Oxford v. Cambridge (II)

Every year crowds gather on Putney Bridge in London to watch the famous Oxford v. Cambridge rowing competition. While the two universities are often intertwined, the cities could not be any more different.

Cambridge


While the origins of the city date as far back as the prehistoric age, the University of Cambridge was not founded until 1209. Archeological excavations have found evidence of settlement throughout the history of Great Britain from the first men, to the Roman empire, medieval, stretching to present day.

The name derives from the city’s medieval era when the the village was known as Grantebrycge, roughly translated Granta Bridge. Over time the name shifted from Granta to Cam to reflect the importance of the river Cam flowing through the heart of the old town.

The main attraction in Cambridge is punting down the River Cam. You can hire a guide, or try punting for yourself. It’s quite easy to tell the experts from the newbies as most guides will seamlessly glide through the waters past tourists darting about somehow running into every wall and bank, all in the name of good fun. From the river you get a gimpse at some of the thirty-one colleges that make up the University of Cambridge, the backs, and many famous bridges and crossings.

One of the greatest feats of engineering is the Mathematical Bridge that connects the gardens to Queen’s College. The bridge is designed without the aid of screws or nails… instead the wooden beams are held together by mathematical calculations.

Cambridge to this day is still very old school in thought and even visitors will find it’s elitist class structure prevalent in the layout of the university town. Unless one were to be a member of a specific college, you are unable to walk along the banks of the River Cam. While it would be understandable that particular buildings would be private from touring, the fact that certain gardens and bridges can not be accessed on-foot further illustrates this point. To avoid this, many colleges offer a paid tour of there grounds. Both Trinity College and Queen’s College are worth the extra shillings.

Trinity was founded by the infamous King Henry the Eight (VIII) and is the largest college in the University of Cambridge catalogue. Trinity was a merger of three older colleges and has one of the best views of the Backs. Queen’s College, one of the oldest surviving colleges boast an incredible preservation of medieval buildings still in use to this day. Both colleges can be found along the River Cam.

To some irony of this article, the University of Cambridge was founded by students fleeing the hostility of Oxford. Today it is ranked one of the top five universities in the world!

Getting there:
The city is North of London. Less than an hour by train, visitors can either leave via Kings Cross Station, or Liverpool Street Station.

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Oxford v. Cambridge (I)

Every year crowds gather on Putney Bridge in London to watch the famous Oxford v. Cambridge rowing competition. While the two universities are often intertwined, the cities could not be any more different.

Oxford


Oxford University is not one campus, but a collective of thirty-eight independent colleges darted about the city centre. The University is the oldest of it’s kind. Established by the church as a means to translate Greek theological text for an English speaking western society it is now ranked as the number one university in the world.

In 900AD a low point in the bank of the River Thames (now present day Folly Bridge) created a natural river crossing for Oxen carting goods between nearby villages. This crossing became known as Oxenaforda… or Ox-ford. Overtime a village grew at the fork of the River Thames and the River Cherwell.

A little over a century after vikings raided the settlement, Oxford Castle was built to withstand the Norman Invasion. Thankfully for travelers, the castle never saw any action and still stands today exactly as it did in the eleventh century. Shortly there after the university was established.

With a ban put in place by the English crown preventing students from enrolling to the University of Paris, Oxford University saw an explosion in admissions. As time went on, the university expanded and became the powerhouse of intellectual thought and teaching that it is today.

Getting around Oxford is simple and one of the best ways to do so is without a map. The English-Saxon architecture makes any building photo worthy, but the most iconic photo is that of Radcliffe Camera. Established by Doctor John Radcliffe in his will, this circular building houses a small but impressive collection dedicated to the sciences. The name camera is not a reference to it’s photogenic architecture, but the Latin term for ‘room’. The best view of Radcliffe Camera is remarkably just meters away in the equally impressive University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin.

The University Church of Saint Mary was one of the first buildings of the university, and serves as the location of many convocation ceremonies. The steeple has been named one of the most architecturally beautiful in Europe. Saint Mary isn’t the only church occupied by the University, and it is well worth checking out Christchurch Cathedral. Christchurch is both a chapel and great luncheon hall.  While there is an admission fee to enter Christchurch it is well worth the cost. The grounds are beautifully preserved and the stone work  is immaculate.

It wouldn’t be worth mentioning Oxford without mentioning the Bodleian Library. This impressive collection is home to over twelve million books over the span of five city blocks on Broad Street. It is the second largest library in the country, just after the British Library.

Getting there:
Oxford is less than an hour North-west of London. Trains either depart directly from Paddington Station a quick change through Reading.

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Easter Weekend Island Hopper (III)

The warm waters of the Mediterranean coast into the Aegean Sea separating some six thousand islands between Greece and Turkey. Each island is vastly different from the next.  Some offering sun and fun escapes, others a place of peace and quiet. In a single weekend I managed to spend a day on three incredibly contrasting islands; Mykonos, Rhodes, and Patmos.

SUNDAY
Sunrise through Patmos

Sitting along the beach front of the port town of Skala the sun rises above the islands of Arkoi and Marathos. Peace and tranquility.

I’m looking on at a cafe nearby.

It is Easter Sunday and all the shops and markets are closed. The only life on this tiny island is found in patio tables and chairs that have sprawled out across the road and onto the beach. The canvas umbrellas acting as archways and fold up chairs as pews. A sermon is being delivered. Everyone with a black bible opened chanting as light waves roll back and forth.

Just behind me sits the Monastery of Saint John overlooking Skala.

It seems almost prolific to be spending Easter in such a holy place. So many travelers make the pilgrimage to Patmos. Before this morning I had no idea of the significance this newly Greek Island had on Christianity.

To devote believers, the Book of Revelation represents the allegory of the spiritual path between good and evil. While it could be viewed as an end to the Roman Empire, some see it as a pretext to the end of the world.

It seems so contradictory that this peaceful setting could have been the inspiration to such apocalyptic writing. While on exile, it was in a cave that the vision came to John.

Theologians believe the text to have been written in 95 AD. Nearly a thousand years later Khristodoulos, a devote monk, began work on the Monastery in Hora overlooking Skala. Visitors embarking on their own pilgrimage can still visit the Cave of the Apocalypse and the Monastery with week long celebrations leading up to Easter.

Patmos has hosted more than just Christian pilgrims. With it’s crystal clear waters and isolation it has been a destination to wealthy yachtsmen and backpackers alike. Across the waters a young couple dives into the coral to find there own peace and tranquility.

An unexpected retreat, and a perfect way to end a journey.

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Easter Weekend Island Hopper (II)

The warm waters of the Mediterranean coast into the Aegean Sea separating some six thousand islands between Greece and Turkey. Each island is vastly different from the next.  Some offering sun and fun escapes, others a place of peace and quiet. In a single weekend I managed to spend a day on three incredibly contrasting islands; Mykonos, Rhodes, and Patmos.

SATURDAY
Mid-day in Rhodes

Worn down by age but still as tough as bricks the limestone fortress that surrounds the old town of Rhodes is nothing less than a monument to history. This Doedcanese island was named by UNESCO as a world heritage site for it’s incredible preservation of the Medieval town.

Walking through the Gate d’Amboise, visitors enter a relic in time. Although ancient, the town is still alive. Local kids play soccer in the ruins of the the Church of the Virgin and teenagers drag race old sports cars along the coastal road. Hippokratous Square fountain is surrounded by markets selling everything from ice cream to motorcycle parts and tourist souvenirs. Yet no visit to Rhodes is complete without walking down the Avenue of the Knights.

The history that surrounds the island’s capital is nothing short of fascinating to visitors and commonplace to locals. The island can trace it’s roots back to the Neolithic period of 4000 BC, long before the fortress was built. It has seen minor action in both the Roman and Byzantine Empires. Serving as a port between shipping roots from Alexandria to the respective capitals of Rome and Constantinople. It wasn’t until the fourth and final Crusade that Rhodes became a landmark in time.

For two centuries the Knights Hospitallers occupied the island from fear of persecution of the Knights Templar. In 1480 the fortress was built to withstand invasion, but in 1522 the Ottomans seized the island forcing the Knights Hospitallers to vanish into history. The construction of the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent marked the gateway to the east and the shift in history from Christianity to Muslim rule.

By the twentieth century the Ottoman Empire began to waiver and Italy took advantage of the situation by sending troops to take hold of the old town. Both the Clock-tower and Fort Saint Nicholas siting high above the fortress walls serve as a marker of a new era in Rhodes’s history. The island was bombed during the Second World War by the British Air Force, and shortly there after became a Greek state.

The second largest Greek island in the Aegean Sea is now a living relic for both tourists and historians alike. An entire day can be spent roaming between the walls, lost in the past.

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Easter Weekend Island Hopper (I)

The warm waters of the Mediterranean coast into the Aegean Sea separating some six thousand islands between Greece and Turkey. Each island is vastly different from the next.  Some offering sun and fun escapes, others a place of peace and quiet. In a single weekend I managed to spend a day on three incredibly contrasting islands; Mykonos, Rhodes, and Patmos.

FRIDAY
Sunset over Mykonos

A warm breeze rolls across the waters and weaves its way through the streets of Chora. Passing shopkeepers packing up their wears in wooden baskets into their iconic two-story Venetian style homes. The white exterior flowing from the walls, between the cracks of the stepping stones, up staircases, tracing the path that slowly makes its way up a hill towards Kato Mili.

A once quiet island of barren land unable to grow even an olive branch it wasn’t until the modern times that the little Cyclades island began to thrive.

From Roman to Byzantine to the Ottoman Empires, the island made nor a dent on history. Wealthy families made their mark through the simple architecture but it was not until the Greek revolution that Mykonos became a household name in the Mediterranean. Manto Mavrogenous became something of a local heroine when she gave her family fortune to the cause.

The opening of the Corinth Canal at the turn of the twentieth century made trade routes easier, but lead to a decline to utilize islands, such as Mykonos, as ports. The follow-up of both world wars only added to the economic slump. Following the end of the second world war, Europeans turned to the Greek islands as a hot spot for Vacationing. Mykonos became the up and coming place to both party and relax. As word got out, soon America followed suite.

Today it is hard to imagine this little island ever struggling. From the shores of Little Venice the village is thriving. Tourists glowing from a day basking in the sunlight and browsing the markets head towards town for a night of clubbing. Travelers exit the famous Panagia Paraportiani (The Church of Our Lady) under it’s iconic blue dome. The locals are as warm and friendly as the sunlight, and as calm as the wind that drifts through the famous Venetian flour mills.

As dusk falls the town lights up under a soothing purple haze. You could not ask for a more picturesque setting as our ship departs from Chora’s harbour.

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The Sub-Arctic Tundra

You don’t feel -50 until you feel -50. The air is so dry that not a single wind can be felt. You’re wearing more layers than you’ve ever worn before and the only part of visible flesh underneath it all is the skin around your eyes. So when I hiked up to Pilots monument to get a photo of the city I stupidly took one glove off to capture the city lights shining in the darkness at midday. The result… my fingers being welded to my camera by the unforgiving climate.

Welcome to Yellowknife, North West Territories.

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The Journey:

It’s 4:00am. Partaking in the Canadian tradition, the first stop of any road trip is Timmy’s (Tim Horton’s). It is a 16 hour drive. Most who do the journey between Central Alberta and NWT do the trip in two days. We aimed to do it in one. Packing up the truck we journey into the darkness and head north. It is mid December and we’re headed to the arctic.

After only being on the road for a few hours the sun starts to rise. It is a typical Canadian setting. Herds of Moose and deer seen in clearings between pine trees trudging through the snow. Picturesque. Then we hit ice.

Fishtailing between two vehicles, we loose control and the truck ends up rolling into the snowbanks on the side of the road. The truck sinks in deep. It’s a blaming -30 outside. Without a shovel, we’re digging the truck out with our boots. Unable to start, we have to hitchhike to the nearest town.

What was to be a day’s drive turned to three days as repairs we’re made at a local shop. The engine flooded and the breaks destroyed. Partially restored,  we’re back on the road. Covering a fair distance it isn’t until we reach High Level, Alberta that we run into a snow storm. The blizzard so intense, impossible to see five feet ahead. Total white out. The journey once again set back a few days.

It’s nearly a week by the time we reach the boarder to the Arctic. Civilization abandoned and replaced by nothing but vast wilderness. Wild buffalo line the only highway for miles. By the time we reach Great Slave Lake there is only a few hours until we reach Yellowknife. Sun-dogs shinning over frozen wasteland.

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Climate:

Yellowknife is unofficially known as “The Land of the Midnight Sun”. Which is true of summer. The further north one is in the world, the days are longer. The sun never fully sets, and midnight is just the same as midday.

Winter is the opposite. Nights are long, and you can experience nearly twenty-four hours of darkness. With the sun rising at 10am and setting just before noon… the days truly turn to nights. This makes for some of the best star gazing, and with a bit of luck the Northern Lights just may dance across the sky.

The Aurora Borealis is caused by a disturbance in Earth’s magnetic field from solar storms. Electrons are pushed to the polar regions and the result is a beautiful display of light. To the naked eye they appear at first grey or bluish in colour, the stronger the light the more green it becomes. The sensor inside of a camera picks up on green tones and the result is images that can captivate a world.

What’s In a Name:

250 miles south of the Arctic Circle, Yellowknife sits on the edge of the Great Slave Lake. One of the largest in the world. The name derives from the Dene, who came to be known as the Copper or Yellowknife Indians from trading copper tools with new comers. Shortly after the gold rush in the Yukon took hold was the discovery made in Yellowknife. Although the discovery was made before the turn of the century it wasn’t until the commercialization of aircraft lead to the settlement grew to become the small city it is today. Recently the discovery of diamonds has lead the city away from the decline of the gold rush.

Ice Roads and Log Cabins:

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It is only mid-afternoon but the sky is pitch black. The skyline of Yellowknife disappears in the rear-view mirror, ahead the orange moon rises from the tree line. Somewhere along the way the road changes from gavel to ice. You won’t find these trails on a map.

Ice roads are exactly as they sound. Roads made of ice. In the north, temperatures drop to such extremes that the water particles bind closer together to make any lake a solid structure. Combine a lack of sun (or heat in general) and the lake becomes so strong it can withstand the weight of any vehicle from a passenger car to a semi-truck.

At first I am uneasy about driving a Jeep across a lake as vast as Great Slave, but in time confidence grows as other vehicles zoom past. Navigating across open water we’re in search of a cabin tucked into a small bay belonging to a friend of a friend.

Unhitching the snowmobile we send out a scout into the darkness. Hours later the headlight shines across the white canvas towards us. Cabin found, he informs us the ice is to thin around the dock. Loading up the supplies onto the snowmobile, we try and distribute the weight as we follow behind on foot leaving the jeep behind.

Unaware of the time, I keep searching for the Aurora. If I am to ever see it it would be tonight.

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First Nations Culture and Dog Sleds:

After having spent over two weeks in the north, including being one of the last time zones to welcome in the new year we have word that the truck has now been repaired and we can safely make the journey back home.

All week I’ve missed the sun. It’s unusual to say you’ve slept in only a few hours and the sun is already setting in the east. There is just one last thing I have to experience before I go. I have to know what it is like to drive a dog-sled.

Before horses we’re introduced to North America, the Inuit and First Nations relied heavily on dog-sleds not only just as a means of transportation, but as a way of life. Huskies and Malamutes run everything from a fresh hunt of caribou or sea-food to people. Today you can take a quick run across the ice with either Beck’s Kennel Tours or Enodah Kennels.

Contrary to popular belief, these dogs cannot roll up and down mountainsides and you do not give voice commands such as “Mush”. The dogs simply run, they do not pull the wight of the sled let alone your own weight. It is really basic physics at work. And like any sort of vehicle, the sled has a break.

After some basic training a snowmobile takes you and the dogs out onto the lake and you do a short circle around the peninsula. Standing at the back of the sled with your feet only resting on the back of the ski’s with a metal break in-between. The only thing holding you in place is yourself as you grip the sled. The cold air rushing past you. In no time at all you wrap around and the dogs head back home.

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Epilogue:

In comparison to the journey to the Sub-Arctic, the journey home was warm, mild, and completed in just a day. Driving the same road back you can’t help but comprehend how nature can so dramatically change a landscape. The lesson learned may have been not to travel to the land of the midnight sun during total darkness… but then I would not have had a story to tell.

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BritBound Gets Around

When I applied for my UK Working Holiday visa I did so through a Canadian company called SWAP. The company then in turn transferred me to their UK partner, BritBound. I wasn’t given any further information other than I was to attend an introduction meeting when I landed in London.

I had no idea who or what BritBound was. Just around the corner under the bridge from Putney Station is Hurlington Garden Studios. It’s the correct address but I was still lost. Asking for directions I was told down the hall and the last door on my right. Further and further down the corridor I went until I came to the last door.

I’m greeted by the friendliest Australian bogan you’ve ever met. The sign says BritBound but Australian flags, southern crosses, kangaroos and boxes upon boxes of fosters decorate the room. I must the wrong place. Somehow I think I’ve been signed-up for some kind of program aimed at getting Brits to Australia. They take my name and I quietly sit down. Maybe I should just go along with it.

It isn’t until another kid like me comes through the door that I catch on. I am in the right place… it just happens to be Australia Day. More and more kids enter and eventually the initial meeting takes place. Informative, but just as entertaining the Aussie walks us through life in the UK from mobiles, banks, taxes, flat sharing, oysters, and most importantly… the social calendar.

When immigrating to another country… even if you do speak the language it is critical to do your research to set up your new life. What is often overlooked is how important having a group of like minded people is. This is my second time immigrating to a new country so I am well aware what toll it can take on your psyche. What was missing the last time I immigrated, this time I found with BritBound; A community.

Slowly overtime I started to make friends with people from all walks of life… in New Zeland. Nearly everyone I met was Kiwi (save for an Aussie or German for good measure). We’d get together and do a BritBound event such as a pub night or Cards Against Humanity. They introduced me to Rugby, rant about John Keys, NZ films that weren’t Lord of the Rings, meat pies and lamingtons. I in turn dragged them to Canada Day.

At times a photo of the northern lights over the mountains would pop up on my Facebook news feed and I’d miss home. Or I’d loose all my money to paying a bond on a flat, and I’d question why I was even in London in the first place. Instead of looking at flights back to Canada I’d look at what events were going on at BritBound and give my mates a call.

All to fast, my two years in London came to an end. While I miss the city for what it was… I was heartbroken to say goodbye to everyone I met along the way. That’s what Britbound was to me, and so many others who came before and after. A group of people so close they became family.

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From Russia with Love (VII)

MOSCOW
Part II

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Morning Breaks and winter sets in. The wind tears strait through you and chills you to the bone. It’s the last day in Russia. A part of you wants to get out and take in as much of the city before the plane departs… the other is to damn cold to care

It’s only been a few hours, but here we are, back in Red Square We cross the bridge and enter into the epicenter of Russian authority, The Kremlin.

It is an interesting mix, every building within the red fortress is a testament of each era Russian history. Inside of this diplomatic jungle are five grand palaces, former homes of the czars, and four white Italian style churches with golden domes. The cathedral of Dormition became the epicenter for the crowning of the czars. Even Ivan the Great made his mark with the bell tower. After the revolution, Lenin occupied the fortress and Stalin had the double headed eagle replaced with ruby crystal stars on each of the towers. Newer buildings were constructed in the 1960’s under Khrushchev’s rule, and most recently a helipad by Vladimir Putin.

Moscow has two famous churches. One is Saint Basil’s. It’s on every Lonely Planet Guide cover and everyone’s Instagram picture. The other, although large in stature, is often overlooked.  And it is just a incredibly short walk from the Kremlin.

Cathedral of Christ the Savior is comparable to Saint Paul’s in London, and the Vatican itself. As a practicing church, photography is not permitted. It’s a slight shame as the church is incredibly beautiful. Almost blasphemous my first words when I entered was “Holly shit!”, which was then followed by a “Jesus Christ!” from the boys in the back. The paintings on the ceiling are some of the finest works of art I have ever seen, and above the pews in the dome floats an image of god. The church is immense, almost indescribable. Only ten years old, it is remodeled after the original was destroyed under Stalin’s rule. The first Cathedral was built after Napoleon’s defeat and the inspiration to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

As it is the last day, the aim is to see as much of Moscow as we can. Having lived in London I don’t understand why we need a tour of the underground. After nearly two years I had the tube map memorized and I was pretty much a walking TfL. As we descend. I take back everything I said.

The Metro is like no other. Chandeliers, mosaics, stain glass, bronze statues, polished marble. While most cities treat public transportation as an afterthought, Stalin aimed to create a the underground as a symbol of the new socialist order. While not entirely impossible to navigate, it is hard not to stop in the middle of the crowd and admire the art work. From station to station, no two are alike.

Outside of Gorky park we board the bus. Whizzing past the statue of the Superman, Yuri Gagarin – the first man in space, past the homes of politicians that housed statesmen such as Gorbachev and strait to the University. We loop around the city past the office towers and we come to a stop at Arbat Prospect, Moscow’s central market. We’ve reached the end of the tour, now it is time to exit through the gift shop.

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Guest Post

One of the best things about traveling is meeting like minded people. The same is true of the post travel-writing world. Recently I’ve had a guest spot on the brilliant site Solaris Traveler.

From Russia With Love

As a journalist, Janos Gal, has brought together his passion for travel in a comprehensive website for any travel enthusiast.

I would highly recommend reading through his adventures!

Solaris Traveller

From his bio: