Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Punting in Cambridge

So our adventures with Lasa and his wife Imal, continue - we decided to go out on a bank holiday Monday where the weather was holding up reasonably well. This time we travelled to Cambridge - the home town of the 2nd oldest university of the English speaking world... and yes... you guessed it - Oxford is the first. Apparently, Cambridge University was established in 1209 by an association of scholars who had left Oxford! 800 years old this year - that's ancient.

We went to Cambridge to visit an old friend - Gayan who is working in Cambridge in some very prestigious sounding job. After the inevitable delay and not leaving at the planned time, we drove using the TomTom as a guide. However, halfway through our LasLas decided to try and take us on a more "scenic" route which brought about some confusion but at least we got to Cambridge in one piece.

Parking in Cambridge, especially on a bank holiday, was a nightmare so we travelled a bit out of town to one of the Park and Ride places - you park the car and get a bus ride in to town for one price. As we were leaving the car park, Imal made an observation about the bus service stopping at 8pm and that we would need to get on a bus back before then. Our Cambridge town expert, Gayan, over rode this saying that the bus services run up to 10pm everyday (please remember this - it will figure quite prominently later on).

And so we went in to Cambridge - the town is looks exactly as you would expect it to look - lots of of old, ancient buildings including churches and libraries, with fantastic architecture and design; lots of students trying to sell you tours and rides; lots of tourists with cameras out pounding the streets; and lots and lots of bicycles.

We made our way from one end of town, through the market and to Cambridge's main tourist attraction, punting. It's a funny word but a punt is basically a flat bottom boat quite similar to the Gondolas in Venice. These punts are steered with a long pole, on the River Cam which runs right through the City Centre.

Operating a punt looks like quite an easy affair but I can assure it is NOT. However, Gayan was an expert, easily and efficiently gliding the punt along the river while we sat and soaked in the sun and the sights.

It was quite relaxing and there was plenty to see and we had great fun.

Lasa tried a bit of punting and after a bit of an effort, got the hang of it (sort of) but I was terrible at it - almost hitting Imal with the pole and zig-zagging rather than going in a straight line. The beautiful day, coupled with the Bank holiday, had brought out a lot of punters and needless to say we bumped in to quite a few on our way. Once we nearly capsized - now THAT would have been fun.

One of the more interesting characters we were saw was a bare bodied guy wearing a trilby. He was effortlessly gliding a punt along the river and we were quite curious as to who he was as he didn't fit the "tourist" profile. We went past him when he had stopped for a breather so I asked whether I can take picture and he kindly posed.

We had a very nice and heavy lunch of lamb, chicken and fries and washed it all down with cider. After another session at punting - this time the other side of the river - we decided to get back. This was a very cute wood sculpture that we saw in one of shop windows.

Of course, we had disregarded time as we casually made our way towards the bus stops, but it had turned past 6pm. Some of you might have guessed what's coming next - panic ensued when we realised that the bus services had stopped for the day. We turned on our Cambridge resident expert and punter and demanded an explanation. After a bit of running around and inquiring with several bus drivers, it came to light that because of the bank holiday bus services were stopped early, a fact that our Cambridge expert had not considered!!! So, there we were, stranded in the middle of Cambridge - tired, worn out, with aching legs with no transport back to the car park. A quick look around told you that not many taxis were operational either. However, after a bit of discussion, Gayan came to the rescue - he took Lasa to his bicycle which was parked nearby and then Lasa cycled all way to the park and brought the car back. In all fairness, it was done quite quickly too and after the initial downside to all this, we were finally able to get in to the car and lie back with a sigh of relief.

Even with mishaps, it turned out to be a wonderful day and we had a great time - all thanks to Gayan, Cambridge tour guide and punter extraordinaire, to whom we are grateful. So, if you ever plan on going to Cambridge, let us know and we will get Gayan to show you around - just remember to take a bus time table with you.....


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