Wednesday, September 10, 2014

London - 8/11/14

Sometimes in one's life, it is important to play hooky.  Now, boys and girls and those with impressionable young minds, I do not advocate this as a general policy.  But sometimes you have some work stuff come up that makes you late for school.  And then you sit and look at your calendar for the entire day and realize that no one actually needs you in any of your classes.  All of the big projects won't be worked on until tomorrow.  You're going to be sitting on the bench for seven hours.  And, perhaps, if one has traveled across the globe for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity... it is important to make sure that every day is once-in-a-lifetime.

So... you board a train to York.

The big lesson I learned from this little fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants excursion is that it is very important in England to buy a reserved seat.  Especially on the train that continues on to Edinburgh. Especially when the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is going on.  Because you'll find yourself stuck standing for three hours on said train because EVERY seat is reserved.  Fortunately, I found an empty spot in a door well and was able to curl up like an armadillo whenever anyone passed by.  That said, the reason why this particular train was so busy was that an earlier train was cancelled.  As was announced on the overhead speaker, "We apologize for the crowded conditions.  Someone was on the tracks, was hit by a train, and died. We apologize that this tragedy has inconvenienced you."  That'll shut you up pretty quick.

I arrive in York and the first sight which greeted me was the Victorian iron work train station of such exquisite beauty, you could just cry.  View it and weep, my friends!

 I mean... even the cab stand was adorable.

We are talking HIGH CLASS.

So, the train station is a short walk to the historic part of town.  But what a walk!

I love that this is just everyday, humdrum life to people.  Castles and city walls and ancient cathedrals and somewhere in that town is someone going, "Goll... if only we could move somewhere with a bit more pizzazz."  

Now, I know this is going to sound dumb, but at school, we were neck deep into Richard III, which is all about the aftermath of the War of the Roses - the political upheaval which happened with the Lancasters (red rose) and Yorkists (white rose) decided to beat on each other for a couple decades.  Richard III (the hunchback who may or may not have killed his nephews to ascend the throne) was a Yorkist.  And it didn't dawn on my until I actually got into York that the Yorkists were from... York.  Like, this was their crib!  I KNOW!  I'm an idiot!  But Lincoln rarely lived in any city called Lincoln.  George Washington never lived in Washington State.  Come on!  Cut me some slack!  But it was as I saw this sign:

And realized that Yorkshire terriers were in reference to this place! York!  that I realized I was walking the streets, literally the exact same streets because they are all still there, and gazing up at the buildings that all these people I had been studying as I read Shakespeare's Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV (Part I and II), Henry VI (Parts I, II, III), that THIS was where half the rabble-rousers came from!  It just... I... HISTORY!  IT IS ALL HERE AND IT IS NOT JUST STORIES!


Now, I started off my day by heading over to the York Cathedral.  I stepped inside the little door which makes you crouch down to walk through.

You can't tell from the pictures, but that hurricane which had happened the day before?  It was still going on.  It was a day of "Gloriously beautiful!" and five minutes later "Crashing thunder and buckets of rain!"  SO, I stepped inside and the weather was still so lovely, I thought, "I should go walking around the city a bit while the weather holds rather than spending my time inside.

I regret that now, because I didn't make it back and guess who is buried inside York Cathedral?  Harry "Hotspur" Percy.  Yes, of Henry IV fame, Shakespeare nerds!  Someday I will play Lady Percy!  I WILL!  That is MY ROLE!  And the real guy was right there and I missed it.  ARGH!  ...I will just have to go back...

ANYWAYS, so I left.  Because I am that jerk.  I didn't have an actual map of the city or a plan because... well... I wasn't exactly planning on being here.  But I knew there were some hop-on-hop-off buses somewhere, and I've always found those cheezy tours to be so absolutely fantastic for getting to know a city.  So, I decided to try and find the bus.

Instead, I discovered York's ADORABLE town square.

And where Guy Fawkes was born (FUN FACT!  On Guy Fawkes Day in York, they have a bonfire, but they do not burn him in effigy).


And a medieval tavern that was so old everything was sagging.

I have no idea what this golden ram did to piss of the pigeon, but don't mess with the pigeons in this town!  They will hang you out to dry!

So then I turned the corner and found myself in The Shambles.  What's the Shambles you ask?  So, it is one of the few remaining actual medieval streets to survive all of the bombings and war and rezoning in the world.

 All these people I read about actually walked down this actual street and saw these same actual buildings!  *brain esplosion*

So then I turned the corner as the rain started pelting down upon me, making me think maybe I should have reconsidered bailing on the York Cathedral, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but one of the castles built by William the Conqueror, the first king of a united England!  (...not the first first king, though, as I recently learned from QI...)

This, however, is the fancy view.  This was the actual view which greeted me as I turned the corner.

You know.  One of the oldest surviving buildings in all of England.  Next to a parking lot.  So, I walked around to the front and learned that I could actually go inside.  Heck. YEAH!

I climbed up all those stairs, yes I did!  And I went inside!


And it was SO COOL!

And then I found out that they actually let you climb up this 800 year old castle and and dork around.  So, I did!

There were all sorts of side rooms and nooks and crannies to explore, as well as gorgeous views.


And I grabbed the obligatory selfie-on-top-of-an-800-year-old-building.  As one does.

Aaaaand then?  I had to stop taking pictures because the rain came PELTING down from the sky.  And let me tell you something, nothing quite gets as slick as stones which have been worn down from 800 years of feet.  The foundation had an opportunity to settle during that time, too, and things weren't exactly what you would call "level".  So, I cautiously made my way down an ancient spiral stone staircase with slidey grooves in the middle and got a visceral understanding of how much it would have sucked to be a soldier up on the battlements in the middle of a rainstorm.

I popped into the gift shop to show my financial support for the upkeep of the castle, climbed down that hill of stairs... and the rain stopped.


So, across from the castle is a place called The Castle Museum, which was completely on my list of things I really wanted to see.  There was a center green with a summer fair going on.

 (Castle Museum is that building in the background)

As I walked to the entrance, I fell in love with this little ice cream truck.

So, the York Castle Museum is this really cool museum that shows off what life was like for everyday schmoes like you and me (unless someone from the aristocracy is reading this.  In which case, let me display for you my perfect curtsy.  I've been practicing.).  I hadn't really realized it, but so much of the history I looked at while in London was the art preserved by the ruling classes.  It was really cool to get to step into what just an everyday household looked like over the years.

Now, the first thing to greet my eyes made me feel ancient.  But, yeah, I guess it has been forty years and the first mobile phones are something which should be on display in a museum.

So then you begin walking through the museum and there are these rooms set up for ordinary living in times throughout history.

The Victorians...

The Georgians...

 The Elizabethans...

Your mom.

They also had a Pong game set up for the littluns to try their hand at.  Get 'em to see how good they got it today with their first person, three dimensional, mo-cap video games.

Back in my day, we had nothing but two squares and a circle on our screen and we liked it!

They then had an exhibit called Cradle to Grave, which went through all the celebrations people go through as they pass through life.

What I found especially interesting was how the death of Queen Victoria's husband and her public mourning caused public mourning to become "The Thing to Do".  Hiring folks to walk after the casket to show off all the mourners you had.  Giving your kids funeral toys for at least a year after the death of someone in the family.  Buying a whole new wardrobe to show that you were REALLY sad.  There was actually this huge political movement in the late-1800s to end the burden of these funerals upon the poor and destitute, who had to come up with enough money to do these funerals or face public shaming.

Now, a little fun fact about yours truly... I come from a farming family.  If you eat a soy bean, probably one of my extended relatives grew it for you.  So, I kind of got a kick out of seeing all of the old tools.

(these are butter molds. You know.  For molding your butter.)

The exhibit when through kitchens through time, and there was even a little taste-test kitchen where they were cooking up hard tack and other delicacies the soldiers would have eaten during WWI.  My verdict on hard tack?  Dry.  And hard.

The coolest part of the whole museum, though was the Victorian street.  They recreated a city indoors with shops (all based upon real shops which actually existed in York!) for you to wander in and out of.  There were docents in period dress tending the counters, ready to tell you all about their shops.

You went down the stairs into the city.  There was a winding back alley with an undertaker's shop.

And a temperance league, where people of the day could buy a cup of hot chocolate instead of a beer.

Again, in that whole, "Waaaaaait a minute..." dawning of realization:  Drinking hot chocolate is a "thing" in England.  You drink tea.  You drink hot chocolate.  I mean, people drink cocoa in America, but usually just kids, and usually only on camping trips or Christmas.  Hot chocolate is offered after dinner as a dessert drink and is just...a thing... at the places I went.  And I just wondered if maybe it was this Victorian effort to interest people in something in something other than ale (because if you're going to replace people's beer, I'm thinking chocolate might be the only thing good enough) that made it an adult beverage.  I dunno.  I might be way off.  But it was just one of those dots that I could see connecting.  But here's to more hot chocolate in everyone's life!

Oh, and that brown square box thing is a "magic lantern" (a.k.a. slide projector - only the slides were glass.  If you've read my Spirit of Denial, this is what I meant when I talked about the magic lantern showing the pictures of the Egyptian dig).

So then you turn the corner from the winding alley onto the street.  It was filled with the sound of clopping horse hooves and city sounds.

And then suddenly!  Like magic!  They transitioned the street from day to night, complete with a thunderstorm and lamp lighting!

I discovered more back alleyways...

(clockmaker's shop)

(window of the clockmaker's shop)

I then crossed over to the WWI exhibit that they had installed in the other side of the museum.  There were foxholes for kids to run around and a train for them to ride, just like the soldiers did.

It was a little too... interactive... for me to handle, so I decided to take a bit of a breather out in the prison yard.

Yep.  You read that right.  Prison yard.  This entire museum was built in an old debtor's prison.  And this is where they used to let folks come out to get a break.

They had a guy dressed up as a WWI sergeant marching the kids through the yard and up the hills and down again.

Out back was a lovely mill with a gorgeous view of the river.  The grass was long, the flowers were in bloom...  It was a perfect interlude.


Speaking of which... this is turning into the world's longest blog post.  So I'm going to take a little interlude myself and get back to my Day In York (I KNOW!) in Part II!  Stay tuned...

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