After a great experience in Oxford (check out Pat’s post) we had our sights set on Cambridge and high expectations. I booked an Airbnb private room within walking distance of the city center for three nights.
Finding Our Spot
Two hours before we could check in, we arrived in Cambridge, so we found a pub a stone’s throw from our Airbnb. For those of you who haven’t been following the blog, that is hardly shocking, and I don’t mean the early arrival part… Since we couldn’t find the free parking mentioned in the Airbnb listing, we parked the car in the pub’s car park then headed inside. We ordered food and a pint then settled in to pass a couple of hours until check-in.
The bartender was friendly and the chef — who turned out to be the business owner — came out to see that we were enjoying our meal. Nice women, exceptionally well prepared and tasty food, and real ale pints just a short walk from where we would be staying. We had found our spot, The Corner House.
We killed a second pint and the second hour chatting with Jo (the owner) and Jim (short for Jamila, the bartender). They said it was cool for us to leave the car in the lot while we got sorted with our accommodation down the street, so we did.
Checking in to Hell Must Be Better
At 3 o’clock we wandered down to our Airbnb. Quickly, our host showed us our room, shared bath, shared kitchen, and the non-operational washing machine we were hoping to use. Unapologetically, she told us that it would not be fixed or replaced until her ‘long-term’ tenant moved in. That was kinda crappy. It was listed as an amenity after all and we had clothes to wash. Now we’d have to find a laundromat instead. After that disappointment, she showed us the backyard garden which the single review of the property described as wonderful and relaxing. Disappointingly, it was inaccessible due to overgrown grass, weeds, and spider webs. Yick. Not ideal.
Upon Further Review
After our host left, we took a more thorough look at the place. The bathroom was filthy. There were hairs and grime from at least a thousand other guests caked on the floor and in the tub. Other peoples’ toiletries were scattered everywhere. There was no toilet paper. The light in our bedroom didn’t work. The kitchen was gross. A once white electric kettle stood on the dingy counter like a mangy old dog. Nope. This wasn’t going to work.
*** Warning: Graphic Content ***
I messaged the host through Airbnb to tell her we were bailing and described the scene with CSI-like objectivity. She said she’d send her husband over later with toilet paper and a light bulb. Obviously, my point was clearly missed. She claimed that ‘the other guests made the house dirty’ and, ‘it wasn’t her responsibility.’ What? No way were we staying in that petri dish of who knows what. Without haste, we left and checked into a Travelodge we noticed earlier from the pub. Hopefully, we hadn’t already contracted a super-virus or something.
After a night of filling out Airbnb forms for a refund, bitching about the place, and showering multiple times for good measure, we were back on track. The morning broke clear and we had had a good night’s rest… in a clean room. It was time to explore Cambridge.
Tourists, Scaffolds, and Students
Walking along the river to town was interesting and pretty. Individuals and teams rowed their skinny, long boats up and down the river. Not so interesting or pretty were the tourists and scaffolding which crowded the center of town. Even so, the architecture was impressive and the quads exceptionally well manicured. Relentlessly, though, students approached us wishing to be our tour guide or punt… skipper? driver? punter? They were as thick as fruit flies on a soggy bowl of old, fuzzy fruit. We ducked into a pub to escape the swarm.
With pints in hand, we ventured back outside to a discreet vantage point where we wouldn’t be hounded. Pros and rookies push punts around with big long poles on the river Cam. That was pretty amusing, but we both agreed that the overall vibe at Cambridge University was rougher than Oxford. Also, there weren’t the interesting — and free — exhibits everywhere like at Oxford. The vibe was off too.
We walked ‘The Backs’ on our return trip since they were a Lonely Planet highlight. Lots of grass and trees, walls and fences, ticket-takers, and brief glimpses of the colleges. I guess I was expecting better views of the buildings or gardens or something. Maybe I’m just really difficult to please anymore.
Back to Our Spot
We were thirsty and hungry so back to The Corner House, we went. We sat out back in one of the beer gardens with the locals. Actually, the place was always locals. We enjoyed bits of conversation that we registered as English. Coincidentally, Jo’s mom was visiting from Greece and she told us about her beautiful island. We definitely need to see Greece. Once again, the food was excellent and the conversation was interesting. Good vibes surrounded us.
On our last full day in Cambridge, we opted to walk along the river away from the colleges. After a decent walk, we sat on a bench, had our VinoLunch, and mused about the differences between Oxford and Cambridge. It was much too nice of a day to go back to the room after we had finished, so we dropped into The Corner House and sat in the sunny beer garden. Jo, Jim, and Jo’s mom all came out and shot the breeze with us. We happily felt like we had been adopted.
One thing led to another and prosecco appeared and quickly disappeared. A trip to the wine store across the street ensued and take-away Indian food was ordered. We ate and talked and laughed and by the end of the evening, we were invited to Jo’s brother’s wedding in a year’s time… in Greece!
Abiding by Travel Rule #1
We said goodnight and started to say goodbye when Jo made us promise to come by the next day for a full English breakfast before setting off. What’s Rule #1? Right. Never turn down an invite from a local!
We showed up late Sunday morning with white wine and flowers in tow. Magically, Jo whipped up a gut-busting full English breakfast; eggs, sausage, black pudding, bacon, beans, tomato, mushrooms, and more. It was delicious. Thankfully she made a mini-full breakfast for us or I might have burst like Mr. Creosote after his wafer-thin mint.
The pub was quiet at that time of day so we were able to talk travel, work, politics, social issues, you name it. Jo put some of her own music on the stereo and gave us a copy of her CD. She is a very good musician!
All’s Well That Ends Well
Cambridge wasn’t what I expected both in a good way and a bad way. On the one hand, the atmosphere and energy at The Corner House were impossible not to love. We got in with real Cambridge locals, made new friends, and were invited to a wedding in Greece. On the other hand, Cambridge University didn’t live up to the standard set by our visit to Oxford University. The Airbnb disaster was our first bad experience with the sharing service — and what a disgusting disaster it was. You win some and you lose some. We cut our losses early and wound up with one winner of a visit.
Hike Drink Live Laugh
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