Wednesday, November 19, 2008

English Road Trip! Or, how much can we fit into our car?

Doesn't quite have the same ring to it as "American Road Trip" now, does it?

Twenty-two roundabouts (I counted), 3.5 hours and 164 miles later, we had traversed the English countryside and arrived in Mildenhall, Suffolk, to collect our boxes which had been carefully shipped from San Francisco to what had been labelled "London" by the geographically challenged moving company. The small town of Mildenhall, Suffolk, is *not* "London". It's twice the distance from Southampton to London, actually.

We pulled up to the warehouse after paying a bunch of extra shipping charges the company had conveniently "forgotten" to mention originally. The three young guys at the warehouse eyed our tiny car critically. "Why didn't you get it delivered?" asked one accusingly.

Our boxes arrived. The three guys looked at the hatchback car, then at the boxes. (1.5m of cubic space). The boxes looked smaller than I remembered. The three guys looked at the car. "You're not gonna get all that in, innit," said one.*

By careful packing, and a bit of jumping on the boot for the last backpack, we did indeed get it all in without resorting to tying things to the roof or holding things on laps. We can now confirm that a Ford Fiesta has a back space of 1.5 cubic metres exactly. The three guys watching cheered. They'd been convinced we'd never fit it all in.

We took this photo after we got in the car. I'm driving.

As we were near Cambridge, I convinced Brendan we should visit. So I set "Kings College Cambridge" on the GPS, and started driving. And rapidly had to do some "creative" driving in the face of blocked-off streets and angry buses who could go over bollards that we couldn't. Oops.

Cambridge is super-cute, an old city with lots of historic places. It's divided up into "colleges", effectively halls of residence for students as I recall. They're all hundreds of years old and look extremely imposing. It also has the cutest shops ever.

You can take a "punt" on the river. It's very pretty.

We went into Trinity College. This is especially exciting for me, since it's the source of my piano exams!

We found this amazing room, I think it was the Trinity Chapel. (Here's some more info about it.) Right behind the viewpoint of this photograph, the organ sits above the door. On the other side of the door is a white room with white marble/ plaster statues. Dust motes shone in the air in front of the painting above the altar at the far end, with a black grand piano below it. (Click on the photo for a better look.) Apparently the painting is by American artist Benjamin West.

Cambridge is very student-y. Everywhere students were hurrying around to class or biking around. It has an enormous bike population - everywhere you looked, bikes were lined up along railings and walls. Some weren't even chained up!

Finally we got to Kings College, and the Kings College Chapel. "Chapel" isn't really the right name for it, as "Cathedral" would be more suitable to describe its size. Unfortunately we couldn't go inside - will have to come back!

A dear friend of mine (and former organ tutor) was actually Organ Scholar at Kings College Chapel as a young man, at least 60 years ago. Unfortunately when WWII broke out, he had to join the airforce and fly planes instead! So it was especially cool to see the chapel.

It's very large. And hiding behind a tree in this picture, but it was the best one I had to show the scale.

Then we rushed back to grab our car before our parking meter ran out, and braved the awful traffic, 4 hours and 50 roundabouts to get home. (Going via Cambridge meant we had to take a different route, which involved a lot more roundabouts. The British love roundabouts to the exclusion of any other kind of intersection. It's a national obsession.)

*("Innit" is Cockney for the NZ "Aye/Eh/Ae" quantifier. Other UK variations include "Yeah", but we think "innit" is the funniest.)


Anonymous said...

Wow - I can't believe you got it all in your car! I love seeing your pictures.

Actually Suffolk (there) is my city's sister city. I'm not really sure what that means but they frequently write about it in our little local paper.

What's a roundabout?

Brendan said...

A roundabout is a kind of intersection (i.e. where two roads meet) where instead of proceeding directly across the intersection while other people yeild, everyone drives around a circular center area and then "exits" when they get to the direction they want to go. Hard to explain :)

The British (and part of Europe we've seen so far) use them for pretty much all intersections.

Studies show they result in fewer accidents and better traffic flow.

Tina said...

They're especially good for multiple-road intersections. At the Arc De Triompf in Paris, 6 streets meet and become a roundabout. I'll post photos soon. It's really quite chaotic.

Brendan said...

Although, as we observed, the Arc De Triompf was not a particularly good roundabout. Although probably more efficient than a 6-way intersection.

TaylorM said...

We love roundabouts in New England, too, except there, we call them "Rotaries"! And there are a number of strange mini-rotaries in Berkeley, where it's basically a four-way intersection with an annoying circular island in the middle.