Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Historic York

Continuing on our series of day trips from London, last Saturday Keenan and I went up to the historic city of York compliments of our friend Reed. Last year, on the last leg of his eight-week post-bar European trip, Reed's 4.5 hr train ride from London to Edinburgh turned into a 10 hr nightmare. To compensate for the inconvenience, East Coast Rails offered him a refund voucher, but since he is San Francisco eagerly awaiting the birth of his first child in December, he generously gave the vouchers to us. Thanks Reed!

York is an easy 2 hour train ride from London on the super fast train, although train fares can be quite expensive so do keep an eye out for special discounts on East Coast Rails. It is a charming walled city filled with history dating back to the Roman period. Originally founded in 71 AD as a Roman fort called Eboracum, it then became Saxon Eofowic, the capital of Northumbria, and later a thriving Viking settlement known as Jorvik before the Norman Conquest when the town became known by its present name, York. 

We instantly fell in love with York and highly recommend this historic town as a day trip or better yet, an overnight trip combined with a visit to Harrogate. We started the day walking along the 800 year old preserved medieval walls which led us to the bank of River Ouse, Skeldergate Bridge, and Clifford's Tower, the proud symbol of power of England's medieval kings. A short climb to Clifford's Tower affords you with amazing panoramic views of York and the surrounding areas. Nearby is the York Castle Museum and Jorvik Viking Centre for those seeking a dose of Victorian history and Viking history, respectively.


By mid-afternoon, it started pouring and the smell emanating from the annual York Food and Drink Festival was making us hungry -  it was time to eat. We had an excellent lunch at J. Baker Bistro Moderne on Fossgate Street; the food focused on modern British cooking using fresh local ingredients in a stylish setting. We ordered the three-course Grazing Menu for £12. The first course was a puree white bean and mushroom soup with a dash of Spanish olive oil, followed by the fish and chip on a bed of mint mushy peas, and for the last dish, a savory miniature Cornish pastry garnished with beetroot, pickled onion, and mushroom. Not only was each dish delicious and beautifully presented, but I also was very impressed by the attentive staff who took care in explaining each dish to us. Very well deserving of its accolade as one of 2010 UK Top 50 restaurants outside London.

The rain finally subsided, leaving us with perfect blue skies for the rest of the afternoon. We then strolled around the narrow alleyways called snickelways filled with small sweet shops and "haunted" pubs. You can easily pass the time window-shopping in York as the main drag, Swinegate, has a nice commercial mix of high street brands, boutiques, bookstores, tea rooms.

Next we visited the impressive York Minister. Instead of paying the £9 admission fee (a bargain compared to Westminster Abbey's fee of £16), we attended the 45 minute Evensong service at 5:15 PM. York Minister is largest Gothic cathedral north of the Alps, much larger and grander than its southern cousin in Canterbury. Be sure to walk around the exterior structure of the church to appreciate just how massive York Minister is. In front of the cathedral is a statue of Constantine the Great, who was hailed as the first Christian Emperor in York in AD 306. 

We couldn't leave York without a visit to Betty's Tea Room, a Yorkshire institution dating back to 1919, to indulge in sugary sweetness. Set in a beautiful old-fashioned Art Nouveau building on St. Helen Square, Betty's makes for a lovely break in between sightseeing and shopping in historic York. We ordered a light meal and huge brown bread sundae before taking the evening train back to London.

Another lovely day trip from London; more of these day trips to come in the next few weeks.  My only regret was not being able to sample some tasty Yorkshire pudding, the famous savory flour-based bread served with the quintessential British beef roast. Next time...

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