While I was at Cambridge this past weekend, I was able to view a university that was actually in session. That meant that only a handful of colleges were open to the public, but it also meant that we were able to glean a little bit of the atmosphere of the university. We were able to slip into a lunchtime performance by a fantastic string quartet, dodge cyclers who were racing off to their lectures, have a punting adventure in the afternoon, and when it started getting cold, pop into a crowded cafe and pick up some hot chocolate. It was a really interesting couple of days, and part of that was the proximity of the visit to my reading of Gaudy Night. The setting of the piece is really what makes it unique; Sayer’s insider descriptions create a tangible, yet romanticized view of the college. The reader almost feels a sense of otherworldliness, that the world of Oxford and academia is disconnected to the one in which we live. However, what really struck me on my visits to both Oxford and Cambridge is how normal they are, considering that they’ architecture is amazing and some of the greatest thinkers in the world attended. In the end, the students are really people and lead similar lives to mine. So while I was able to match up certain experiences of mine with those of Harriet Vane, the visits actually showed me the realistic side of the colleges as opposed to the fantastic portrayal in Gaudy Night.