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Travel & Holiday

Cambridge days

The historic university town knows how to have fun at music and beer festivals
The Straits Times - July 31, 2011
By: Nicholas Yong
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Cambridge days PHOTOS: COURTESY OF JUDY KANG

The town of Cambridge in East Anglia, south-east England, is famous for being the home of Cambridge University. Graduates include renowned scientist Stephen Hawking, Oscar-nominated actor Ian McKellen and a certain Lee Kuan Yew.

Cambridge city, population approximately 109,000, is also known for its classical architecture. Despite its rarefied air, it knows how to have fun, too, and hosts numerous festivals such as the Cambridge Beer Festival.

'Walking down the streets in Cambridge, you can't help but be pleasantly overwhelmed by the richness of history in this scholarly land,' says Ms Judy Kang, 33, who is studying at Cambridge University on a scholarship from the Singapore Institute of Management.

'It is a city where people from all over the world gather. But Cambridge is more than a university town. Surrounded by friendly and unassuming people, one will feel very welcome here.'

 

GETTING AROUND

The best way to explore the city is...

Cambridge is relatively flat and most of the university buildings, churches, museums and markets are around the city centre. Walking is therefore one of the best ways to see it.

The city prides itself on having the sustainable transport option of the bicycle. It was voted the second-most cycle-friendly city in England, and one in five people here ride bikes. You can rent a bicycle just outside the train station or around the city centre - £6 (S$11.80) for half a day or £10 for a full day.

Buses, costing a few pounds for a full day, are an alternative if going further out. Several run from the bus terminal at the city centre to the outskirts of Cambridge. Rail is another option for visiting nearby towns such as Ely and King's Lynn.

The best time to visit is...

Cambridge is great from mid-spring to early autumn, between March and September. The weather is cool and comfortable with less rain. You will see greenery sprouting and flowers in bloom from April. Summer may see temperatures up to the low 30s, which should give you a nice mild tan. However, always have a brolly or raincoat as the weather is unpredictable.

Which places in the city excite you?

I love the colleges and churches scattered across this beautiful city because of the Gothic architecture style. Peterhouse, founded in 1824, is the oldest college in Cambridge University. Though less grand compared to King's College, the Gothic-style chapel here is quiet and pretty.

Nearby, right in the centre of Cambridge is the Church of St Mary the Great (The University Church Senate House Hill, tel: +44-01223-741-716,).

The chimes from the clock tower add a melodic touch to your visit around the area.

What's the weather like?

The convergence of moist maritime air and dry continental air over the England landmass creates instability in the weather. One can experience rain and sunshine, hot and cold, in one day. Thankfully, East Anglia is one of the driest parts of the UK.

Spring falls between March and May, with temperatures ranging from 3 to 15 deg C. In summer, between June and August, it is 10 to 25 deg C; and autumn, from September to November, is between 3 and 20 deg C. From December to February, it is winter with temperatures ranging from slightly below 0 to 8 deg C.

It normally does not snow in Cambridge but this place has been seeing snow for the past two years.

 

FOOD AND WINE

Your favourite breakfast is...

Come to the outdoor Market Square for locally grown fruit such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.

There are also stalls selling homemade cheese and cakes, and even ostrich burgers. I can spend the whole morning going through the large variety of stalls selling handiwork, clothes and bric-a-brac. On Sundays, it is an arts and crafts, antiques and farmers market.

Your favourite eating place is...

The numerous pubs here offer typical English pub food such as fish and chips, and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. As Cambridge is cosmopolitan, it is not difficult to find a variety of Western, Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines around the city centre, Bridge Street, Regent Street and Mill Road. An average meal is £8 to £30.

But as a true-blue Singaporean, I miss my chilli. So I get my spicy fix at a Thai restaurant called Sala Thong (35 Newnham Road, tel: 01223-323-178), near the Mill Pond. This place serves pretty authentic Thai food and is popular with Thais, Asians and Europeans alike. As the food here is adjusted for the British palate, do ask them to make your tom yum goong spicier. A la carte dishes for one cost about £10.

Do not leave the place without trying...

Punting on the River Cam. You propel the punt boat against the river bed with a 'quant' pole. Or sit back and relax in a chauffeured College Backs punt where the guide tells you interesting stories about historical colleges along the river. You could also self-hire a punt with friends. Take a different river path and enjoy the picturesque Grantchester village.

The coolest place to chill out is...

Dating back to the 14th century, The Eagle (8 Benet Street, tel: 01223-505020) is one of the most famous places in Cambridge. This is the pub where Francis Crick and James Watson announced their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA in 1953. You could draw some inspiration while sipping traditional English cask ales at the seat where the commemorative plaque hangs. A drink costs about £2 and a meal probably sets you back less than £10.

 

CULTURE FIX

What do you think Singaporeans will like most about your city?

Cambridge is a quaint city where traditional architecture sits side by side with modern buildings. Cambridge University is the second-oldest university in the UK and many of its old colleges have beautiful cobbled courts, chapels and gardens. Overarching the River Cam are many famous bridges such as the Bridge of Sighs and Mathematical Bridge.

What is the biggest difference between Singapore and this city?

Cambridge is relatively quiet. It lacks the hustle and bustle of city traffic as you find fewer cars and less crowded roads here. You often see students cycling around leisurely, and college fellows and students cloaked in their black gowns as they stroll to a formal event.

There is also a better work-life balance. Cambridge has a very child-friendly environment and it is great for families. When the weather is good, people just laze around on the grass reading a book, picnicking with friends or simply hanging around.

What is one place you always take your friends to when they visit?

Established in 1897, The Orchard is a pretty tea garden in the quaint Grantchester village. Sit under the apple trees in green deck chairs and partake of the great English tradition of afternoon tea.

Its list of famous patrons includes English poet Rupert Brooke and economist John Maynard Keynes. Popular with locals, Cambridge students and tourists, The Orchard is open every day except for a few days around Christmas.

What do you do on weekends?

When it is not raining, I take slow walks around Cambridge, taking in the historical lanes or simply enjoying the beauty of quiet villages. You see locals, students and tourists and the atmosphere is almost always cordial and calm.

Once in a while, one gets a pleasant surprise. Once, I saw Professor Hawking in his wheelchair near Mill Pond.

 

SHOPPING

Where is the best place to go on a shopping spree?

Cambridge has some independent boutiques around the town centre along Magdalene Street, Kings Parade and Sussex Street. There are also some shops selling unique, British-designed knick-knacks.

Popular with tourists and locals alike, the market in Market Street opens every day and offers a great selection of fresh food, jewellery, flowers, woolly stuff and ornaments. In St John's Street on Saturdays, you can find the All Saints Garden Art & Craft Market where local artists and craftsmen exhibit their works in the open-air market.

If you need your dose of high-street brands, there are four shopping centres close to the city centre - Grand Arcade, Lion Yard, Christ's Lane and The Grafton.

 

FESTIVALS

Are there any festivals that travellers should look for?

In April, as well as in November, there is WordFest, with literary workshops and talks by different authors. As the weather turns warmer, people enjoy Jazz & Brass in the Parks at Jesus Green and Cherry Hinton Hall in June.

In June, there is the Strawberry Fair - a performing arts and world music fair. One of the most famous folk festivals in the world is the Cambridge Folk Festival in July. Tickets are always sold out in advance.

The British love their beer, so the Cambridge Beer Festival in May is for lovers of ales and ciders, along with cheddar cheese, pickles and other traditional British food. It is the largest beer festival outside of London. In January, there is a sister event, Cambridge Winter Ale Festival, which is smaller and focuses more on seasonal ales and winter warmers.

On Christmas Eve, a service called A Festival Of Nine Lessons And Carols is held in King's College Chapel and broadcast to millions of people worldwide.

Every year, people queue outside the college for hours hoping to attend the church service, which starts at 3pm. The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, is world famous and is made up of primary schoolboys from the King's College School. It is said that the lead singer is picked only at the very last minute before service starts or else the young boy will panic.

 

FURTHER OUT

Are there things to see or do outside the city?

Ely is just 15 minutes by train or 30 minutes' drive from Cambridge city centre. It is a great place for a day trip as it has many historic buildings and beautiful winding streets.

It's no wonder Ely is well known as a cathedral town as the sheer size of the magnificent Ely Cathedral will take your breath away. Some scenes in the award-winning Hollywood film The King's Speech (2010) were shot at the cathedral.

nicy@sph.com.sg

SINGAPOREAN ABROAD

IN CAMBRIDGE WITH...

Judy Kang

Age : 33

Occupation: MBA student at Cambridge University

Length of stay: 11 months

 

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