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On Quest for Cambridge

This morning in the hotel elevator, I schmooshed in beside two older ladies. One of them had a canvas bag with cartoon sheep standing placidly in the middle of a road on its side. The caption read, "Rush Hour". I laughed, pointed to the bag, and said, "In my hometown those would be squirrels playing in the road." After asking me to repeat the comment in order to catch my accent, they asked where I was from. I automatically said, "Oklahoma."

Now, that's partly because that's where I saw the squirrels last week, but it's also because that's my core identity. I'm from a state, not a country really. Which, of course the two little ladies would probably have said they were from a region of England, or perhaps possibly, "England," but almost certainly not, the "United Kingdom." It just struck me how regions are easier than larger identities.

The First Trial Begins

All trains from Kings Cross to Cambridge were canceled today. Since I was standing in Kings Cross when I learned this, I decided that lunch was the order of the day—my fortitude being much greater on a full stomach. I had a super salad at Leon's in the station and to my amazement it had veggies in it--sun dried tomatoes, green peas, broccoli, etc. Well that's a big change from my last trip when veggies were thin on the ground at quick food places. The girl at the counter chatted with me a bit when she came out to clean tables. She's a law student at University College London. Her favorite things to do in London are, of course, the free things. The parks like St. James, the museums. She also said she loves the Globe because they charge only a tiny bit to watch plays as a groundling. She said this season's Tempest is splendid.

Do you know why it's called Kings Cross? Well I knew that Edward I, who loved his wife Eleanor of Castille very much, had 12 crosses built after her death, one at each spot where her body rested overnight as the funeral procession took it to London. I knew the last one was in London, and have been wondering all day if it is Kings Cross. So tonight I looked it up. It's actually Charing Cross— which is a familiar road name to those of us who've read the love story by that name.

See?! Contemplation while on my quest. I was doing my best. (And mind you, while I love my laptop, it's no magic sword or seven league boots.)

The Second Trial

So back on the underground to go to the Liverpool station to catch the slower train to Cambridge. However, the train ahead of us snapped the wires on the track, so our train had to stop, and it stranded three hundred of us at Audley End. What you've never heard of Audley End? Well it's an itty bitty station that was completely overwhelmed by the sudden influx. When a single bus finally came there was much, much bad behavior. People shoving an old lady, a man hanging onto the edge of the bus and heaving himself towards the door of the bus by smashing into the people trying to get on, yelling, much, much unhappiness. The poor bus driver was kind of trapped inside, and there was no one else around to help him. I had loaded my suitcase in the belly of the bus, but when it all turned ugly, I went and pulled my suitcase back out. Then went and stood with the more traditional well-behaved non-shoving English people. I now see how the soccer game crowds end up trampling people. I'm not sure if Americans from big cities behave better or not. But really, not a good moment.

On the other hand, by diligently refusing to be a part of the circus, I ended up standing with the nice people. See the pics below for the nice people coming back from the Royal Ascot races. One of them took off the top of her hat box to show me the enormous be-feathered hat she rented to wear to the races. Apparently you have to wear a hat of some note in order to be allowed in the royal pavillion. I also talked for some hours with a couple from Eli who'd popped down to London to visit their daughter, a rock musician coming home from a week long music festival in Paris where he'd played British rock cover songs, and another two women who'd been to see a friend for the weekend.

Since they didn't shut down the trains coming out of London, every hour or so, another hundred to two hundred people would join us at Audley End. When we saw the second train, those of us who were diligently NOT joining the queue, had to hustle over to the end of the first-train line. Once there was a queue, and a woman in an orange vest who started smacking ill-behaved people with her stack of complaint cards, things went more smoothly.

So in the end I spent four hours at Audley End before successfully getting onto a bus for Cambridge. Since one is supposed to learn something from ones trials on an adventure (although I'm not sure that Lancelot ever really does), I've pondered what gem of wisdom I have obtained through my sufferings. The takeaway seems to be, don't try to travel in England by train on Sunday. They schedule all repair work for Sunday and have many fewer resources to deal with problems on a Sunday.

A Happier Ending

Well, I simply broke down and crawled in a taxi without trying to figure out if it was possible to catch the town bus. The station was kind of swarming with Audley End evacuees and there was no one from whom to ask directions. I arrived quickly at my abode with no further trials.

The B&B is nice (perhaps even charming— soak up the charming B&B photos while you can). And though the nearest restaurants are a half mile away and most of them are closed because, well, it's Sunday, I'm ending the evening by eating a truly monumental amount of saag wala. So all's well that ends well.

Tomorrow I've got an appointment at Cambridge's University Library.

Mind the Gap
Mind the Gap
I adore the underground. Mass transit is cool in any city, but London has the best I've ever been around. Trip in from the airport takes one across most of the city.
Russell Square
Russell Square
When I was in London before, I stayed on Tavistock, so this was my closest tube stop. I was in and out of it every day on the way to Kings Cross.
The Queue
The Queue
Amongst the hundreds of people stranded with me were people returning home from going to the Royal Ascot horse races. The ones with the big hat boxes had been allowed into the royal pavillion—for which one needs an austentatiously large and plumed hat. (These were rental hats.)
Home Sweet B&B
Home Sweet B&B
Very relieved that the B&B is this nice.
Second Bed
Second Bed
From the description of the place, I was expecting a single double bed that Erin and I would have to share. Much rejoicing about the second bed.
In Suite
In Suite
And an in suite bathroom— will luxuries never cease? (Well, I suppose the toilet is cranky, so it's not the lap of luxury—)
Traditional English Food
Traditional English Food
Had a traditional English dinner— curry from an Indian take out. The prices were modest, so I was afraid the portions would be as well, so I ordered a LOT.