A Brief Introduction to Britain

May 13, 2008

Libby and I continued the next day to London, while Katie headed back to DC. We flew Ryan Air to Stansted (unbelievably cheap, although watch out for checked luggage charges - there’s a 15kg maximum and they bite you with last minute checked bags), a far nicer airport than Heathrow. I’m not too keen on flying so I was pleased it was only an hour flight.


We met Neil and Sue just through customs, I made introductions, and they treated us to our first surprise of the trip. Since it was a Bank Holiday and neither of them were working, we headed up to Cambridge for the afternoon.

Cambridge was one of the places outside London I really wanted to see. There’s a tremendous intellectual history here, with actors from Newton to Tolkien to Hawking playing a part. It was also a delightful general introduction to a British town. Obviously, the seven colleges of Cambridge dominate the township, but otherwise Cambridge was a great starting point for seeing and understanding Britain.

Neil had mentioned punting on the river a few times, and in my ignorance I had no idea what he meant. (I assumed it had something to do with me getting thrown in.) Punting is actually a time-honoured boating tradition on the river Cam whereby small gondolas navigate by one person standing on the end and use a long pole to push off the riverbed. Having never been to Venice, the idea seems similar to the gondolas made famous in that city’s canals. Students take this practice to it’s inevitable conclusion, with collisions and other stunts, many of which end with people in the water.

We hired a boat and a punter to take us up the river through the colleges and give us a brief tour of Cambridge. It was an extraordinarily pleasant afternoon, and a great way to see the campus. The river runs directly through the college with bridges and buildings built over or right up to the bank. Our guide knew lots of great history and kept us all interested in his stories, while we gazed on the gothic riverside structures, and laughed at the antics of other less experienced punters.

After, we headed back to Neil and Sue’s house in Billericay to unpack and settle. They treated us to a barbeque in the garden on a beautiful spring evening.

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