Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cambridge and Cardiff

I would have likely studied with more vigor had I attended one of the colleges of Cambridge University.  The grandeur of the colleges is overwhelming, as is the sense of walking in the footsteps of history as you traverse the grounds that have spawned 65 Nobel Prizes, the most of any university in the world.  Since its founding in 1209, Cambridge has grown into an institution that now encompasses 31 self-governing and independent colleges and regularly graduates students who progress to prominent careers in business, industry, and politics.



Courtyard of King's College

 Another view from the courtyard

The rivalry with Oxford--the only University in the English speaking world that is older than Cambridge--is legendary.  Less well known is the divide between University students and local residents of Cambridge, a gap known as the "Town and Gown".  While the origins of the schism may be many, locals still talk of the decision of the University to ban from its property any Cambridge resident who was afflicted with the Black Plague. 

Of the many vignettes involving Cambridge history, one struck me as particularly amusing.  When Crick and Watson were fairly certain that they had unraveled the secret of the structure of DNA, they adjourned to a local bar to discuss their findings.  After convincing themselves that their studies were sound, they stood and announced to their fellow patrons at the Eagle that they had discovered the secret of life.  Apparently, they were met with bemused looks and tolerant grins. 

Historically, punts were a mode of transporting goods to and between the various universities.  Today, they are a means of recreation for students and tourists and afford a great view of the university buildings which grace the shores of the River Cam.  Our punt operator suggested we pull into the docks at a nearby pub and enjoy a pint as we floated along.  My kind of guy.


Cardiff, the largest city and capital of Wales, served as host for our last evening in the UK before flying to Dublin.  We stayed at the harborfront, in the new St. David's Hotel, and enjoyed sweeping views of the harbor and glistening sea.  Built as a port city, based on coal, Cardiff has seen some difficult times but there have been some very positive developments in recent years. Cardiff is justly proud of its gleaming and modern arena, the Millenium, home to its national rugby team, and has revitalized the port area with an assortment of trendy restaurants and shops. 

St. David's Hotel

Cardiff Castle may be the number one tourist attraction and is worth a visit.  The views from the Norman Tower justify the climb and the restored chambers are of interest, particularly the beautiful library.  However, the relatively few rooms open to the public are fairly contemporary as the castle was most recently owned by the prominent Bute family (who made their fortune in coal) and reflect pre-WWII taste and style.  Windsor Castle this is not, but the large complex nevertheless holds an attraction of its own.

Norman Tower

 Cardiff Castle
State room


A pleasant boat ferry navigates the River Taff and runs from the downtown piers to an expansive park near the Castle.  If you ask, an attendant on the ferry will accompany you to a small outside deck where some interesting photo opportunities of the stadium and downtown are possible.  We exited at the downtown pier and hit a few local pubs, knowing that we needed to be well fortified for the short flight to Dublin in the morning.  The evening was brought to a fitting conclusion when we enjoyed Cuban cigars and 22-year-old Balvinnie on the outside deck at the St. David's.  The evening view of the river and the twinkling lights of downtown Cardiff provided a fitting memory of Wales. 

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