I don’t know what it is about York. I assumed I’d love it, but I didn’t. Even though it’s ancient – its bones go back to Rome, it felt somehow fake-old to me, like an American city pretending to be British.
I took the train along the coast from Edinburgh to York, and it was a beautiful, very scenic ride. I’d intended to stop off along the way at Alnwick Castle, but I’d picked up one souvenir I hadn’t wanted to: a British cold. I felt pretty much ok, but I didn’t have the energy I should have done. So I skipped the optional excursion. I do love train travel in the U.K.; the trains run on time, and if you have a Britrail pass like I did, you can just hop on any train you want, anytime. It felt so freeing, because otherwise, to get the good fares, I would have had to buy the tickets before I left for Europe, and that would have locked me in to where I had to go, and what time. One tip: if you’re traveling a short distance, don’t fill the date in on your Pass until the conductor asks you to. When I went to Leeds Castle, I got a free ride both ways because the conductor was nice enough to tell me I didn’t have to use my Pass on such a short distance!
My hotel in York, the Bar Convent, was brilliant. It was a functioning convent, and so quirky and charming.
It reminded me of a hotel for hobbits. A lot of the doors were short – even for me, and I’m only 5’4″. I could – just barely – walk through my room’s door without ducking, but the toilet across the hall? Not a chance.
The toilet had some crazy forced perspective. It got tinier as you walked in.
And, most importantly, the people who run it are wonderful. The male receptionist (whose name I have already forgotten) was the friendliest guy. He took me on a quick tour of the place on the way to my room, pointing out which way was the breakfast room, the chapel, the garden, the toilet. There were so many little passageways and staircases, it was like a maze. Fortunately, the walls were well-marked with directions. The receptionist told me to feel free to wander wherever I wanted. I said it was a good thing there were so many directional signs, or I’d get lost for sure. He said, “That’s okay – we feed anyone we find lost and starving in the hallways!”
After I settled in, I took his advice for a wander, and when I passed the reception desk, he jumped up and took me on a more in-depth tour. We visited the chapel, which was built to be a secret, as Catholism was illegal when the convent was built.
This gorgeous dome?
It’s invisible from outside the building!
There is also a relic of a woman who was tortured to death rather than betray her priest. Inside this locked box is a mummified hand!
He opened it and showed it to me. The next day, I was actually inside the shop that used to be her home, and saw the actual priest’s hole, where the priest was hiding.
The convent gardens were lovely.
After I settled in, I went to the Railway Museum. Normally, this sort of museum wouldn’t have a lot of appeal for me, but they have Queen Victoria’s train on display, and this I wanted to see!
Inside, it was just like a Victorian house, lots of upholstered chairs, lamps with fringe, and little fussy tables. So cute. As I was forced to take pictures through the very reflective glass of the windows, none of my pictures turned out good enough to share. However, if you Google “Queen Victoria’s train carriage” there are lots available to see.
Next I went to the castle. I did not walk up the hundreds of steps for the view.
But I did visit the castle museum, which was my favorite museum of the this trip, and the best of its kind I’ve ever been to. So worth a trip if you’re in York.
They had a HUGE section of street reproduced exactly as if it were a Victorian street. All the details were perfect. They even had the sounds of the street playing over a speaker. It was very immersive.
Some of the street was meant to be residential.
But the largest section was full of shops.
Some of them were just for window-shopping,
but others you could either look inside, or actually go inside!
Part of the time, I had the whole street entirely to myself!
And as I left, I noticed that you can actually rent use of the street after hours for parties and events. Costuming friends, think of how fun it would be to hold a Victorian party here – it would be the closest possible thing to time travel!
The second day I was in York, I visited the Shambles, the famous little shopping street. And I did love this particular bit of York.
Sometimes, you’d catch a glimpse of the Minster.
And then, the Minster itself.
Unlike Westminster Abbey, the Minster allows photos. Yay!
Lots of stained glass, but like the Abbey, too high up to really appreciate.
The faces were the best part.
The Elizabethan-era memorials were splendid, and gave me just a hint of how colorful the entire church must have been, when it was new and all the stonework (walls, ceiling, and posts) were all painted vivid colors.
And down in the crypt, a memory of the past: an opening to the Roman foundation. Those are coins down there…people just can’t resist throwing money into any vaguely well-like opening they see.
York was super easy to navigate in, because of all the signposts.
Geese wander at will through the streets, completely unperturbed by traffic.
I visited the ruins of St. Mary’s.
Another reminder of Roman days…everywhere in the gardens surrounding St. Mary’s were Roman caskets, dug up and discarded during construction of modern buildings.
Hundreds of them were thrown in the rubbish pit, until someone rescued a bunch of them and used them for garden “art”. Interesting to think that sometime in the future, our own graves might be treated similarly.
And for my mother, who loves pictures of laundry…
Even though I never really bonded with York as a city, it ended up having my favorite museum, and being my favorite place to shop.