We wrapped up our time in Oxford with meetings with friends. We had breakfast at Gail’s for the third(!) time with the Askonases. Boy, I miss that English muffin with eggs and bacon and some tasty sauce.
My friend Kari, whom I had ran into on our first visit, came to meet me at Gail’s. We used my free coffee coupons from an earlier visit (for delayed service, which didn’t seem that delayed, but I’ll take it) and we walked and talked to University Parks. Christopher played in the gravel after some cajoling and we were able to catch up.
Kari walked us back to Cowley, where I met Chris with Dawn and Jack, whose apartment we stayed in on our first Oxford leg. We treated them to lunch at Atomic Burger, an example of Yankophilia if there ever was one. Christopher silently found all of the characters he recognized around the restaurant (mostly Toy Story).
We quickly packed up our stuff at our AirBnB and called a cab. It arrived earlier than we expected it to, so flustered and sweaty, we loaded everything up and we’re on our way to Gloucester Green to catch our bus to Cambridge. We’re still unsure, but it seemed like our cabbie took the long way and we barely made the bus, piling everything on top of Chris and the stroller to make it on time.
It’s a long bus ride: three and a half hours. The bus was fairly empty, mostly with older Brits talking about the news in the front seats. One of them announced: “Here we are, the land of 1000 roundabouts,” and she was right. Thankfully I don’t get carsick and the kids were asleep most of the time, but it was indeed a long ride with a lot of stops in little English villages. There was some drama with a woman and a bike at Milton Keynes (winner of the award for Town Most Named After Economists). Very exciting.
We finally made it to the bus stop in Cambridge at Parker’s Peace, an expansive park with a spire in the distance. I managed to convince Chris to take a cab to our friend Alessandra’s house instead of walking the two miles with all of our stuff once we found out the city bus we thought we would take didn’t exist. Alessandra and Steven had dinner ready for us and she showed us around the beautiful old house she lives in. We got the kids settled and talked until late in the evening.
The next morning, we hung out and played in the garden a bit before heading to breakfast at Fitzbillies, a classic in the heart of Cambridge. We split a full English breakfast, a scone with clotted cream, and a sticky delicacy known as a Chelsea Bun, which the menu said had fueled Cambridge students for centuries. I sometimes fear that my preference for England over Italy may be traced back to the ability to order coffee to my taste.
We met up with our friend Jordan, a best college friend who is finishing up his Master’s before heading back to the American Cambridge, and his parents, in town for the May Bumps, a famous boat race. The boat crews try to bump the boat in front of them instead of racing to a finish line. The bumps are unique to Oxford and Cambridge because of their narrow rivers. Before his race, Jordan took us around his college, Peterhouse, and then to the King’s College chapel. King’s is certainly the most recognizable college in Cambridge, but it’s also a little too self-aware and is certainly rather touristy. It even had its own gift shop across the street!
Nevertheless, the chapel was impressive. Henry VI built it with the express purpose that it surpass all other chapels in Cambridge or Oxford. The exhibit about the history of the chapel was very well done and the history is worth reading. We got some lunch at the market in downtown Cambridge (and some wipes at Boots after discovering a diaper situation at the same time we remembered we did not pack wipes). Chris took out some pounds from the ATM, where we later learned our debit card got skimmed. Shout out to Bank of America for catching it immediately. We didn’t lose a penny.
Jordan had to bike off to the boathouse to get ready for his race. We walked along the River Cam with Jordan’s parents to The Plough, a restaurant at a prime spot along the banks. It was a long but delightfully pretty walk, complete with Cambridge’s roaming cows. Of course we were going to compare Cambridge and Oxford and the main takeaway I have about the two places is simply the space. Cambridge is greener and more spread out and seems quite a bit calmer than Oxon.
We hung out on the shore drinking Pimm’s with Jordan’s family waiting for the race to start. Christopher made friends with a cockapoo and I chatted with her owner about our travels. Therese sat on her blanket and charmed everyone. The weather was wonderful. It was delightful. Jordan’s race didn’t go the way Peterhouse had wanted, but it was so fun to cheer him on.
We had dinner and revelry at The Plough with Jordan and family and we got a cab back to Alessandra’s place to end the night.
There was a live band out in the tents and I danced with Christopher while we waited for our cab. These visits to England were all magical.