Not your usual university 

Cambridge, Cambridgeshire Unless your Alma Mater was founded in 1209, has colleges supported by the likes of Henry VIII, and can claim alumni such as Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking, it’s unlikely you experienced anything like the University of Cambridge. 

It was granted a royal charter by Henry III in 1231 and is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world. Ranked among the most prestigious universities in the entire world, it grew out of an association of scholars who left the University of Oxford after a dispute with the townspeople.

We spent a lovely day wandering through this lovely town, dodging students on bikes, chattering professor types and gaping tourists.

There are 31 colleges in Cambridge, and they generally all enclose a wonderful courtyard, with a chapel of some degree of magnificence and a large dining hall. The lawns are carefully manicured and woe betide any more mortal or undergraduate who ventures upon them. Heads would roll.

The most outstanding was King’s College, whose chapel is more of a cathedral. It is regarded as one of the greatest examples of late Gothic English architecture, with the world’s largest fan-vaulted ceiling, while the chapel’s stained-glass windows and wooden chancel screen are considered some of the finest of their era. It’s an overwhelming space and has wonderful small details like Anne Boleyn’s initials (RA, for Regina Anna) carved above Henry VIII’s on the chancel screen. Unfortunately, she was gone after it was finished. She didn’t get to admire it, and it didn’t get redone. But that’s just one detail of many in an amazing church.

And then there is the town of Cambridge itself. The centuries jostle together for space, and the youth of the student body is in sharp contrast to their intellectual world. Somehow, it all works together, though it’s a bit dizzying at times. And we mustn’t forget the River Cam, which flows along the backs of some of the colleges, manned or womaned by punters experienced or not, all enjoying a beautiful in a great place to be young.

Don’s Food Corner

We stopped by a Cambridge institution, Fitzbillies, for a late lunch. This is basically a tea room that also serves “bunch” throughout the day. Jo tried some eggs Benedict, which had a very salty ham, but a very nice Hollandaise sauce.

I went rogue, eschewing all the traditional British food we’ve been trying for the last couple of weeks, and ordered shakshuka. For the unintimated, this is a Middle Eastern/North Africa dish that features a mixture of a tomato/pepper/onion sauce into which some poached eggs are nestled. It was a nice change of pace. The version at Fitzbillies wasn’t overly spicy.

But the real reason we went into this particular tea room was because it is noted for serving up a Cambridge favorite — the Chelsea Bun. Although the original Chelsea Bun was created in the early 19th century in a restaurant in the Chelsea section of London, it has become unusually popular in Cambridge, just as the Sally Lunn bun is so affiliated with Britain’s Bath.

The Chelsea bun is a variation on a classic cinnamon bun, with the addition of some citrus peel incorporated into the yeast dough and currants rolled up within the bun along with sugar and butter. Then, it’s all coated on top with a shiny, sticky sauce. What’s not to like? I would say, however, that our American sticky buns, particularly ones featuring pecans, are far more decadent. Too vulgar for the British palate?

5 thoughts on “Not your usual university 

  1. I went punting on the Cam in 1971! We preferred it to Oxford so was great to revisit it. BTW: Taboonette on E. 13th has great shakshuka, or at least it did before the pandemic.

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