Cambridge, England: Historic University Town – Rick Steves’ Europe Travel Guide – Travel Bite
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Cambridge, England: Historic University Town – Rick Steves’ Europe Travel Guide – Travel Bite


England’s greatest universities,
Oxford and Cambridge, have been rivals
since the 1300s. We’ll visit Oxford later. Each has the same basic heritage
and design. No main campus —
instead, the many colleges are scattered throughout
the charming town center. By catching one of the many
guided town walks, you’ll get an insider’s look
at an urban mix of what locals “town and gown.” -In medieval Europe, it was the church that was
in charge of higher education, and here in Cambridge,
we have 31 colleges, all with the same design. You have
a beautiful green court. Set around the court
are buildings where the students eat,
sleep, pray, and study. ♪♪ -Many colleges welcome
the public to browse around. At their historic front gates,
you’ll find a porter’s lodge. The porter delivers mail,
monitors who comes and goes, and keeps people off the grass. Colleges have
centuries of heritage, and you feel that
in their exquisite libraries. Here in Corpus Christi’s
Parker Library, that college’s
literary treasures are proudly on display,
such as letters from Anne Boleyn before husband Henry VIII
lopped off her head and a first edition of Newton’s
groundbreaking treatise, “Principia Mathematica.” The exclusive putting-green
quality of the courtyard lawns is a huge deal here. Generally,
only senior professors can walk on the courts, the centerpiece
of each college campus. One of the powerhouse colleges
at Cambridge is Kings, which has a central courtyard to match
its esteemed reputation. The 500-year-old
Kings College Chapel, built by Henrys VI through VIII, is England’s best
surviving example of late Gothic architecture. With its emphasis
on vertical lines, it’s called
Perpendicular Gothic. This is the most impressive
building in Cambridge, with the largest single span
of vaulted roof anywhere — 2,000 tons of
glorious fan vaulting. ♪♪ Here, you can enjoy
the most complete collection of original
16th-century Renaissance stained glass in existence. With the help of
this closed captioning, handy if you can read Latin, you can wander through
the entire Bible. And the “Adoration of the Magi,” a masterpiece by Rubens,
adorns the altar. Trinity College,
just next door, was founded in 1546
by Henry VIII. It’s the richest
and biggest in town. Cambridge has produced
nearly 100 Nobel Prize winners, and about 1/3 of them
were Trinity graduates. The great mathematician
Sir Isaac Newton, who both studied
and taught at Trinity, famously clapped his hands
and timed the echo to calculate the speed of sound. Huh, 1,120 feet per second
or 761 miles per hour at this altitude. The colleges that face
the Cam River each have garden-like backyards
that combine to make the riverbank feel like
a lush and exclusive park. A beloved Cambridge tradition
is a romantic and graceful glide past these colleges in a
traditional flat-bottomed punt. Skilled locals make the ride
look effortless. -So this is Trinity College,
and this is the Wren Library. -You can hire a boat
to enjoy a witty narration by a student as you’re pulled
past fine college architecture. -Yeah, these are called the
“Backs,” the backs of the river. There’s eight colleges
along the river. So this area is called the Backs because, quite simply, it’s the back of those colleges. The only way you can see
the backs of these colleges is along the river,
so the best way to see the backs of all
the colleges is by punting. -Or, for a little levity
and probably more exercise than you really want,
why not rent one yourself? [ Laughter ] The punts are tougher
to maneuver than they look. [ Chatter ] ♪♪

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