Across the Pond

A year in the other Cambridge


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Okay, I’m going to aim to do at least one post a week to catch up to when I left Cambridge…!

So the weekend after I turned everything in, I had my first visitors, Grace and Patricia! They arrived Saturday morning, and we stopped by Fitzbillies for some pastries and then wandered around town center a bit before heading to the river to watch the final day of the May Bumps!

So crew (or rowing, as they call it) is as big in Cambridge as it is at MIT, and the Bumps are the annual races between college teams. They look nothing like normal races, because the river Cam is actually too narrow to have boats race head-to-head, so instead they devised this complicated “bumps” system, where the race goes on for 4 days. Boats start out in line based on last year’s standings and advance by “bumping” the boat in front of them. Once you bump or are bumped, the race ends, and you swap places at the beginning of the next day. There’s all sorts of strategy involved, because you can wait for the boat in front of you to bump the boat in front of it, and then bump the boat 3 boats ahead, thus being able to jump ahead quite a bit. At the end of the 4 days, the winner is whoever ends up in first place. But even if you don’t win, managing to bump is a pretty big deal. A boat that bumped the day before gets to wear branches in their hair, and if you bump each of the 4 days, you get a blade (i.e. an oar) to put up in your college bar to be immortalized forever. Or, I suppose, until they run out of space and need to move yours. The website does a much better job of explaining this.

A Newnham boat with branches in their hair!

A Newnham boat with branches in their hair!

There are teams from every college and a lot of people go out to watch them, so we followed other people along the river quite a ways, meeting some cows along the way, until we saw the college tents, where we assumed the action was happening. It then started to rain. It was barely a drizzle at first, but pretty soon the onslaught began. I think this might have been the heaviest rainfall I saw all year, so it was just our luck that we got caught outside about a 45 min walk from Cambridge.

This is Meg, Patricia's favorite cow.

This is Meg, Patricia’s favorite cow.

We ducked into Girton’s tent to keep dry, and luckily enough, a bump happened right in front of us!


I’m not quite sure of the rules on this, but I don’t think they physically need to touch. I think the “bump” is official once the last person’s oar reaches the other boat.

The rain wasn’t letting up and it was really cold, so we just gave up and ran for the bus station. Of course, the rain stopped as soon as we got there, but that meant we got pretty nice weather for some more touring around Cambridge. I brought them around to some of the colleges, and then we got afternoon tea πŸ™‚

obligatory Asian photo taking of our tea sandwiches

obligatory Asian photo taking of our tea sandwiches

After eating our fill, we checked out the royal colleges in the midst of their May Ball preparations.

St. John's New Court

St. John’s New Court

Trinity's Wren Library from across the river

Trinity’s Wren Library from across the river

Then we headed back to Newnham and just chilled out for the night because the next day, we went…


I’m not sure if I’ve actually explained punting yet… it’s pretty unique to Cambridge (I think it’s also done in Oxford but not as popular there). A punt is a shallow and narrow-ish boat that is pushed along a river by the punter, who stands in the back with a long pole and pushes on the river bottom. Since the river Cam is not particularly deep, punting works really well and is really popular amongst locals, students, and tourists. Supposedly it’s the one thing you have to do if you visit Cambridge, so we rented a punt to try it out for ourselves.

This was my first time punting, and I am pretty confident it will be my last. I didn’t really manage to move us at all, and we only moved when another punt gave us a nudge to get us out of their way. Grace managed to turn us around…. and around and around πŸ˜› So really, Patricia was our saving grace.

so pro.

so pro.

I just sat in the front “paddling” uselessly.

seriously, this does NOTHING.

seriously, this does NOTHING.

One thing about punting is that you get to see the colleges by the river from a different perspective than usual. The professional punting tours always tell you that it’s a view you don’t get any other way. That’s not really true, because there are plenty of bridges and many of the colleges are open for visits, but it is probably the most leisurely way to get to see a lot of the old colleges. When my parents and I first came, we did a punting tour, so here are some photos from that.

Mathematical Bridge, Queen's College

Mathematical Bridge, Queen’s College

Clare College

Clare College

Trinity Hall library

Trinity Hall library

view of St. John's around the bend

view of St. John’s around the bend

going under the Bridge of Sighs

going under the Bridge of Sighs

King's College Chapel

King’s College Chapel

Back to Grace and Patricia’s visit–we also saw a Pimm’s vendor on the river! We thought about trying to buy some but weren’t sure of our ability to actually get to them and get the drinks without some sort of disaster happening…


Thanks to Patricia, we made it back to return the punt without incident and got back safely on shore πŸ™‚ We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around town again and getting some food in a cafe before they headed back to London!



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