Captivating Cambridge

Market Cake, AirBNB, and a Magical Piece of Cheese

The Beatles Suite at The Edgewater Seattle

For a hotel and Beatles junkie, this was pretty much as good as it gets.

Nessie, Inverness, and the Left Side of the Road

Exploring The Highlands of Scotland.

London Calling

18 Hours with Her Majesty

Captivating Cambridge: Scones, Cathedrals, and Punting, Oh My!

"Wear your tennis shoes. It's a 6 mile walk round-trip."

Nothing about this text surprised me. If the first 24 hours in Cambridge were any indication, 6 miles of walking was going to be a light day. But in the early morning haze, before my daily coffee walk could offset the lingering effects of Greene King IPA, I was still a little puzzled.

The night before, MJ told me that we were starting the day with tea and scones at a place called The Orchard. I distinctly remembered her describing what promised to be the finest scones I'd ever tasted. I distinctly remembered her describing the clotted cream and the different varieties of local jams. I distinctly remembered her describing The Orchard itself, and how we'd take our tea among the apple trees. And I distinctly remembered her describing the pub we would hit afterwards for some midday fortification.

I did not remember her describing a 6 mile trek.

As we set off through the fens, along the same path I'd partially walked the day before, it all started coming back to me. Somewhere between clotted cream and afternoon pubbing I had managed to tune out the distance involved. Not that it mattered, because even at a distance of 60 miles, it still would have been worth every step.

The Orchard was exactly as MJ had described it: A charming tea room in the village of Granchester, whose peaceful apple orchard has been a popular destination for locals and Cambridge students since 1897. In that time, The Orchard has been visited by everyone from Stephen Hawking and A.A. Milne, to King George VI and his grandson the Prince of Wales.

From my shady lounger beneath an apple tree, time seemed to move a little slower, giving way to a cat nap which rivaled my snooze the day before in the Botanical Garden. On the other hand, my tastebuds were moving at Warp 6 thanks to the deliciousness on my plate that was even better than advertised. Whether you're wearing a Nobel Prize, the Crown Jewels, or a worn out pair of Toms, at The Orchard you come for the atmosphere, but stay for the scones.

After a short stroll to The Green Man - your run of the mill pub that predates the Civil War, found in your run of the mill building that predates the Revolution...

We wandered back to town, past your run of the mill game of adult bumper ball soccer...

And your run of the mill family of swans...

Before ending at your run of the mill giant skillet of mashed potatoes.

Call it your run of the mill Cambridge afternoon.

The next morning we took a short train ride to Ely, a town whose history reads something like a collection of credit scores. Founded in 673, the village was destroyed by Danish invaders in 870, and then rebuilt by the Bishop of Winchester in 970. All of which makes me wonder how American historians manage to sit through conferences with their U.K. colleagues. It must be such a drag listening to them toss around all of that three-digit-year history so nonchalantly. But I digress...

The Ely Cathedral is older than both Notre Dame and Westminster Abbey and is no less majestic than its illustrious counterparts. The history of the Cathedral reads a little like the town itself: Built in 1083, the building suffered a calamity in 1322 when the central tower collapsed into the sanctuary below. The tower was rebuilt in the shape of an octagon, this time using enormous wooden beams. This no doubt gave the Cathedral the distinction of being the first and largest Tinker Toy building on the planet.

Climbing to the top of the tower is both terrifying and thrilling. There's a few spiral stone staircases which are barely wider than the average human, doors that would cause my 5 year old nephew to duck, and the general knowledge that the wooden beams suspending you in the air are roughly 800 years old. If you can manage to block all of that out, however, the views from the top one of a kind.

Safely back on solid ground, the next few days were a collection of little moments which all seemed to fit in the category of quintessential Cambridge. Such as...

The pub that we entered by hopping a wall in a cemetery...

The mini-donuts and fireworks at "The Big Event"...

The elusive Hot Numbers Coffee Stout...

The risotto with a view at Galleria...

And the view from Great St. Mary's Church.

But of all the quintessentially Cambridge activities, there was one written in Sharpie at the top of my to-list: Punting.

One part wooden jon boat, another part Venetian gondola, punting along the River Cam has been a tradition in the city for over a hundred years. In a place like Cambridge, that's still a relatively young tradition, but one look at the number of punts gliding down the river and it's clear this is arguably the city's most popular attraction.

It's certainly one of the most entertaining.

Think of it like the Cambridge version of the Living with The Land ride at Epcot. Except instead of the narrator talking about hydroponic gardens, the punt captain is telling a variety of tales about the city and its famous colleges. Deciphering whether those stories are actually true or not is half the fun, and becomes even more entertaining if you've brought the proper provisions. Like, for example, a Chelsea Bun and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

When MJ asked what I wanted to see when I joined her in Cambridge, my answer was pretty simple: I wanted to see her Cambridge. The city that has become part of her identity, the city that she loves more than any other, and the city that she longs to return to the moment she leaves. From Market Cake and life changing scones to a magical piece of cheese and punting, I came away from Cambridge with a great sample of what makes the city special. And yet, it was still just a sample.

Enjoy Your Stay

Captivating Cambridge: Market Cake, AirBNB, and a Magical Piece of Cheese

"You had Market Cake without me? That was against the rules!"

I knew all of the nicknames. Market Cake. Bicycle Bakery. Lemonade Guy. Falafel Truck. The list of MJ's favorite purveyors of delicious bites in Cambridge was anything but short, yet she had plans to introduce me to them all during my first visit to the city she's called home for 2 of the last 13 months.

After exploring Cambridge both on my own and on foot to the tune of 9 miles, I just happened to find myself in the city's outdoor market with a ravenous appetite. I scarfed down a hearty fried egg sandwich from one of the vendors and then roamed the stalls in search of something sweet. Soon I stumbled onto a booth serving up a variety of cakes and gooey brownies, with the first bite of the latter releasing every ounce of serotonin in my body.

It wasn't until much later that I realized my egregious error: This was Market Cake.

Should I have clued in that a guy selling cake in the market might actually be the dude affectionately known as Market Cake? Absolutely. Was I sorry? 

Not in the slightest.

Thanks to this introduction, I realized pretty quickly that Cambridge was my kind of place. Any town where a guy pedals the avenues selling sweets from a table strapped to his bicycle is certainly OK by me. But this was just the beginning of the long list of things that I, too, would come to love about this city.

For starters, Cambridge provided me with the first real excuse to try AirBNB. As a self-proclaimed hotel junkie, AirBNB was never really on my "to do" list. That is until I tried to find a hotel in Cambridge on the same weekend that prospective students flock to town to tour the university.

Enter my gracious host, Rikako, and her flat on Orchard Street.

Any trepidation to the notion of crashing in a stranger's guestroom vanished when I told MJ the address of where I'd be staying. As it turned out, Orchard was among her favorite streets in the city, and it was easy to see why. Orchard, it seemed, was the very definition of charming.

The same could be said of Rikako and my home for the first three nights in town. Besides the great location, the room and bath were clean and comfortable and I slept like a log each evening. Most importantly, the experience showed me the beauty of AirBNB, and my pocketbook was certainly thankful. If you're traveling solo and need a place in Cambridge, be sure to look up Rikako. Something tells me that she and I will cross paths again in the future.

The next day's 5 a.m. sunrise brought with it the beginning of my solo expedition of Cambridge. MJ's advice for the day was pretty simple: Go get lost. 

So I did...

As appealing as the idea of wandering the city aimlessly was, there was one place that I knew had to be my first stop. You see, for over a year I'd endured the stories and pictures of the famous Chelsea Buns at Fitzbillies. Given my affection for all things pastry, there was no question what I was having for breakfast. That is until I actually arrived at Fitzbillies and discovered they also served pancakes with Chelsea Bun syrup. Sooo I had both.

Sufficiently fueled by a mixture of sugar and caffeine, I followed a path to the south along the River Cam and soon found myself wandering through a series of fields known as the "fens." Once an expansive marsh, the fens were drained centuries ago to provide more arable farmland for Cambridgeshire and the surrounding counties. Today they make for an interesting green-space in the city, with livestock roaming just as freely as the humans.

After dodging cow patties in the fens, I made my way over to King's Parade where I dodged an even greater abundance of tourists. But enduring the crowds was a small price to pay for the rare opportunity to visit many of the historic colleges that make up Cambridge University. From manuscripts by Sir Issac Newton - and a descendant of his famous apple tree - to the mind-boggling King's Chapel, the colleges are one spectacular sight after another. And yet I came away feeling as if I'd only scratched the surface.

As morning turned to afternoon, the need for both my mid-day iced coffee, and an escape from the busloads of tourists and prospective students, became difficult to ignore. I found both just down the street at Hot Numbers and the Fitzwilliam Museum. The former served a killer cold brew among the best I've ever had, which I later discovered is used for an equally delicious coffee stout. The Fitzwilliam, meanwhile, provided a complimentary and quiet retreat from the crowds with a host of comfy chairs to soak in their Impressionist masterpieces.

Fully relaxed but once again amped with iced coffee, I set off for the Cambridge Botanical Garden. It was here that I finally embraced MJ's advice and got fully lost on the paths that weave their way through this oasis. It was also here that I decided my legs needed some rest, and a random bench next to a fountain and under a tree seemed like just the place. 45 minutes later, I woke up from one of the most epic naps in history.

Although dinner time was fast approaching, it was about now that I made the ill-fated detour that led to the so-greasy-it-soaks-through-the-bag brownies known as Market Cake. But as amazing as the Market Cake and Chelsea Buns might have been, nothing could have prepared me for the amazing-ness which awaited at The Free Press pub.

But first, a word on the pub itself...

The Free Press has been around for roughly 125 years and gets its name from a short stint as a printing house for a local newspaper. While I'm not much on phrases like 'hidden gem' and 'proper pub,' both would aptly apply here. The Press also happens to be an office of sorts for MJ during her sojourns in Cambridge, and during my initial visit to her home away from home she had me try something which made me question everything I knew to be right in the world.

It looked like chicken, tasted like chicken, and had the texture of chicken. Only it wasn't chicken... It was cheese. I quickly learned that this slice of voodoo magic was called Halloumi, prompting me to place an international call to a specialty grocer back home to see if they carried it. They do, not that this news kept me from consuming my body weight in Halloumi over the next week as if I'd never see it again.

The sun was fading over the chimneys of Orchard Street as this marathon day came to a close. I'd explored and ate my way from one end of Cambridge to the other, getting to know a little of this city that is dear to MJ's heart. As I slowly sauntered down the empty street, comfortably stuffed with Halloumi and Greene King IPA, I was pretty sure that I was starting to get it. There would be much more to see and eat in the coming days, but it was already plain to see that Cambridge is a truly special place.

Enjoy Your Stay

Adventures with Uncle Deej - Bug on the High Seas

I've said it before and I'll say it again... Becoming an uncle for the first time was one of the most rewarding items on the benefits package included in the contract with my wife. Over the last decade, we've had some great adventures with our niece, from birthday celebrations at Cirque du Soliel to a somewhat impromptu trip to Disney on Christmas Eve. But now that she's a bona-fide teenager, MJ and I are at last able to treat Bug, as she's affectionately known, to some of the more grand adventures that we've often dreamed about.

For three years running, we've set sail aboard the Brilliance of the Seas during the week of Thanksgiving. This cruise has become a new favorite tradition of ours - one which has sadly come to an end due to Royal Caribbean schedule changes, but I digress. Last year, in between the 47 rounds of putt putt while cruising with our nephew, Old Sport, I slipped into the Next Cruise office and booked another Adventure with Uncle Deej. Only this time, it was Bug's turn.

We waited until the summer to tell Bug there was a trip forthcoming, knowing that a year's worth of anticipation would border on cruel and unusual punishment. Naturally, being the loving uncle that I am, I decided the best way to share where we were heading was through a rudimentary game of Carmen Sandiego. Soon our text thread was filled with near daily requests for clues, which were duly replied with obscure geographic references as well as one lengthy and riveting discussion on latitude and longitude. Given that Bug is exponentially smarter than me, I'm taking the fact that it took many rounds of clues as proof of the game's success.

In what seemed like both an eternity and the blink of an eye, the weeks and months of excitement eventually gave way to the cheesy welcome aboard photograph.

Just as we learned the previous year with Old Sport, cruising with a teenager is a very different world than the one MJ and I are typically accustomed. For starters, I had to lug an entire carry on bag worth of books onto the ship. You see, Bug reads at roughly the pace of a book an hour, so this was just to tide her over during the two sea days. Somewhere among all of those clues, I probably should have told her the ship has a library.

Another key difference... When Old Sport wandered into a gift shop, he'd guilt me into buying an inflatable cruise ship or a Royal Caribbean magic marker. Bug's meanderings, on the other hand, had the potential to be far more costly. I learned this lesson not three minutes after stepping onboard the Brilliance, thanks to her visit to the Next Cruise office to pick up brochures for a 28 day trans-pacific cruise to Australia.

Once I convinced her to put the brochures away, we spent most of the afternoon before cast-off eating exploring our way around the ship. In the year that had passed between visits, I had forgotten just how much I missed the 3pm visit to Cafe Lattitudes.

Shortly after sail away, I learned a couple more valuable lessons about traveling with teenagers. The first is that they have both an aversion to the camera and a spidey-sense that alerts them to employ a host of creative face-covering tactics anytime a picture is being taken. Hence why my camera roll is filled with a variety of photos like this...

The second thing I learned about traveling with teenagers is that their outward displays of excitement are.. shall I say, mostly non-existent. For example.. On our way down to Tampa, Bug mentioned that she really hoped we saw dolphins at some point during the cruise. Wouldn't you know that roughly 10 minutes after cast-off, a group of dolphins came jumping right by the ship. The reaction: A slight shrug of the shoulders. Then there was the much anticipated pass under the Skyway Bridge. Same thing. Although, I probably should have expected that one. The anticipation was really all mine and, after all, it's just a bridge.
Over the next several days, however, I managed to catch a glimpse of countless moments that could have been mistaken for excitement, as well as a number of those elusive hands-free photos. We had one such sighting while waiting on some dock runners in Key West...

Then there was this...

She seemed to take to bartering in Cozumel...

As well as some wacky exfoliation...

And really, who wouldn't smile at this view?..

But nothing brought out that rare teenager excitement quite like her appearance on the morning show. Which bears some explanation...

Every morning, the cruise and activities directors, Jerome and Flavio, aired their own version of the Today Show discussing all of the fun things scheduled that day. During the show, they read various "shout outs" which guests were invited to leave in a box in the atrium. These are usually birthday wishes, random questions, etc. After day one there were no shout-outs submitted, so Jerome and Flavio encouraged guests to "ask us anything." Bug took this as a challenge and proceeded to deposit half a dozen questions, all of which they read the next morning. The next day we were so busy chowing down in Rita's Cantina, she didn't get her questions submitted before the cut-off time. Of course, neither did anyone else, which prompted this response on the next day's morning show...

After exploring Cozumel, we spent the afternoon stalking searching for one of these gents so Bug could make a proper introduction. We eventually found Flavio, who suggested we meet he and Jerome that evening outside of Bug's favorite place...The Next Cruise office. It seemed that this girl, who just a few days before had an aversion to the camera, was now set to make her debut on the small screen.

Her "shout-out" that day?... A request to play Frosty the Snowman on the atrium piano, which Jerome and Flavio were happy to oblige.

As is always the case with these adventures with Bug, to say we were sad to see it come to an end would be an understatement. And as the sun slipped over the horizon for the final time aboard the Brilliance, a famous line from Hamilton played on repeat in my mind.
"Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now."

Then again, any onset of post-trip depression would have to wait for a different day, because another magical adventure was awaiting us back onshore.

Enjoy Your Stay

Adventures with Uncle Deej - Old Sport Goes to Disney

Over the last several years, I've learned quite a bit about myself while navigating the uncharted waters of uncle-hood. Perhaps the most glaring piece of wisdom I've obtained is the unsettling realization that I make terrible deals with my niece & nephew. Read: Paid $50 to skip a 90-minute line for the Haunted Mansion. Worst of all, I think these two are wise to my awful bartering skills and exploit it anytime they can. But, as the President-Elect will surely attest, there's positive spin to almost every lousy deal. In this case, one of these slippery negotiations with Old Sport led to a weekend at Disney among the best in recent memory.

The scene was a late summer evening in the Magic Kingdom. After a day filled with tiki birds, corny jokes on the Amazon, and a magical magnetized train, it was time for Old Sport and his parents to head for home. Meanwhile, his Aunt MJ and I had a date with the new Abracadabar at The Boardwalk before collapsing in our room at The Dolphin. Naturally, this news brought an unbearable bout of sadness from Old Sport, and one of those infamous negotiations...

"I want to stay at the Dolphin with you, Uncle Deej." (Mumbled while rubbing eyes for full effect)

"Tell you what Old Sport, I'll make a deal with you.. Between now and Christmas, Aunt MJ and I will bring you to Disney, just the two of us, and we'll stay at The Dolphin. Deal?"

"Deal." (Still mumbled while rubbing eyes for full effect)

Given that this kid has never once forgotten anything, especially the specific terms of any transaction with him, I booked our room the following morning with both great anticipation and a dash of terror.

Why the terror? Well, I've said it countless times before... Parents with kids visit a Disney with which I'm completely unfamiliar. And yet, here we were diving headfirst into that alternative universe.

On the flipside of that coin... Taking Old Sport to Disney and spoiling him rotten is something we've looked forward to since the day he booked a ticket with the stork. Based on the fact that we arrived to find him sitting on his luggage in his driveway, I'd say he shared the sentiment.

After a journey consisting of 109 questions - 42 "Can we ___'s" and 67 "Are we there yet's" - we arrived at The Dolphin, setting Old Sport's dancing feet into overdrive.

Next stop... Epcot, where Rapunzel was waiting at the gate to give him a proper welcome.

One of the pearls of wisdom my brother gave me before departing was to establish early on how many gift shops Old Sport would get to visit. The consequence for not doing so would likely be "Uncle Deej, can we go in that store?" followed by disappointment when the idea is shot down. While waiting in line for my afternoon iced coffee, Old Sport found a gaping loophole in the 2 store limit I'd previously imposed. The pin kiosk...

Next the dancing feet took us to Figment, where Old Sport proceeded to tell me everything that would happen next on the ride. I told you.. The kid doesn't forget anything.

After a brief stop at the magical fountain thingy's outside of Figment - Ok, Ok.. Journey Into Imagination -  we were off to The Land for dinner at Garden Grill. The next hour or so for Old Sport went something like...

Bite of Food
Talk to Mickey
Bite of Food
Talk to Pluto... You get the picture.

This was only my 2nd time at Garden Grill and each was an unexpectedly good experience. I say unexpectedly because this place seems to fly under my radar, and given we had no issue getting a reservation with less than 30 days notice, perhaps I'm not alone. Good food, great characters, and a revolving restaurant which, as Old Sport put it, is also a ride.. A great combination.

Finally, it was time for the main event... Soarin'. As you can see, he was a little excited...

This has long been one of my favorite rides at Disney, but this time was different.. Seated in the far right section, with Old Sport to my left clutching my arm for support, I found myself watching his reactions for most of the ride as opposed to the movie. Then I did something I've never done before.. I looked around at all of the other people dangling from this giant Erector set. Wouldn't you know, their reactions were all the same as his. Whether they were young, old, or too-cool-for-school teenagers, their expressions were all the same: Sheer joy.

Yeah, I cried a bit.

So earlier when I mentioned that this trip brought a dash of fear, roughly 92.7% of that concern centered around one thing... The stroller. To put it mildly, crowds aren't exactly my thing. Toss in the need to push around a Mini-Cooper through World Showcase during Food & Wine and you've got the Deej-equivalent of a root canal. Thankfully, we all survived and made it to The Boardwalk at a perfect time...

The next morning, our itinerary consisted of just two events. The first is my own tradition unlike any other... The morning walk for coffee. I didn't think Old Sport would quite appreciate the majesty of these few minutes, but it seems he's got more of his uncle in him than I'd presumed.

Of the 42 "Can we____" questions we received on the way down, 29 of them were "Can we play putt-putt." I will be the first to admit that my brother and I have brainwashed Old Sport to love a few things that are dear to us. Anything related to the game of golf is, quite naturally, at the top of that list. And so, the final stop of our first solo adventure was the Winter Summerland putt putt...

As we made our way home, with Old Sport soundly asleep in the backseat, I found myself filled with both pride and a sobering realization. Four years have passed since I wrote the first Adventure with Uncle Deej on the day he was born. Time is absolutely zooming by, and I desperately want it to slow down. And yet, to paraphrase Hamilton, I know the only way to get to the next grand Adventure is for the world to keep on spinning.

Another of those terrible deals that I'll just have to accept.

Enjoy Your Stay