Saturday, May 30, 2009

Catching Up--May's Wonderful Weekends

Cambridge, indeed most of England, is on roll--there's been weekend after weekend of nice weather, even two sunny and warm 3-day bank holiday weekends, which the locals were just amazed to see. We've been taking advantage. Several weekends ago, we went on a looooong walk from Waterbeach, a village just north of Cambridge (more on it below), to Ely. We were with the local Ramblers group and the walk along the river was around 12 miles--our blistered feet were very happy to reach the Ely riverfront and relax on a train ride home. Then on the Monday we went again on the bike ride to reach for its annual fair--more than 300 Cambridge residents made the 10 mile journey. The fair was marked by some rain, but it still had Morris dancers (top picture) and the exciting game of kicking a soccer ball into a tire to win a coconut!

Then, it was my birthday weekend, in a delayed sort of way. In April,KT got me Eric Clapton tickets in May at Royal Albert Hall, and it just so happened Cambridge United was playing at Wembley the day after, in another play off final. So we decided to make a London weekend of it. We trained down to South Kensington neighborhood we like so much--tons of museums, shops and great food. We were starving so we quickly headed to La Cave A' Fromage, where we asked one of the sellers to select some cheeses,meats and wine for us. The 6 cheeses were amazing and we sampled French cooked ham, prosciutto, venison, bresaola (air-dried, salted beef), chorizo and some great bread. After checking in the hotel, we strolled to and through the flower-laden Kensington Gardens. After that, it was time for Clapton, who put on an amazing concert--2 hours of making his guitars sing. He barely talked at all the whole night, KT noted--shy? Royal Albert Hall was an amazing venue--we were up high, looking down steeply but the sound was great and we could see Clapton easily. Afterward, we raced around the neighborhood trying to find an open restaurant--London is no Barcelona, it shuts down earlier than you would guess--and lucked upon a pizzeria still open for a last meal.
Sunday started with sprinkles so KT indulged me with seeing the new Star Trek Movie--but we had some time to kill and there just so happened to be a nice little Sunday marker near the cinema. The sun poked out and we enjoyed a sausage and some tasty sandwiches before boldly going where 10 movies and 4 TV series had gone before--we both really liked the movie. And the the climax of the weekend--or, as it turned out, the anti-climax. I haven't bored you much with Cambridge United tales, in part because we've seen few games. But the U's just narrowly missed out first place,which would have automatically promoted them to the next league, and won the semi-final 2 game series with a thrilling 3-goal rally in the 2nd game. Again, more than 20,000 Cambridge fans traveled to London, versus 8,000 for the much more distant Torquay, and United started off playing really well, yet it just couldn't score. Yet Torquay didn't waste any chances, scoring twice, and sending the Cambridge masses home sad once again. Oh well, next year.

[[Clapton pictures tk]
Last weekend was a highly anticipated event: the 2009 Cambridge Beer Festival. Like last year, Katie made it over during the week for lunch, and we had a week-night work gathering--where I met an English postman who is a baseball nut, having played in the small nationwide league--but Saturday was the day I awaited. I was there not much after noon,when it opened, and we didn't leave til around 7pm. The weather was gorgeous and the beer tasty--what was left of it. The Festival sold a record 90,000 pints and was running out of so many beers by late afternoon that they stopped charging people admission. But we had more than enough as we read our newspapers and watched the happy crowds. Sunday was even prettier and after sending KT off to the airport, I packed up the Sunday papers, rode along the River Cam alongside racing crew boats, laid out a picnic blanket in a nearby park and read under a shady tree for hours.

So this weekend couldn't be any better, could it? Well, this Saturday put up a good battle. The weather was equally warm and sunny and just as I was pondering what to do, I was reminded that Waterbeach was having its own,much more modest beer festival. We've been here more than 2 years and I still hadn't explored Waterbeach--I take the river bike path out to its train station all the time,but then turn around and head back home. Well, the village is delightful--I saw 3 nice pubs, a butcher and baker, and the local Army barracks, which was having an open house. Regiments from Iraq and Afghanistan regiments had just returned and had a parade on Friday in the village--the town gave the soldiers free tokens to the beer festival for that night. After biking around the town, I made my way to the local recreation grounds where a kids soccer tournament was just over (trophies were being handed out) and the village cricket team was getting ready to start its match. Right next to this wholesome scene was the beer tent! Instead of 300+ beers, Waterbeach had just 16--but that was more than enough to keep me occupied for several hours. It was a decidedly family affair, as kids raced around and families stared up whenever the Army airplanes, including a massive Spitfire, buzzed the village as part of the barracks' open house. And in between, the fathers snuck off into the darkened nearby garage where a large-screen TV was showing the important FA Cup soccer final.--J.T.