Sitting behind two 20-year-olds as the train churns back to London, I am not envious of the school life they tried to leave behind for the day.
They aren’t close friends—do their studies even allow it?—yet they perfectly understand what the other is going through.
“I have so much to do; I haven’t even started on the presentation,” the female passenger said, trying not to let it get in the way of her Saturday plans.
“How long does it have to be, like 20 minutes?” the male said sipping a Peroni, pushing the thought to the back of his mind.
Just as his classmate raised her eyebrows and gasped after hearing “20 minutes” the young man said, “I think only like five to 10 actually. I haven’t started either.”
This must be a common conversation heard on the 108, give or take, train trips from Cambridge to London every day. Students coast between school weeks, trading the 12th-century college town for the capital’s never-ending distractions.
Back on the River Cam, long, wooden boats float along the “backs” of the elite campuses: King’s, Trinity, St. John’s. Trees are mostly brown, stripped of their leaves as the Sun sits south of the celestial equator, but the back lawns and front courts are exquisite shades of green.
After fueling up with a porchetta sandwich at the aptly-named Bread & Meat, I cut over to King’s Parade, walk through a “peace for cheese” protest (yes, cheese) and slowly come to a halt as I enter the gate of King’s College: a vaulted Chapel is on my right— the grandeur of gothic style—a yellow-stoned hall sits to my left and a three-story, silver-gray building faces me. I’m in a scene from Harry Potter and in the presence of King Henry VIII.
With a pebbled path underfoot and punters plunging their way down the River Cam, I relish in the short walk north to Trinity College. A month before his death in December 1546, King Henry VIII founded the campus with the intention of it becoming the largest college in the University. Today it is exactly that: the biggest of all 31 colleges.
Inside the Great Court, I follow cobblestones through grass squares. The Chapel, built under the reigns of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, cradles the campus like an adoring mother. On my way towards a practicing choir, I imagine Sir Isaac Newton in his room, observing the Great Court, solving equations and thinking like no one had before.
My mind continues to wander, not in a hurried way or with expectations of reaching a certain point. Someone emerges from a staircase, treading lightly in the footsteps of Lord Macaulay, listening to William Wordsworth in the wind. Charles Darwin cups a beetle in his hand, asking me to come and see.