19 June 2016

Day Eleven: York

One of the cities I was most excited about visiting when we first started planning this trip was York.  I've seen so many places in England already and, while I love revisiting old favorites, it's fun to get a different experience as well.

Unfortunately for us, our big day in York falls on a Sunday, which means that many places we would otherwise visit are closed or have shorter hours.  I feel like I've only scratched the surface of the history York has to offer with my pinky finger, but there's always another trip, right?

York is one of the oldest and most established cities in England and has a rich history that is really well recorded and preserved.  For example, the walls around the city originate from as early as the 1100s, though there are some structures that exist from even before then when the Romans ran York back in the 70s.  (Not 1970s, just the 70s.) The Romans established York as a religious center, and it has remained that way with its magnificent York Minster as its crowning jewel.  York was conquered by the Normans under William the Conqueror, which set in motion many hundreds of years of struggle in York with economic success and struggle, leadership that was accepted and leadership that was rebelled against.  It's fitting - the reputation of Yorkshiremen is one of stubborn and strong resilience.

My experience has been really positive.  Everyone I've spoken to here has been happy, helpful, funny, and extremely kind.  There is a great feeling of local pride about the place, but it's a relatively settled, non-arrogant kind of pride.  I've enjoyed getting to know this place.

Our day began in the York Castle Museum.  It's not a castle - it's built on the sight of the castle that William the Conquerer had while in charge of York.  Later on it was the sight of a debtor's prison and female prison.  Now the museum has wings named after these two former facilities, but the real focus of the museum is on cultural history (and a little military history).

Here's the thing about British museums.  They can be truly amazing.  There's such an enormous amount of history to cover and Britain has long been the center of major world events, so there's loads to learn.  They can also be truly weird.  I remember one experience in the Imperial War Museum in London where we went to an "air raid shelter".  We all sat on wooden benches that would jolt a bit when the "bombs" fell.  After it was over we were led down a "city street" in "London" that had been "bombed" where an apathetic docent pointed a flashlight at various things and rushed us through the "street" that smelled like. . .bacon?  I don't know.  I think it was supposed to smell like fire.  This same smell also featured in the unforgettable "Night of Battle" experience in Warwick Castle.  (That time the smell was so distinct I could smell it for days afterward.  It was horrible.) The British love their sound and smell-scapes, and also their mannequins.  The mannequins are the WORST.  So lifelike looking.   Sometimes they make them look like the dolls are breathing or talking.  ("But Joni!" you say,  "that sounds awesome!". No.  It's terrifying.)

This museum was relatively tame on the mannequins and smells, so that's good.  There were some really excellent exhibits and regular places where the museum asked visitors for feedback.  They wanted responses that included opinions on whether or not the information was accurate or complete, not just feedback on the setup of the exhibit (which is common).  There were rooms dedicated to the way homes have been set up over the decades, to toys, to fashion, and - most notably - a fully established Victorian street scene.  I liked how different eras were thrown together for sake of comparison or contrast (especially in the toys).

After the York Castle Museum we went over to the Yorkshire Museum, which included a rather interesting set of exhibits on the ancient history of York and a set of rooms about the history of extinction in animals.  It was really sad to see the exhibits on the animals that have become extinct over the years, generally because of human interference.  Some of the animals that they identified as being in danger of extinction (like the diamondback rattlesnake), I would proudly hunt myself.  Others (like the red squirrel), I would be happily cuddle and breed in my own home.

We went into the Minster to tour today since we didn't get to really tour it yesterday, but weren't really able to see much of it - we went in just as they were about to start their Evensong service.  Fortunately, we should be able to get back in tomorrow since our ticket today allows us a full year of touring access.  (Anyone want to come back with me?  And pay for it?)

The rest of our day has been relatively relaxed.  We wandered the city for a while (found a fantastic chocolate shop that sells violet chocolates - praises!) but once the rain set in we came back to our mercifully quiet flat in the heart of York.  A last quiet night before the hustle and bustle of the theater marathon of London.

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