My Scottish Road Trip

Last year, after a brief time in Ireland, some friends and I took a plane to Glasgow to start a ten-day trip that would forever transform everything I thought I knew about traveling. Although I had loved Ireland, a couple of bad experiences had dimmed my excitement for the Scottish adventure— what if the mountains were not as impressing as I imagined them? Anyhow we made our way north, leaving behind rows of green hills and castles, to come across… more green hills and castles. In Ireland I had noticed some thorny shrubs with small, bright yellow flowers that grew everywhere (they’re called gorse). They were heavily abundant in Scotland too. I had expected similarities between the Irish, English and Scottish landscapes, but nothing I had seen before prepared me for the northern parts of Scotland.

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Photo: Julia Karmel. Arms open to adventure.

I had being in Edinburgh before, but Glasgow was new to me (everything I knew of the city came from ABBA’s Super Trouper). Our plan was to get a car there and start driving north, through Oban, Kyle, Skye, Inverness, Cairngorms, Perth and, finally, Edinburgh. We had listed some places we wanted to visit, mostly mountains, lakes and castles, and we had made an itinerary of the Youth Hostels we’d spend a night or two in, but the road and how that would turn out remained a mystery. In the first place, none of us was used to driving on the left side of the road; in the second place, none of us had much money to spend; and to top it up, we had known each other for just some months (I had never even met one of the guys before), so how we’d get along remained a mystery too.

After doing some exploring in Glasgow, we finally hit the road. That first day was mainly a familiarization with the road, buying supplies and leaving the car every time a landscape seemed interesting. Once we made it to Cairngorms National Park, the stops became constant, we explored the areas around the lake, walked without a fixed direction, talked and ate under the trees, took pictures. The park is beautiful, cool but sheltered from April rain.

Loch Ness

After that we kept going north. We had planned to spend a few hours in Inverness and take a look at Loch Ness. The little Airbnb we got at Inverness smelled like curry and we didn’t spend much time in it, except for sleeping and preparing food. The weather here was a bit cruel, winds blowing strongly and freezing nights, although Inverness Castle and the cathedral, lighted up with yellow lamps, gave the city certain charm. Our nights there were calm, there were many pubs and restaurants, but they closed early and those we managed to find open were almost empty. I believe the most exciting night was when we had the terrible idea of buying Chinese takeaway and eating it on the banks of the River Ness. Fifteen minutes after we had sat on some monuments we couldn’t feel our hands, so we decided to go home. The food was no good either.

The same river, though, guided us next morning all the way to Loch Ness. That day was clear and the wind blew playfully, strongly when we arrived tho those silvery black waters. A lake that seemed to extend towards the horizon, indefinitely, and could have been mistaken for the sea. On the opposite bank, visible from where all the visitor points and shops are, stands a small castle, or I should say what remains of a castle, Urquhart, some ruins from the 13th century. To get there we got on a boat called The Nessie Hunter, whose owner told us a great deal about both the Loch Ness Monster and the history of the castle. Once we were on the boat the wind became colder and stronger, the water looked pitch black, reflecting the sun’s light with little, cold white circles that fluttered with the waves, almost hypnotically. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look for Nessie in every and each one of those ripples of water, that strangely dark water, impossibly cold.

Eilean Donan Castle

When we left Inverness we made our way to Kyle, driving along the shores of Loch Carron and Loch Alsh, and found another fortress dated back to the 13th century, at the shores of Loch Duich: Eilean Donan. As it often happens with many castles in Scotland and Ireland, Eilean Donan has been restored and it is now a museum with tea rooms and restaurants, you can even hire the place for a wedding. We obviously were satisfied with just sitting next to Loch Duich and eat the sandwiches we had brought with us, looking towards the castle.

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The days in the road were long and both tiredness and the lack of alone time made us want to spend some time in silence, wearing headphones in the car or, in my case, find some time to read. The only book I kept from my trip to Ireland was Joyce’s Dubliners, and I read a story every once in a while. I was not upset I barely had time to read though. The long drives with no phone signal, the harsh democracy when choosing what we’d play in the car and the short nights in hostels made me aware of many different kinds of company, besides of that of books, to which I was accustomed to. We listened to each others stories about our countries or our plans for the future, about places we had been to, bands we had seen live, stupid things we had done. We listened, too, to the stories of anybody who wanted to tell us theirs; the boat owner from Loch Ness, the hostel workers, the barmans from those little local pubs specialized in whiskey. We talked much and listened even more, during brief stops on the road, on some broken boat at the shores of some lake, covered in scarves and sweaters, our pockets full of Cadbury chocolate.

Isle of Skye

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Photo: Julia Karmel. Neist Point, Isle of Skye.

After Kyle we crossed the Sound of Sleat channel to get to the Isle of Skye. The fascination that Scottish landscapes had awaken in me was exacerbated there. Wide extensions of land, all the shades of green and a new one for use, a lighter green than that of the main island, gigantic stones of an almost black grey, washed white at parts from the roaring sea. One day we made our way to Portree to spend a couple of nights there. Portree is the largest town in the island and it wasn’t hard to find a hostel near the bay. The hostel was the perfect location between Neist Point Lighthouse and The Storr, the two things we most wanted to see in Skye.

The Storr is a mountain located in the north of the island, in an area known as Trotternish, some twenty minutes by car from Portree. The name of the most famous pinnacle of the mountain is “The Old Man of Storr”, because its gaunt, tall structure resembles an elderly can with a cane. The walk to the top takes around an hour and it becomes more and more challenging as one ascends. We were there in the last days of April and we didn’t find more than five people there. I had a brutal cold then, but the view from the top pinnacles was something I will never forget. Land, water and clouds spread before me, mixing, melting, the deepest green, indigo and grey. I thought then I must have been at the very top of the world.

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The crew at The Storr.

Skye exemplifies the intimidating majesty of nature, a grandness that inspires both admiration and fear. After  days among mountains and lakes, I could not but realise that we often misunderstand nature— we read the the creases of the land, the waves of the water and murmurs of the wind through the trees and bend them to our docility fantasies. Here though, I had before me a hostile land, a dangerous land, with its own will and a stout refusal to be tamed or even understood. And it was much more beautiful than the best tended garden.

After Skye we got back in the car, this time west bound, hoping to find something like The Storr there. Neist Point is in Durnish and the walk towards the lighthouse begins near Glendale. The first part of the way is a path surrounded by ligh green hills and from there we had our first view of the lighthouse: a simple white structure on top of which rests a small column, all on top of a cliff against which the waves crashed violently. The closer one gets to the lighthouse, the more dangerous it is to approach the sea, the path disappears and gives way to a series of rocks of different sizes, some half submerged, from which we hopped to see a bit of the lower part of the cliff. The lighthouse itself is around a hundred years old, filled now with old furniture. From the top of the cliff the islands that are between Skye and the Atlantic are invisible, so it looks as if an infinite extension of sea divided Neist Point from America. On the way back we stopped over the giant rocks to rest, taking advantage of the little sun we had that day, lulled by the sound of the sea and the occasional squawks of the seagulls.

Glenfinnan Viaduct and the end

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Photo: Julia Karmel

Then we made or way back to the Main Land, where our first stop was Glenfinnan, specifically the viaduct, close to Loch Shiel. We stopped there because that’s where the Hogwarts Express goes through in the Harry Potter films. There is actually a train passing in mid May, sadly we were too early to see it. After Glenfinnan we drove along the banks of Loch Eli all the way to Fort William, were we rested before making our way to Oban, where we would sleep.

Oban is a little town close to the Islandof Kerrera. It was our penultimate stop of the trip, afterwards we’d make our way to Edinburgh, from where each of us would continue our separate ways. In Oban we walked around the town and learned to drink Scotch in a small distillery where dozens of Scots had gathered to watch a soccer match. What I remember the most about the town is the bay, a half-moon on whose shores were piled up boats in all conditions, of all sizes and colours. Even when Edinburgh was the last stop, Oban was the end of a way of traveling, with no big cities to go to for comfort, a way of traveling in which a lake or a mountain was never too far off and in which we could look at the stars every night.

Edinburgh: A literature lover’s paradise

“And yet [Edinburgh] establishes an interest in people’s hearts; go where they will, they find no city of the same distinction.”
–Robert Louis Stevenson

If I had to choose a place where it rains more than half of the year to live in, it would be Edinburgh. The clouds there seem to be heavier, immune to the strong winds, forever set upon every turret and tower in the city.  Edinburgh’s Old Town just be one of the most mysterious and enigmatic places in the world. Great part of the city is built on mass graves and ancient graveyards, so it is no wonder that the city is still the centre of many urban legends and the “most haunted place in Europe”. However, it is also an astoundingly beautiful city, and it’s no surprise many writers have found inspiration while living there. I have been in Edinburgh two times now, during winter and Spring, and have visited some places that I’m sure any fellow book lover would love to hear about, so here we go:

The Elephant House

This is a big, comfortable café in which J.K. Rowling spent many hours writing and imagining the world of Harry Potter. There’s usually a queue to order and have a table, but if you’re a fellow potterhead, you just can’t miss it. Coffee and food are okay (the macchiato is really good), but it’s the vibe that is amazing. There are some locals there getting coffee or reading the table, but mostly there are HP fans looking around. The walls are covered in fan art (and elephants, hence the name) and the toilets are completely covered in quotes and messages from the fans. If you have some time to spare, it is a good idea to wait for a table, have coffee or breakfast and take a look around.


Greyfriars Kirk

This graveyard is both creepy and amazing. It is amazing because of all the centuries of history buried there and because its connection with Harry Potter. J. K. Rowling took some of the names for her characters from some graves here. You can actually see Thomas Riddell’s stone and the place from where Sirius Black’s one was stolen (presumably by a fan). To go during the day I recommend taking a free walking tour of the city offered by Kick Ass Hostels, that’s the one I took and it was amazing (and staying there is a good idea if you’re on a budget). There are many legends about the graveyard, my favourites include (and read at your own risk) grave-robbing and the Mackenzie poltergeist.

And if you’re a bit more daring, Greyfriars Kirk is also open for midnight tours. When I was there I took a tour with City of the Dead tours, which also included a night visit to the South Bridge Vaults. Needless to say, I was scared out of my wits. But hey, it’s fun if you don’t have a heart condition.


Bookshops

Edinburgh is swarming with bookshops. Whether they’re second-hand or not, most of them are really pretty and have a wide variety of titles. These are some of my favourites: The Edinburgh Bookshop, Elvis Shakespeare, Armchair Books, Transreal Fiction and Golden Hare Books.


Edinburgh Castle

The most famous landmark of the city. A 12th century castle built on top of an extinct volcano, Castle Rock.

The view you get from Castle Rock is pretty amazing too, so it’s worth the walk.


The Royal Mile, Victoria Street, the Grassmarket

These are the most picturesque and chic streets of Edinburgh. Rowling is said to have been inspired by the colorful and cramped houses and shops of Victoria Street to create Diagon Alley. Also, Princes Street has beautiful gardens and some of the finest architecture of the city, including Sir Walter Scott’s Monument.


Pubs, restaurants and cafés

Brew Lab Coffee and Edinburgh Larder are really cool for a morning cup. For pubs, I recommend The Last Drop and the Port O’Leith, both very traditional and picturesque. And to eat, The Witchery by the Castle for a fancy meal at this gothic hotel. and Tempting Tattie or The Haven for a cheaper, traditional meal. You can try Word of Mouth Cafe for breakfast too!

All in all, Edinburgh is an amazing city, a vibrant mix of the old and the new (see, for example, The Frankenstein, an old church converted into a nightclub). It is also city with a huge literary history and you can visit the birthplaces of Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle, or recognize some of the iconic places from Welsh’s Trainspotting.

What else would you recommend doing in the city?

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London, that great sea

“You are now

In London, that great sea, whose ebb and flow

At once is deaf and loud, and on the shore

Vomits its wrecks, and still howls on for more.

Yet in its depth what treasures!”

—Percy Shelley

Things that come to mind when thinking of London: Westminster, The Houses of Parliament in the fog, double-decker buses under the rain, the grey, trembling waters of the Thames. Ben Aaronovitch said once that there are some people who feel like Londoners the minute they set a foot out of the plane at Heathrow, I don’t think I know what it is like to feel like a Londoner. The first time I set foot in the city I had with me a really long list of places I had to visit. Too many for the time I was staying. As the night fell the city had already set its own rhythms on me, and I realized I was mistaken to think all those places I wanted to see were in the same city. The rythms of that vast mass of stone and fog were like those of the waves, and Shelley’s words then made sense to me: London, a great sea with its roaring waves, each of them as different from the others as majestic.

Because there are many Londons; there is the London of Picadilly and Oxford Circus, of displays and consumerism, a European Times Square; there is the London of Soho, alternative and boheme, ; the London of Westminster, a palimpsest of cities; the West End and the East End; layers of city on top of each other, and the underground moves between spaces but also between times.

The city is eclectic not only in its freneticism, but also in the way in which its history actualizes itself on the present in every building, in every park and street. Trying to imagine everything that has happened there, on the pages of innumerable books, what happened in life but also in imagination, is enough to get dizzy, it feels like being on board of a little boat afloat in a raging sea.

There is, in Southwark, one of the places that give account of the immense history of the city and its very intricate links with literature: The George Inn, a vaulted pub, founded in the Middle Ages and restored after the great fire in 1677. The place was used for theatre during the Elizabethan time, its yard and big rooms were enough to entertain a considerable number of people. Later on the inn still worked as a coaching pub and looking at it I couldn’t stop thinking of the place where Austen’s Elizabet Bennet receives the news of her sister’s elopement, or where the characters from Dicken’s Bleak House discuss the mysterious past of a young lady in a private chamber.

The inn actually appears in Little Dorrit and it is known that Dickens was a frequent client. The place is also a vestige of an industrial London, dirty and dangerous during the Victorian time, a time of beautiful dresses, top-hats and oiled mustaches as much of crime and violence; Sherlock Holmes’ time, Jack the Ripper’s time. How many cities can overlap over a simple stone structure? Almost everything has changed around it, but the George Inn still stands.

Places like these are like anchors. Or perhaps like the remains of a shipwreck that inhabitant the depths of a sea that violently yet gracefully agitates itself towards the shores of the future, Another one of these is, undoubtedly, The Globe, where one can’t help but wonder if Shakespeare’s contemporaries felt the same things when they witnessed Juliet or Ophelia’s sufferings. it is a curious feeling, to feel surrounded by a fictional past, déjà vu like reminiscences, like feeling we have seen somebody’s face before, perhaps in a dream, when we have only read about it. A feeling, too, that Londoners seem to share, for they surrounds themselves with plaques and statues of poets, bringing back all those past wanderings of the city.

In Westminster Abbey, the poet’s corner hoards hundreds of tombs and tributes. To think that under one same building lie the remains of Browning, Chaucer, Dickens, Dryden, Hardy, Johnson, Kipling and Tennyson. There also are, on stone carved letters, the names of Austen and the Brontës— enough, anyway, to make someone want to go to church.  The poet’s corner is rarely empty, people wander about looking down to make out the names, some completely foreign. Every footstep is light, every moment soft, as if not to wake up someone.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “the best bribe which London offers to-day to the imagination, is, that, ins such a vast variety of people and conditions, one can believe there is room for persons of romantic character to exist, and that the poet, the mystic, and the hero may hope to confront their counterparts”. And London’s charm could not be better described; there is an East End at night for the contemporary Poètes maudits, surrounded by cafés and curry places; a Hyde Park for the romantic and, next to it, the Kensington Gardens, crowned by a Peter Pan statue, for the nostalgic; there is also Bloomsbury for the disenchanted; Camden Town for the rebels; and even a Platform 9 3/4, inside King’s Cross Station, for those who still believe in utopias. 

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East End
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Hyde Park

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Bath

Great admiration for Jane Austen took me to Bath in the first place. After London, it was the first city I visited in England and my favourite until I went to Cambridge. The city keeps much of its original Roman architecture that  half shows like a partly unveiled coliseum surrounded by modern buildings, all enclosed in a Georgian aura, as if the city was the last vestige of a preindustrial England, before the coal mines, the vapour ships,  before the cinder-covered North and the foggy South that appeared in Dickens novels. Bath was founded there by the romans because of the thermal waters, and these gave origin to its actual name. Later on, during the Elizabethan epoch, Bath became once again a holiday centre and by the times in which Jane Austen lived, the last part of the 18th century and the beginnings of the 19th, people from all across the country fled to Bath because of the supposedly beneficial properties of the thermal baths.

The city was also a famous social centre and, even when it wasn’t London, it had numerous ballrooms and tea rooms, all kinds of shops and a warmer weather than the capital. For me, Bath is mercilessly humid, hot during the summer, windy and rainy the rest of the year, but undoubtedly charming. Despite what one might think and in spite of the many events in Bath related to Jane Austen (see the bottom), the portrait of the Southern city portrayed by the author in her novels seems to point out that she didn’t fancy it very much.

Austen lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806 and the city is the main setting for two of her novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, although it is also mentioned constantly throughout all her work. Being from Hertfordshire, the Austen family moved to Bath for health issues, giving the young writer the chance to depict the chic sceneries and the eclectic way of life of the city in her work.

In the Austenian imaginary, Bath was a beacon to well-off young ladies that wanted to socialize (and to young men in possession of fortunes of course, who were in want of a wife), some kind of small-scale London in which life went by between thermal baths, tea rooms, dinners and balls. It is in Bath were Anne, form Persuasion, and Catherine, from Northanger Abbey, meet their future husbands, but it is also living in Bath that leads the young heroines to make poor choices: Anne, persuaded to try and find a better match, rejects Captain Wentworth’s affection even when she loves him, and Catherine gets carried away by her new socialité friend, Isabella, which almost costs her her happiness.

Bath is portrayed in both novels, with the subtlest irony, as the embodiment of the superficiality that surrounded the well-off families of regency England, the superficiality that Austen criticizes in all her novels. The ballrooms with their music, canapes and drinks; huge chandeliers and candle-lit, hazy atmospheres; crowded streets filled with people rushing to buy ribbons and dresses; the frequent arrival of single soldiers— all of this seemed to plunge Austen’s heroines into a moral stupor from which they recovered just in time. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine arrives in Bath to stay with some better-off friends of her family and immediately becomes friends with Isabella Thorpe, a young lady who shows her the ways of the city and who also happens to incarnate all social vices.

Northanger Abbey is a critique of many things —including mansplaining— and  a fervent defense of the novel as a worthy literary genre, and as such it couldn’t have a better setting than Bath. The superficiality and mannerism considered fashionable by urban societies are a complete mystery to Catherine, who is more of a tomboy and a country girl, and her inicial enchantment transforms into disappointment. Catherine is also a somewhat quixotic figure, suffering from latent bovarism, who is obsessed with gothic novels— deemed as low literature and read mainly by women— and who begins believing she lives in a novel by Anne Radcliffe.

Austen’s intertextual game is clever, being her work a parody of the popular gothic novel in which, as in all of her novels, it is easier to detect irony by the psychology of the character than by looking for the author’s own voice. There are no negative words about Bath (that is, in the novels, but we could find some in Austen’s personal correspondence), but all the praise for the city is spoken by the most naive and superficial characters. What made Bath such an unattractive place for a woman who dedicated her work to the criticism of imperialism and the political position of women? Perhaps Bath was the equivalent of the actual touristic complexes that pollute natural reserves and whose luxuries are really paid off via exploitation. And nevertheless, it seems like Bath never experienced the decadence of such places. It would seem that the industrial age never set foot in the city and, if it were not for the expensive cars parked on every driveway, Bath could seem stuck in the regency, an almost aristocratic town still filled with tea rooms, galleries and expensive restaurants; a brick fortress traversed by the Avon river, where one feels it would be perfectly likely to see Austen herself round the corner, coming out of a ribbon shop, or peering out of a window, behind a pile of paper and ink. Bath is, I think, the perfect city to write a novel.

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What I mean when I say the time seems not to have passed here.
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Roman buildings.
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Living my best life: drinking matcha and writing in Bath.
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The city centre. Bath Abbey.
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February. Freezing and rainy yet pretty.

Jane Austen’s family live in 4 Sydney Place, although the Jane Austen Centre is now in Gay Street. There is also the Regency Tea Room, where you can have lunch or a cuppa in true Austenian style. You can check opening times and the address here.

In Bath you can also visit the Assembly Rooms, the beautiful ballrooms where Austen probably danced (Catherine and Isabella certainly did) See that here, and feel like a true Georgian heroine. Also, the Pump Rooms, where the Northanger Abbey ladies reunited for tea during the day and which belong to the Roman Baths, are a fancy place for lunch, check that out here.

Bath is also where the Jane Austen Festivaltakes place every September, when there’s also a Regency Ball and Supper in the Assembly Rooms.

Have you been to Bath?

Did you like it? Which places do you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

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Cambridge

“They say the sky is the same everywhere […] But above Cambridge—anyhow above the roof of King’s College Chapel—there is a difference. Out at sea a great city will cast brightness into the night. Is it fanciful to suppose the sky, washed into the crevices of King’s College Chapel, li-ghter, thinner, more sparkling than the sky elsewhere? Does Cambridge burn not only into the night, but into the day?”
—Virginia Woolf

Of all the cities I’ve visited, Cambridge is still one of my favourites, and a place very close to my heart. Its colleges, its trees, going punting in river Cam, the orchards, the sheep, the libraries, the bikes, the markets— Cambridge is just as soothing as it is inspiring for any fellow lover of literature or art. Its streets and alleyways are poetic in themselves; bricks and chimneys on one side, monumental gothic structures on the other.

Cambridge is one of the oldest cities in Europe and the University of Cambridge was founded in 1209. The University includes 31 colleges with different buildings all over the city: King’s College, Queen’s College, St. John’s College, Trinity College and Clare College among them.

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Morning coffee at Bennetts

The city is both vibrant and mysterious, full of life and yet strangely whimsical. It seems to go back in time a century every morning, with its traditional cafés and shops, its stone streets, old willows and wooden bridges—and then to come back to the present at night, its main streets filled with music and laughter, kebab places, international students everywhere. Some people say Cambridge is very similar to Oxford, both very old university towns, both undoubtedly pretty — but I think there are some things you can only see and feel in Cambridge.

My Cambridge

Having been before in many cities that became books, I was amazed to see in Cambridge a book made into a city. Although perhaps it was just a city that made me feel I was in a book. Thomas Hardy said about Cambridge, “What institution is more majestic than Trinity College? […] There are towers and battlements and statues, and beside these things there are cloisters and gardens and bridges”. And certainly, towers, turrets, battlements and  green extensions of grass compose the landscape surrounding river Cam. The cobbled streets almost always shine under the rain, and the yellow reflections of the street lamps and the chapels baths almost every building in its glow, even in the mist.

The heart of the city seems to be King’s College Chapel, gathering all the light around itself. A few blocks away, buried in bikes tied to every surface, there is The Eagle, the famous pub where Crick and Watson discovered the DNA structure in 1953. The whole city guardes important memories for knowledge and science; it was here where Stephen Hawking studied, worked and wrote his most important theories on relativity and the cosmos. And it is not hard to imagine it, with the amount of unkempt students that wander about the pubs, or that spend hours in Costa with no more company than a laptop and a pile of papers.

 

Cambridge is a good place to look around. People watching here turns almost always into a contemplative experience. The people, the tea rooms with fogged windows that cast an eerie glow on the street, the yellowish grey of the buildings, brick by brick, only interrupted by the sudden green of the trees and the grass. Every few streets there is a park, wide extensions of grass maintained in a perfect balance between neglect and artifice, or some shrubbery with eternally damp little flowers, trees that seem older than the colleges.

The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209, being the fourth oldest university in the world. In its many colleges studied some of the most brilliant minds, like Newton, Darwin, Hausman, Keynes, Stern, Thackeray, E.M. Forster, Nabokob, Malcolm Lowrt, Sylvia Plath and Terry Eagleton. Many times, specially when punting, I wondered about what it must feel like to study in a university like this— are there any vestiges, any aura or atmosphere, around places where art has happened, where so much poetry has been written? There must be. However, the whole city seemed submerged in this kind of atmosphere for me, a timeless bubble where people were safe to contemplate and write and learn.

Not far from the centre, 20 or 30 minutes by bike, there is a place called The Orchard. It is a little cabin with outside seating where they bake the best scones in England. There, it is said, between apple trees and tall grass, Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster sat to write. And it is hard to think of a better place to write, although Cambridge is full of them: riverside cafés, underground coffee shops, little tea rooms in every corner, giant trees perfect for reclining, comfortable benches in front of beautiful buildings, semi deserted pubs with thick wooden tables and huge chimneys.

 

Much of the time I spent in Cambridge, I spent in places like that. The rest of the time I was probably around Market Square. Old Market Square, where dozens of stands appeared every morning; fish, fruits, baked potatoes, kebabs and, above all, second-hand books. Two big stands had my attention, offering treasures buried beneath hundreds of best-sellers and paperbacks of all kinds. This is where my Agatha Christie collection started. Before, I had read Sparkling Cyanide and so the first book I bought in Cambridge was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, where I met Hercule Poirot. Later I bought At Bertrams Hotel, where I found the best detective of all times, Miss Marple. Almost every week I would buy a paperback for one pound, which resulted in tremendous difficulties when going back to Mexico.

Apart from my Christies, in Market Square I found a beautiful edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass from 1971. A beautiful brown book with golden letters on its back and yellow pages. Later I also found a sixties edition of The Italian, a gothic novel by Ann Radcliffe, basically unknown now but very famous in its time, a red book with its title almost unintelligible. Radcliffe is one of the authors mention in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, one of the books I read before arriving in Cambridge. Some weeks after finding The Italian among piles of old Grisham’s novels, I decided to look for The Mysteries of Udolpho, the novel which Austen’s heroine reads. I spent many months hunting for it among second-hands books, and I finally found it in Waterstones, a new Penguin edition, around a thousand pages long in tiny letters. This literary founding only increased my love for both the city and literature, so much I decided to get my degree on literature. Some other loves were also found, among them afternoon tea with lemon and milk, Chelsea buns and cycling.

Because Cambridge is a city to cycle. The place where I lived was about two miles away from King’s Parade, where I went almost every day, so a bike seemed to me the best transport. The city centre is completely covered in parked bikes and the number of cyclist is by far bigger than that of the car drivers, two facts that make me think of Cambridge with nostalgia now that I live in Mexico City. And having a bike there was a good idea… until November, where I started reconsidering after falling a couple of times due to the frozen streets. But my budget would not allow other types of transport, so reconsideration didn’t last long. I have always thought one can get used to anything, from two pairs of socks (the second over my jeans to avoid trapping in the wheels), to carrying a chain and lock and remembering where among that vast sea of bikes I had parked mine.

Still now I remember what it felt like to ride a bike from Parkers Piece to Hills Road, then through Cherry Hinton Road and Coleridge Road… even when much time passed until I knew who Coleridge was and how important his poetry would be for me. Much time passed, too, until I had to say goodbye to that grey bike that kept me company and whose little front basket carried my books so many times.

 

 

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Have you been to Cambridge?

What do you think of it?

 

Nottingham

I arrived in Nottingham not knowing what to expect. Before this trip I had spent some time in England—in Cambridge, London and some other places north and south—,but the Midlands remained unknown to me. I had heard of the city only in relation with Robin Hood, Richard the Lionheart and Sherwood Forest. When I arrived, on a bus from London in the middle of the night, my first glimpses of the city were not quite the best. A dirty bus stop and an empty street. And damp cold. However, my first morning there made me realise that Nottingham is one of those cities that transform from day to night and from weekdays to weekends.

On Market Square, a modern explanada with fountains and a few slender trees in front of the City Hall, a big ferries wheel occupied most of the space and that’s now one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of Notts. Even though it’s there for just one season, the wheel against the grey skies and the white building behind is a charming sight. During my stay, the wheel was my friend’s meeting point when exploring the many cafés and tea rooms in the city centre. Though the streets that encircle around Market Square are filled with fast food chains and phone repair shacks, a short walk in any direction will lead to more colorful, narrow streets where pubs, little cafés and handicrafts shops abound. My favorite street is Pelham street, even when it’s dangerously close to Primark.

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Coffee and food favorites

Fox Café

Boy, did I spend time here. It’s a small and cosy coffee shop that also offers cakes, breakfast and lunch. The service is great. This is the perfect spot to have lunch with friends or a quiet time by yourself with a book, some tea and banana bread (which I specially recommend). It is also a great spot to look around; one of my favourite things about Nottingham was the variety of people that live there and that walk past Pelham Street (where Fox is) every day! Guys in black leather outfits, girls with corsettes and piercings, tattoos everywhere, guys with cardigans that looked out of the Hamptons, girls that look Instagram-famous, elderly couples in the most British jumpers, loud children, young couples with several Primark bags, slender cyclist and lots of university alumni in jumpers.


Homemade

It’s a little bakery almost in front of Fox Café, which serves some of te finest cakes I’ve tasted in my life. They have a huge variety of cakes (even vegan and so on) and they’re all really good. I used to go there with two or three friends and each one of us would ask for a different cake, then we’d share. The place is small and a bit crowded during weekends though. You can also have a good brunch here.


The Hockley Arts Club

I wish I had spent more time here, it’s a fancy bar beautifully decorated and with a cool terrace. It’s good to start a night out (though a bit expensive) or play some board games over drinks, if you’re in a quieter mood.


There are plenty of traditional pubs in the city centre and close to the Castle (like Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, supposed to be the oldest pub in England, or The Pit & Pendulum, named after Poe’s short story, an eerie kind of place).

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Hockley Arts Club

Other favourites

Wollaton Hall and Deer Park

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Okay, so this place is famous because of Batman. This Elizabethan country house was featured in The Dark Knight Rises as Bruce Wayne’s mansion. But apart from that, it’s a magnificent piece of architecture and currently a creepy taxidermy museum. There’s a gift-shop and a restaurant where you can hang around once you’ve walked around one of my favorite jogging and reading spots in Notts: Wollaton Park. There are plenty of trees, a trail and a lake. It is beautiful during Winter and Summer, and there are red deer hanging around. In a sunny day, this is the perfect place for a picnic and even during the colder months you could walk around or sit on the benches and do some deer-watching. I had never been so close to deer in my life and they are such beautiful, graceful creatures. So yes, this is a must.


Sherwood Forest

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This is the famous forest where Robin Hood and his Merry Men lived, as the story goes. It is also the home of the Major Oak! A very huge and very old tree where Robin Hood supposedly slept. Legend aside, the tree is like 10 meters high and between 800 and 1000 years old. Nowadays it is supported by some metallic structure, but it’s still majestic. The forest in general is a quiet, nice place. There are many species of birds flying around, as well as rabbits and squirrels. There are also camping and dining areas with tables and a gift shop at the entrance.


You can also take a look around the University of Nottingham, University Park Campus, a vast extension of land around period buildings, cafeterias and cafés where you can get very good chicken curry (at Portland Building), or head to the Lakeside Arts Club to see a play or listen to some live music.

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