We had a delightfully touristy weekend, all in all. And York ranks as one of the prettiest British cities I've visited, even compared to Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. Lots of really impressive Mediaeval places, sufficient Georgian houses to convey that 18th century elegance, and lots and lots of more than usually attractive Victorian gothic. Plus of course the Roman bits.
We stayed in a lovely hostel run by a group called Backpackers (the same organization who did the Highlands Tour M and I went on in 2003). On this occasion as last summer they did admirably at providing cheap facilities without being grotty; their hostels are in converted historic houses right in the centre of town, and all the features that matter are in place but in a no-frills way. For example, they were helpful about paying in advance, and turning up to check in rather late in the evening, and provided a place to store our bags the day after our last booked night. And the room we were allocated was actually a dorm, but obviously with only two places occupied, up under the eaves and with a rather lovely view over York:
So we started out with the Jorvik Centre, as the most obvious thing to do in York. The Viking archaeology is incredibly cool; the presentation not so much so. It's desperately gimmicky, with the 'time machine' ride through the reconstruction of the Viking town and tricks with half mirrors and clever lighting to switch between found artefacts and further reconstructions of the objects in context. I would far, far have preferred being able to look at stuff at my own pace and read ordinary text explanations, though it does make the museum appealing to kids and presumably helps with controlling the flow of people through the extremely popular and physically small museum. I think also the fact that it was half term and the place was completely teeming with shrill children diminished my appreciation somewhat. I did like the emphasis on deducing information from evidence, rather than just telling you the conclusions, though. And there was a delightfully geeky woman in costume demonstrating various Viking crafts and jumping into to our conversation to provide the historical detail we were missing.
After rather a soggy picnic lunch, we spent most of the afternoon at the Castle Museum. We had gone there on the assumption that it would have something to do with castles, but in fact it was a general museum of the social history of the last 300 years. And it was absolutely gorgeous. It had me squealing with delight when I walked in to the first gallery and found reconstructions of period rooms, and it just got better, with an entire reconstructed Victorian street complete with many fascinating shop fronts. There was just the right amount of information, highlighting and explaining the interesting stuff without too much infodump. The museum is also huge; we ran out of time and energy about half way through, but still, it was extremely well worth doing.
The museum is right next to Clifford's Tower, which we felt we ought to visit while we were there. In some ways I'm not mad keen on the slightly ghoulish tourist value of places where lots of Jews were killed, but Clifford's Tower is laid out sensitively, commemorating without glorifying the events of 1190 and focusing mainly on the general history of the tower. There isn't all that much of it left (it used to be a whole castle, not just a tower), but the views from the battlements were pleasing even in the rain.
We succeeded in finding a place to serve us a meal in time to finish paying before sunset: El Piano, a vegetarian and rather hippie tapas place. Making a full meal out of tapas always ends up being on the pricey side, but the food we had was very tasty and sufficiently substantial to keep us going until breakfast despite eating ridiculously early.
We managed a much more productive Saturday than in Norwich, since York has loads of free attractions. We spent the morning on a long walking tour; the guide was the mildly annoying sort who thought he was funnier than he really was, but knowledgeable and we saw and learnt lots of cool things. Such as the remains of St Mary's Abbey and the arboretum which provided the core of Kew's tree collection, the former abbot's house later used as the King's Manor, Treasury House (complete with a rather sweetly silly ghost story) and of course the Minster from every angle. And we managed to make up thoroughly for lethargic_man's sense of Roman deprivation from the Friday! The best of my photos from the trip:
(The complete collection of photos are here too, if you're interested.)
Also, the following shop sign (for a chocolatier) absolutely tickled me pink:
We attempted to improvise some semblance of a Shabbat lunch in a small park by a fairly busy riverside path, surrounded by skateboarding teenagers whom we probably confused rather. I admit to feeling a bit exposed but I'm glad we didn't ignore Shabbat altogether. And I was reminded again how nice it is to be able to pray with lethargic_man; generally I don't like praying with one other person, it feels the wrong sort of intimacy for the context, but M and I get on very well. We have to negotiate a bit to find a workable compromise between our two liturgical traditions, but actually that enhances the experience, I feel more engaged with the prayer than I would otherwise.
We finished with the Railway Museum. lethargic_man was a bit worried that it would be too much of a boy sort of thing for me, but actually I found it interesting. I particularly liked the extremely extensive and detailed model railway. If I got less out of it than I might have done it was mainly because I was extremely tired by this point.
All in all, York is excellent fun, and it was extremely lovely to get to spend some time with lethargic_man. I hope we're not the sort of couple who are so completely absorbed in eachother that they never interact with anyone else, but just occasionally it's very pleasant to have some time to ourselves. In short, I am quite sickeningly happy.
I had a truly horrible journey home; I won't bother with the dull detail, but in summary the 4-hour journey took over 7 hours and there was a significant stretch where I wasn't sure I was going to get home at all. Though I did meet a charming Aussie girl as a result of the disruption, someone who was really friendly without being pushy or intrusive, and whose laid back attitude to travelling reassured me far more than if she'd directly tried to make me feel better.
Anyway, by Sunday I was completely shattered. I didn't get up till nearly lunchtime, figuring I'd be better doing half a day's work when I was awake than trying to keep going when I couldn't keep my eyes open. Just as I was about to leave for work I got a phonecall from the Thuggish Poet who had found himself in Edinburgh and at a loose end. So yay, a nice couple of evenings with my little brother, who is brilliant company even if his lack of forward planning is rather to be deplored.