After 4 days in Scotland, Phil and Kathy have made it to York, England. They’ve checked in to their hotel, and are spending a few days in York. Pictures from the whole trip can be found here.
Tuesday, August 30th
We decided to sleep in, as we’d been hauling ass for the last couple of days. We awoke to news of impending doom in New Orleans. In fact, the BBC was full of American news, as was “Sky News” the Murdoch news broadcast in Britain. I was surprised how much they talk about the states. We decided that we must get some Internet access, because we hadn’t been on e-mail in quite awhile. We discovered, with horror, that a day of high-speed access at the hotel is £17, or over $30. So, I looked in some of the town guides and find that there’s an Internet Cafe in a Cinema where we can pay £3 for an hour of access. We decide to take the laptop there and make our plans for the next day.
I should mention the paper. When we checked in, they asked us what paper we’d like the next morning. Not knowing any better, I said “what are my choices?” She proceeded to list of about 25 choices. It appears that the newspaper business in Britain continues to flourish. I have no idea how many news channels/radio stations people actually get there because we were in a hotel, but people still read the paper! We chose the Yorkshire Post, because, well, we didn’t know what to choose, really.
The Cafe was fine, although we were the only ones with our own computer and hence there wasn’t much space. All of the other computers were Macs, and we were amused when a patron next to us complained about the fact that the computer he was using had no Microsoft products and that must be why it wasn’t working. Phil and I answered any important mails, and then we did a web search to figure out where in town we can take our laundry. Since we only packed for about 6 days, we knew that we were going to have to wash clothes about halfway through. Also, because I have a tendency to spill on whatever I wear, washing is necessary.
Before taking care of our laundry, we walked back to the train station to buy our rail tickets for our trip to Halifax to visit Phil’s aunt and uncle. After some back and forth, we figured out what to do and purchased our tickets for about 5 PM. Then, after further back and forth, we bought our tickets to London (don’t ask how much) and then headed out to handle the laundry. We got back to the hotel and called the laundry place and found out that washing our two loads will be no problem, and that we can pick them up tomorrow (and if they weren’t leaving early, we could have gotten them later that day). So, Phil and I trundled out with one of our suitcases for about a 10 minute walk and drop off our laundry.
Finally, we had a few moments to walk around and enjoy the town, and York is a town to enjoy. York has a tremendous amount of history and historical buildings. Like most of Britain, there have been invasions, occupations, and wars. However, unlike the bigger cities, you can still see the history in the faces of some of its residents. I saw lots of blonde hair and blue eyes, as well as lots of red hair and green eyes. I figure this is the Anglo Saxon and Norman legacy (I’m now reading more about these people so I can try to understand the sequence of events Roman ->Saxon->Viking->Norman, who are the English anyway??). Also, York, and Yorkshire, have their own distinctive accents – different than either Scotland or London. York is surrounded by a Roman wall, has two rivers, and has an enormous cathedral. It also has lots of narrow walkways, streets, and alleys (snikelways? gates?). It even has a street called “the Shambles” where all the floors are uneven and the second floors of buildings on either side almost touch. In other words, there’s lots of fun stuff to look at.
We finally got a chance to grab something to eat, and I was pleasantly surprised that the bread was fantastic. I think this must be because the water is so hard, and it creates the nice crusty, chewy bread that I like. Whereas the water in Scotland was a joy in which to to shower (and even tasted good), the water in England was not. Sure enough, when I looked around Scotland, everyone’s hair was shiny and bouncy. In England, it was mostly flat and lifeless (and I struggled with mine as well of course). So, bad water=good bread and bad hair, and vice versa. A book I recently read talks about how Scotland was originally part of far northeastern Canada, and when the world was forming, it just so happened that that the islands of Scotland and England collided, so in reality their geography and makeup are completely different.
Anywho, we walked around town a bit, and decided what we’d try and see the next day, and then we headed back to our hotel to freshen up. Then, we went back to the train station and got on the train to Halifax. Ah, the train…this time there was plenty of seating, but NO AIR CONDITIONING. Oh, did I mention that at this point it was almost 90 (that’s Fahrenheit)? So, I thought to myself, well, I could just close my eyes and think of England, but here I am in England, so I guess I’ll just look out the window and sweat. As we traveled through Yorkshire, I saw glimmers of the land of “All Creatures Great and Small,” but I mostly saw the cities the train stopped in. I told Phil that after seeing Bradford, the town in which his mother grew up, that I will no longer take any crap about being from NJ. I know we all like to think of England as being picturesque, and parts of it are gorgeous. But, there are also grimy, seedy parts. So goes the the passage of time I guess.
Next stop was Halifax, and we got off the train and were immediately picked up by his Aunt Rena and Uncle Anthony. The first thing we notice (after hugs of greeting) is that they have the same car Phil has, a Jeep Grand Cherokee. I know, I know, everyone in Britain drives small cars, right? Well, yeah, in the cities, they do, but out in the country, there is a fair amount of SUVs and minivans. I marvel at this, because at about $8 a gallon and 15 mpg on a good day, that’s a mighty expensive car to drive. The other thing is that most cars are new. Phil said that the regulations in Britain are stricter than the US and the cars have to be in good shape. Is this true?
We headed up a hill to a restaurant and had a lovely meal with great food, good drink, engaging conversation, and lots of laughter. We were joined by Rena and Anthony’s friends, a marvelous couple, who regaled Phil with stories of times that his father had visited and wowed the locals with his awesome piano playing. We talked about business and politics and family and life, and it was just a fantastic time. This ability to spend time eating, drinking, and conversing is not lost in Britain. Every night in every hotel in which we stayed, crowds gathered in the hotel bar and talked and laughed. This is something missing in American culture as we cut ourselves off in our huge houses with our 300 channels.
Phil and I stayed as late as we possibly could, and then headed back to York.
Wednesday, August 31st
My sweethart of a husband got up, and went to pick up our clean laundry. He came back to the hotel with pastys and coffee. God bless him. We checked out of the hotel, left our baggage, and headed out to do more exploring. Our first stop was the York Minster, which is, without a doubt, the highlight of York. This is an enormous Cathedral, with fabulous stained glass windows. I wish I could show you pictures, but we were not allowed to take any.
We were lucky enough to get a tour guide almost imediately after we get there. Further, the only other people on this tour were an older couple from Texas. Our tour guide was just wonderful. She’s a Yorkshire lady in her 70’s, and like so many others from the area, she’s very matter of fact and incredibly entertaining. She took us around to look at many of the stained glass windows and explained their history, and also explained that they were (mostly) taken out in WWII. I asked where they were kept, and she said something like “in local places, but we don’t know exactly where, in case they have to be taken there again.” This readiness for disaster is not uncommon in Britain. I found that WWII is still within ready memory, and there are memorials, statues, and rememberances everywhere. Even in the Minster, there is a book commemorating all who were stationed in the area, and the page is turned every day so parishoners can remember different people.
This was our first visit to a house of worship in the UK. The conversation about Catholic vs. Protestant is very much alive here. The topic permeates most of our historical visits in the UK, and I imagine it’s still a point of conversation in daily life as well. Once again, I’m struck by the integration of history and the present. The Minster is a working church, and while we were there, they had an hourly prayer. During prayer, the entire place stops and listens, and in some cases, prays. I found myself crying during the prayer, and I’m still not sure why. Also, we had to tippy toe around an impending communion service. I guess I didn’t expect that this ancient building would still be so alive and current, but it is, and it’s a wonderful thing.
After the tour of the cathedral, we headed down into the Undercroft, which, you must do if you ever get to York. The tour shows the history of this one spot of land: it originally had a Roman building, and then a Norman cathedral, and finally, the cathedral that stands today. You can see parts of the Roman ruins, as well as a complete discussion of how the buildings all intersect and overlay each other and how the current building is now supported.
We picked up our bags, and then, after a bit of a wait, got our train down to London. Now, finally, this was a good experience. The train was air conditioned, and it has wireless internet! Now, I wasn’t about to spring for the Internet on the train, but I did take this handy dandy screen shot while I was writing about the first part of the trip so I could share it with you. The best part of it is that it tells you exactly where you are, like on some planes.
When we got to London, since we had pre-purchased our tube tickets, we were able to transfer where we needed to go pretty quickly, and then walked a few blocks to our hotel. We checked in, and after taking a few minutes to unpack and regroup, headed out to have dinner. On the way to finding a restaurant, we were intercepted by two different Indian restaurant owners whose restaurants were next door to each other. Apparently there is a fierce competition for customers! We ended up heading around the corner for an Italian restaurant. While we were dining, a veritable onslaught of inline skaters passed by. I still don’t know what this was about, but skaters were going by for about 10 minutes.
After dinner, we decided to walk about to see some sights. We ended up, without intending to, walking past 10 Downing Street, the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, the place where the Buckingham Palace horse guards stay, and into Trafalgar Square. We got to see the Big Ben clocktower (Big Ben is actually a bell) at night, and started to take in London.
We headed back to our hotel, with our sore, tired feet and weary bones, and slept with the glee that we didn’t have to re-pack again for 4 days.
Coming up: 4 days in London, flying home from Gatwick, and the return to cool, rainy Seattle.