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Old York

August 28-September 4, 2009

Written September 19

Friends and Families,

This is the second part of our diary for my Manchester to Paris (semi-) business trip.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Introduction to Driving

Marianne and I have a “normal routine” for driving on our trips: one day she drives and the next, I drive.  If navigation promises to be particularly tricky, she drives and I navigate.  This combination meant that Marianne was the lucky winner of driver-for-the-day, on the wrong side of the road.

Our standard-transmission rental car was delivered to the hotel at 11:30 and we headed toward York.  Our route took us on city and village streets and high speed freeways, but the narrow country roads would wait for a couple days.  Overall, we succeeded:  no crashes; no real close calls; only a few inconvenienced fellow drivers.  However, at the end of the two hour drive, we were both exhausted.  I don’t think we are going to like this.



Marianne had used the Internet and a local tourist brochure to select our B&B, The Alexander House.  It is a four-room, Victorian row house, a reasonable walk from downtown.  The owners were welcoming and very professional and while David parked our car in the tiny slot reserved behind the house, Gillian served us tea and gave an overview of York that I suspect she has done a thousand times.

After unloading our suitcases, we walked into the city and hit the weekend crowds head on.  The place was filled with tourists, mostly British and frequently loud and, unfortunately, young and drunk.  I was not impressed.  The historic buildings seemed like Disney recreations, but the crowds didn’t have the Disneyland discipline and restraint.

We wandered from one side of the center to the other, looking for a place to grab a bite.  We’d not eaten since an early breakfast in Manchester.  Our hosts had recommended “Betty’s” for either high tea or for a meal but, while it looked very nice indeed, the line outside was just too long.  But, places without lines looked plain and uninviting and too many places were filled with the loud set.

Finally, we were passing a modern Italian bar and restaurant that was just opening for the day.  We dropped in for a glass of wine and stayed for dinner.  We sat at a small bar table, facing the crowded sidewalk and watched a parade go by. Most of the parade was the same as we had seen crowding downtown but not all. Still, a couple glasses of wine and some good Italian food does sooth the tourism nerves.



The wall is medieval. The hill Roman.


The view from our first dinner table in York, colorful inside and out.

Day 2  Sunday 6th

I got up early, grabbed the camera, and went to see a quieter York.  At 7 am on Sunday, the crowds were completely gone!  Nevertheless, the historic old buildings still seemed like a stage set, but all the actors had gone home.  Just a few broken bottles remained from last night’s performance.

Over at the York Minster (Cathedral), my early start paid off. I went in and had to share the place with only a few cleaners and early worshippers.  The York Minster is the largest Gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe.  It is the fourth Christian church to occupy the site and was started in the 14th Century. Henry VIII’s break with Rome converted it from Catholic to Anglican, but the massive form remained.  I think the most obvious change from the conversion is the replacement of chapels, statues, and plaques honoring saints to ones honoring state figures, including in York several plaques to the British Army, Colonial and modern.


Constantine was crowned king of the Holy Roman Empire here in York.


After my early tour, I returned to The Alexander House for breakfast and a relaxed Sunday morning. When we were properly prepared, we headed back downtown.  At Marianne’s suggestion, we signed up for a jump-on-jump-off tour bus and this turned out to be a most practical solution to our touring plans.  The guide was very knowledgeable and her continuous patter painted York in a more properly historic light, from Roman and Viking settlers through a time as England’s second largest but arguably most important city.  OK, it’s not really Disney-made.

York Train Station

Bob Trotter's Bicycle Shop -- A long-lost relative?


National Railway Museum

Our first jump-off was at the National Railway Museum.  This industrial museum had all the space that MOSI in Manchester lacked.  We could easily wander among dozens of perfectly-restored examples of England's train history.  The massive steam engines and the ornate royal carriages were quite impressive. This is a must-see.

Japanese Bullet Train, outside and inside.

Channel Tunnel section.
Royal train cars.
Very First Class.
For an engineer, this is the heart of a steam machine - the controls. The polished brass looked nice but I'm sure the sooty gray was more the norm.

Back when trains had names, each had plaques.

The NRM had a very well done display of life along the Indian railway. The pictures and video-clips portrayed people from beggars to train company executives, making the enormous enterprise quite personal.


York Castle Museum

Back on the jump-on-jump-off bus we headed through downtown and got off at the York Castle Museum.  The Museum tells York’s story, including a reconstructed 19th Century street, but we lost interest after just a half of the displays.  Maybe not the museum’s fault, maybe just our patience running out.

Geese Guarding the Entrance

There were a number of rooms from different times, static but OK.

Celebrating vacuum cleaners

A 1950's living room.
A reconstructed York Street.

This time we tried Betty’s again, since it was tea time after all, and found the crowds undiminished from yesterday.  However, we remembered that Gillian had mentioned “Little Betty’s” just around the corner and there we were able to have our English High Tea, with finger sandwiches, sweets, and proper English tea.  Nice, but next time we will stick with just the highlight: the scones with clotted cream.  Delisch.

With enough caloric fuel, we made the half-hour walk back to The Alexander House and a well-deserved nap.  Waking up, we resolved to visit a local pub, “for the experience”.  And it turned out quite pleasantly.  We had our English beer (prefer Bavarian) and chatted with a couple at the next table who had stopped by on their way home from work. He had spent the day tending bar at the York Races and she had completed her shift as an emergency room nurse at the local hospital.  Somehow, there’s a connecting story there, but I can’t find it.  No matter, it was a pleasant end to our York stay.

On Monday morning, we headed out on the wrong-side roads again, to The Peaks District”.  Another story.


John and Marianne


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