Sunday, March 20, 2005

(Old) York, (Old) York

I am writing from the carriage of a train that's zooming its way from York to London, which is magically outfitted with a wireless internet connection. We are both recovering from colds, but seem to be on the mend. Yesterday we wandered into a chemist's, where I purchased an elixir for "chesty coughs." I now have something to add to my list of possible drag names, should I ever need one.

York was beautiful - amazing that it was really an afterthought to our trip. We stayed in a lovely guesthouse, where our room was under the attic eaves. It was just a short walk to the city walls.

York is a medieval city surrounded by ancient walls, with sturdy gates (called "bars") at several points. The streets are narrow, winding cobblestone lanes - very "Diagon Alley" for you Harry Potter fans. Beset by coughs, we didn't do more than wander the streets and poke our heads into the little alleyways.

York Minster, or cathedral, is a stunning work of architecture; the land where the Minster stands was first the site of a Roman fort, then a Norman church, and finally the Gothic cathedral that is there now. We toured the "undercroft," where you can see the remains of the Roman and Norman structures, as well as the modern reinforcements that were installed when the Minster walls began falling apart not too long ago.

The tour of the undercroft ends in the crypt; all throughout there are cases with treasures preserved from the Minster's history.

Even though York is known as "the most haunted city in England," our quest for ghosts was unsuccessful. We were turned away when we tried to go on a tour at the Museum of Psychic Experience, as they were all booked up (shouldn't they have known we were coming?); we opted not to go on the York ghost tour recommended by our hosts when we saw we'd be in the company of twenty-odd ten year old girls, along with a handful of parents with babies. By then we were in the full grip of our colds, and in our grumpiness, it was probable that we would have been the most frightening things on the tour.

So, last night we retired early to our attic room, nursing ourselves with cups of hot tea, and dosing ourselves heavily with the various medications we'd picked up in the chemist's. I watched an endless series of quiz shows (one called "Jet Set" seemed fun - the winners get whisked off on a luxury vacation - but in their final challenge they go up against the previous week's winner, who can extend their dream vacation if they win the round. The action stopped every so often for the drawing of lottery numbers, which were then worked into the action of the game. It all seemed very complicated to my drug-addled brain.) David did not share my fascination with British TV, and instead put in his earplugs and tried to read.

I do love to check out the programs and commercials - the interview shows (chat shows?) that I saw was fun - there was one in which an actress from a soap called "Footballer's Wives" talked about her devious character - followed by a series of children in raincoats demonstrating various goopy science experiments involving baking soda and vinegar.

The other thing that I can be mesmerized by is a simple grocery store. Not just the showplaces like Marks & Spencer, but just the ordinary grocery store where you'd buy your ordinary things. Maybe it stems from my time at packaging design firms, but it's so intriguing to see how a culture is reflected in its brands and packages. Sometimes there are brands which are one letter off from U.S. brands (Anadin for Anacin - and we also saw a store called T.K. Maxx, clearly the UK cousin to T.J. Maxx.) And all the painkillers seemed to have something called paracetamol which I haven't seen in the U.S. Whatever it is, I've had quite a lot of it. (Well, so much for that mystery. I just Googled it, and found that it's just acetaminophen, or Tylenol. And I was so hoping that we were ingesting some banned-in-the-U.S.A. drug.)

So now we head for our one night in London, at the haunted Langham Hotel. We'll see if any ghosts make an appearance; more likely we'll be scaring any apparitions off with either coughing, or the sound of a TV quiz show blaring away.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The street in York called The Shambles was actually the inspiration for the filmed Diagon Alley.

Pam -

10:07 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Sounds like you guys are having fun, despite the colds. Hope you feel better soon! :o)

12:04 AM  

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