Escaping up to York in northern England this past weekend was just what I needed. The very fact that I can do something like that, hop on a train and disappear from the huge city of London for a couple days, is one of the beauties of being abroad. York is one of those quintessentially medieval towns that you become instantly familiar with. I mean, the first thing you see when you exit the train station are the remnants of the stone wall that used to encircle the city and, to a certain extent, still do. Their buildings have plaques that inform passerbyers that they had been personally commissioned and built by ancients in the 1200s. The York Minster, the large cathedral in the center of town, is one of the most impressive cathedrals in Europe (this is a fact, apparently) due to its intricate stained glass windows, one of which is the size of a tennis court. We got all this information from our tour guide as he walked us in circles around the city, circle because it’s the sort of place with lots of alleyways and places to explore, but it’s all in the same general area so you end up exploring those same places about four different times while there.
The biggest surprise of York was the sheer number of bachelor and bachelorette parties going on there, which locals call stag and hen parties. You wouldn’t think this small, ridiculously old town in the middle of nowhere north England would be a party capital, but try telling that to the multitude of drunk girls in short dresses and bridesmaid sashes walking by us in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. At one point in St. Helen’s Square, one of the central squares of York, we came upon a giant group who had hoisted three people up on their shoulders and were all singing Whitney Houston; naturally, we joined in and it was a good in-a-nutshell moment for what our trip was like.
What I loved best about visiting York were the quiet moments. On Sunday afternoon I found this mini craft fair that had been set up, selling old records, handmade jewelry, carved wood bowls and colorful prints. It reminded me of the craft fairs they have on the Cape during the summer when I visit with my family, and it was such a beautiful day I couldn’t help but feel at peace. That peace continued into the mini picnic we ended up having in the park adjoining the Minster, enjoying the early spring sunlight where it was warm and some flowers were just starting to grow. I also ended up, basically at the last minute, deciding to climb the tower of the York Minster, which has you endure 245 steps before you can enjoy the panoramic view of the city. And those are 245 steep, narrow, winding, wheeze-inducing steps that you think will literally never end. It’s definitely a bucket list type of activity though, as the views are totally worth it and once you get back on the ground you can console yourself with the fact that you never have to do it again. The inside of the church is gorgeous as well, so if the tower isn’t your thing, wandering around the main floor of the cathedral isn’t a bad option either.
York is beautiful and small, ancient and quiet and a good place to take a breath away from the noise of London. It was well worth the adventure and gave me a great place to start my spring.