|Clare Bridge is one of many that span the picturesque River Cam.
The city of Cambridge is one of magic. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll spot Stephen Hawking in his wheelchair running his daily physicist-cosmologist errands. Throughout my past two years studying in this great place, I’ve met a myriad of inspiring people, including discussions on Kosovo with Nobel-prize winning peacekeeper Martti Ahtisaari and the Finnish cultural society, to a discussion with Pamela Anderson over iPhone chargers, to taking advice from the successful-and-charitable Mo Ibrahim.
The university has 31 constituent colleges, each of which takes a unique architectural form. For instance, Newnham College is Victorian red-brick with white window trimmings, antique furniture, stunning gardens and the second longest corridor in all of Europe. Trinity College, on the other hand, was established far back in 1546 and features the ostentatious and picturesque 1.8 acre Great Court. The oldest college, Peterhouse, was founded back in 1284, and provides yet another maze of stone columns and high archways. The students of the university have the fortune to live in these majestic residential college rooms, all the while studying under the private tutorage of a plethora of world-renowned experts from the university faculties.
I recommend you take a walking tour. There is a woman with white hair who interrupts our study sessions in the library with her tales down on the street. She knows all about the Nobel Prizewinners, about many of the brilliant inventions that have taken place in the university, and about what happened to the scholars during the Bubonic Plague. Afterwards, go punting. A punt is a long, rectangular wooden boat with a stick to push it down the river. It’s the optimal way to spend an afternoon with friends, although many a punter has fallen into the River Cam while standing to balance on the boat.
The River Cam is a world of its own. If you start out on the first ‘Cam Bridge’ down by Silver Street, you’ll find pubs, weeping willows, and tourists soaking up the sun. If you continue upstream, you’ll run through Queen’s College and the awful architecture of Cripp’s Court. Soon, you’ll find the restaurant district, then continue your course behind the Cambridge Union world-famous home of debate, and ultimately end up in the boating district. Here, the rowing teams of each college meet to battle it out on the water. Each boat has eight students, the fastest of these compete for places on the Cambridge University Men and Women’s boats, which compete annually against the University of Oxford on the River Thames in London.
The real magic, however, is seen after exams are finished. By mid-June, the city is alive and dancing with ballgowns, champagne, fireworks and college celebrations. A team of students from each College is given reign over the college grounds, and for a single delightful evening, they rent out ferris wheels, bumper cars, catered food and drinks, white tents, performers, and lights and décor. The tickets for these ‘May Balls’ often sell out in mere minutes. Or, when not celebrating the completion of another wonderful year at the university, the students can also be found picnicking in the Cambridge Botanic Gardens and enjoying the sun on Jesus Green. In a nutshell, Cambridge is just a fantastic – although dishearteningly temporary – place to call home.