Category Archives: England

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England, Europe, London, Mickey, UK

London – Our Last Day in the UK

Category:England,London,QM2/Scotland

24 August 2015

 

By Steven –

 

I was the last to get out of bed this morning. By the time I was downstairs, the day was well under way. I was delighted to be offered a home cooked breakfast of porridge and fresh fruit. A great way to start the day. Over breakfast we discussed the strategy for the day. Kevin and I wanted to hit at least one or two sights this morning. In the afternoon, Kevin has a talk to give at Open University on the north side of town. The day will be capped with a special dinner, our last of our trip.

 

Buck House (aka Buckingham Palace) was out – simply too complicated with the rains and not much in the way of shelter until you got in. It’s agreed that we’ll hit the Victoria and Albert Museum and, if there’s time, the Science Museum or Natural History Museum. All of these are right next to each other so should be quite do-able. Darren and Ian helped us map out our journey then dropped us off at Clampham Junction Station. We were on our way.

With an unexpected train change enroute, we made it to the V&A just fine. It hadn’t really started raining full-force yet, but it wouldn’t have mattered any way. The Tube stop is right at the museum with no need to go above ground to get from the train to the lower entrance. This will come in quite handy later. Entrance to the museum is free, with the exception of some special exhibits. Other than a quick bag check, there was no line to get in.

 

We made our way through a few sections before deciding it was feeding time again. So we headed for the lunch room that Darren had recommended toward the back of the complex. We weren’t sure what we were looking for. We had the impression that there would be a quiet sit-down lunch room which we couldn’t find. After a quick call to Darren, we found that we were exactly where we should be. This was an area that has several cafeteria-style sections: hot foods, sandwiches and salads, cakes and desserts, and, of course, tea. We each went our separate ways on finding food and managed to converge at the same time to try finding a table. It was high on lunch time so finding a place to sit took some doing. We managed to snag a table in one of the very ornate rooms off to the side. The setting was lovely, just a bit crowded and noisy for our liking. The food was good and hit the spot as we marveled at the wood and plaster work high on the walls and ceiling.

 

After lunch, we hit most of the rest of the museum. My back was tired, it had become stiflingly hot (I was trying to find any pocket of air conditioning breeze I could) and Kevin’s hip began to hurt. I know that all sounds awful, and we’re not as old as all that but it is a big museum – and we’ve been at this touristy stuff for several weeks now, so give us a break. While Kevin settled back in to the cafeteria for a tea, seated next to a group of nuns for safekeeping, I headed off across the courtyard, now that it wasn’t pouring rain, to get a gelato.

 

After a bit of a rest we tried to head for the Natural History Museum just further up the Tube tunnel from the V&A. As we walked along we saw more and more people flooding into the tunnel. Flooding being the operative word here. They were drenched! To get to the Natural History Museum, we'd eventually have to go outside which would have made Kevin look like a drowned rat headed to his talk later. So back to the V&A, surely there's something we haven't seen yet. After a spin through the gift shop and poking our heads back into some adjacent rooms we’d already been through, we came across some remains of the family treasure. My mother is from the Woolsey family making us cousins to the famous Cardinal Wolsey, you know, the one that wasn’t able to obtain a divorce for Henry VIII causing the England’s break from the Catholic Church, that one. A couple sculptures that he had commissioned were recently rediscovered and now on display here at the V&A as the Wolsey Angels. That was fun to see.

Now it was time to head out and meet Darren at the same tube stop at which we’d arrived earlier. We found him waiting at the exit from the museum to guide us to our next stop Open University where Kevin was scheduled to give a talk about his new book, Psychotherapy for the Other. Find it on Amazon. Just a couple of changes on the Tube and we were across town before we knew it. When we got to our destination, we parted ways. Kevin and Darren to his talk and me to explore the area for a couple hours on my own.

 

Darren did a great job of organizing (or is that organising?) and promoting the talk. Apparently it was quite the success. Kevin even ran into one of his former grad students in the audience – a very pleasant surprise for him!

 

While Kevin was on his book tour talk, I headed up to the famous Camden Locks area just a few blocks away. This area is known for its nightlife and arts. Darren tried to head me in the direction of Amy Winehouse’s favorite spot. I never could find it, but did come across herself, her memorial statue anyway. I don’t really know much about her other than what I’ve seen/heard on The Graham Norton Show. It’s clear that she had/has quite the following as evidenced by the number of people who stopped by to take photos with her or leave small offerings of homage.

 

Otherwise, it was interesting to wonder about the shops and stalls in the area. One could easily get lost in this part of a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. And a bar, complete with a hot tub, towels available. I'll pass!

 

One thing I found that would be worth going back for was the “food court.” This was an area with several dozen food stalls. You could find cuisine from all other the world. Even though many of the stalls were closing up for the day, the mix of aromas was like a Siren’s song. I tried to resist, as I knew a big dinner was coming, but the polish sausage was too hard to say “no” to.

Before long I headed back to meet Kevin and Darren who were still excited about the success of Kevin’s talk. They asked about what I had been up to. I had to confess to the sausage to their disdain – but they just don’t understand – they weren’t there!

The Shard

Next stop dinner. Back to the Tube we go. Soon we were back to central London at the base of The Shard Tower. Last time I was in London, this didn’t exist so it was interesting to see it up close and personal. But no time to linger, we still had a bit of a walk to go to get to the restaurant and it was getting close to reservation time. When we arrived at Pizarro, Ian and Neil were already there, drinks in hand.

 

This was an amazing dinner! Unfortunately, they were out of one of the star items on the menu, which several of us were eyeing. This seemed odd in that we were there fairly early into this evening’s dinnertime. There we plenty of other things to try. I think between the five of us, we pretty much ran the whole menu. Everything was really good! At some point in the evening, the owner/chef, Jose Pizarro, himself, came in for dinner. We weren’t able to get a picture of or with him without causing a seen. Kevin and I weren’t really familiar with him, but according to Darren, he’s one on London’s foremost up-and-coming restaurateurs.

Pizarro Menu

After dinner Kevin and I insisted on getting a cab back home, much to Darren’s protestations. We were tired and weren’t up for the walk back to the Tube nor the walk from the Tube to their house. Despite, the number of black cabs running around the city, it’s apparently an extravagance to actually use them when the Tube can get you there. But after that dinner, a little extra extravagance seemed a trifle. After all, this was the last night of our trip.


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Airplanes, Airports, British Airways, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Airport, Europe, Planes, Scotland, UK

Edinburgh to London – Travel Day

Category:England,London,QM2/Scotland,Scotland

23 August 2015

by Kevin

We’re nearing the end of our vacation and are a little exhausted, a little ready for the next and last leg, a little fearing getting all our bags down the steep hotel stairs and onto a tram for the airport. Last minute packing always brings its stresses. Though we’ve traveled enough together to know each other’s packing rhythms and eccentricities, on big travel days it always seems like we’ve never packed before. There are the showering and grooming rituals followed by dealing with an incoherent melee of dirty close, some wet from the drenching received last night, and don't forget the Scotch whiskys small and large, and assorted gifts needing to be crammed back into our luggage. I might be exaggerating just a little, but you get the picture. Controlled chaos? Barely.

Breakfast was the same; rushed servers, slightly irked patrons in the sunlit front room. All in all, this now seems comforting and I think I’ll miss this lovely, Scottish-infused confusion. Back at the room, my back is feeling better so I’m managing to wrangle some of our now grossly plumb bags out the room and downstairs. It took us a few trips, but we finally got ourselves sorted and out the door after I checked us out…an easy process. Thank you hotel staff for making our stay enjoyable and blog-worthy.

We walked out the door to see the exact tram we needed for our trip to the airport. We were advised that Sunday travel was light, so no need to call a cab. The tram gets you closer to the terminal anyway, while cabs or other hired cars have to stop a distance further from the entrance. Our ride was nice, even pleasant. The tram was clean, certainly not crowded, allowing us to have all the space we needed with our bags.

Getting from the tram to the airport turned out to be quite quick, giving us plenty of time before the flight. A light lunch near the gate was in order.

 

 

As we get ready to board, Steven reminds me of this sign we saw in Scotland on our trip to Oban. Indeed, we hope to come back again soon, we had a great time here.

 

Our flight was with British Airways to London City Airport. We were surprised to find the airplane seating configured as it was. This was an Embraer 190, for you airplane aficionados. It had coach seating throughout but with seemingly more leg room (though Seatguru.com doesn’t say so) and 2x2 seating, a bit wider than most coach seats as well. We thought it was going to be one of those little pea-shooter jets but this was more 737-sized. And, get this, free beer, wine, and cocktails! This is how economy class should be – at a minimum.

Nothing too much to report about the flight except that we took off in a window of clear skies and relatively calm winds…not at all the weather we’d experienced yesterday. The flight was quick, just over an hour and we landed without a problem at London City airport. Coming into the final approach we had wonderful views of London city and most of its iconic landmarks.

 

Meeting us at the airport were friends Darren and Ian after our bags were the last two to show up. Just a short walk from the airport to the car and we were on our way, gingerly making our way to their home in Clapham. I could feel the sense of our trip coming to close. Maybe it was being driven around and watching the city go by, or heading to the home of friends, or just having time to slow down and review the entire time away from our home – I don’t really know, but I was in a nostalgic mood by time we arrived.

Darren, Ian, and Neil’s home is a pre-war (WWII) Victorian that they have been remodeling steadily for a few years. The Clapham area has one of the largest parks in London, Clapham Commons, where dogs and humans ran freely about, all 220 acres of it!  More of that in a minute. After we met the dog and kitty, and settled in to our room, we ventured back downstairs to enjoy some adult refreshments: some wonderful Champagne Darren had selected, Neil offered up a perfect Bloody Mary. It was so good to not be moving any more, though I swear I could still feel the motion of the airplane. Sitting in their modern kitchen, surrounded by good company is never a bad way to wind down a trip and a day of travel.

After a suitable number of cocktails – just enough to vanish that weird sense of being in motion - it was time to gather up our lagging bodies and head to dinner. Since it was a Sunday, Darren had picked one of their favorite places that served a traditional English Sunday roast. I have to say, just writing about it, makes me wish for that roast again. The boys took us around the neighborhood, seeing occasional pockets of 1950-60’s housing, so different from the Victorian surrounding them. The blitz on London left parts of neighborhoods bombed out and housing needed to be put up quickly to accommodate the dislocated.  Hence, a very noticeable trait of the city are these pockets of rather plain housing amidst the curving lanes filled with Victorians.

Crossing back to the park, we angled toward our destination cutting across very large greens bisected by paved and gravel pathways. Still in Clapham Common, we arrived at The Rookery ready to eat. The Rookery. It's fashionable in America to call this type of establishment a gastro pub, but this one had none of those cloying attempts at creating an attitude with food. This was a neighborhood place first and foremost, which served hearty English fare turned up a notch.

We were sat at a round table near the kitchen and out of the main bar/seating area, allowing us to hear each other better. We had several rounds of small plates of deliciousness; a generous charcuterie of meats and other savory, salty, sweet treats…and of course wine. Lots of wine. Sunday Roast’s and pork were ordered, but we were told that the kitchen had run out of Yorkshire puddings. Darren thought that was simply not a thing that should be missing from our meal…plus we both knew that making the pudding isn't all that troubling and since we had no time rush, was completely possible. Darren ended up, politely, suggesting the kitchen could make it for us. To their credit (and Darren’s), the chef saw no problem, and we were all delighted to get our puddings as expected. It pays too, to have regulars with us who knew what was what and who was who. Thanks Darren!

 

Fully sated and a little tipsy, we made it back through the common in what seemed record time. Why is it that return journeys always seem faster? Something to do with the elasticity of time I suppose. Back home, Steven and I tucked into bed and were fast asleep.

The next morning saw a pretty mixed bag of weather. We talked about strategies for the day given that it would occasionally pour down buckets of rain with strong winds, then dissolve into sun breaks. Darren and Ian did a lot to help us figure out what was open on a Monday and what wasn’t. Buckingham Palace, “Buck House,” was out, so we settled on taking in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Mickey didn't want to be in any pictures this day - he was just a frightful mess after being up so late the night before. It think he caught a cold in the rain, poor fella. Have you ever heard a mouse sneeze and blow it's nose? I would be funny if it weren't so sad.


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UK – Onward to Scotland

Category:England,QM2/Scotland,Scotland

By Steven –

Thursday, 13 August

What a lovely visit we had in York with Linda, Kate and Bill! But now it’s time to move along. Our next stop is Glasgow.
With our “goodbyes” to Bill and their lovely daughters, Kate took us to the train station with one more scenic stop along the way at Sledmere House (http://www.sledmerehouse.com). No time to go in or thoroughly explore the grounds. It all looks amazing but will have to be saved for another day. Now to the train station.

Onward 04 Sledmere
Onward 06 Sledmere Onward 07 Sledmere
Onward 08 Sledmere Veg Stand

Here are some scenes from the Yorkshire countryside as we made our way back into York to catch the train.

Train on-time, as were we – love when it works that way. I wish I could say the rest of the trip was uneventful, but that was not the case. We had an unfortunate incident along the way, the details of which I’ll not go into here other than to say police and coroner were summoned. After a delay of about 1 ½ hours we were on our way again. Ultimately, our train that was to continue on to Glasgow was terminated in Edinburgh so a change was in order – we grabbed another one in less than 30 minutes. Edinburgh station was quite the bustling place! The next/last leg to Glasgow passed quickly though the train was now quite crowded with everyone from our original train on board as well.

On both legs, soft drinks and snacks were offered, but nothing memorable, crisps (potato chips to those of us from west of the pond), I believe. I think I also had a wine. Otherwise just coffee and tea.
We arrived in Glasgow with an easy transfer to the hotel as it was in the same building. Tucked off to the corner of the station was the inside entrance to the lobby of The Grand Central Hotel (https://www.ihg.com/spnd/hotels/us/en/glasgow/glags/hoteldetail). The hotel had all the markings of being quite the grand place in its day. It wasn’t hard to visually the well-heeled of the early 20th century arriving with their porters and steamer trunks on their way to or from estate hunting parties in the Highlands – I think there could be a novel or movie in that somewhere, perhaps already is. The 5+ story tall chandelier circa 1980-something in the main stairway seemed a little out of place.

Onward 35 Glagow Station
Still well maintained, attentive and friendly staff. But in typical European fashion, the corridors narrow with lots of doors to get the luggage through from elevator in one wing to the room in another. Our room was a little odd. It was generous in the sense that it had a separate sitting area from the bedroom, but both areas on the small side, though the bathroom was enormous – situated off a hallway connecting the sitting room and bedroom. We only had an alcove that served as a closet. Our room looked out the back of the hotel over the top of the train station roof. Looking out this way we could see the other wing of the hotel. It was obvious that the hotel had grown over the years by absorbing a successive series of buildings, all slightly different.

Onward 37 Grand Central Hotel
Onward 40 Grand Central Hotel Onward 39 Grand Central Hotel
Onward 38 Grand Central Hotel
Onward 36a Grand Central Hotel Onward 36 Grand Central Hotel
Onward 36B Grand Central Hotel

 
A quick check with the concierge about dinner suggestions (I say quick, but that’s all relative as we’re beginning to find that the Scots are quite the talkers!) put us on to an Italian grill, Barolo Gill (http://www.barologrill.co.uk), just a short walk away. A quick call for a reservation and off we headed into the streets of central Glasgow.
 
We quickly found the summer, street café version of the restaurant which would have been nice to be outside. However the street performer nearby, though had a nice sound was so loud we could hardly hear each other let alone the hostess. Fortunately it didn’t take long to establish that our reservation was actually for the full restaurant around the corner. Much more peaceful!
 
Onward 41 Barolo Grill
The meal started off quite promising. I started with the Gamberoni Con Pancetta: prawns with smoked pancetta swimming in white wine and butter – what could go wrong with that? I wanted to just drink the juice after used up all the focaccia. Kevin enjoyed the Zuppa Del Giorno which turned out to be rustic pea and pancetta. Delicious if under seasoned.
 

Onward 42 Barolo Grill
Onward 43 Barolo Grill

 
Then it was on to the steaks. We both had the 12oz Rib-eye. Kevin, at the recommendation of the waiter, had the horseradish and oregano steak crust. This sounded good in theory but turned out to be really mild and didn’t actually add any flavor, all-in-all a bit of a disappointment. Mine, on the other hand couldn’t have been any better. Besides the steak being cooked perfectly (just over blue for me thank you), it was served with a truffle oil brown steak sauce. Having tasted the sauce, Kevin stated “I truly believe that truffle brown sauce could solve the world’s problems; share a cup!” Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but it was pretty darn good.
 

Onward 44 Barolo Grill
Onward 45 Barolo Grill

 
No desserts tonight, they just didn’t look that interesting to us. Pity.
This is what a happy diner looks like:
 
Onward 46 Barolo Grill
 
Our bellies full, we take a little stroll up and down the very fashionable Buchanan Street. The shops were all closed by this time of course so a quick run back in the morning will be required for a cell phone and a pair of shorts seen in a shop window. But for now, back to the hotel.
 

Onward 47 Glasgow at Night
Onward 48 Glasgow at Night

 
Couldn’t resist a peak in the highly touted Champagne Bar on the way up to the room. Quite the elaborate space, overlooking the main hall of the train station. Kevin was wiped out so nothing for him. I opted for a whiskey rather than champagne this late at night. Some of you who follow up on Facebook may have seen Kevin quoting me on my summation of the Lagavulin 16 year old Islay Whiskey – “it’s like sucking on a charcoal from the BBQ.” So, OK, my turn to exaggerate, a bit. But it was pretty smoky, not my favorite so far!
 

Onward 49 Grand Central Hotel Onward 50 Grand Central Hotel

 
Enough for one day – off to bed.
 

Friday, 14 August

 
Early start today, have to be to the Hertz office by 10:00. Which, by the way, was not in the train station as advertised. Why would you say your location is Grand Central Station when you are clearly not in the station but a 10 minute cab ride away? Really?
 
Continental and hot buffet as well as menu order options available for breakfast this morning as part of our B&B package. Quite a spread and quite a few people here. It’s a large room and hardly a table available. The buffet was a little depleted when we came through and as an American (you can tell by their accent, you know) stated “The Americans are here, they take so much so that there’s nothing left!” There was plenty left for these two Americans, but one of us (pleading the 5th here) thought the cute little bottles had milk in them – one sip proved it to be rather thick plain yogurt – oh well, live and learn.
 
After a dash back to Buchanan Street for a burner phone and a pop into the department store for the fun shorts in the window, we’re off to the aforementioned remote Hertz office.
No Hertz Gold Service here but the wait was well worth it. We ordered an Audi-ish something-or-other but drove away in a nice new Mercedes –well OK then, same price, of course we’ll take it!
 
Onward 55 Road to Inverary
 
Off we headed for the Highlands. One or two missed turns getting out of the city. But all-in-all not too bad for driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. A few screams of horror, some nail biting, close calls, etc. but soon out of the city onto an expressway that made it a little less challenging for a moment.
 
Now exhausted after an hour of driving we needed to stop at the south end of Loch Lomond for lunch. Couldn’t have picked a better place to just pull over, we found ourselves at a place called Cameron House (http://www.qhotels.co.uk/our-locations/cameron-house).
 

Onward 60 Cameron House Onward 59 Cameron House
Onward 58 Cameron House Onward 57 Cameron House

We made good time in getting to our destination but certainly enjoyed seeing the countryside, mountain, and lochs. Even with it being a grey, foggy, and misty day, it was still stunningly beautiful.
We were greeted upon arrival by our host and the guest house’s proprietor, Jennifer. More about Jennifer and her husband, Alistair later. For now, we lugged all the luggage up to our room, the Campbell Suite of course on the top floor, with Jennifer’s help. I had my reservations about how the accommodations would be here, thinking they may be a little more primitive than would seem by the website. I couldn’t have been more delightfully surprised. The room was spacious with a great view of the loch. The bathroom was large and quite modern. Most importantly, the bed was really comfortable! The parlor downstairs with its over-stuffed sofas was available for our use any time with whiskey and wine glasses at our disposal. We’ll do a more extensive post about the Guest House later.
 

Onward 69 Thistle House Onward 72 Thistle House
Onward 71 Thistle House Onward 70 Thistle House

 
After a short rest, we ventured out for dinner. In our room was a binder with local eats. We zeroed in one a few miles down the road called Out of the Blue Bistro in Strachur (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Out-of-the-Blue-Bistro/740658709328210?sk=info&tab=overview). What a find this was! So much so that it will need to have a post all on its own as well – stay tuned for that.
 
Back at the hotel, it’s time for a night-cap of the gin we brought from the ship and then off to bed.
 
See you in the morning - xxoo


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Castle Howard

UK – Back on Terra Firma

Category:England,QM2/Scotland

Southampton to York

by Kevin -

Landing day and disembarking from the QM2 went pretty smoothly, except for the 15 min or so delay due to an issue at the dock (we never found out what that was). My colleague and friend, Karen and her husband Digby met us at the ship and off we were to a very quick visit that involved the New Forest and our first tea on the island.
The New Forest isn’t actually new at all. For those of us who know very little about the history of Britain, this is a prime example of the disparity between a US sense of time and other places in the world. The ‘new’ in New Forest refers to William the Conqueror’s establishing of this area as a new place for hunting in the kingdom. Keep in mind this was over 1000 years ago, but ‘new’ has stuck. Here’ a small blurb from the official website: http://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk

 

The New Forest has a long and proud history that dates back almost 1,000 years. It takes its name from the latin nova foresta, which translates literally as ‘new hunting ground’, although hunting had been going on in the area long before this time.
Since its creation by King William the Conqueror in 1079 for the pursuit of the ‘beasts of the chase’ – red, roe and fallow deer and wild pig – many historical events and influences have shaped the landscape and cultural heritage of the New Forest.
Okay, enough of the history lesson. We stopped in Lyndhurst where Karen and Digby escorted us through hill and dale and around the landmines from horses that are actually descendants of William’s original herd…or so I seem to recall. Correction on this point might be needed. My, I slip back into ‘professor mode’ really quickly.

York 03 - New Forest Horses 2
York 02A - New Forest York 02 - New Forest Horses 1

Steven had a close encounter with one of the horses who seemed to shine to him…or was looking for a handout – pick your narrative, I’m going with the former story line. We were still getting our land legs so every now and then I’d feel a gentle rolling and pitching as we walked. We ended in a local tea shop, Tea Total, a favorite place of Karen and Digby’s and had a little nourishment before heading to the train station and York. That’s Karen and Digby there lifting a mug to our journey. I especially liked the carrot cake Karen had.

York 01 - Karen and Digby
Getting to York meant we needed to make a connection through London (Waterloo Station to King’s Cross…yes THAT King’s Cross of Harry Potter fame). The connection window was pretty generous so we decided to go by tube instead of cab. The London tube system has got to be one of the most complete and easy to use undergrounds I’ve ever encountered. Sure it’s the oldest in the world and has some of its rough edges with a few stops looking more like WWII bomb shelter left overs, but all in all it’s really very manageable. We got to King’s Cross, no problem. Oh, we did see that famous Track 9 ¾ but didn’t stop to queue up for a photo op, so no pictures of it I’m afraid.

 

York 04 - St Pancras Train Station
On the high speed train to York we had a quiet ride. On our way, we saw a change in the landscape nearing Yorkshire. More rolling hills, golden with crops ready for harvest, dots of brilliant green made more so by passing sunbreaks.

York 06 - England from the train
The English countryside is in some ways like many countryside/rural areas in the US, but it’s the scale of the small villages and lanes you see as you wiz by that lets you know there probably won’t be an ugly strip mall or an equally ugly Walmart coming up in view any time soon. I don’t know how the UK has managed it, but the absence of ugly is a relief. I’m sure it’s there someplace, but pleasantly, we didn’t see much of the signs of American-style progress.

York 07A - Welcome to York
York 07 - York Train Station

We arrived in York on time, about 5pm, caught a black cab to our hotel, The Grange Hotel just outside the old city walls. Our bed looks pretty luxurious doesn’t it? Our mascot, Rainbow Mickey, thought so too.

York 07 - Grange Hotel
York 08 - Grrange Hotel Staircase York 11 - Mickey at Grange Hotel
York 10 - Grange Hotel Bed York 09 - Grange Hotel Breakfast Room

We got our considerable amount of luggage into the room, then headed out for a quick walk down to the city centre, passing the stone turrets leading to Yorkminster, this amazing cathedral of York. While York is in a bit of a bowl, the minster as it’s called, stands out against the landscape from all directions. It’s like your own compass, helping you navigate the tiny, turning lanes of the old city.
 
We met up with another friend and colleague and her husband for diner at an Italian place recommended by the hotel staff, La Vecchia Scuola. It was so good to see Kate again, it’s been a few years. Catching up was great fun. Her husband Bill is always a delight, great company. I didn’t know this, but Bill is heavily in training for his second (I think) triathlon. The food itself wasn’t all that special, but okay, in spite of the rather ‘trendy’ plating. I’ve grown to think this kind of presentation is just too, too precious and wish the chefs and cooks responsible would turn the page in their ‘what’s new in food styling’ manuals already. I mean, how much unnecessary lines and schmear’s of god knows what do we need on a plate? One should never have to look at a brown schmear on one’s plate should they? I rest my case.

York 12 - Mussel Risotto

York 13 - Ravioli

Steven here - I have now resolved to never, ever, under any circumstances, order risotto if it's not guaranteed to have been made to order. That is all...

 York 14 - Minster Night
Off to a quick walk back to The Grange, then to bed.

Next day, Wednesday, we indulged in the included breakfast to start the day. As it was just the beginning of the second part of our journey, I was eager to ‘get into’ the local foods, so I had smoked kippers and a soft poached egg. Not much on the plate, but very tasty. Steven had the full English, that of course included black pudding, beans, and the ubiquitous roasted tomato. Brown or white toast? That still stumbles us…yes, ‘brown’ means whole wheat or some variation.

York 15 - Grange Hotel Full English Breakfast

Full English Breakfast

Today was a very full day of sightseeing with another gracious friend and colleague of mine, Linda. York is Linda’s old stomping grounds from when she was a faculty member at a local college. She knows the place, its history, and little secrets. She was the perfect guide to orient us to all that is York. We started by heading up onto the city wall and walked around as far as you could go. Good views of the gardens of the well-heeled (City Officials, Church leaders, etc.) and the minster. Being newbees we slowed down a lot to take the photo ops all around, Linda gave us some brief history too as we went along, moving aside into the small garrison lookout’s as families tried to squeeze past on the opposite foot traffic flow. Climbing down off the city wall we landed in the south east part of the old city, navigate some quaint streets, allowing the woman in an electric wheel chair to use the skinny sidewalks while we veered off into the streets to make our way.

York 19 - Ancient Rampart

Reminds me of scenes from Monty Pyton and the Holy Grail

York -17 - Kevin on Ancient Wall York 18 - Ancient Wall and Mote

I’m not sure how to capture all that is Yorkminster, or ‘the minster’ as the locals call it. It’s imposing, impressive, and altogether beautiful inside and out. Linda managed to get us around the big line (an example of one of her secrets) to go in straight away. Soaring heights and graceful arches punctuated with spellbinding stained glass windows. We explored the ground level including many of the side chapels. Near the rear of the minster we discovered a bake sale. Yes, an old fashioned bake sale presented by the ladies of the church. Tasty treats, lovely conversation…a few remarks about that new American woman who insists on bringing her spice cake to these affairs, though they can’t figure out why, since the spices in it (cardamom, ginger, cinnamon) are really meant for the Christmas holidays. American’s have no respect for the seasons I guess. Oh, but her cakes do sell…mostly to American’s.
 
When I came out of the bake sale, I found Linda and Steven chatting up a Chaplain Emeritas – a lively chap animated in telling some tale about the church I imagined…but, no, he was gossiping about the Chinese tourists (another, confidential post is necessary for that story). Apparently, his son-in-law found a translator app for his iPhone. It helped mostly, but some things just aren’t translatable…like when the sign says don’t take pictures here…it really means it…it’s not a suggestion. Not translatable. He also let us know about the underground exhibit that was new and not well marked.
But the best of all is the amazing (really, I’m trying not to use that word often), this place had the technology in spades. At far end of the nave, where they are painstakingly restoring crumbling stone and effigies, they have a crack interactive presentation on the huge stained glass window occupying the entire rear wall. You swipe to get to an overview of the window, which itself is quite detailed, then touch the screen on what you want to know more about. Each segment had several drill-downs possible. We thought it could take an entire day just to read/listen/watch all the materials on just this one window. It was the same in lower crypt level where most of the major archeological discoveries have been made.
 
I love this stuff…the merging of technology and good old fashioned research. The site of the current minster was Roman. Some of the original barracks remain, even a largely intact section of the officers hall with frescos, whose outer wall abutted the foundation wall for the ancient Roman basilica there. So much to see. Steven noticed these very large bolts every now and then recessed into a newer concrete bulkhead. Well, the interactive displays taught us that these were there to strengthen and support the main caissons that were holding up the entire ‘new’ minster. It was discovered in the mid 1950’s I think, that the minster was on the verge of collapse, so dangerous that engineers said a bad storm could bring whole central tower down and all the walls with it. They excavated, found the ruins of the Roman structures and foundations and shored them all up with new concrete footings with these iron bars inserted to tighten the original foundations, keeping them in place…and safe. Thank you engineers!
 
Steven’s note – The Minster is under perpetual maintenance. One side was being worked on as we were there. Generations of stone masons have tirelessly kept the building in very good repair. Apparently it’s an extensive apprenticeship to learn the craft. Blocks are removed, new ones are shaped and put back into place, block by block. The work tends to stay within families as the skills are pasted down. Each block is signed or marked by the mason who created it.

 

York 20 - Minster Day
York 21 - Minster Interior York 25 - Minster Interior
York 26 - Minster Detail York 24 - Minster Ceiling
York 23 - Minster with Bake Sale York 22 - Minster Interior

 
Off then to the rest of the city and lunch at Nicholson’s Firehouse Pub. Pimms was on tap so we had a pitcher…of course. Steven enjoy his first beef pie with brown sauce and I my first fish and chips with mashed peas of this leg of our trip. Linda hates brown sauce, but later on you’ll see us mention it again…this time as a revelation.
 

York 29 - Nicholson's Pub badge
York 28 - Nicholson's Pub Tap York 32 - Pimms for lunch
York 30 - Beef Pie York 31 Fish and Chips

 
On our walk after lunch we toured the alley responsible for J.K. Rowlings Diagon Alley, the Shambles is its real name complete with crooked, leaning buildings, and a bank on its corner that looked suspiciously like Gingotts Wizarding Bank. We were pretty much spent by then, and sauntered our way slowly back to the hotel around 3pm to see Bill ready to pick us and our luggage up to be transported back to their home for the evenings stay. Somewhere along the way Steven saw these adorable pink piggy confections. We didn’t have the heart to eat them but enjoyed their pinkness.
 

York 34 - Farmers market 1
York 35 - Farmers market 2 York 40 - Shambles 2
York 39 - Shambles 1 York 41 - Gringotts Wizarding Bank
York 41A - Marzapane Piggies

 
Castle Howard was on tap next. You might recognize some of the shots. This is where Brideshead Revisited filmed, as were subsequent versions. The Howard’s still are in residence, though a talkative docent confessed to us that there is change in the air at Castle Howard. It seems the older brother, who is legally entitled to the castle and who gave it up to his younger more capable brother some 35 years ago, wants it back now. No one seems to know for certain whether the aged younger brother is still living there or not. It pays to just chat up folks…you get all sorts of interesting tidbits. The castle and its grounds are of course excessive by today’s standards. Nonetheless, they are holder of history, particularly of the power of wealth and privilege. Personally, I’m glad these great houses are still around.

 

York 42 - Castle Howard York 67 - Castle Howard
York 66 - Castle Howard York 65 - Castle Howard
York 64 - Castle Howard York 63 - Castle Howard
York 62 - Castle Howard York 61 - Castle Howard
York 60 - Castle Howard York 59 - Castle Howard
York 58 - Castle Howard York 57 - Castle Howard
York 56 - Castle Howard York 52 - Castle Howard
York 54 - Castle Howard York 53 - Castle Howard
York 55 - Castle Howard York 51 - Castle Howard
York 50 - Castle Howard York 49 - Castle Howard
York 47 - Castle Howard York 46 - Castle Howard
York 43 - Castle Howard York 44 - Castle Howard
York 45 - Castle Howard

 

Dinner that evening was truly memorable but before it Linda took us to York’s oldest running pub The Black Swan (16th Century) where we befuddled the poor barkeep with our order of Martini – dry with olives and my Bombay Blue Sapphire gin and tonic. Well, it’s certain the fellow is not in the know about the UK’s recently rediscovered passion for all things gin. We forgave him of course.
 

York 71 - Black Swan York 75 - Black Swan
York 74 - Black Swan

 

Linda found and reserved us a table at a place she had known and loved years ago, Melton’s Restaurant. The chef uses locally sourced produce and meats (as I’ve said, we like to support these kinds of establishments). We had wine (a nice Cotes du Rhone), starters, mains, and this time we skipped the sweets. The meal started with an amuse bouche that included a pea shooter, handmade crackers with humus, and on the spoon goat cheese and crunchy roasted veg and oats. We shared starters: a superbly done crab with smoke haddock with fried pork lardon scattered about topped with house cured lamb bacon all sitting atop a Thai inspired reduction; Steven had the carpaccio of beef with whipped egg yolk puree with shallots, radish and capers. Our mains were Darn of Hake-braised little gem with peas, broad beans, potatoes and bacon; Steven had the Yorkshire lamb-shoulder, leg and ‘bacon’ with ratatouille, confit potato, basil hollandaise and caramelized baby onions. We can’t recall what the others had…we were so thoroughly engrossed in our own eating. The pictures just don’t tell the story. To get that, we weaseled our way into meeting the chef and his staff of three in the kitchen.
 

York 76 - Meltons York 83 - Meltons
York 82 - Meltons York 81 - Meltons
York 79 - Meltons
York 78 - Meltons York 77 - Meltons

 

Here are a few more shots from Yorkshire.
 

York 84 - Sledmere York 96 - Kate, Bill, Kevin
York 94 - Yorkshire
York 89 - Yorkshire York 88 - Yorkshire
York 87 - Sledmere York 86 - Sledmere
York 85 - Sledmere

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