Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Grand Old Time in York

(Thanks Meredith for the inspiration for the title! - sung to the tune of The Grand Old Duck of York)

We slept really well last night - this travelling caper can get tiring at times. And we do try to sit up so that if people want to talk with us they can in the Australian morning. Last night we managed to Skype Susan and John for the first time! They were full of news from home and lots of tips on what to plan to see when we are back in France later in the year.

St Georges B&B is full this morning and we get the last two seats for breakfast. After such a great meal for dinner last night we do now want too big a breakfast so after Alpen Muesli Michael has scrambled eggs on toast and I have mine poached. We don't have a lot of time before the only City Tour Bus that passes by here is due. So we set off with a mind to do some of the local attractions.

But as always, we first do a full circuit on the bus to get an overview of the history, the attractions and to orient ourselves. York is a very compact City inside the walls that were erected from the 1100s AD. But these walls were built atop a much earlier earth rampart and even on top of the earlier Roman Wall - part of which is visible from time to time - fancy that, a walls that has not only stood for almost 2,000 years, but that supports a later wall as well! The City itself dates back to 71 AD and has over time been ruled by the Romans, Vikings (after 410 AD), Saxons (from the late 800s AD) and then the Normans after the conquest in 1066.

After one turn of the city, we stopped at Clifford's Tower to explore the precinct. Construction of the castle was started in 1068 after William the Conqueror's first visit to York, a sign to the inhabitants of his power and rule over Yorkshire. The tower and fortifications were first constructed in timber which was eventually substituted with stone. You enter the tower by a very steep rampart (at an incline of 45 degrees) with a set of 59 steps! However, the view just from the top of the rampart is impressive - that is until the journey is completed by climbing onto the battlement. The vantage point is most commanding, with a 360 degree sweep across York city.

We complete our inspection of the tower and proceed onto the
York Castle Museum. This museum is certainly a treasure trove which enables the visitor travel through different eras via full-size dioramas. The museum has constructed a Yorkshire street, Kirkgate, depicting life between 1870-1890. This setting was complete with a sweet shop, where we bought two jars of confectionary: 'Olde Fashioned Dolly Mixtures' and 'Olde Fashioned Edinburgh Rock'. There were even opportunities to try your hand at olde-time activities such as carrying these empty water buckets - god knows how they carried them any distance filled with water.

There are exhibits reflecting Jacobean, Georgian and Victorian life; and a moorland cottage of the 1850's. Apart from life being exhibited the traditions in death are also represented in artifacts. One major exhibit is representative of 20 century lifestyle - 'The Sixties' (...gross!) - I (Michael) may deplore the era but this exhibition is most impressive.

Now, this museum is situated within the original castle precinct, and at one time the museum was used as a prison - particularly for those miscreants awaiting the gallows. One famous transient was Richard Turpin a.k.a Dick Turpin the Highwayman, who spent the last few months of his life a guest of His Majesty.

We end our visit to the York Castle Museum and as we are making our way to the Viking Centre, we come across the Parish and Guild Church of All Saints Pavement. This church obtained its name from the need to expand the marketplace with pavement blocks. During the 18th century the chancel and aisles were demolished to allow the broadening of the markets. The demolished sections of the church were rebuilt in 1887 onto the pavement, hence the name given to the church.

The most defining architectural section of the church is its bell tower, or to be more precise - lantern tower where on winters days and at night, bonfires were lit to guide travellers to York. However, its notoriety is derived from it being the resting place of some 39 Lord Mayors! Each church we have visited provide individual uniqueness which depict a chronological history of the area. Here, one of the unique statements is the testimonials to past benefactors who had given generously to their community. These testimonials are by way of wooden panels attached to the interior pillars. We thought it quite ambitious that most of the donations were assumed to be given for distribution forever. Other intersting things here included a 14th Century stained window and the little mouse left as his mark by the carpenter.

The Jorvik Viking Centre is an attraction which must be seen to be appreciated. We were just mesmerised by the overall attention to detail in chronicling the life of these early immigrants. Our initial introduction was via a virtual tour of a Viking village; the tour was not too dissimilar to an amusement ride. We were placed in a suspended gondola which could rotate on its axis, which carried us through the village. The special effects were provided by animatronics and airborne scents which added to the reality. The scents represented the various odours of the village: human, animal and 'industrial' (a Smithy's workshop). The acrid odour of a cesspit was thrown in for good measure! There was so much to absorb - visually - we decided to take the virtual tour a second time. The remainder of our visit was as engrossing as the introduction, not just with the exhibits but with museum personnel who dressed, spoke and interacted as 'Vikingr'. Regrettably, taking videos and/or photographs of any part of the exhibition was forbidden so we are unable to support our enthusiasm - but check out the link. The attraction has been built on the site where during excavations for a highrise apartment block there were 45,000 (yes, 45,000) viking artefacts uncovered. What has been developed mirrors on the spot the activity that had been laid down in the prexerving mud. And many of the actual items found are on display. There is even a stretch of original basement shoring wall!

As we came back onto the street we could hear brass bands playing. Coming up onto the main streets, we see a sea of thousands of Scout and then Girl Guides marching. Plenty of people watching them, no applause and no explanation. Later I stop a family and explain that we are involved with the Scouts in Australia and ask the occasion. It is the annual St George Day march! They have a service at the York Minster and then march through the City Centre.

Walking back down to get the last bus that goes out near where we are staying, with 5 minutes to spare, Michael takes a quick stroll into The Shambles. This is Europe's best preserved medieval street and we will alaborate more when we spend some serious time there in a couple of days.

It has been a pretty full day both physically and mentally so we went back down to our 'local' the Fox and Roman for dinner tonight. Again we shared a baked Camembert for starters. Sunday is Roast Day so we had thought we might have a roast but when we arrived at 6 pm, they were out of both Roast Turkey and Roast Beef with the only other option being Lamb - hmm, not my favourite and as Michael had lamb last night we opt to have something else. So tonight we followed our starter with:
Rib Eye Steak (9 oz rib eye steak <blue of course> with seasoned chips, crispy onion rings, chargrilled plum tomato and garden peas with a lemon and parsley butter) Michael
Bef Mushroom and Guiness Pie (deep filled with slow cooked beef topped with puff pastry, served with mashed potato and seasonal greens) Maria
We both had (but I couldn't finish) profiteroles served with chocolate fudge sauce and whipped cream. They have great lemonade here as well!
Another day passed!

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