Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Old Friend, Yorkity York York York

Travel Buddy and I spent one day in York at the tail end of our British Adventure. I hadn't been there since June 2004, when I packed up my phone booth coin bank and my sheep-shaped doorstop, and went home after living there for nine months. Going back to York was not like going back to London, where I've been several times, but never for more than three days at once. York feels very much like home. London feels like a place you stop on the way to somewhere else.

So, here is a brief tour of my favorite parts of York. First, of course, the statue of Constantine the Great in front of York Minster.

I somewhat famously have the hots for this statue. Come on, check out the lion faces on those sandal-boots. Constantine is awesome. He was the first emperor of Rome who became a Christian, although he could hardly be said to have had undivided religious loyalties. Nevertheless, it was under his reign that most Christians stopped being persecuted. I say most because non-orthodox Christians were frowned upon. And if possible, killed. And he didn't like Jews that much. And, for reasons lost to history, he had his wife and son executed. So you see it is really better to venerate the statue than the man. I am totally normal.

I also really like Goodramgate (gate comes from gata, the Old Norse word for "street"). First of all, it has these striking half-timbered buildings with signs on them that say nice, friendly things like "cream tea" and "sandwiches" that make you feel somehow like Winnie-the-Pooh in a shop full of honey.

It also has, at the end of the street, a National Trust gift shop. I like nothing more than a National Trust gift shop. Everything in them is stamped with birds or ladybugs or green leaves, and if it isn't waterproof then it doesn't need to be, and whatever it is, it's 100% genuine and made from recycled paper, plastic, egg cosies, or whatever. In short, while you are in one, you fall under the welcome illusion that the world isn't all going to hell. I would live in one if I could.

One of my favorite places, hidden in plain sight, is the church of All Saints, Pavement. It is always open. It is always silent. It is always empty. It always has a blue ceiling.

It dates to the fourteenth century and is just to the side of the main square in the center of the city. It's small, especially compared to the Minster, but that just makes it feel less intimidating.

To be honest, I can't remember what this ornate wooden structure is because this is the only picture I took of it. That seems typical of my experience of this church. It's odd, in a nice way.

One can't talk about York without mentioning the Shambles, a short street parallel to the main square, which is very old and feels like it's going to collapse at any moment. Usually it's full of old ladies and tourists.

I walked through it once at Christmastime, at night. It managed to be both beautiful and creepy at the same time. I admire that in architecture.

Next to the Shambles there's an open-air market selling random things like belts, tea towels, and socks with stuffed cow's heads on them. Not real ones, obviously. They also sell fruit...

...and drawings of famous people.

Why anyone would want a drawing of Cristiano Ronaldo is beyond me. I hold him responsible for kicking England out of the Euro Cup in 2006, and it is because of him that I can now never go to Portugal. As for David Tennant, this is the second time he's turned up in one of my posts for no good reason, so I'm not really in a position to mock the fangirls who would probably buy this.

Other features of York include:

1. Obscenely charming storefronts like this:

2. A rawther nice defensive wall for when the Scots finally decide they've had enough:

3. Peculiar decorations everywhere you look:

4. And (I am assuming this is universal) bed and breakfasts offering the best free comestibles ever: shortbread biscuits, Yorkshire Tea, and . . . UHT milk!

You don't see UHT milk here in the US. UHT stands for "ultra high temperature" and is a way of sterilizing food. UHT milk lasts much longer whether opened or unopened, but it comes in unappetizing-looking boxes, like juice, and I guess we Americans don't like that. I never noticed any difference between UHT milk and regular milk, so my excitement was purely based on the fact that UHT milk means YOU ARE IN ENGLAND and usually also YOU ARE HAVING TEA, and that's always nice.

Anyway, after two solid weeks of sleeping in grungy hostels with eight to twelve snorers and unreliable access to basics such as refrigeration and silverware, I was as happy as an octopus under a coconut shell when I sat down on that clean bed, turned on the telly, and had a nice hot cup of Yorkshire Tea.

York knows what I like.


Maeve said...

1. I completely agree about Constantine. I love him in large part because he built a church (which doesn't survive) with cenotaphs to all 12 apostles in order that he might be buried in the middle of them -- thus having his body stand in for those of the missing apostles and of course the perpetually absent Christ. BEST interpretation of Christianity ever.

2. I have one word to say about your etymological skills: neat!

3. Speaking of National Trust Gift Shops, have you ever played Monarchy? It is not to be missed!

Simon said...

1. He sure was an original, that Constantine. And so modest.

2. Moo.

3. I have not played Monarchy. But I'm imagining intrigue and violence, am I right?