Wednesday, January 09, 2008

England: Part III

Our ramble down memory lane leads us, sadly, out of the Cotswolds and toward points North. I was actually sad the day we left Stanton, and wanted to find a way to send for the children and live there forever. But sounder minds prevailed and we began the long drive to York.

I can't actually remember why, but we had decided to stop in at Warwick Castle for a day. We wanted to see a castle, Warwick was supposed to be a fine specimen, and it was on the way to York. It turned out to be rather a disappointment, though we did get some good photos for posterity. It was very much a tourist destination and we happened to be there during a term break so the place was absolutely mobbed! Long lines, crowds of people, few of whom shared our American perspective on personal space, and a very dismal, grey, overcast sky (one of only two the entire trip) went a long way in dampening our enthusiasm for the place. Still, we made the best of it.

It was interesting enough seeing a castle and being inside of it, but it was very touristy and commercialized, with gift shops around every corner and everything costing an arm and a leg. That green lawn you see in the picture served as our dining table as we plopped our tired bodies down upon it to share a can of soda and a few hot dogs in order to save some time and money.

I complain about the tourists, and, yes, I realize I was one, but we did meet quite a few nice ones along the way. Though, come to think of it, they were all Australian or Canadian...hmmm...interesting. Anyway, this photo was taken by a very kind Canadian woman who, inadvertently, gave us a bit of a laugh. She pegged us as Americans right away and had us impressed with her ear for accents until she said to The Viking, "Wow, that's a pretty strong accent you have. What part of the Midwest are you from?" She had to laugh, too, when he answered with a grin, "New York City!" In her defence, The Viking has only the slightest of New York accents, detectable mostly when he says, "chocolate," or "drawer". I like to ask him questions about the chocolate I left in the drawer or if we should paint the drawers a nice chocolate brown, but he gets irritated with that pretty quickly. Anyway, moving on...

The Viking had loads of fun trying to hide amongst the wax figures, insisting I take this shot of him in the Kingmaker exhibit. I had never seen wax figures before (we declined to take in the wonders of Madame Tussaud's) and, I must admit, I found them to be pretty creepy. I'm still not convinced all of them were wax. I'm telling you, there were some real people in there standing very skillfully still, just waiting for our backs to be turned so they could pounce on us.

This young lad, in particular, gave me the jitters.

This photo, and the two that follow, made the day spent at Warwick Castle completely worth it. I think these helmets were intended to amuse children, but my Viking got an immense measure of satisfaction from stomping around in them.

I think you see what I mean.


Our first evening in York marked the low point of our trip. We got predictably lost, it rained buckets practically from the moment we left the Castle, and we had foolishly decided to find lodging upon our arrival instead of booking something beforehand. We had heard it to be quite an adventure to blow into a new city and see where the winds of fate may take you. It was very nearly a disaster. There was, of course, some kind of railroad convention in town and every place was full. The only place we could find was a third-floor walk-up with, as the kindly Scot helping us put it, "a wonky bathroom door" that wouldn't shut all the way. But as it was only the door between the bedroom and the bath, we didn't care.

The next problem was actually finding the place. The Viking refused to spend money on yet another taxi and insisted we could find our way ourselves and walk there easily. With all our luggage. In the rain. In a city mysteriously missing most of its street signs. By the time we got to our room, I was actually blubbering like a child. But the discovery of a curry shop on the corner and a nice, deep, soaking tub in the bath did wonders for my presence of mind and we wound up passing the night rather pleasantly, sitting on the bed bundled up in cosy terry-cloth bathrobes, munching samosas and watching the telly.

The next day dawned bright and clear and turned out to be as spectacular as the day before had been disappointing. We took a day trip to the small village of Pickering in order to ride a steam engine into the train station used as Hogsmeade Station in the Harry Potter movies. Yes, another HP reference. Just a few more, I promise!

This isn't the actual engine used as the Hogwarts Express (that one was on display in the railway museum as part of that pesky railway convention, but we didn't know it until we were on our way to London) but it was wonderful anyway. This was the day I missed the kids the most. They would have loved riding that train!

It had the old-fashioned compartments with the sliding glass doors, just like in the movie, and would have been very cool even if I had never even heard of Harry Potter. We got lunch off the trolley and enjoyed the Yorkshire scenery rolling gently past the windows.

The train pulled into Goathland Station, the quaintest little train station I've ever seen, which is probably why it was chosen to portray Hogsmeade Station. It has lots of little shops (we bought toys for the kids and some ice cream) and is nestled in this little valley in the middle of nowhere. The village of Goathland lay tantalizingly close by, just waiting to be explored, but we had to catch the train back in time to see York Minster before it closed so off we went reluctantly.

It was in the station at Pickering that we struck up a conversation with an Australian woman who was heading back to York as well and offered to save us untold amounts of time and money by driving us back in her car. I was immediately wary of her offer, convinced she was planning to rob and bludgeon us, but The Viking sized her up and felt he could take her so he agreed. He sat watchfully in the back seat while I nervously played navigator in the front. She proved all my suspicions false and turned out to be merely a nice woman who enjoyed being kind to people. She wouldn't take any money for gas either, asking only that we pass the favor on to someone else in their time of need. It was much later that I realized she was probably more at risk in that situation than we were, a single woman giving a strange couple a lift. I was amazed at how trusting and kind she was and felt suitably ashamed of myself for suspecting her of having sinister intentions.

Obviously, we made it safely back to York, with all our belongings intact, and were able to begin our exploration of the city. But, alas, I think those stories are going to have to wait until next time. One more post should do it, I think.

So, tune in next time when we'll revisit our favorite city, York, travel north for a day in Durham, then head back down for the obligatory tour of our final destination, London!

1 comment:

Amongst The Oaks said...

....mysteriously missing most of its street signs....

Psst. It isn't just that city, it's ALL OF ENGLAND! We often drove round for hours, not sure what street we were on because we couldn't find a sign. When we arrived at our friend's house in Manchester right on schedule, they were totally shocked because everyone just calls them from the motorway exit and says, "Come lead us to your house." Even the English folks have trouble with the lack of signs.
Laura from Amongst The Oaks