On Saturday I took a trip to Cambridge from London, with the intention of seeing a new place that was close enough that I wouldn’t feel guilty to bail on the heaps of work that sat on my desk at home, but far enough that it was distinct from the London hustle and bustle.
I signed up for this trip through a student society at the LSE called Itchy Feet, which plans and organises trips both within the UK and around Europe. Considering a large proportion of LSE students are international, there is sufficient interest in travelling, and need for a group of people to do it with. Itchy Feet checks both boxes.
So, at 9:30 am on a Saturday morning, I hurried over to King’s Cross station, both excited and exhausted, reeling from the toll this week had taken on me. Being on the precipice of Reading Week, I wondered if this was the best way to be spending my time. Right, because when I have a full week off is when I really find the need to closely budget my time. Makes sense.
Soon enough, I was on the 10:15 am train with other eager travellers. I decided to go on this trip without friends – and I cannot tell you what a good decision that was. When you’re at the LSE, your friends make up 80% of your student experience. This is why it is crucial for you to spend some time apart, for your own personal development. Travelling ‘alone’ is also the best opportunity to meet new people and make lifelong connections — which is one of the hallmarks of the LSE experience.
The first thing on the agenda in Cambridge was the quintessential punting. We piled into punts (boats, basically), and our punter (I think that’s what they’re called?) was a young, friendly Cambridge resident. It was a perfect Autumn day, sunny without heat, cool without wind. The air was fresh and smelled like Fall: I breathed deeply and sank lower into the punt. Punting was the ideal way to start our day. Our punt lulled along the lazy waters of Cambridge, and I battled the urge to nap. We passed through a few of the 31 (yes, thirty-one) colleges of the University of Cambridge, revelling in the history and architecture.
We enjoyed a fresh slice of pizza and then split up, each following our heart’s interests. I decided to venture off on my own, my only faith being in that Google Maps would guide me back (in hindsight, I should have charged my phone longer if that was my only faith). My first stop was a bookstore called David’s Bookshop, an establishment that has been around since 1896. It contained a beautiful collection of literature; I cannot put in words what it felt like holding a first edition Jane Eyre. My eyes began to well up, and I realised that is the thing about passion — what you love will never let you down. I was so happy to have ventured out and taken this trip to nourish my soul. A place that Newton, Turing, Nabokov, Hughes, and several other accomplished alumni called home, it was everything you would expect: imposing buildings, manicured lawns, and skies that never seemed to end. Sitting down alone in a garden near Trinity Hall, I felt completely relaxed. Cambridge is meditative in that regard: completely silent, like loud laughter might make the city crumble. It was rather unsurprising, then, the volume of innovation that has stemmed from the University, but also made me think of the dark side – whether the constant silence and maintained grandeur of the establishment might not drive the best and brightest to a place of despondency.
The rest of the day was spent wandering, an exercise I highly recommend. Get lost in the city. Pop into shops that look cute. If someone looks friendly and local, try and strike up a conversation so you can get an authentic insight into the life in the city. This goes for anywhere, including and especially London.
For postgraduate students, most of you will have only one year in the city, and that is definitely not enough time. London is big, bustling, and diverse enough, let alone venturing outside the city, so you have to make the most of the time you have here. It reminds me of a line from the poem If by Rudyard Kipling (there was also one, early edition version of this poem pinned up in the bookshop):
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”
Apart from the ‘Man and son’ bit, this quote rang so true to me as I sat overwhelmed in the century old bookshop an hour away from London. The minute is unforgiving – it forces you to exert choice on how to spend it, and is over all too quickly. But this also teaches a more important lesson: don’t sweat the small stuff. LSE is hard, fun, social, and stimulating, and it is a given that you cannot have it all. So do your best to strike a balance, and most importantly, put yourself and your health first. You cannot live fully until you live healthily.
As the train back towards King’s Cross sped through the night, I sat back and finally closed my eyes. It was a day I had needed, and one that I had enjoyed. I felt invigorated to start a new week. As I got off at King’s Cross — I breathed deeply again, but this time was met with cigarette smoke, aromas from local delicatessens, and pollution. I smiled. I was finally home.