I didn’t have high expectations for today. Reason being that I remember last year’s bank holiday being kind of a bummer with most shops being closed and the town feeling completely dead. Turns out that may have been because I was in Dover and not somewhere (anywhere) else.
I basically expected York (and London when I got back) to be the same — I braved myself for streets so dead I’d have to resort to McDonalds to feed myself. So imagine my surprise when York (and London when I got back) were more like what I would normally have expected for a holiday weekend: bustling with people and shopping and all sorts of activity.
Not that I’m complaining, but if I’d known that Dover’s deadness was the aberration I might have been more ambitious with the weekend. As it was, I had a last leisurely half-day and can now say that I’ve done everything that I’m interested in doing in York.
After a quick breakfast at the B&B, where my hostess graciously remembered that I like a glass of water instead of tea or coffee, I set out for the Jorvik Viking Center. Billed as one of the must-dos of York, it’s Disneyland-like exhibition/experience of York when it was a 9th Century Viking settlement. I wanted to get there early before the notorious queues started. I got sidetracked down one random and incredibly narrow medieval side street…
…and then got to Coppergate in time to get in line a few minutes before they opened the doors.
Basically what happened is when the city was developing a new shopping Center in the 80s or 90s they unearthed an unheard-of wealth of Viking artifacts. So now they take visitors down to the depths below the Center to see and smell what life was like. It’s a bit like the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride, only the figures are life-sized, modelled on actual skeletons found onsite, and everything smells like a tannery and/or latrine. It was actually less creepy but just as stinky as it sounds.
The main takeaway from the tide portion is just how squalid life back then would seem by today’s standards. Dirty and rough and apparently devoid of a lot of beauty we take for granted every day.
My favourite part was the museum room at the end of the ride. Here’s where key laid out a lot of the cool stuff from the digs. A knitted sock that was apparently selected as one of the 100 most significant artifacts from medieval Europe…
…a giant human poo that confirms the presence of worms in human digestive tracts…
…a handful of shoes that were better preserved here than in other places due to the wetness of the mud…
…and best of all the skeletons.
It’s truly fascinating how much can be told when modern science looks at an ancient skeleton — and this exhibit did a terrific job of laying it all out and helping us “read” the remains. For example, this woman was 45ish when she died, had a congenital hip problem that would be completely minor nowadays but back then meant she would have been in constant pain and unable to walk without a crutch. She was born and raised somewhere else, probably in the coast in Scandinavia, and came to York only later. She had no coffin so would have been very poor. And she had pitting in her eye dockets that suggest illness and malnutrition as a child.
The whole thing was much smaller and quicker to get through than I had expected. I emerged into the sunny street and decided it was time for brunch. I tried a place called Source that was highly rated but possibly not for its breakfast nachos…
…which looked delicious but turned out to be not quite what I had expected. Most notably, what looked like cheese and beans were actually some sort of vegan alternative that approximated the look but weren’t even close in terms of texture and flavour. Also, why go vegan for the “cheese” when you’ve still got eggs and bacon?!
Anyhoo, I didn’t linger and instead made my way to the Yorkshire museum on th other side of town.
This museum was small and aggressively kid friendly, which worked just fine for my attention span this morning.
I skipped the dinosaurs and went straight for the Vikings and Middle Ages. There were three things worth seeing: A magnificent helmet found by a construction worker in the 1980s…
…a gold and sapphire pendant that is considered to be the finest example of medieval gold work in England…
…and the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey that were beneath and all around the museum.
The abbey was founded just after William the Conqueror arrived in 1066 and became the most powerful monastery in northern England until the dissolution by Henry VIII in the 1530s.
And that was it. I picked up my bags and got to the train station just in time for my 13:30 back to London. Being the end of the bank holiday it was packed to the gills and I thanked my stars (again) that I’d booked a first class seat — it was literally standing room only in all other cars. Even in first class things didn’t go without a hitch: there was a guy in my seat with an equally valid ticket. I despaired for a minute until someone pointed out a single remaining empty seat that I could grab at least until the right person showed up (which he never did). I fumed for a minute about the stupidity of double booking seats in first class but then discovered that there were in fact massive delays on the line, so that even though this train had left exactly on time for my reservation, it was actually the train that Gould have passed an hour previously. With that realisation I calmed right down and was grateful for the luck of not being delayed, for still having a seat (someone else must have missed their train or perhaps had done what I had just done), and, especially, for not having made a bigger scene than I did when I had felt wronged a few minutes earlier. Oh, perspective.
At any rate, I made it home safe and sound. I unpacked, did laundry, got groceries, and am now ready for the new week.
I was hoping you would get to the viking museum. We visited there is the 1980’s. My kids favorite part was the “smellorama”. Do they still have that as part of the ride?
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The smells are certainly there and it was a really interesting, if not entirely pleasant, aspect. I don’t recall it’s being presented as a “smellorama” though.
Whoa! I remember that! I have felt the lack of smells at all museums since!
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