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.

Town End, Hill Top and Beatrix Potter

On a recommendation from Luke’s Aunt Sue, I decided to visit Hill Top, the home of Beatrix Potter.

The day before I’d been to Town End, a farm in Troutbeck, and taken a guided tour. A friend of Ms Potter’s lived at Town End and she apparently visited often, though only stayed one night. Town End has been preserved very well and the tour guide did an excellent job, sharing many interesting facts about the buildings and the family who had lived there from the 15th century to the 20th.

One of the funniest things I learned on that tour was that one of the men of the house, who did a lot of furniture carving, used to carve dates like ‘1684’ into his pieces even though he was producing them in the 19th century. This made dating the furniture quite a challenge for the National Trust staff.

There were also lots of interesting associations with modern phrases. The dining table was a giant board that had a smooth side for eating off and a rough side for doing work on. The master of the house would sit at the top of the table and he was known as the chairman of the board.

Dancing on the table was ‘treading the boards’ and games played at the table were board games. I’m not entirely sure how strong the links between these and our modern expressions are but our guide was convinced.

So then the next day I set off for Hill Top.

First I caught the ferry over from Bowness on Windermere. On the boat I met a woman and her mother from Dubbo and it turned out the woman had gone to the same high school as me.

Everyone else got off the ferry and caught the shuttle bus to Hill Top but I, despite registering the name of the place, didn’t take the obvious hint and decided to walk. Well, it wasn’t the most steep climb I’ve ever made but the walk took me through some muddy paddocks and by the time I got to the right village I was puffed and annoyed with myself.

One of the local houses.

The village that Hill Top is in is quite pretty but the density of tourists was a bit of a shock for me, having spent most of my time in the Lake District by myself. Her house was lovely though and so was the garden.

It was filled with interesting objects. My favourite was her dolls house.

A peek through the window.

There were lots of guides around to answer questions, which was nice. Even a Japanese guide. I had heard someone say that Beatrix Potter was very popular in Japan and that her books were so often used as English starter texts that Japanese people came to her house like pilgrims. Maybe someone who reads this can confirm or deny?

After sneaking aboard the shuttle back to the pier then catching the ferry back over I was left with half a day to fill. I noticed a bit of a hill behind Bowness and wandered up through the back streets until I finally ended up on Brant Fell. The views were lovely (surprise surprise) and I sat there and ate my elegant repast of a piece of pita bread, a tiny piece of cheese, a hard boiled egg and some cherry tomatoes.

Classy!

I had a chat to a guy who jogged to the top but then looked kind of like he was going to die. My conversations with random people have fallen into a pretty standard pattern. First I tell them I’m from Melbourne, they tell me they have relations in Perth. Then we both express amazement at how incredibly good the weather has been for the last fortnight then it diverges into discussions about cultural differences between Australia and the UK.

I don’t think I ever think about my Australianess when I am at home but when I am overseas, particularly in the UK or US, I spend a lot of time either dispelling or reinforcing stereotypes, depending on what mood I’m in.

Anyhoo, I shall leave you with this serendipitous floral/sign arrangement and start a post about today’s walk. Then I shall be all caught up, hooray!

Canada and Alaska: Vancouver Island

We spent two and a half beautiful, sunny days on Vancouver Island, right before our Alaskan cruise.

If your geography is a bit shaky, Vancouver Island sits along the south-west corner of Canada, it is part of the province of British Columbia and the capital of that province is Victoria, which is situated on the island. The island is a 40 to 90 minute ferry ride (depending on where you go from and how fast you go) from the mainland and it is a really big island, over 500 km long. Big enough for some people to feel that it could get along quite well without the rest of Canada, thank you very much.

Vancouver Island also has its own microclimate – or many microclimates, depending on how you look at it, the weather can vary from bay to bay. It does not get anywhere near the amount of snow as the rest of Canada and so is a haven for retirees. Being an island, it keeps the prices a bit lower for real estate than Vancouver city, but it is becoming more popular.

Anyhow, we left Whistler, drove down the coast then caught the ferry across to Nanaimo, a town north of Victoria. Then we drove to Chamainus, a small logging town that now attracts tourists by being super cute and having lots of murals all over town. I saw a hummingbird while we were there. It was so tiny that I thought it was a beetle until I saw the beak. No photo though!

Last stop was Victoria and our waterfront hotel. Victoria is a city built on fur and gold and so it has some similarities, architecturally and culturally, to Melbourne. Our guide the following afternoon told us that the Chinatowns in Victoria, San Francisco and Melbourne were the most significant centres for Chinese culture outside China, and their existence allowed for free discussion that led to the uprising that led to the overthrow of the monarchy and communism in China.

Victoria’s Chinatown also has one of the narrowest streets in North America. Fan Tan Alley. The area is now popular with artists and designers.

Victoria has a wealth of beautiful buildings and I won’t bore you with too much history, but the most notable (and noticeable) are the Empress Hotel and the Parliament Building. They were both designed by a fellow with quite an interesting history. He was a very young architect who scandalized Victorian society by running off to England with his mistress. The mistress then fell in love with an employee (a butler or something), they messily bludgeoned the architect to death to grab his fortune. They were both caught and, upon learning her lover was to be hung, the mistress threw herself off a bridge. However the lover’s sentence was commuted, then he was drafted for WW1, survived with medals of honour and was eventually freed.

Despite his dubious past, the fellow obviously knew what he was about, architecturally-speaking, and these days the parliament buildings are outlined in lights at night, giving an appearance similar to a birdcage. Although there are no bulbs within reach of the ground because people would steal them.

While we couldn’t see the birdcage from our hotel room, we had a great view of the harbour. Victoria has the cutest water taxis I’ve ever seen and I spotted a seal in the water. Others had just seen an otter – you can imagine my disappointment at missing out!

Terrible photo but that underwater slug is actually a seal.

Next: Burchart Gardens!

New York: The Museum of Natural History

The MoNH is an icon. Alongside the Empire State Building, Central Park and Times Square, it’s something you know about long before coming to New York. We spent a day there and it was a good amount of time. There were four ‘extras’ you could pay for so we bought the deluxe ticket for $38 each. A tip if you’re going with a group – go to the same cashier together when you arrive as they allot you a time for each special exhibit and we had to go back to get Sean’s session times aligned with ours. The staff were very happy to help though and it only took a couple of minutes.

There’s a big gap in the ‘wow’ factor between the new exhibits and the old. A lot of the old stuff is basically huge dioramas that look quite faded, but still have a certain charm for all that. The first hall we walked through was African animals, with taxidermied versions of many animals we’d seen roaming the Serengeti earlier in the year. Sean had just been to the zoo too so he’d seen the animals live as well.

The new and special exhibits are fantastic though. First off we saw the frogs. They were definitely a highlight of the day, partly because the names and signs were kind of amusing…

How unflattering. And it wasn’t even that dumpy. Or at least, no more dumpy than any other frog.

Zombie frog is coming to EAT YOUR BRAINS!

But most because there were poison dart frogs!!! This is very worthy of multiple exclamation marks because poison dart frogs are possibly the most brightly coloured animals in the world, outside the bird and insect kingdoms.

How could something so deadly be so adorable?

 

So many! The yellow ones are the most deadly, poisonous even to touch – although in captivity they do not eat the same food and do not develop toxins.

I’ll take 10 thanks.

I could’ve spent all day looking at the frogs but it was time to move on. Next we went to the planetarium, where we watched a movie about the expansion of the universe and dark matter. I learned about red and blue light but I still don’t get how, no matter where you are in the universe, everything appears to be moving away from you. The movie was voiced by Neil Degrasse-Tyson.

After the planetarium was the live butterfly room. They had some species I hadn’t seen before but it was much smaller than Cairns or Melbourne Zoo, unsurprisingly, as it is not a permanent exhibition. No photos of butterflies because I seem to be unable to take decent photos of the stupid things.

Last of the special exhibitions was whales. It was a large hall with movies playing, skeletons and a lot of Maori history and things from NZ. They showed whales being dissected and a lot of awful stuff about how rubbish in the ocean is killing them. It was pretty depressing but necessary for people to know. Not as depressing as the news, in the frog exhibit, that there is currently a ‘death wave’ of fungal infection that is killing 96% of frogs as it passes through South America and is expected to continue across the world.

 

Apart from the temporary exhibits I quite enjoyed seeing a few dinosaur  skeletons and a giant turtle shell and bones. I had no idea they grew so big!

He looks so happy!

You can’t evolve to the point of having things like this on your head and then be surprised when your species dies out. I wonder how many got caught on trees and just couldn’t disentangle? And you can forget getting through doorways.

If I lived in NYC I’d think about becoming a member here. So much interesting stuff, and the crowds weren’t prohibitive either. I learned quite a lot and definitely left without seeing everything. I haven’t even posted pictures of the minerals section, which was also excellent. So if you’re in the city be sure to check it out!