22 MAY 2010
I was up at an insanely early hour. I can't say the exact time but it was early enough that I was on the street and taking a picture of a hot air balloon floating over the city at 7:02AM and a couple of hours before I might grab my breakfast. That meant even more wandering and as I wandered I kept watching for a possible room for the night. The young woman at the desk the previous day had said she would be on the lookout for a room for me but that didn't relieve me of my responsibility. My pre-breakfast wanderings took me back past the train station and I checked the ticket counter but it was still closed. The reason for checking was that in my rush the previous day I had bought the wrong ticket -- a non-refundable non-exchangable ticket which would do me no good at all being, as it was, for the wrong day. Perhaps I was more tired than I had thought. I had given the inexpensive useless (to me at least) ticket away the previous evening and needed to get the correct one.
Down past the train station a mile or so was the NRM - the National Railway Museum -- which I wanted to visit but if it was too early for a ticket desk to be open it was obviously too early for a museum. The walk-by was more to ensure that I knew the location and to find out the opening time. Eventually I headed back in the direction of the hotel and, as luck would have it, the railway ticket office had just opened. The new ticket was far more expensive than my original useless one and came with another big problem -- the railway schedule on Sunday is much more sparse than on other days and, given the hour which I needed to get to the Manchester airport for checkin I would have to take the very first train of the day at the obscene hour of 6:30AM. Oh well, if I can't find a hotel for tonight perhaps I could just find a convenient bench or bush and sleep at the station?
As it turned out there was no need for such extremes. After breakfast the desk staff at the Minster Hotel did some more checking and found me a room for the night. The only real problem was that the room was virtually at the opposite side of the city (by which I mean the old, inside-the-walls portion). This forced me into a compromise with my "walk the city" pledge and I broke down and took a cab from my old lodgings to my new lodgings when the time came. The new hotel was similar to virtually every other one I had seen -- a huge Edwardian(?) house refitted from personal to commercial use. Every space from the attic to the stable gets taken up in these conversions and I think that I was in the old carriage house. No problem though -- it was a room with a bed and a bath and not ruinously expensive and I would not have rejected it even at twice the price.
The rest of the day went pretty much as the beginning did -- more wandering and looking. I eventually did get back to the Railway Museum when they opened, finishing up there at a bit past 2PM. The museum is something of a mixed bag. There are some truly impressive displays and some exotic equipment but I had little luck whipping up a lot of enthusiasm. Perhaps it was just that I was tired from the earlier wanderings which took me to the Viking museum at Jarvik which gives another view of the life in ancient post-Roman pre-Norman York. I also wandered the famed Shambles [my impression bottom-center] which is a tangled warren of ancient shops in the oldest part of the city. This probably wasn't the best day for this since the tourist hordes were especially thick. But for picturesque, you'd be hard-pressed to beat the Shambles.
There were variety of buskers plying their trade in the old part of the city amid the tourist hordes and, for the most part, they were a mixed bag but I have to commend the group named Blackbeard's Tea Party. They are talented and entertaining and I was frankly quite surprised to find such a group performing on the street. It is a bit like finding out that they guy playing for tips on the street corner is Jeff Beck. This group has at least one CD out although it seems to be virtually impossible to find in the US. Luckily one can download tracks at amazon.com. I'd suggest track 2: 'Cliffs of Moher / Slagthro's Death Roundabout' as a good introduction. The goups style is hard to pin down -- it is definitely celtic but with rock/folk influences. The group has a website and you can buy their CD there as I did. If you are having a ceilidh you really ought to consider hiring these folks before they become too famous for busking and parties!
I continued wandering and wandering until I could wander no more so I headed back to the hotel to rest my feet at last. I got my shoes off and flopped onto the bed in a daze and thought for a long time about what I had seen on my trip but especially during my short time in York. Perhaps it was some sort of fever coming on since I did come down with a truly horrendous cold shortly thereafter but I actually thought to write down some of my thoughts.
- One observation was inescapable -- a rather large percentage of the young women in York are very attractive. That got me wondering if this was some sort of hangover from the Scandanavian Viking genes? Or was my observation influenced by the warmth of the day which seemed to have brough a lot of skin into view?
- Another was that the variety of market stalls and shops in the Shambles is amazingly large for such a small area and the tourist density on a warm clear beautiful weekend of the York races approaches infinity.
- I used to collect clocks and know a bit about what makes a good one. The Railway Museum displayed a beautiful 1862 clock which originally cost £17. What sort of fortune might it be worth today?
- And, last but not least, based on my experience so far, the English seem nearly incapable of making a good sandwich for some reason. I will forgive this seeming lack based on the number of good curries I've had.
Panic! A bit after 4PM I popped up from my bed after realizing that, of all the things I wanted to do and see in my short time in York, I had entirely missed going to the Minster. This would certainly not do. I quickly gathered my necessities and rushed out. Deciding that walking the miles to the center of the city would cost too much time I grabbed the bus and headed out. I managed to get to the Minster before the tourists would be herded out. In fact, since there was to be a musical performance by the Black Dyke Band that evening which was to be broadcast by York Hospital Radio there was a major amount of activity while preparations were made. I was in the Minster before the evensong service and, although I didn't attend, I did listen while wandering the beautiful old structure quietly snapping pictures. As much as I wanted to, I just couldn't bring myself to wait for the band's performance and left a little before the performance was to begin and wandered back toward the hotel. Since there hadn't been time for a meal I stopped at an 'Indian' restaurant for a quick curry. I hit the restaurant at a rather dead time and this lead me to a discussion with the head waiter while the kitchen worked on my Rogan Josh. I learned that virtually no Indians are in the 'Indian' restaurant trade in the UK with most of the establishments actually being Bangladeshi or Pakistani. Either way is is fine with me. Having a variety of restaurants serving food from the subcontinent was a refreshing change for me. I did have a bit of confusion about what is and what isn't Rogan Josh. To me the dish is a spicy lamb or mutton stew with little more than meat and onions in a yoghurt-based sauce. In the UK it seems to have picked up a few other ingredients including tomatoes which definitely changes the look and taste. Not worse, you understand, but certainly very different from what I first experienced in Pakistan. I eventually wandered off toward the hotel satiated by curry and Kingfisher Lager to prepare for tomorrow which was definitely going to start off stressfully.