Monday, April 03, 2006

A-Punting We Will Go

I am currently in Chrishall, about a half hour south of Cambridge, recovering from some sort of stomach flu (if that is its real name), at the home of Darren and Rachel and their little baby Elena. Darren used to work with me in Berkeley and the family moved back to the Cambridge area last year. I arrived on Friday, and the weekend was filled with lots of good fun. Saturday we went into Cambridge—my first time visiting. The weather, a bit windy at times, was otherwise fantastic: sunny! Since Darren and Rachel had been students at Cambridge, a handy pass got us into a few places such as St. John's College Chapel and King's College grounds without the need to pay an entrance fee or wait in line!

We had lunch at the historic Eagle pub, parts of which date back to 1600. It was at this pub that Watson and Crick supposedly discovered the form of DNA. As you first enter the pub from the courtyard, you go through the RAF bar, which has writing burnt into it (apparently with cigarette lighters) dating back to WWII. I had a tasty cheese baguette sandwhich and a half-pint of Abbot ale as we sat in the sunny, non-smoking room.

Then we went down to the River Cam for some punting. Darren and I hired a punt (a square-ended boat) from Scudamores, founded in 1910, while Rachel and Elena did a bit of shopping. In order to punt, one person stands on the edge of the boat and uses a pole (about 15-feet long) to propel and steer. There were a number of other punts on the river, some steered by guides who gave details about the colleges as we sailed past them. We did not hire a guide. It was just the two of us, and Darren started out with the punting as I took photos and learned about the bridges we punted under. One bridge is the mathemtical bridge that was rumored to be designed and built by Sir Isaac Newton. (However, I just read that is only myth and that he died well before the bridge was designed and built.) The famous covered bridge is called the Bridge of Sighs, named after a bridge in Venice (so-called because it led to the gallows.) How sad.

I did give the punting a go myself, although I must confess that I forgot to read up on the technique and found it difficult to get very far because the pole was quite heavy and I struggled to lift it sufficiently to make much progress with the propelling. Also there are loads of other novice punters on the river and several of them careened their boats into ours, giving a bit of a jolt. I didn't fall off or lose our pole, though, so for that I must be pleased. But after a few minutes of going nowhere fast, I turned the pole back over to Darren. I think it would be fun to try again now that I've observed a bit more of how to do it, but for my first adventure out on the river, it was a bit better to sit back and relax.

Sunday we made it out to the Wimpole Estate, which is part of the National Trust, where there is a farm, a hall, park, and gardens. Before touring around, we had a picnic that was interrupted by wind and eventually sprinkles of rain. So, we didn't last long before we decided to pack it all up and go check out the place. Luckily the weather started cooperating with us. On the farm we saw the cutest little lambs, goats, and piglets. Many had just recently been born. Along with the babies' mommies, there were also some horses, bulls, and chickens. We weren't very excited about the chickens, though, sorry to say. I don't know if there is anything more adorable than lambs just a few weeks old sprinting around. I don't like to get preachy about vegetarianism, but how anybody could eat those cute, little lambs, I just don't understand! I know that sounds very Lisa Simpson of me, but I am dead serious.

Aside from the farm, the other amazing thing to see is the hall, which is the largest country house in Cambridgeshire. It was first built in 1643 and was last owned by Elsie Bambridge (Rudyard Kipling's daugter, btw). She and her husband, Captain George Bambridge bought Winpole in 1938 and bequeathed it to the National Trust in 1976. Walking through the house, I was reminded of Gosford Park. As we first walked in, we noticed each successive drawing room was bigger and more ornate than the previous, each with a fireplace. In the upstairs, we toured the bedrooms. The first one we came upon was where the most honored guest would stay. In it was a style of bed called a Lit a la Polonaise (Polish bed), which looked more daunting than inviting with its crazy, ornate canopy. The other bedrooms were less ostentatious and not as remarkable, although one's walls were covered with little, framed pictures of all sorts, including some slightly rude (though not bawdy) drawings with people's (or a ghost's in one intance) bums in full display.

We made our way down to the basement (or ground floor, i guess) and saw the servants' rooms, some kitchen-type room, and of course...the chapel. These days the big thing is to have your own movie theatre or bowling alley in your house—then you've really made it. But back in the day...at least for the devout... I am sure it was a chapel.

Outside of the hall, there is a church (which is still used) and a beautiful, little burial ground. The church apparently was not part of Wimpole, even though it's on the grounds. We did a quick tour of that and then we really didn't have much left to see, so we came home.

I had intended to go to London Monday morning, but all day Sunday I had an annoying sore throat that progressed into a head cold that night as I was trying to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up and felt very ill to my stomach. I'll spare the details. I am starting to feel a bit better...but am trying to rest as much as possible. I am planning on getting to London this evening where I will stay with my friend Dan, who has just returned from India. I am supposed to fly to Beijing on Thursday, so being well is my number one priority. Not sure if I'll have any chance at posting again for a while, but will try to from some place in China in the next couple of weeks.

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