Go north, young woman::York, England, pt.1

“York was a city, when London was just a stew,” biased locals patiently explain to their visitors. With its abundance of churches, twisty cobblestone streets, guild halls, medieval ruins, and ancient stone wall snaking around the town, we did find York to be a bit stew-like and a tasty one at that. Indeed, exploring York’s snickleways and ginnels will serve up a flavor that is nuanced and satisfying- toss in a large serving of history, a good dose of great architecture, a mix of the fashionable, an epicurean dash, then muddle it together and voila- a vacation destination that will satisfy the appetites of girlfriends, families, soloists, and romantics.

I’d highly recommend treating yourself to a first class ticket on the National Express for the scenic two hour train ride from London. We loved the big comfy reclining seats, and our private table came in handy for organizing our trip notes. The complimentary refreshments and WiFi were a welcome touch-so much more civilized than air travel madness.

We raced to our hotel with only 20 minutes to pretty-up before meeting our hostess at the famed York Horseraces. Our instructions were to wear our “poshest frocks, most stylish hats, highest heels…” (As if!) We just kept pinning flowers and ribbons and scarves on our beach hats and hoped that we’d make the cut. We arrived right on time, although woefully undressed, since the locals came all decked out in flirty hats, killer stilettos and vintage Studio 54 cocktail dresses. ( see picture for our competition!)

After watching seasoned racing aficionados reading through reams of stats on both the horses and jockeys before placing their bets, we decided to lay down a few Euros for our own slightly less scientific reasons:
1. We appreciated one little jockey’s rosy unshaven cheeks.
2. We admired a particular horsey’s stylish French braid.

Losing works up an appetite so bedraggled hats in hand, we walked over to commiserate each other at The Bistro, located in the new, ultra-hip Hotel du Vin. Soothed by the sophisticated greige neutrals, slate floors, the relaxing library and outdoor spaces, and a few more glasses of champagne, we decided to indulge in their humongous burgers topped by bacon and gruyere cheese, with fries, although we managed to show a tad of restraint by sharing a single order of sticky toffee pud.

Guided walks
Next morning we met up with our guide, Keith Mulhearn, a big bear of a fellow, who really knew his stuff. Not able to keep our Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans in order, via entertaining yet informative stories Keith simplified York’s convoluted history, starting at 71 AD to the present. He walked us around the compact town, recommending important sites worth exploring later, such as the renowned York Minster, Clifford’s Tower, and the Shambles (the medieval butchers’ street) taking time to point out the old whipping post where back in the day a husband could publicly flog his wife for drinking in public.
A font of knowledge with a flair for telling a good tale, Keith really made it come alive.

Minster meanderings
Upon our return to the Minster, the largest medieval cathedral in Great Britain, we were completely enthralled with its soaring ceiling, gothic monuments and amazing stained glass- one window alone is about the size of a tennis court. (Just by chance, we stumbled into a small workshop, a block away, where fulltime restorers painstakingly endeavor to repair the bits that need it.) After checking out the Undercroft, Treasury and Crypts on the main floors we climbed all 275 winding narrow stairs of the Central Tower for a fabulous view of the City below.
Tip: Bring a bottle of water if you decide to do this.

That evening, we returned to the Minster for a performance at the Early Music Festival. (Not our usual taste in music, particularly when we found out that that night’s performance was a group of a cappella singers specializing in baroque music.) Surprisingly, between their soulful voices and the magical setting it turned out to be an unforgettable evening.

Please continue for part 2.

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