DM and MM's Britain 2009 Diary

Day 16 - Boxworth to London

Monday, 15 June, 2009

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Laundrette, Marchmont Street, London. 18:39

Our clothes are washing away as we sit here in our first few hours in London. And it's raining. With loud thunder and the lights here in the laundrette have dimmed for a second at one point, but thankfully the power is still on.

Our day has been eventful, beginning with breakfast at the Golden Ball. Having sampled their bacon and eggs yesterday, I decided to go healthier with a double serve of muesli and only fried mushrooms and grilled tomato from the kitchen. M. had her usual one egg on toast. The mushrooms were small buttons and the two tomatoes were lightly grilled, whole, and sprinkled with basil. Very nice. We loaded the car and checked out, the friendly proprietor wishing us a pleasant trip.

Aussie English Breakfast II
Breakfast at the Golden Ball Inn, take 2

We drove into Cambridge along the A428 after getting a bit messed up by an unlabelled junction on the minor roads and ending up taking a bit of a long way round. But we made it to the Madingley Rd Park & Ride with no drama from there. A bus was waiting at the stop, but a big sign indicated tickets were £2.50 on the bus, while only £2.20 if bought from the machine right next to it. While we rummaged for coins to see if we could use the machine, the bus doors snapped shut not a metre away from us and the bus drove off! We barely had time to register our indignation when another bus pulled up. We still hadn't sorted out if we had change for the ticket machine! The bus driver switched the bus off and got out, so we figured we had time and duly managed to buy tickets from the machine. A few minutes later the driver returned and we got on.

It appeared from information at the stop that the bus had several stops within the city and we didn't know how to identify when we'd got to where we wanted to be. I asked two ladies seated near us if they knew which stop we wanted, but they weren't regular users of the service and had as little clue as us. As it turned out, the first stop was just over Magdalene Bridge and perfectly located for us, but nobody signalled for the bus to stop and it just kept going right on past, then took a turn away from the city centre! Someone pressed the stop button, but the bus kept on for several blocks, doing a big circuit around the centre of the city before finally coming to a stop near the long distance bus depot. This was not as good as Magdalene, but not too bad, as we alighted and walked across town to the colleges.

First stop was King's College, where we paid £5 each to enter the chapel. The enormous fan-vaulted hall is still fully fitted with its original medieval glass - and glorious it was to behold. The glass survived the English Civil War because Oliver Cromwell himself gave orders that it should be spared to preserve its beauty. A small orchestra of students were rehearsing in the middle of the chapel, but visitors were still allowed to walk around and admire the architecture and the wooden partition wall which was built for King Henry VIII to celebrate his marriage to Ann Boleyn (not a great guarantee of a happy marriage, apparently).

King's College Chapel
King's College Chapel

Passage to the other side of the partition - which was blocked in the centre by the orchestra - was gained via a set of rooms along the north wall which contained informative displays on the history and architecture of the chapel and King's College. On the far side was a spectacular painted glass window facing east towards the rising sun and so illuminated gloriously. Below it, on the altar, stood a large painting of the Adoration of the Magi, by Rubens. The total effect of all this was truly breathtaking.

King's College Chapel Ceiling
King's College Chapel ceiling

Leaving King's, we got to pass briefly through a corner of its quadrangle and see what that looked like - a square of grass about the size of Christ Church in Oxford, but without the dividing pathways or central fountain. We walked around the west end of the chapel to exit the college and return to Trinity Street, which we walked up to see the second main goal of the day: Trinity College - where Isaac Newton spent much of his career.

In a turn of poor fortune, Trinity was closed to visitors for the day, so we never got to see Newton's hallowed halls or the quadrangle featured in Chariots of Fire. Another major attraction here is a direct descendant of the apple tree under which Newton sat as he contemplated gravity. We thought it was inside and thus inaccessible, but it turned out to be outside the gate and we had a nice close view.

Corpus Christi College
Corpus Christi College

We needed a respite from what had turned into another warm, sunny day after a grey start. We ducked into a cafe at the back of the Cambridge University Press bookshop, where M. got a coffee and I had some iced water. We emerged back into the sunshine and looked for somewhere to get a light lunch. The Lonely Planet recommended Fitzbillie's Bakery, being the oldest in Cambridge and home to "legendary" sticky buns. We figured it should provide sandwiches too and wandered down to check it out.

While stopped to consult the map, a hue and cry went up behind us. M. turned to see, but I was preoccupied. By the time I turned around, a young woman riding a bicycle completely naked had almost reached us and sped past to the amazed stares of everyone on the street. With the book in my hands I had no time to access my camera for a photo of this student prank/dare - which M. thought was for the best. We guessed she must have just graduated and thus didn't need to worry about making a spectacle in Cambridge.

Following this interesting insight into British university student behaviours, we made our way to the bakery. They only had soggy looking pre-packed sandwiches, so we didn't get lunch there, but they also had the most wicked looking chelsea buns in existence. They were simply too diabolical to pass up, so I bought one. I couldn't even get it out of the paper bag without getting sticky sugar all over the entire upper half of my body, so I had to resort to ripping the bag open to reveal this mystical coil of yeasty dough studded with raisins and laced with cinnamon, then evidently soaked in concentrated sugar syrup for about a week before being fished out and sold to unsuspecting passers-by. Wow. Was it ever good. I mean, really, seriously good.

Still needing to find lunch though,we rounded a corner and stumbled across Trockel, Ulmann, und Freunde, a small hole-in-the-wall apparently run by the very German Trockell or Ulmann herself - a plump grandmotherly type who dished out home made soups. We chose Thai lentil and creamy mushroom (there was also carrot and cumin), which came with a 3 centimetre thick slice of tasty and dark pumpernickel bread. The soups were great, but made us rather hot, especially in the warm weather. An old man came in and said he was hoping they had gazpacho today. Frau Ulmann apologised, saying she'd considered gazpacho that morning, but that the day had looked grey and cold that morning, so she'd decided on three hot soups.

Cambridge Soup
Soup from Trockel, Ulmann, und Freunde

Fuelled up, we went for a walk, planning to pursue the shopping areas for a bit. But we spotted a sign advertising the Whipple Museum of the History of Science just around the corner, so we had to go check that out. It was in the university's History and Philosophy of Science building, and what initially looked like just a single room sprawled with connecting rooms and stairs into almost the size of the similar museum we'd seen in Oxford. This one contained many similar items: orreries, quadrants, astrolabes, telescopes (including another built by William Herschel), microscopes, and so on. But it also included a space for a microscope owned and used by Charles Darwin (though unfortunately removed for archival photography), and an actual piece of Charles Babbage's difference engine - by "piece" I mean a collection of the rods, gears, and brass framework holding it all together about the size of a microwave oven. There were also several anatomical models, a wooden box full of life-sized models of horse dentition used as a reference for telling how old a horse is, and a case full of beautifully worked enlarged glass models of different types of fungi.

Whipple Museum of the History of Science
Whipple Museum of the History of Science

Jenkins Hotel, Bloomsbury, London. 22:54

We are now safely in London, but still have the story of earlier today to tell.

Leaving the Science History Museum, we found we were in an alley of different science museums: Zoology, Archaeology and Anthropology, and Earth Sciences. Picking one from this menu to see in the short time we had available, I plumped for Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. But our luck failed as this museum was closed for lunch siesta from 13:00 to 14:00. We didn't have time to come back at 14:00, so decided to start making our way back to the Magdalene Park & Ride stop via the market square.

The market had several stalls of stuff, including a couple of greengrocers, one cheese seller, and one bicycle repair shop, but was not large compared to others we've seen. We bought a couple of apples and a punnet of strawberries, then walked back to Trinity College to take some creative shots involving Newton's apple tree and an actual apple. Then it was off to the bus stop and catching the bus to the Park & Ride where we'd left our car.

Isaac Newton Apple Toss
Isaac Newton's apple tree, Trinity College

The drive to London was thankfully uneventful, with us navigating the way in via the A1 all the way to Archway and then taking the A400 through to Camden Town. We'd made it almost to Euston Station and our hire car drop-off without getting lost or running into an unexpected one-way street going the wrong way, and needed to make only one more turn on to Eversholt Road, where the Avis depot was, when a police roadblock appeared right in front of us! We couldn't go on to the very last section of road before our last turn! I used the Force and guided us around a different block to get on to Eversholt Road without incident and soon the Avis sign greeted us. It was like finding the Emerald city of Oz amidst scary foreign traffic chaos.

We unloaded the car and went through the paperwork to rid ourselves of the beast, then began the short walk across Euston Road and to the Jenkins Hotel (now the Judd Hotel), our accommodation for the next week. Our room is on the second floor, with a window overlooking a pleasant semi-circular park with some community tennis courts in it, surrounded by thickly foliaged trees. The surroundings are quite pleasant, but the room is tiny and the bathroom especially so, with a shower, toilet, and sink in a space not much bigger than a normal shower cubicle.

Jenkins Hotel view, London
View from our room window at Jenkins Hotel

After settling into the room, we went straight down to the handy laundrette just 100 metres or so away down Marchmont Street, and washed as many of our clothes as we could. I took off my socks there and sat in shoes without socks, shorts and my Burling World Cup jersey with no shirt underneath. The soap machine ate a £1 coin without delivering any soap to us, but thankfully the adjacent machine paid out. We ran the clothes through the washer and drier, which took us to a bit after 19:00.

London Pizza
Pizzas for dinner, Pizza Express

We dumped our newly clean clothes at the room and went over to the Pizza Express on Euston Road that we'd seen on our walk from the car drop-off for a simple dinner. M. had classic margherita pizza, while I tried the pollo pancetta. They were basic and good. We lingered a while (allowing me time to write more of this diary entry) before ordering dessert. I got a chocolate fudge cake slice with vanilla gelato, and M. got a mocha. The gelato had small black flecks through it and tasted wonderful; presumably the flecks were bits of vanilla bean.

London Chocolate Cake
Chocolate cake, Pizza Express

Then we returned to our room to spend our first night in London.

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