Saturday, January 12, 2008

England: Part IV

This post should wrap up my Trip To England Written Report With Photos, as long as I don't get too wordy and can cram it all in.

Are we ready? Where were we? Oh, yes, York. Our favorite city. We didn't really do anything spectacular in York, but we just loved the feel of it for some reason. We felt we could have stayed another week there, just prowling around.

The city walls are still intact which make it impressive at first sight. You can walk along the entire length of the wall if you are so inclined, but as it's quite a distance, it's rather an ambitious undertaking. We walked along just a short portion of it, just to say we did.

Here's one of the medieval gates, called a bar. Streets are gates and gates are bars and bars are pubs in York (of course bars are called pubs throughout all of the UK, but it just flowed so nicely there). Lost? Just wait until you try to navigate your away around the street-sign-less city limits! It was in York that another kindly Australian woman took pity on us, the lost American couple arguing over a map on a street corner, showed us where we wanted to go and explained why there is a distinct lack of street signage throughout all of England.

Are you ready for this? It's from WWII. Apparently, when they English feared invasion by the Germans, they spitefully decided to take down all the street signs. They figured if the Nazis were going to overrun the country, then it was just as well for them to be lost! Actually, it's not a half-bad strategy. The amusing thing is, once the war was over, the people decided, in their typically English way, not to bother putting most of the signs back up because anyone who really needed to know where to go already knew, and anyone who didn't, um...didn't.

I have no idea if that's really true or if the kindly Australian lady was having a bit of fun with us, but I like the story anyway.

So, as I mentioned before, we made it back into York, after riding the pseudo-Hogwarts Express, just in time to get into York Minster before it closed for the day. Now, we didn't visit Westminster Abbey (I know, I know, stop screaming at me) and I have yet to visit Notre Dame, so I can't compare it with those reputed examples of cathedral splendor, but York Minster has to be one of the most breathtaking visions I have ever seen.

By the time we got to York, we had already toured Lacock Abbey, Bath Abbey, Gloucester Cathedral and several village chapels and churches. I had experienced beauty and reverence in stone and glass form. I went into York Minster expecting to find it much the same, another lovely building I could check off my list.

I did not expect the breathlessness I felt at the pure magnificence and exquisite beauty of the place. For the first time in my life, I was absolutely dumb-struck. I stood, mute in the center of the Cathedral, all senses going into overload. These photos simply do not do it justice.

I know it's a cliche, but standing in the hushed awe of York Minster, I felt I caught the most fleeting glimpse of what my finite human mind can possibly imagine as Heavenly. It's very beauty and splendor seemed to invoke God's presence. Mission accomplished then, eh?

We arrived in the middle of Evensong so we could not sit in the service, but we stood outside the gate and listened. I have been a musician all my life and have heard my share of beautiful music, but that was the first and only time I have been moved to tears by the sheer beauty of it. The Viking knows my cold-hearted analytical approach to music and was shocked to see me crying while listening. It was indescribable. As an added treat, shortly after the service ended, a children's choir rehearsal was conducted right under our very noses. I loved listening to the children's voices echoing through the vast space, watching them fidget with their music and look around impatient and bored while the choirmaster stopped and made corrections. I wanted to march over and say, "How on earth can you be BORED? You are singing in YORK MINSTER, you lucky brats!" Happily this scenario only happened in my head. We did not get thrown out of York Minster.

My brush with the sublime left me emotionally spent and I had no choice but to rest on the steps once we made our way back outside. The Viking snapped this photo of me which I think is blurry and boring, but he likes for reasons I can't remember. He said I look, "European," or "Cosmopolitan," or something else quite unlike me. So I included it for him. In case he reads this. Which he only does rarely.

We concluded the day with a ramble through the Shambles, an ancient street which used to be the butchers' market in olde York and boasts a distinction I can only half remember; oldest intact city street in England? Something like that. It may also be one of the narrowest city streets, but then I might just be making that up. Either way it was charming and one of those places you just have to go if you're in York.

This wonky house was not far from the Shambles and, no, the photo is not warped, nor are you seeing things. The house is crooked and seems rather like the Weasleys' Burrow and held together solely by magic. This is just the kind of house I would find myself living in. And if it was in England, I'd be happy the rest of my life, I think.

The next day was my birthday. We began by having a tremendous row, overheard by at least one housekeeper, and stalking through a museum the name of which alludes me at the moment. We wound up going through the museum separately, partly because we have very different sight-seeing techniques and philosophies and therefore drive each other a little crazy, and partly because I was still mad and it took an entire tour of the museum and a bit of distance before I could cool off. But we made up, took our leave of York and our sights on the rugged city of Durham.

Durham was the only place we encountered accents we had difficulty understanding. There was one cab-driver, in particular, whose accent was so thick I had no choice but to translate what I could decipher for The Viking. I wonder if the poor man had as much trouble understanding us?

The Cathedral, by no means the most magnificent, was the most unique of all the Cathedrals, Abbeys and Chapels we saw. Very Norman in appearance, it was more rugged, sturdy and massive than the others. It was also darker, more brooding and austere. I had heard it had been used as a filming location so I approached a teen-aged tour guide and asked timidly if it was true. He got a very patient but smug grin on his face as he explained we had missed film crews by only a few weeks. Then, seeing he had a pathetic fan on his hands (though I tried to insist I was interested only so I could tell my children about it--ha ha) he told me he could show me a wall erected to cover a water pipe for filming. Would I be interested in seeing it? Heck, yes, I would!

There it is, in all its glory. A drab, nondescript piece of the Harry Potter movie set. And I touched it. And, yes, I'm a loser. And yes, this is the last Harry Potter reference for this post. I must admit, the guide looked very pleased with himself as he pointed out this fascinating bit of trivia. And the wall is quite impressive. The portion with the plaque on it, which has nothing whatsoever to say about anything HP related, is not made of stone, but of sheet rock or something else undeniably modern. You'd never know it unless you touched it so I would say the art department did its job quite well.

I can't remember what part of the Cathedral this is...

...but this is back in the Cloisters and was used in many scenes in all of the Harry Potter movies. Ooops! Did I promise there wouldn't be any more HP references? I'm so sorry, I just couldn't help myself. Each time I watch one of the movies and Durham Cathedral's Cloisters pop up, I point and yell, "I was there," and someone throws a pillow or sock at me. That should make you feel better.

We celebrated my birthday by attending Evensong at the Cathedral. We sat in the quire, surrounded by the choir, and a most dignified and genteel Englishwoman was kind enough to help me find the readings and songs to follow along. It was the best way to spend a birthday and if our children had been with us, it would have been the best birthday I've ever had.

We spent the rest of the evening wandering around the city. We tried to get into the castle, but there was some kind of festival going on so we had to settle for far-off photos instead. I've since read it's not really worth touring anyway as it is part of the University. I don't know why that is, but it helps ease the sting of not being able to go inside.

The next morning we woke early to catch a train back to York, and then settled in for a long train ride to London, our final destination. I had the joy of reading Murder on the Orient Express for the very first time while on that train from York to London. How thrilling is that? I think The Viking read a newspaper like a jolly, stodgy Englishman.

London. We arrived at the beginning of a record-breaking heat wave. It was stifling and horrible, weather-wise. All anyone was talking about was the heat, the heat, the heat! That, and Ronald Reagan's death, but mostly the heat.

We actually stayed just outside London in Surrey, in this lovely Edwardian B&B. London was dreadfully expensive and it was refreshing to come back to this place and relax at the end of the day.

This was our room, most dreamy, which had the most superb bath tub I have ever had the pleasure of soaking in.

What the heck, here's a picture of the tub! If I could have packed it up and taken it home with me (with the owner's permission, of course) I would have. Just the right depth and length for a restorative soak. Ah, good times.

We only had two blisteringly hot days in London and as it was the end of our trip we were tired and opted out of a lot of the things we had originally planned to see. We decided most of London's most famous sights would be best seen from a nautical viewpoint, and set sail up the famed River Thames.

The London Eye(sore) best viewed at a distance, I think. We had no desire to get any closer to it than this and were quite content with snapping away up at it with our cameras rather than from inside of it.

Say it with me, "Look, kids, Big Ben! Parliament!" Oooh, aaaah!

We did stick with our plans to get up close and personal with The Tower of London. It took the entire rest of the day and I began to feel as if I had been sentenced to live the rest of my days in the Tower after spending several hours there, but I'm glad we did it. We did take many photos in the Tower, but in the interest of time and mercy, I'll only share a few.

The legendary Tower Ravens. Their perpetual presence stems from a superstition from the time of Charles II which warns of the falling of both the White Tower and the British Commonwealth should ravens no longer inhabit the Tower grounds. Their wings have been clipped to prevent this horrible fate from ever coming true.

Henry VIII's suit of armor with its startling codpiece. One has to wonder whether it was that size out of necessity of just plain ego. Can you just imagine if codpieces were still fashionable today?

We finished our sight-seeing in London, and indeed in all of England, with lunch eaten on the lawn of Westminster Abbey. By the time we got there, we were exhausted of all our resources: time, energy and money. So we just looked at each other, shrugged, and collapsed on the lawn. I have greatly regretted our lack of fortitude ever since, but at the time, it was the last place I wanted to be. Mom and Daria explode in waves of rage whenever they remember that we simply skipped it, but I swear, next time I'm in London, I will tour Westminster Abbey properly!

That about does it for our trip to England. We had one more day in London which we spent shopping for gifts to take home, which was an experience in and of itself. We found an outdoor sidewalk sale and had tons of fun culling through all the treasures in the stalls. We managed to get something for everyone on our list before heading off to the airport for our flight home.

I hope you have enjoyed hearing about our trip. I have surely enjoyed sharing it with you, reliving old but cherished memories!


J Auclair said...

I felt the same way about York (okay, 25 years ago). And there's a little bit about York in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke; I recognized it even after all these years.

Marilyn said...

Oh, a dreamy room, a dreamy tub, and a dream of a trip! Thanks so much for sharing it all. It all looked wonderful.