Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Back to York

Well, we’ve fallen behind a little in the blog updates, but we’ve completed a few so they should be coming rather thick and fast over the next few weeks to get back up to date. Over the last month we’ve been travelling around Europe, but are now back in Leeds for the last few weeks of Uni. So, cast your minds back if you will to six weeks or so ago, when winter was still in the air.

After our first trip to York, we decided to go back and have another look. The easiest and cheapest way was by bus, so we woke early and trekked down to the Leeds central bus terminal. We should probably explain here that bus travel is much better and more popular than at home, where buses seem primarily for old people, crazy people or drunk people.

Anyway, the trip was as pleasant as such things can be, and after an hour or so we hopped off just outside the city. It was a lovely day, and we were well rugged up against what little chill was in the air, so we decided to walk in. After hopping off the bus, we had a surreal moment as we passed the very hotel we had stayed at when we first visited York in 2008. No wonder we ran out of money, the hotel is the biggest and most luxurious looking establishment on the street. Our flat might be a little cramped at times, but at least we have lasted over two months without exhausting our funds!

As the ice and snow of the previous weekend had cleared away, the walls were open to pedestrians so we scaled the walls just inside the Mickelgate Bar and headed towards the town. The tulips, daffodils and other flowers which are planted in lawns and grassy areas over here were beginning to bloom, the sky was blue and you could smell spring in the air. When we reached the bridge over the Oise river, we ran into the first jabbering, photo snapping troop of coach tourists, so decided to hurry the pace towards our first stop, the York Historical Museum. The museum is located in the grounds of the old York Abbey, which is a fair bit smaller and in rather poorer repair than ‘our’ abbey at Kirkstall. Nonetheless, the gardens full of flowers, and red squirrels were scurrying around the undergrowth, darting out to grab stray morsels of food dropped by passers by. The museum is located in an impressive looking Georgian building, which we entered and were greeted by a staff member who told us that a large part of the medieval display was not available for viewing, as York is celebrating some sort of 800th anniversary. This was a little annoying, but as the Roman section was still on display we headed in. The collection was pretty amazing, centred around a collection of gravestones and statues. One gravestone in particular was very touching. It was for the wife of a Roman man, and showed him cuddling her – very unusual as Romans almost never illustrated physical intimacy. She must have been very loved. Another section of the display had several skulls, and each had the results of the archaeological research – their age, vocation, place of birth and age at death – written out in story form. It was a very nice way to see the personal stories behind what would otherwise be slightly unsettling artefacts. There were also a large number of coins, pottery, and tiles along with the odd jewellery piece or weapon, but the collection was not that large and we were soon back outside enjoying the Yorkshire sunshine.

Photos: 1) York City walls. 2) Laura on the wall. 3) Ben on the wall - love the safety rail. 4) Yorkshire Museum. 5) Yorkshire Museum 5) Constantine. 6) Roman grave stone.

We decided to head up to the famous cathedral, the York Minster, which dominates the skyline of the old town. On the way, we stopped in at an excellent little antique store, which for us Aussies was pretty amazing. While at home the rarest antiques you are likely to come across might date from the Victorian period, here were Celtic, Roman, Viking and Byzantine artefacts for sale, along with a plethora of items from as far back as the 16th century. Pretty amazing.

Photos 1-3) York Minster

Anyway, we arrived outside the huge and imposing minster, however the admission fee was rather steep, and as we’re trying to save our money for Europe, we decided to head into the shambles, the ancient medieval part of York, to grab some lunch. I had my heart set on getting roast beef with Yorkshire puddings, and decided upon an medieval pub smack bang in the centre of The Shambles. Bad move. As well as being the oldest part of York, The Shambles is also the most touristy, and after a wait of over an hour, our food arrived cold and flavourless, and the Yorkshire pudding wasn’t even hand made, it was the same brand I’d seen in the local supermarket’s frozen food section. 25 GBP (~35 AUD) later, we decided to henceforth avoid eating in restaurants in any area prone to tourists, and that instead we’d stick to street food, which looked and smelled a lot better anyway.

Photos: 1) York Minster. 2) A York shop - no the photo isn't distorted. 3) MAD Alice Lane. 4) The Shambles

Not letting a dodgy lunch dampen our spirits, we headed through the winding streets, with their misshapen overhanging medieval houses, and arrived at the York Castle Museum, just across the square from Clifford’s Tower.

The York Castle Museum is pretty amazing, and despite its name is focused not on the history of the castle and the kings and rulers who inhabited it, but on ordinary peoples lives in Yorkshire from the middle ages to today. The first part of the display consisted of a variety of rooms, all set out from different periods. As we’d been watching an excellent series on BBC3 about the history of the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen etc, it was cool to be able to see these rooms. The Victorian room was very busy, with every surface covered by heavy carvings or patterns. Adding to the very weird Victorian vibe was the inclusion of stuffed household pets, very lifelike but the dead eyes were most unsettling. (Try and spot the dog!)

Making our way through the various rooms, including one 1980s kitchen which reminded us of Byron’s kitchen (before the renovations J), we came out onto a reconstructed Victorian high-street. Despite being indoors, the street was complete with shopfronts, stuffed horses pulling hansom cabs, and a light and sound system which changed from day to night. People in period dress were hanging around, answering questions when asked but not doing the in your face overacting which usually comes with such displays. The old toy store was particularly cool, with original rocking horses, dolls house accessories and toy soldiers.

After the Victorian street, with the exception of a display on the English Civil War, the Castle museum was devoted to collections related to ‘social’ history. There were so many fascinating displays, including a handmade quilt from the 18th century, an amazing manorial dollhouse made in the mid 17th century, and even a cabinet full of 1980s toys – remember the Sega Master System II, Nintendo N64 and Nintendo Gameboy? Well, they’re in a museum now. Makes you feel a little old, huh. Anyway, the museum was finished off with a display on York Castle, and a bunch of rooms set up as cells from when the castle was a prison which held, among others, the highwaymen Dick Turpin.

All in all, the York Castle museum was not the poky little museum we had expected, and it’s eclectic collections mean it’s well worth a visit if you’re interested in … well, anything.

Photos: 1) Inside the York Castle Museum 2) The worlds most awesome dollhouse. 3) Quilt! (for Sandra) 4) English Civil War dudes. 5) Pride and Prejudice era clothes. 6) Children of the 80s! 7) Spot the dog in this Victorian room. 8) 80s kitchen. 9) Grandparents house? 10) Ben being a dork.

No, we didn't actually get transported back to the 80s for the above photos!

By now it was rather late, and we headed back to the coach station and back to Leeds. All in all, it was a pretty enjoyable trip, despite a rather dodgy lunch, and we were both glad that we had decided to go back to have a further look at York.

I know this post has been a bit of a long one, but if you've got this far hopefully you'll excuse one brief postscript. The day after York, we headed into the Leeds town hall for a vintage fair. This was pretty amazing, the building is very impressive, a secular cathedral of sorts. The range of the clothes and accessories on show were, I'm reliably informed, amazing. In and around the racks and stalls was very busy, and there were quite a few men and women dressed up in full 1930s and 1940s period costume. Laura picked up a beautiful little vintage compact with a enamelled finish. We both thought that Nikki and Paul would have been in heaven - guys, if you end up getting to the UK you have to track down a big vintage fair.

Anyway, that's pretty much it for now, we'll be posting in the next few days all about our Stockholm adventures!

Photos: 1) Leeds Town Hall. 2) Laura at the vintage fair. 3) Leeds Town Hall atrium. 4) Goodies at the fair.

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