city slicker Cambridge

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The Independent Culture
The city without a cathedral, home to countless scholars and split by the river Cam, Cambridge is bracing itself for the annual onslaught of students as hundreds of undergraduates descend upon its numerous colleges

Town and gown: This particular distinction permeates every facet of society in Cambridge. The city is geographically dominated by the university, by virtue of the fact that it basically owns it all. The plus side of this is the overwhelming beauty of the city's architecture. Take a stroll down the Backs (the backs of the colleges) and experience the awesome sight of Trinity, St John's, King's and Clare Colleges, to name a few. The downside is that the university's cultural and political dominance of Cambridge has largely estranged the townsfolk. Many inhabitants feel that too much of the city's energies are geared towards its scholastic lifestyle, which benefits the large number of visiting students, but not the residents.

Wheel power: Why not buy a bicycle? To say that this is the preferred mode of transport would be an understatement. The brave inhabitants of Cambridge have no qualms about careering around the city on bikes. Bicycles of all shapes and sizes complement the serene settings of Cambridge, and one can easily imagine that students and inhabitants of the city have risked physical injury for hundreds of years in the same time-honoured fashion. Bicycles also offer the perfect eco-friendly method of travelling around the vast and beautiful and flat countryside that surrounds the city.

Punting down the Cam: This is one traditional pastime that has to be tried, and offers the perfect opportunity to impress your friends with your punting skills. Anyone attempting to meander along the river should be aware that avoiding fellow punters requires greater skill than negotiating any natural obstacles. But an unscheduled bath is bad news, as swallowing even a few drops of the toxic Cam water can make you horribly ill. Individuals with an aversion to public ignominy and 24 hours of gruesome retching can hire a chauffeur-driven model for a few extra pounds.

Night life: The Town and Gown distinction is cast aside while Cambridge's nocturnally inclined citizens conduct a city-wide search for late-night entertainment. The Blue Boar public house offers more than a traditional straw-covered country pub and plays host to the trendier socialites in Cambridge. If you merely require a good honest pint then have no fear, there are plenty of pubs and bars around the city centre. The best student-organised events usually take place in the "cellars". These venues were originally storage cellars for the university but now house the majority of student events. All tastes are catered for in the midst of these dark, highly-charged nightspots. There are few pretensions here... you go to the cellars for the cutting edge of music.

Where not to go: Cambridge Cathedral... it doesn't exist. It remains a mystery, at least to this journalist, why the powers that be call Cambridge a city despite its lack of the necessary geographical credentials. Perhaps the University is more powerful than we initially feared.

Things not to do: Don't mention Oxford. Oxbridge rivalries are as intense as ever. While in Cambridge, it is only polite to mention that city in whispered tones... and then only if you are recommending Oxford as a prospective dump for nuclear waste, or Cambridge have recently won the boat race.