Wednesday, September 16, 2015

UK Trip: York, England (July 19, 2015)

Today, our plan was to take a free walking tour of York with White Rose York Tours.  We met our guide (and Hagrid look-a-like), Alan Sharp, near the Minster at a place referred to as "Windy Corner" (and it was pretty windy).  The story behind the name "Windy Corner" is that the devil and the wind came to York to make mayhem.  The devil said he was going to go into the Minster and stir things up a bit, but the wind told him not to because he would get trapped and never get out.  The devil asked for the wind to wait for him at the corner and the wind is waiting for him still.

York, the capital of the North, has been home to Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Normans.  There is a lot of history here and Alan did a good job of explaining it and highlighting some of the leading characters (or at least the most colorful ones).

Bootham Bar, a gatehouse at the northwest entrance to the town and the one closest to the Minster, has some of the oldest surviving stonework (11th century).

Bootham Bar

St. Mary's Abbey, dating from around 1080, was once one of the richest abbeys in England.  The Abbey fell into decline with King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monastaries, and much of the stone was pilfered for other building projects.

St. Mary's Abbey

York Minster (aka Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St. Peter in York - there's a mouthful) is the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe.

Spires of York Minster

York Minster

The Shambles, with some buildings dating from the 14th century, is where the butcher shops all used to be located.  All the blood and guts used to just run down the gutter.  I'm sure it was a really pleasant place to go (especially with long skirts - yuck).  Now a tourist mecca.

The Shambles

Clifford's Tower is the keep left over from the York Castle.  After the castle was destroyed in the 1600's, the keep was used as a prison until 1929.

Climbing the steps to Clifford's Tower.

View of York Minster from Clifford's Tower.

Spires of York Minster.

After the tour, we took a break back at the guest house before dinner.  Tonight, we did go into The House of Trembling Madness, but it was pretty packed and some of us just weren't feeling in the mood for pub food.  We ended up at a Nepalese place called Yak & Yeti that was pretty good.  Back to the Guest House in time for the final episode of Top Gear.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

UK Trip: Prestbury and York, England (July 18, 2015)

This morning we left Wales behind and headed first to Prestbury to meet some relatives, and then to York, where we were going to spend a couple of days sightseeing.

The family was ready to greet us when we arrived around noon and we fell to chatting right away.  We had a lovely lunch (more of a dinner really) and the boys all walked down to the village to play tennis while we talked.  After chatting for awhile, the rest of us walked into the village.  We saw a rubber duck race in the stream and met up with the boys.  It was a nice, walkable, little village with lovely homes.  We got along so well, that it seemed a shame to leave, but we had reservations in York that evening.

We got to York with only one wrong turn and arrived around 7:00 p.m.  We were staying at the St. Raphael Guest House on Queen Anne Street.  This was very close to the B&B we had stayed in 20 years ago (Tree Tops Guesthouse, now No. 21 York) on St Mary's Street.  This location is ideal.  It is just outside the city wall near Bootham Bar (one of the gates) and close to York Minster.

St. Raphael Guest House

The Guesthouse was run much more like a business than the previous places we had stayed.  There was no one to meet us when we arrived.  Instead, we had been emailed the code to get in the building and there was an envelope with room keys and parking pass waiting for us.  Our room was called "The Minster" and was on the top floor.  I believe this may have been the only place I found on the entire trip where we could all share one room (not necessarily a good idea, as it means waiting for everyone to get ready in the morning using only one bathroom).

The problem with having no one to greet us was that there was also no one there to ask about restaurants.  I had picked a place in advance using TripAdvisor.  It was called The House of Trembling Madness (how cool a name is that?) and was located on Stonegate, but we walked up and back several times without finding it.  We then walked around and around looking for another place to eat.  This drives me CRAZY!  It was a Saturday night and there were a lot of "hen" parties and 20-somethings out having a good time.  All very loud and intimidating.  I was not in the best of moods because between the four of us, we couldn't come to a decision.  We finally went to a pizza place that we had passed earlier.  Not a good introduction to York.

Hint:  The House of Trembling Madness is on Stonegate, as we thought.  The sign is on the big glass window, but it is a liquor store in front.  The restaurant is through the store and up the stairs.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

UK Trip: Llanberis, Snowdon, and Caernarfon, Wales (July 17, 2015)

We were up very early this morning because we had booked the 9:30 train to the top of Snowdon.  When we got over to the Snowdon Mountain Railway in Llanberis, we found that, due to the wind, they would not be taking people to the top.  They would take us a little more than 1/2 way and they would refund us some of the full purchase price.  The weather was questionable for some of the other activities I would have liked to have done - I had picked out a hike that looked interesting - so we decided to go on the train.  Beautiful, moody, views.  Lots of sheep.  And it was windy!

On the train to Snowdon.

Beautiful valley.

The stopping place.

Waiting for another train.  Llyn Padarn (Lake)

Llyn Peris.  Dinorwig Power Station under old quarry workings on left.
Following our train ride, we walked along the road that separates Llyn Padarn and Llyn Peris over to the National Slate Museum at the old Dinorwic Slate Quarry.  The museum is located where the workshops for the mine were located.  Here, patterns for cogs and other pieces were cut and molded for machinery.  We walked around looking at the exhibits and climbed up to view the 50 foot diameter metal water wheel. I believe all of the energy for the workshop came from water.  There would be plenty coming down the mountains surrounding the site.

We watched a short video about the history of the mine and the men who worked there.  We then watched a demonstration on how to split and cut slate.  It was interesting to learn that the instruments used to split the slate were actually dull, not sharp.

Inside National Slate Museum with the workings behind.
On our walk back to the car, we took a detour to a ruined castle that sits perched over Llyn Peris.  Castell Dolbadarn was built by Llewelyn ab Iorwerth ('the Great') in the early 13th century.  Only the stone keep survives.  The remainder of the castle was plundered for its stones and wooden beams.

Castell Dolbadarn.

We drove back to Caernarfon for lunch.  I had wanted to try a real fish and chip shop and I had read that Ainsworth's was the place to try.  We got two boxes to share (we should have ordered one per person - it was delicious) and ate it on the bench outside.  Then we went to Palas Caffi for ice cream.  We all tried different flavors, lemon meringue, toffee, Mounds (coconut), Nutella.

We were again staying at Tal Menai Guest House and we had been told there was a foot path that led from town back.  Our oldest wanted a little break from us, so he headed back to the B&B along the path while the rest of us crossed the bridge by the castle and took a walk along the shore on the other side.  It was very windy and the scenery was not that spectacular, so we headed back.  When we got to the bridge, a boat was coming through and we got to see the bridge swing back into place.

Caernarfon Castle.

Tal Menai Guest House.
We took a little break back at Tal Menai and headed into town for dinner.  It was a Friday night and there appeared to be a lot of people out for happy hour.  The place I had in mind looked packed, so we ended up at a restaurant we had seen earlier in the day.  We got inside and got a table, but it was pretty noisy and the kids were the youngest ones in there.  The meal was nothing special and we were happy to finish up and leave.  We went back to the guest house to relax and get packed.  On Saturday we were headed east back to the Manchester area and then York.

Sunset over Menai Strait with the sheep in the field across the road.
Looking back on the Wales portion of the trip, there are things I would have done differently.  I would have skipped Llandudno altogether.  Too busy for me.  The Great Orme was nice, but I think I would have preferred spending more time in Snowdonia, perhaps doing a hike.  I think staying all three nights in one location would have been better, too.  Next time!  Wales was beautiful and we saw too little of it.