I am going to go out and say it, Cambridge in England is exactly the same as Cambridge in New Zealand.
Actually, Cambridge in England is even more exactly like Hamilton in New Zealand.
I know I have been saying every place that has a river and a university is just like Hamilton (Boston, Washington, London all have their own Hamilton vibes), but Cambridge (UK) really does feel quite similar. I think what does it is the fact that if you travel just a tiny bit away from the centre you can find yourself in rolling hills and farmland which is very reminiscent of the mighty Waikato.
To go a little further, it is also a short trip to the actual big city (Auckland/London, both very similar towns - as I will explain much later), and both have airports that work, but aren’t exactly where you want to fly to/from (I’m talking about you Stansted).
When I first arrived in England I didn’t really go to London (other than one not so pleasant tube journey), I instead went and stayed in Cambridge, and I learned that Cambridge is... sleepy?
(OK, the reason I went and stayed in Cambridge is because there was family there and we could stay for free so it was a great place to get sorted with banks and stuff. I highly recomend free accommodation whenever possible.)
So, almost three weeks in Cambridge… I can probably sum this up in a couple of bullet points…
To punt or not to punt, that is the question
(See what I did there? It was a Shakespeare reference because he wrote Macbeth while living near Cambridge)
As far as I can tell the thing people most associate with Cambridge is punting (and here was me thinking that was invented in Christchurch), so if you are going to Cambridge you probably need to consider if you are going to punt or not.
But even once you have made your punting decision, you have to also make another choice - if you are going to just ride on one of the boats, or if you are going to actually drive it as well.
The correct answer to all these questions is obviously no. No, you are not going punting.
Sure, maybe it is because I am a killjoy who doesn’t think it could ever be worth the prices they charge (which I don’t know). But it is also because what is the real point of going punting??
If you aren’t doing the punting yourself -
You are just getting a slow taxi ride to a place you could easily walk yourself. And, you are doing it at the expense of someone else. You are basically making someone a slave. Sure, you are paying them, but that doesn’t really change the situation.
You are lazy. Why are you forcing that poor guy to push you around on a boat?
You would never catch one of those pedicabs would you? Because that’s the exact same thing, so you really shouldn’t be catching a punting cab.
(There are lots of other reasons you should catch pedicabs, not least of all because it encourages them to keep doing it, but that’s for another day)
If you are punting yourself -
Do you just really like stuff that is inefficient?
The entire premise of modern economics basically states that you shouldn’t be doing your own punting because you suck at it. Sure, I am paraphrasing (I am not sure Adam Smith actually mentioned punting specifically), but basically if someone else can do something way better than you can you should exchange something with them (money?) and let them do it for you. But then you are just in the situation above riding a water pedicab.
The best thing about punting is actually just standing on the sidelines and watching non-professional (they need a word for that) punters compared to the actual staff. I’m not saying I could do any better, but since I didn’t try there is still the chance I could (that’s how it works, right?)
Anyway, you probably don’t need to go punting.
The football world cup is a great time to go to Cambridge
I arrived in England not long before the start of the football world cup. I have already written some thoughts about the world cup in general, but the timing of the event worked out perfectly. I had just arrived in the country, I had no job, a handful of admin tasks to complete (banks accounts, NI number, recruiters to meet etc), and lots of free time - basically I had the perfect conditions to throw myself into each and every game of the opening rounds.
This might not really count as a comment about Cambridge, but, maybe it does.
Biking in Cambridge, because it’s what everyone else would do
People really love cycling in Europe. I mean, people seem to love cycling in New Zealand too, but just due to the increased population (and population density in big cities) it really feels like there are far more cyclists here.
It also kind of feels like they all live in Cambridge.
Here are some photos of the bike parking lot at the Cambridge train station. To be fair, I never did see anyone leaving or picking up a bike there, but there sure seem to be a lot of them.
More so, while we were in Cambridge, the Tour de France passed through town.
I always knew they often went into the countries around France for small parts of the race, but having multiple stages in England does feel a bit odd. I do hear the channel tunnel stage was excellent though.
Marshall vs Clotted Cream
Apparently when in England you are meant to go and get some tea and scones. I’m not exactly a huge fan of either (tea is fine, scones are… plain…), but if there is one thing that might make scones worse it is clotted cream.
Actually, it isn’t fair to blame the scones at all for this - clotted cream by itself sounds like the worst thing ever. I think the problem is the use of the word ‘clotted’ in relation to a dairy product. Whether it is or not, it just sounds like bad milk.
Not at all sold on clotted cream.
My first real pints
I assume at some point in my life before arriving in England I had drunken pints of beer before, but when you are actually getting real pints everywhere you do start to appreciate them.
I’ll be honest, my first pints were a little intimidating. They just felt like they were huge. How did people sit around and drink eight of these and then drive home? How did you drink four of them and keep walking? It just didn’t seem to make sense.
Well, that intimidation was quickly lost to so many other questions I had…
Well, it is (about 25% smaller). See I noticed this when drinking bottles of beer in the UK and realising they were often 275 mls, or, brands were lower alcohol percentage than I believed them to be in New Zealand.
Neither of these things matter (at all), but, it does bring a slightly strange double standard in to play.
In the UK you can basically only get beer in one size - a pint (you can get half pints, but the value proposition is all wrong, you are just throwing money away). A pint is generally larger than any drink you will get in New Zealand. But, in the UK there are smaller standard units, and, there are lower alcohol limits for driving.
Again, there is nothing wrong with this (if anything, it is good to have lower limits on alcohol/driving), but doesn’t it seem strange to have lower limits, but then only serve alcohol in giant glasses?
OK, maybe it isn’t, but, it is something I noticed.
And that’s really all there is in Cambridge. You can also go for runs, or visit Universities (I did one of those things), and otherwise it is just your standard city.
Who would have guessed?