to get in (per session), unless you’re a CAMRA member, which costs £20 per year and gives free entry to all their events.

I attenedd the festival with Andrew, who is thrilled to have my company.

This year we’re here on Tuesday evening and then both sessions Wednesday as I’m off to Belfast on Thursday.

I decided to approach my cider and perry choices this year (beer is revolting) in the same way I choose horses at the races – amusing names.

So far I’ve had ciders called ‘Virgin on the Ridiculous’, ‘Weasel’s Wevenge’ and ‘Monk and Disorderly’. I also tried one called ‘Ghandi’s Flip Flop’ but it was revolting.

Of course it’s not all about drinking. There’s an outstanding cheese counter too.

And don’t forget the pork pies. There’s also terrific curries, roasts and fish and chips.

Could anything be more British?

We were even first in line on Wednesday – and what a line it was.

If you’re ever in Cambridge at the end of May, and particularly when the sun is shining, I highly recommend going, it’s a great day (or six) out.

Spending Time

Travel can’t always be sunshine and uncomfortable beaches. We’ve returned to Cambridge and are having a quiet week. I’m teaching myself to crochet, with surprisingly swift success thanks to YouTube tutorials and enough time to actually focus on it without distractions. I’ve made a rectangle, circles, a square, a ball, and a tube and I’ve been experimenting with different combinations of stitches to make a range of shapes. Although travel is challenging on organisational levels I haven’t acquired a new skill in quite a long time. It’s been a very enjoyable exercise for my brain and it’s also a craft project I can take on a plane, which makes it far more convenient than knitting needles, which everyone knows are the tools of crafty terrorists (boom tish!).

I’ve been annoying people by posting photos of my crocheting on facebook, but since Mum doesn’t use facebook some people are just going to have to admire them twice.

They’re not perfect, but I couldn’t even do a single crochet stitch three days ago so not a bad effort!

Right now I’m just working on technique  and getting my stitches all an even size, but I’m aiming to make a blanket out of squares and some amigurumi dolls.

Luke is sporadically working on videos, we’re both watching lots of Star Trek: The Next Generation (brought on by reading Wil Wheaton’s autobiography and we’re enjoying it enormously) and I’ve been drinking tea and enjoying it for the first time in my whole 37 years. Up to three cups a day! What with the crochet I think I might buy myself a rocking chair when I get home and be done.

Here Comes The Planet 31 – England 05

Luke spends some time with his relatives in Dedham, visiting Flatford Mill and “Constable country”, where the painter John Constable created most of his famous works. He also attends the “Strawberry Fair” festival in Cambridge with Andrew.

Also, is there any food that comes on a stick which ISN’T awesome? We have yet to find any.

Friends and Food at the Cambridge Beer Festival

This past week has all been leading up to the big weekend of the CBF and Leigh and Nikki visiting from Edinburgh. I managed to rope Jen in at the last moment and Matt made it down too, so add to that two days of blazing sunshine we ended up having an absolutely brilliant weekend.

Nikki and Leigh arrived first. Luke and I picked them up from Stansted on Friday and took them back to Bar Hill briefly before catching a taxi into town to maximise our festival attendance. The festival was absolutely rammed with people and everyone was indoors due to the evening being freezing and wet. We ate, talked and jostled for space until it was 10:30 and we were all kicked out. We repaired back to Andrew’s for much drinking and talking.

The most difficult way to drink.

There’s something very cathartic about talking to people (and I’ll be honest, a girl) from home. Nikki and I drifted off to the kitchen, then the bedroom, then back to the loungeroom in a night of epic conversations and catching up. A lot of drinking took place too, which meant a rather slow start the next morning.

I ended up asking Jen to catch a taxi from the station while I dealt with my headache (and felt monumentally guilty) then, mostly recovered, we all headed into town to make the most of the afternoon in the best way possible.

Punting on the Cam – a classic Cambridge experience. Normally I think photos make events look more pleasant than they often are. This afternoon was not one of those times.

It was gorgeous, just as pretty as I remembered, though it was a shame we missed out on hiring a punt and doing it ourselves. We had a good laugh at some guys who’d punted themselves into a willow tree and couldn’t get out but were shouting out to everyone going past that it was completely intentional.

Next was the final day of the festival. The ground had dried out enough to sit on and then eventually we got a table and drank and chatted until the sun went down and the cold started to seep in.

Back at Andrew’s Matt had just arrived and we stayed up for a while eating pizza and sharing youtube clips but we were all rather tired and couldn’t manage another huge night.

Pancakes for breakfast the next morning before waving off Matt, Leigh and Nikki. Jen joined Andrew, Mum, Luke and I in a trip to Colchester to have an enormous and delicious roast lunch at Andrew’s parents’ place. It certainly brought back memories – I used to go back every Sunday with Andrew when I lived there and we’d gorge ourselves on the amazing food then lie on the couches all afternoon.

Three Yorkshire puddings each!

We sat in the sun after lunch and played with Ferris, the family dog. It was just so nice. If I could be guaranteed weather, food and (most of all) company this good every weekend I’d leave Australia in a second. I love a warm day and a cold night. It’s just a shame there’s so few of them here.

We left Luke at his uncle Mark’s place – coincidentally Mark lives about 5 minutes away from Andrew’s parents – and drove back to Cambridge. A quiet evening watching ‘Bridesmaids’ with Jen and Andrew before a relatively early night in preparation for the big drive the next day.

Cambridge Beer Festival.. this time with pictures!

After 2 days of loitering around and getting in for free, yesterday Luke and I finally got some work at the beer festival – and work we did. We started at about 2pm and worked through til nearly 10pm. We started off on the mead and wine counter, then did some glass washing, then when the festival reopened at 5 we were back to the mead counter but then Luke was taken away to serve beer after a bit.

The indoor area before opening. Over 200 ales on tap.

I had a great time with my lovely manager (actually the deputy but the real manager never showed up while I was there) Jo who was really friendly and thoughtful and organised. At the end of the night I told her what a great manager she’d been and she looked shocked ‘Really? What did I do?’ but it’s hard to put into words just how good it is working for someone who isn’t a raging ego maniac, a control-freak micro-manager or useless hippy – like half the people I’ve worked for at Rainbow (an Australian festival).

Working on the mead counter was very enjoyable. My knowledge of mead has gone from zero to better-than-most in one day. I tried nearly all the meads we sold. They ranged from very light to dark and there was a Christmas mead, which tasted exactly like Christmas, if Christmas was made of honey. There was also a blackcurrant mead, which wasn’t bad. We also sold perhaps 10 wines, all made in the UK. I didn’t even know wines could be made in this sort of climate.

The mead selection with the tiny wine (all English) fridges below. Uncorking wine was my least favourite job.

I think our stall was different to most, in that nearly everyone who came up hadn’t tried mead before and wanted advice. This was a bit daunting as I didn’t know anything, but all people really want is to try a couple and decide for themselves. Quite a lot of people were shocked or disgusted by how sweet it is and made funny faces, particularly a group of Japanese people.

A pork pie and a cheese plate. There was a terrific selection of cheeses – sadly not all were put out simultaneously. I’m still waiting to try a scotch egg. Toni – tried a Wensleydale with cranberries. Delicious!

I’ve saved up my tokens that we get for working and bought a few more in order to acquire a couple of bottles of mead for myself. I think there’ll be one to send home (at least!) and one to have here when a bunch of us get together in Edinburgh in July.

Walking in Cambridgeshire.

After a slow start this morning (due to spending too much time on the internet as per usual), Luke and I finally grabbed the new map and headed out on foot to explore and practice our navigation skills.

A charming country church.

We walked through little copses and along quiet country roads. We saw a number of cute little rabbits but no pheasants. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned my favourite countryside game of pheasant spotting. Pretty much every time I’m in a car or on a train going through fields I’m looking for pheasants. Even though Andrew says they’re ‘dumb as a brick’ I think they’re extremely pretty – like birds of paradise, really. They also tend to stand in places where they’re easy to spot (as would I if I looked as good as them). Luke will tell you, should you ever ask, how ridiculously excited I get whenever I see one – and because I’m in a car or on a train there’s almost never time for anyone else to see them too so it’s also like they’re my secret. Which is all beside the point because I didn’t see any today. Boo.

So many trees covered in blossoms.

We initially headed for a nearby village called Dry Drayton but there was nowhere to get lunch so we headed to the next village, where the pub wasn’t serving meals and didn’t even have packets of chips for sale (criminal!) but the guy behind the bar gave us instructions to get to a shop half an hour away. So we walked. And walked. And walked and came across one of those stretches of road that goes on forever, has no footpaths and lots of traffic. We continued along for a while, alternately stepping in mud and almost being knocked into a ditch, before getting quite cranky. At that point, fortunately, we spotted a path that went off between some fields and was signposted as ‘Cambridge 3 miles’.

After a short stretch in which we were encouraged by the signage to stay on the path rather than get shot into a million pieces due to the paddocks on either side being a military firing range (and we could hear them firing), we came across the charming village of Coton. We stopped at the pub and ate some generous tapas portions before heading on to Cambridge and then catching the bus back to Bar Hill.

Blossom trees everywhere!

A not-too-shabby 17kms in total. It felt really, really good to walk a decent distance for the first time this trip.

Almost at the end!

Several lessons were learned today.

Firstly, pack food and water. Feeling compelled to buy whatever is on offer simply because there are no other options is less than ideal.

Secondly, stay on the map. When we took the directions from the guy at the pub they led us off the map and we both felt more anxious.

Thirdly, plan ahead if deciding to stop for a break – make sure the place will be open and serving food if that is what is planned.

Lastly, get off our lazy butts and leave the house before lunchtime. I used to get up before 6am to go walking… what’s happened to me?!

Possibly the biggest disappointment of the day – apparently we’ve missed the opportunity to see some Morris dancing. Shame.

Embarrassing Confessions of the Financial Kind.

But first..

The view from a bridge over the river Cam.

Yesterday Luke and I caught the bus into Cambridge (we’re in a little suburb that’s out along a freeway) and our first stop was a camping store to find an OS map. Now, even though Luke assures me that there is barely a handful of people in this world who are as interested in maps as I am, I’m going to explain that an OS map is an Ordnance Survey map. They were created by the army to help defend England in the 18th century by accurately mapping the south of England.

And when the army said they were going to ‘accurately map’ they didn’t muck around. OS maps are incredible. They have *everything*. They show every dirt track that is open to the public, small groups of trees (and differentiate between coniferous and non coniferous) and buildings, four kinds of rocky ground, about 30 types or buildings… it’s amazing and incredibly useful.

Not to mention hilarious.

One of the things I like most about England is that there are public footpaths pretty much everywhere. In Australia you just wouldn’t think to walk across fields (usually because there’s barbed wire to negotiate, deadly animals,  it’d take all day and there’s cars for goodness sake) but here it’s only a kilometre or two to the next village and the most direct route is through a farm, between two fields, past the pond and up a lane. It helps that it’s just so darn pretty too.

England is made for walking. Later in our visit I’m hoping to tick something off my bucket list by walking across England via Hadrian’s Wall, 80 miles of scenic countryside where Scotland and England meet. We’re going to cheat slightly and use a porter company that takes our bags from hotel to hotel while we do the walking in between. Pretty much my ideal way to get around.

But back to yesterday. We bought two OS maps, one for Cambridge and the other for Bar Hill and decided, since it was starting to rain, to head along the river to the Green Dragon a couple of kilometres away. The Green Dragon is a wattle and daub building that has been a hotel since medieval times. When I first moved to Cambridge Andrew and I lived just around the corner from it. They used to do the most epic Sunday roasts you could possibly imagine but the menu is a lot more generic these days and their lawn down to the river was being dug up by a gas company. A shame, but it was a nice walk anyhow and lunch was cheap.

We walked back into town and did some shopping before catching the bus back to Bar Hill. I’d promised to make chilli for dinner so we bought ingredients and also a phone card to finally solve our bank issues. Feel free to skip the next bit unless you’re fascinated by tales of ineptitude. Anyone who knows what I’m like with money will not be in the least surprised.

Before we left Australia we decided that we’d deal with our finances in the following way:

  1. Cash: we’d spend from a shared pool of money. This has worked pretty well since we’re eating, traveling and staying together all the time. Much, much easier than splitting every single meal and hotel etc. I took out $1000 AUD each in baht, euros, pounds and US dollars before we left and Luke paid me for half or it. Then when we need to top up we get out cash in turns.
  2. Cards: I have three cards –  one 28 Degrees credit card that has no international fees and no interest if paid off within the month, and my regular NAB credit and debit cards. Luke has a 28 Degrees credit card, another credit card and a travel card.
  3. I’d record all our spending in my diary. So far we’ve written down nearly every cent we’ve spent but I haven’t yet tallied it all up yet. Our first 9 days in Thailand came to $120 a day each and we stayed in a 5 star resort for most of it, so not a bad effort.
  4. Budgeting: we are aiming for an average of $100 (not including flights) a day.

Our only issue so far has been with our cards. It takes 3 days for any money moved to Luke’s travel card to show up so we’ve had to plan ahead and keep an eye on when it’s getting low. The travel card has been our main source of extra cash because (to no one’s surprise, particularly my own) I’ve lost my debit card somewhere along the way and don’t have the pin numbers for my other two credit cards (yes. I know). To explain (sort of), I pretty much exclusively use my debit card or cash when I’m at home and only use my credit card online and, somehow, the need for a pin didn’t occur to me until we left. Luke (much more surprisingly since he is actually good with money and keeping track of stuff like that) also didn’t have the pin for his credit card.

On top of all this we had the added problem of sms id on my accounts, which means I can’t transfer large amounts of money without a code that is sent to my Australian phone number, and Luke’s bank changing their operations in a manner that was difficult to resolve from overseas and caused him to be unable to access one of his accounts.

So, between our stupidity and banks changing their rules we’ve been mildly inconvenienced and we couldn’t sort it out until we got to the UK because we were either out of phone range or didn’t know where to get international calling cards. Luke has an international sim in his phone but the rates are extortionate and there was no way we wanted to be several dollars a minute to be kept on hold for god knows how long.

To cut an extremely long and boring story slightly shorter, we bought a phone card that is a few pence a minute to Australia and we called our banks and sorted everything out. At no point have we been without money, and we have been able to use our cards to buy tickets and pay for hotels and meals so it’s been ok, I just prefer to have as many options as possible when it comes to paying for things.

I suppose the lesson in all this is that it’s good to have multiple cards and multiple accounts just in case and it’s good to travel with someone who makes up for what you lack.

Cambridge

I lived in Cambridge in 2002 and coming back has been a trip down the proverbial memory lane. We haven’t actually been into town yet and I’m curious to discover how sharp my memories of the place are. Just being with Andrew and the whole Englishness of the suburb he’s living in is almost like déjà vu.

Last night we went to a lovely country pub owned by Andrew’s former boss and met up with a bunch of his workmates, quite a few of whom I’d met years ago. It was like a window into what life would have been like if I’d stayed. If the food at the pub was anything to go by I’d definitely be a lot fatter. Chicken, camembert and cranberry pie – so good!

The pub was called The Golden Ball and it was everything a pub should be. Lots of wood paneling and red carpet, a fire was going and there was the constant hum of conversation. There were even little pots of original edition Trivial Pursuit cards on each table. Sitting there, with a group of nice, funny people my age was just so comfortable.

We stayed til nearly midnight then Andrew decided to leave his car and a friend of his, Andrea, kindly gave us a lift home. We fell (gently) onto our air mattresses and had a solid night’s sleep.

….ooo000ooo….

This morning we walked back to the pub to pick up Andrew’s car. It was a beautiful hour or so’s walk through the countryside. We saw horses, a prize winning village and many daffodils. We couldn’t help but remark on how much better it was than walking in Slovakia, what with the easily-identifiable path and signposts and the general lack of snakes.

We decided to stop back into the pub for a quick drink and then drove into Cambridge where it was raining then sunny then raining then sunny and altogether quite like Melbourne. Everything looked pretty much as I remembered it. Including the hordes of people clogging the footpaths.

Luke got a long-overdue haircut, Andrew and I bought lollies at the market and then repaired to a charming, old-school pub for drinks. I found two ciders on tap that I hadn’t tried before and had a half pint of each before Luke came back.

 

We went for a wander around the city centre and now we’re back home at Andrew’s thinking about what to have for dinner and what our plans are going to be for the next week. Everything hinges on hearing back from Matt and whether we’ll have a car or not.