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Cambridge: Where beauty and learning meet

The grey overcast weather, a blank canvas to the day, did nothing to spoil Cambridge’s loveliness. Twenty minutes’ walk from the railway station to the city centre, I took my time and admired how the buildings shifted from uniform modernist architecture to the dignified grace of classic design. En route into Cambridge, I happily came across the Museum of Zoology, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. A city radiating prestige and dignity; education here is both an elite privilege and public access. All three museums were free. Families and young adults bustled through its halls, marvelling at the full-model displays of animal skeletons, statues, and informative displays.

Visiting several campus sites in the University of Cambridge, I wandered their hallowed halls. It was quiet when I visited, disturbed only by the occasional determined march of a teacher or student flitting past me. Immaculately preserved and maintained, the university holds a pristine idyllic aesthetic. Walking through the unblemished halls and staring up at intricate towers, I had to remind myself that the university was founded in 1209,and that its immaculate condition is in thanks to the brilliant minds that have studied here, and the people that believe in this fine institution.

The Bridge of Sighs, its design inspired by Venetian style, connects the two sections of Trinity College across River Cam. One of five campus bridges crossing the River Cam, the Bridge of Sighs is frequently visited by touring punts. Gliding underneath the elaborate construction, visitors collectively sigh, a proper act befitting the landmark’s name. Winding south on the river, I came across the Mathematical Bridge. Connecting the two sections of the University of Cambridge’s Queen’s College, the Mathematical Bridge is an engineering feat. While it appears to be constructed in an arch, the wooden footbridge is built of straight timbers; its arc achieved through a series of tangents.

After admiring the beauty and sophistication of the university’s architecture, I headed off towards Market Hill. Stalls were set up in a square grid pattern in; fast food, second-hand bookshops, and memorabilia bearing the city’s name were all to be found here. After purchasing a refreshing banana and strawberry smoothie, I wove through the market. Coming across a bookstall, after several minutes of pouring over the titles I finally purchased ‘The Versions of Us’ by Laura Barnett at a steal cost of £2.

Having wetted my appetite with the smoothie, I walked around in search of a quiet hole-in-the-wall café. Indigo Café was the answer. Tucked away on Saint Edward’s Passage, the café displays a small and humble sign along King’s Parade to advertise its business. Within the city centre and yet far and away from the tourist feel of chain restaurants, the place was filled with local students and businesspeople. International currency lined the walls. Conversation was heard through the café in a cheery buzz. Clearly a popular place, I sat outside, surprised by how quiet and peaceful it was in the middle of the city. Ordering an iced coffee and a brie and cranberry sandwich, the ciabatta bread had a firm exterior and soft interior. The cranberry and brie complemented each other well. The iced coffee was a welcome bite, sugar crystals elevating its flavour palette. Lunch finished and hunger satisfied, I headed next door into a bookshop bearing old titles.

Phil Salin, co-owner of The Haunted Bookshop, has owned the establishment for twenty-five years. The works of Shakespeare, Keats, and Byron are gathered in this small, concentrated space. Fine care has been taken to manage the upkeep of these classic pieces, their unbent spines and pristine pages giving little hint to their age. Though a sign on the door stated ‘no photography’, after purchasing an 80s edition of Beatrix Potter’s ‘Peter Rabbit’, Phil was more than happy to allow me to take a few photos. ‘The sign is for people who come in and take picture without buying anything,’ he explained. That’s perfectly understandable. True appreciation of books is about more than their decorative capabilities. Heading out of the shop, I began the slow walk back to the railway station.

I came upon the Fitzwilliam Museum quite by accident. Taking a leisurely stroll back to the railway station, its tall columns and grand foyer called to me. And thank heavens it did. Boasting fine porcelain, Greek statues, Egyptian sarcophagus’, Edwardian paintings and furniture, medieval weaponry, and contemporary artwork, the Fitzwilliam is not to be missed. With free admission, I counted myself lucky to have come upon it. Leaving with twenty minutes until closing time, I’d just managed a quick walk around all the displays, my eyes greedily pouring over the fine details and precision of these collected works.

Leaving Cambridge, my spirit was uplifted with new memories of the proud university, wonderful museums, and picturesque feel of the city as a whole.

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