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Adventures in Cambridge
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By DuckyDuck
May 15, 2007

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Ah, yes, I finally got back home to the U.S. last night after spending a weekend in the U.K.. (I just flew in from Gatwick and boy are my arms tired...<ba-dump-bump>...)

This all started as MrsDuck, as part of her job, was to spend a week in Cambridge to meet with managers of her company's European plants, then teach statistics to employees in one of her plants in Germany. She had the weekend in between "free" to do anything, so we figured I'd fly in to London and spend the weekend together.

(LBYM note for the LBYM crowd: MrsDuck has FF miles to burn with NWA, she was at a point of "use 'em or lose 'em" if she didn't start burning some major amounts soon.)

My flight left DTW (Detroit) Thursday night at about 9:30PM and arrived in London Gatwick (LGW) around 10AM Friday morning. It was an eight-hour flight. MrsDuck suggested I sleep on the flight over so I'll be "refreshed" and alert when I arrive. Such was not the case. I spent about 3 hours sleeping, 1 hour waving off the flight attendants as they would wake me up and TRY to serve me BAD airline food, 2 hours reading a couple books, one hour standing in the aisle to relieve my backache, and 1 hour of staring at the LCD screen watching our plane on a little map of North America and Europe just CRAWLING across the screen showing our flight progress.

It was quite painful. Specifically the airline food.

I arrived at LGW, crawled off the plane, and stumbled down at 400 yards of hallways towards Immigration control. The line, or "queue" as they refer to any group of humanoids standing in some orderly formation, was long and when I got to the immigration clerk, she looked as though she had already been thoroughly abused. As I submitted my card to her with my info (traveling for business/pleasure, how long was I staying, where was I going, and who do I favour in the Manchester United VS Newcastle match this afternoon?), she immediately hassled me for not writing down or even KNOWING the actual street address of the hotel I was going to.

"It's the CrownePlaza in Cambridge, that's all I know!"
"That's not sufficient.."..(ya stupid American GIT as I figured she'd be muttering under her breath...)
"Well then, if you need that information, do you have a telephone book or directory handy or something where I can SPEND A FEW MINUTES AND RESEARCH FOR YOU?!"
"Oh...git on...", she stammered and let me pass.

Naturally, there's always the adventure of where you try to figure out British equivalent words and phrases on signs. You know, like lorries (trucks), lifts (elevators), queues (lines), pubs (bars), and toilets (Irish drinking fountains). The first thing I saw after passing luggage claim was the sign "WAY OUT". I took a picture of it. I was amused, but after a few seconds passed by, I figured they did not use the word "exit", but used the words "WAY OUT". I thought somebody was just being groovy...

I made my way into the main terminal and met up with my "driver", Richard. (MrsDuck's company contracted out "limo" drivers to pick up attendees to this function, including me, but without the "limo"...just a black Saab 9-5.) Richard and I hopped into the Saab and I spent the next two hours white-knuckling the armrests as Richard casually motored through traffic, missing adjacent cars by inches (excuse me, MILLIMETERS!), and adjusting speeds between Zero and 90 MPH. (No, not KPH, the speedo was indeed showing 90MPH!) Yes, indeed, we were traveling on the "wrong" side of the road, but it did take a little time for my brain to fully accept that and to quit bracing myself against the passenger-side airbag in the Saab.

The countryside between London and Cambridge looked pretty much like northern Kentucky (I-75) and western Iowa (I-80), but there would be the occasional 300-year old house sitting in the middle of a field, which made the scenery look a bit more confusing.

Duck's definition #1 of British words:

Optimist: An Englishman with sunglasses.

I just kept myself entertained, looking at all the other cars on the motorways, most of them being cars you will never see in the U.S., like Renaults, Dacias, Skodas, Citroens, and the like. But most of them are quite weird, and I tell you my Aztek would NEVER be noticed in this country (didja ever see a Citroen Xsara?).

We arrived in Cambridge, and I soon found out that any paved pathway that can be navigated by a Segway qualified as a STREET. The "street" that my hotel was located on was no wider than maybe a lane and a half.

At the hotel, I met up with MrsDuck, headed into our room and discovered that lighting seems to be an afterthought. Of course, as it seems that Europeans are more obsessed with energy conservation and all that, it still seemed that with every light on in the room, the whole place seemed no more light than my bedroom closet at home.

After a nap, MrsDuck and I headed out for a walk about town.


Duck's definition #2 of British words:

Weather: A seemingly totally useless word in this part of the world, in which the weather is either (1) raining or (2) WILL rain.

In this central part of Cambridge, we were able to walk past several shops and stores, but also including a Subway (yes, the SANDWICH chain), three Starbucks, and a McDonalds. Well, I was hungry and wanted lunch, so we found ourselves a pub, "The Spread Eagle" (I am NOT kidding) and I ordered up a Guinness and "fish and chips". I was to find out later how REAL fish and chips are served, but that was fine, I had enough grease and alcohol in me for the rest of the afternoon to make me happy.

We walked along the river Cam, saw some rowing teams out and rowing up and down the river, and then we came alongside a "commons".


Duck's definition #3 of British words:

Commons: An area of open grass and trees, belonging to everyone, or to the "common" peoples. This is NOT to be confused with what we Americans think of as a "park" as the grass in a commons is NOT mowed, you're either walking on overly-trampled grass, or waist-high grass, and nothing in between. The tall grass will hide dogs, COWS, and drunk Cambridge co-eds lying about, shagging each other...


Being a college town, I was really NOT surprised to see a bunch of drunken college kids stumbling about, except that they were quite polite. Or that is, they would say, "OH, excuse ME!" as they tripped over a curb.

Back at the hotel room, we just watched a bit of British TV, which to say was quite underwhelming. The channels pretty much consisted of news, soccer, world news, tomorrow's soccer, CNN, some actual episodic dramas, and five other channels of fuzz and static.

MrsDuck and I found much better way to entertain ourselves anyway (wink-wink, nudge-nudge).


We got up early Saturday morning, planning on spending the whole day in London, sightseeing. I'm not about to describe the food, knowing fully well that the food in a tourist hotel in a foreign country is probably not indicative or representative of that country's food. (In other words, I can't say if English food SUCKS, without any supporting or comparative evidence...as much as I WANTED to.)

MrsDuck had also cautioned me that most any toilet available to the public in London are PAY toilets, so to be careful, one must run around with pants pockets full of 20p coins at all times. When you say you have to "go for a tinkle", you really meant it.

We took a cab to the rail station and bought all-day passes for the trains and the London subways (the Underground). That way, for one convenient, low price, you could get lost anywhere in the U.K...and quickly, too.


Duck's definition #4 of British words:

Trains: A conveyance device used on weekends to (1) transport rural English folk into London for shopping, (2) transport confused visitors from one end of England to the other, and (3) transport drunken soccer fans from one game to another. (Who needs a designated driver?)


I'd probably say that getting around the trains and the train stations was fairly easy, and was pretty satisfied that they were pretty comparable to Union Station in Chicago, except for the presence of soccer fans.

We had arrived at the King's Cross station, then took the Underground to Picadilly Circus, which of course I could find no reason why it was named a "circus" as all I saw were shops and other buildings. No circuses. Not even a clown (except for maybe a lost soccer fan).


We walked...and walked...and walked. We walked past Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, and over to the Thames. We had walked along the Thames, looking across to the London Eye (the big Ferris wheel thingy), but was able to see that the queues were way too long to spend waiting to get on that, and we saw the same for the various tour boats. So we walked...and walked...and walked.

Most tourists were all standing around trying to take pictures AND trying to stay out of the viewfinders of everyone else trying to take pictures.

MrsDuck and I looked at our maps and figured we cut up north for lunch and then try the British museum. We had stopped into a few pubs/restaurants but they were mostly cramped and full, if not overwhelmingly hot inside. We found a place, (forgot what it was called) and just to be safe, I had ordered a "fish fingers sandwich". But from what I could see, it was just 3 pieces of Mrs. Pauls' tossed onto two slices of plain white bread. All that for 9 pounds?!?!?! Tourist trap if there ever was one.


We made our way to the British Museum (motto: "Free since 1757!", for all you LBYM'ers out there). Quite a lot to see and look at. The most peculiar thing, though, that with a lot of the statues, busts, and large exhibits, they are all marked, "PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH", but you can touch them anyway. Nothing stopping you. We just figured it was because the British are just SOOOOO polite and obedient. You'd have to be a total OAF (or soccer fan) to run up and touch these museum pieces. We even saw the Rosetta Stone, but it was secured in a glass case and all.

After about two hours, we left the museum and headed back southeast towards the Thames to attempt to visit the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. At about 5:30 we got down to the Tower, only to find it had already closed for the day. But we walked all around it, took lots of other pictures and then headed back to the Liverpool Street station for our train ride back to Cambridge.

But also on our way, we found The Bung Hole pub: http://flickr.com/photos/doctorow/4610678/ . I HAD to take a picture of that...


Richard had told us the next day we had walked about 10 miles in total. And my feet and calves are proving it now...


We arrived back in Cambridge, and had correctly stayed in queue to get a cab. MrsDuck had visited London earlier in the week with co-workers and when they came back to Cambridge, a co-worker just ran and grabbed the first cab they saw in line. A little, old lady walked up to the cab, whacked him with her umbrella and shouted at him, "MIND THE QUEUE!!!!" WHAP!

We had heard from our taxi driver that the pub, "The Red Cow" was a good place to stop at after a day of walking. We asked him to take us there. However, we found out this was "the" hot spot for the students to hang around and get p*ss drunk.

So we quickly left and tried to find another place to eat. However, it was Saturday evening after 7PM and the only places open were pubs and a few restaurants. We came across the remnants of a stag party, with the potential groom wearing a veil on his head, blue paint on his face, and some unmentionable words written in Sharpie on his chest. He claimed he was a Scottish policeman (yeah, right)...getting married for the second time. Oh yeah. If this was his second, I imagine the party for his FIRST marriage must have led to several arrests, if not casualties.

We congratulated him, pointed him towards the river, and left. We had heard the next day that there was "some poor bloke handcuffed to a bicycle stand naked" that morning. Maybe....?

Finally, down an alley, we found the "Rainbow Cafe". We went through a small door, down two flights of stairs, well down in a basement with maybe 5'6" of headroom, and were led to a dining area no bigger than maybe my living room. Pretty small. We were given menus and found out that we had stumbled into a vegetarian restaurant. No problem, I had enchiladas, and MrsDuck had a potato-based main course of some kind. No matter. It was quite good, and then MrsDuck and I made our way back to the hotel for some bad television and other things. (Wink-wink)

Our driver, Richard, took us to the airports, MrsDuck to Heathrow and me over to Gatwick. It was a fine weekend and at least I hadn't incurred any international incidents.

The flight back was not as painful, just watched a bunch of movies, and coming back through Immigration at Detroit was quick and uneventful. Or that is, they were as friendly here as the immigration folks at Gatwick were surly and snippy.

But upon coming home, I was hungry and did the first thing while back as a U.S. citizen. I stopped at a Taco Bell.


Duck


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