May 22 – Vikings, walls, boats, and Shambles

Good morning! After a lovely night’s sleep it was time for our one and only full day in beautiful York. I know you’ll all be glad to know that all the washing was dry enough, so just for fun I put another load on this morning. We were out and about before the cafe below us opened, so went to a Caffe Nero, one of many all over the country.

First fun thing on the agenda today was Jorvik – the Viking Museum. I knew very little about York’s Viking history – but I guess this is why places like Jorvik exist. It was interesting to learn just how advanced the Viking city was, and to see the excavations of a few dwellings literally beneath our feet. Unexpectedly, things took a bit of a Titanic-museum turn, as we found ourselves boarding a ride that took us through ideas of what Jorvik itself would have looked like back in the day. It was very well done, some robots were in the ‘uncanny valley’ where you couldn’t be completely sure you weren’t staring at a person, until their movement betrayed their robot origins. It was very well done, anyway. In addition to that, they also had ‘smellivision’ – as you travelled through ancient Jorvik, you were assailed with various scents – some nice, like the wood fires burning inside the huts, to the less-than-nice pig pen, or left over animal parts. It added to the experience that’s for sure. Here are some pictures (but no smells).

The Viking history of York is something I’m going to have to read on some more because it was interesting – I never realised how advanced they were. Lots of dyed fabrics, vibrant clothes, fund and games, musical instruments, all sorts of cool stuff. Apparently in this part of the city they’ve excavated over 40,000 objects, including a few skeletons, each of which had a tale to tell showing history of disease and so forth. It was a relatively quick experience, about an hour, but packed full of interesting information.

Right nearby the museum was a cool shop I remember from our visit to London years ago – Flying Tiger. In a way, it’s a kind of mini-IKEA – in so far as you have to walk the maze from end to end, and it’s chock full of small-scale Scandinavian goodness. Of course I couldn’t buy much despite wanting to. We need one in Sydney!

We popped back to the room to hang out this morning’s load of washing, then on the the hop-on-hop-off down to Exhibition Square, which has the best bit of the walls which (mostly) surround the city, and as per yesterday’s commentary, this is the part with rails, as “it’s always nice to come home with the same number of people you set out with” 🙂

The city walls were interesting, interspersed with arrow slits and little fortifications along the way, and the chance to see into a whole bunch of peoples back gardens – they must really (not) love that. One thing that might seem silly is the “TV Birds” – you know how on all English TV you hear bird noise in the background and it’s different to ours in Australia – but it eventually struck me that yes we’re hearing the proper birds now. Lovely!

We descended the wall at (I think) Monk Bar, had some gelato to refresh, then set about exploring some of the streets around the place. As luck would have it we stumbled across a Cat Cafe. It looked very closed – but you to kind of stand at the window and wave so a staff number can safely let you in. So, why not, spent half an hour with some lovely sleepy kitties, it was nice especially being away from our own cat for a while now.

Next up, we found The Shambles – the famous street in York with the wobbliest buildings, some of which almost meet in the middle in their upper storeys. Being a lovely day, the place was of course swarming with tourists, and hey we were part of the problem, but it still nice to see it. For some reason the sweet shop was super-in-demand and had a queue of maybe around 50 people just waiting to get in, go figure. Apparently it is not named because the street does happen to look like a bit of a Shambles, but the name does kinda fit. A number of tourist operators strongly suggested visiting the York Minster to see the stained glass windows within – but, nah I’m not donating £18 to a church organisation that is no doubt packed to the rafters with wealth that they’re probably not spending on those that need it.

We stopped nearby for a late-ish lunch, a kind of roast-burger, and figured out that we should be able to make it in time to the cruise that up and down the River Ouse. Sure enough we were in time, it was nice to sit for a while and watch the world go by. There weren’t too many remarkable things to be seen, but was interesting to hear how often York floods and just how high the water can get – about 5 metres for one of their serious floods, which might not be huge in the grand scale of things, but enough to cause some trouble for many of the houses and pubs near the river. The only trouble I had was keeping my eyes open, I was kinda knackered by this stage, so a brief restorative nap did the world of good :). One the interesting things they pointed out was the number of little archways in the walled banks of the river – these used to lead directly to shop basements, or even a series of tunnels, to enable fast unloading of goods, must have been handy back in the day.

After the river cruise we had a brief wander around the York Museum Gardens, and it’s derelict St. Mary’s Abbey. As it was a warm (for England) day, there were plenty of people just lying on the grass enjoying a lovely sunny afternoon, and why not. Wonderful day for it.

Dinner tonight was at a Japanese restaurant, Ipfu. To be honest it was much better than I was expecting – really delicious, beautifully cooked and presented, it was really really good. Winner winner sushi/tempura dinner!

That’s pretty much it for our time in York. What a beautiful city it is. Richly steeped in so much history – visible, tangible, in-your-face history at pretty much every turn, and I love it. For example I figured this airbnb was old, but it didn’t take much digging at all to find out it was built in the early 16th century – that kinda blows my tiny little mind. Not to mention the street itself has been known to exist since at least the 12th century.

Time to finish the evening with the mundane stuff – trying to re-pack the suitcase, slightly dreading getting it down the stairs without falling down the same. At least it’s a short walk, mostly downhill, to the train station tomorrow, for our next destination. All aboard!

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