Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cambridge in the Cold with a Cold

If I am being honest, I have to admit that what I love and dislike in equal measure about travel is just how little control I have over much of anything: departures, arrivals, food, coffee, rooms, mattresses, noise, queues, and, of course, weather.  Not that I actually have control over much of anything in my everyday life either, but I have the illusion of control.  I have my comfortable bed, a closet full of clothes from which to pick and choose to suit the occasion and the weather, and I have my old standby restaurants, where I know my favorite dishes will arrive hot and more or less the same each and every time I order them.  I have ways to deal with whatever comes my way, good, bad, or ugly. 

Most of the time I love the unpredictable aspects of travel.  I like not knowing what I will find around the next corner.  I don't mind getting lost or asking for directions or trying to speak a foreign language or eating a food I can't pronounce--let alone recognize.  These challenges are good for the mind and the spirit, and they can lead to delicious adventures.  I like to think I roll with the unpredictable tides when traveling.  

And yet, there is one thing that turns me into a baby when I'm far from home.  Of course, it's the same thing that wrecks me at home, too, except that when I am living out of a suitcase, this one thing seems at least a hundred times worse, and I become, yes, I'll admit it, a bit of a monster.  Not a scary monster, but a pathetic, wounded, and petulant one.  I have always believed that because travel is a mode of extremes, it magnifies whatever traits we possess and shows us who we really are (again with the good, the bad, and the ugly).  So what brings out this whining, whinging, wailing monster in me?  

The common cold.

My cold began the day we boarded the plane for England.  I will say, I managed to stuff myself full of meds, drink pots and pots of tea, and generally ignore the cold for most of the trip.  The weather was too lovely to lie in bed feeling sorry for myself.  There were daffodils to admire, markets to troll, and crumbling cathedrals to explore.  For the most part, the monster stayed in her lair, licking her paws and letting out an occasional moan.

But there came a day when we boarded the train for Cambridge.  In my more self-involved moments I was certain that all the gods of travel were conspiring against me.  In truth, it was simply a typically unpredictable day of travel.  I happened to be at the height of my cold.  The clouds happened to roll in over the sun a few miles outside of Cambridge, the temperature happened to plummet.  In my drugged stupor I happened to have forgotten to wear several layers (something I always do in England, even in summer).  The damp set in, my cough began, and hours of walking in the wet and cold awaited. 

Mr. Magpie disappeared into King's College Library to do his research for the day, and I, although tempted to head back to London on the next train, wrapped a long scarf around my neck, bought a very  grande cappuccino at Costa, and set off to do what I'd planned to do all along: wander the streets of Cambridge with my camera and notepad.

I've been to this beautiful city before, but I've never had hours to roam on my own.  I'll tell the truth.  The self-pitying monster in me did kick up a fuss a few times during my wanderings that day, but I was able to quell her with a second cappuccino (I who quit coffee years ago; sometimes extreme measures are called for) and a pain au chocolat.   

And I was rewarded for my efforts.  Maybe the travel gods had, indeed, been testing me.  

I walked for miles.  And while I never warmed up, I forgot the cold and simply marveled.  

I ran into an off-duty tour guide who showed me a secret or two.  I snuck through more than one gate, and I lost myself in fields of daffodils that Wordsworth would have envied.

And, of course, I ducked into a warm shop . . . or five.  What's a trip to England without a Cath Kidston fix?  Although, I will say that I can only look at so many sweet, flowery prints before the monster in me demands something a bit more more substantial--a bit more solid and imposing.  I mean, Mr. Magpie was working away in his scholarly archives; really, I needed to get serious.

And so I headed back out into the cold and echoing streets, surrounded by all those brilliant ghosts.  Cambridge that day was cold, indeed, but there were bare branches and snow drops and mists and ancient stones to see.

I've begun by sharing the chilliest and lowest part of my trip.  We can only go up from here.  I promise warmth and cheer with the next post.


  1. This post was wonderful and I didn't miss warmth or cheer at all - it was real; truthful and honest, and I enjoyed it.
    Colds nail us at the worst of times and I admire your gumption in sticking it out - I'm grateful too, or we wouldn't have seen these wonderful pictures. they make me want to find an over-flowing book shop and settle in for the day...

  2. Oh I do hope you are feeling better now. Traveling when you don't feel good is the very worst! I did enjoy your wanderings in Cambridge. Your pictures could entice me to want to wander there.

  3. These photos are so gorgeous! I haven't been to Cambridge and so I really enjoyed this beautiful tour of it through your eyes. It is so hard to be sick when you are far away from home. But I'm glad you rallied and turned it into such a good day. Your photos and story that you tell are wonderful. Thanks for sharing the "birthplace" of the Bloomsbury Group. I's interesting to think that it really started there with Thoby Stephen, Lytton Strachey, etc. all meeting each other at Cambridge in the discussion group, the Apostles.

  4. Thanks for the lovely comments, my friends! I do love wandering in the places where the Bloomsbury Group began, Sunday! In fact, I was very tempted to write about the Group in this post, but I decided to leave that to Todd, who's going to do a guest post here on the blog very soon about Cambridge and Bloomsbury. I'm very excited that he agreed to do it!

  5. P.S. Cards will be going out soon to folks who sent addresses! I've ordered prints and am just waiting for them to come in. ;) xg

  6. Oh Gigi,
    Apa rt from your horrid cold, I think that Cambridge looks wonderful,whatever the weather. I know every street that you have shown, like the back of my hand. My sister lived in Cambridge when her husband was doing his Ph.D and I go there about every six weeks or so. I think that your photographs are wonderful ..... I like the fact that the skies are grey. Obviously, as a traveller, you would have prefered blue skies and a little sunshine but, I can read between the lines and know that you loved every minute of your visit ( apart from the cold symptoms !!).
    Looking forward so much to your next post. XXXX

  7. Beautiful pics of Cambridge, love the last one. I hope you are over your cold now.

  8. Hey Gigi, you sure managed to get some beautiful shots even tho you were under the weather, each one is truly lovely. Hope you are all better.

  9. Totally agree with Jacqueline. Get well soon, and thank you for this lovely post. From sunny Texas....

  10. You left me anticipating the next post to see more of your dreamy photos! I'm sorry you were unwell, I personally very much appreciate the beauty you've captured and seeing the city through your eyes is such a treat. I wish I were there!

  11. my heart fell when i read you were so sick, dear gigi ... : (
    bless your heart for kicking that cold to the curb and going forth and making the very best of it.
    i am sorry it wasn't sunny for you, but i have to say that you may have had the best light for catching these beautiful, beautiful images ... the colours, stone and brick work ~ all so rich ... love that gargoyle! (was that how you were feeling?)
    i have never been to cambridge ~ thank you for sharing it so mavelously.
    oh! excited and so looking forward to todd's post ~ cool!

  12. oopsie ...

    that ought to have been
    'marvelously' ... or 'marvellously'?

    blogger comment spell check says one 'l' is incorrect. my mac dashboard dictionary says one 'l' is correct.
    are both acceptable? hmmm ....


  13. OH, I am sorry you had a lousy cold, but I must say, it sure didn't stop you. I think the monster's whinings were probably all on the inside, yes? So glad you conquered and persisted. What a treat for you and for us. That gargoyle thrills me.

  14. Great post...Lovely blog! I'm a new follower!

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  16. I loved this post Gigi! I have a very large soft spot for Cambridge as both of my girls studied there... I know every spot you photographed... It is a wonderful town and I miss going there as they have both graduated now... I am sorry you were under the weather... but look at it this way... so very English to have a sniffle!
    Have a wonderful weekend... xv

  17. Love these beautiful dreamy wet images. Just as I imagine Cambridge would be at this time of year. And - sorry to hear about your cold. Hope you're feeling better by now...

  18. So sorry about that nasty cold:( You managed to take some beautiful photos in spite of it! I remember being sick on my only trip to Portugal and trying to not miss anything...not much fun.


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