When I stepped out of the train station in York, I was stunned – not by the city itself but by the icy wind mocking the bright blue sky and every daffodil pretending that winter was over. Once I had pulled my scarf a little tighter and put on a cap, I could see what the cold had hidden until then: York is beautiful. Almost like a dream.
To take as much of York’s beauty in as possible, I decided to join one of the free walking tours leaving outside York Art Gallery. My train had arrived early enough to give me plenty of time to get a coffee, eat a banana and frighten a few pigeons who thought they had a right to approach and pester me. Randomly stomping my feet whenever they got too close wasn’t as effective as I had hoped, though. I was quite glad when it was time to meet up for the tour and leave the little feathered beasts behind.
York is so full of history, I’d have felt almost ridiculously young even if my tour buddies hadn’t been a group of 60-somethings visibly shocked to see a 23-year-old interested in things that existed hundreds and thousands of years before she was born. So much about prejudices. Apart from that, the walking tour was fun. While the oldies needed to rest, completely out of breath after walking the city walls, I could take my time to look for odd little things nobody else seemed to notice, like the tiny owl sculpture sitting outside a windowsill and mice carved into an old wooden door.
The tour ended on Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. This isn’t a joke shop or anything, it’s a proper street name. Imagine having this as your address. From there, it’s just a few steps to get to The Shambles, the most famous place in the maze of twisting medieval lanes and alleys at the heart of York. It’s probably also the narrowest street in there: in some spots, it’s possible to touch the houses on both sides of the street with your arms outstretched, and many of the houses are so crooked that their upper part leans dangerously far towards their opposite neighbours. This must be the muggle-sibling of Diagon Alley – I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to find a wand shop amidst all the tiny boutiques and chocolate shops.
No wands to be found there, sadly. Instead, I probably found the best sandwich ever, stuffed with slow-cooked pulled pork, fresh slaw and an amazing honey mustard sauce leaving bright yellow stains all over my fingers. If you’re ever in York (and you’re not a vegetarian), go to Shambles Kitchen. The guys working there are passionate about what they are doing – you should have seen the look on their faces when they took a large piece of roasted beef out of the oven, cut off a slice and saw that it was perfect: juicy, a delicious shade of pink at the centre, and so tender the knife went through without the slightest effort. It was a look of pure love. And you can taste this love, the food is absolutely amazing.
As is York Minster. I wasn’t sure whether it’d be worth paying £9 just to enter a cathedral, but I did it anyway. And I’m glad I did. The Minster is the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe, and it might well be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Whatever one might think of the Church, these guys definitely knew how to build magnificent places. I’d definitely take advantage of the free guided tours – this way, you get to see all the highlights, and the guides quite literally know everything about the cathedral’s history, whether it’s about a specific statue, one of the gorgeous windows of stained glass or about anything else.
Still in awe, I went to York Art Gallery, which has some great exhibitions on at the moment. One is dedicated to the depiction of flesh, from the naked human body to animal carcasses and fruits (with paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Edgar Degas, Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin, Circle of Rembrandt and Francis Bacon) , while another one celebrates British ceramics. Afterwards, I strolled through the museum gardens, where squirrels were chasing each other through the daffodils and crocuses defying the cold. Did I ever mention I like squirrels? Well, I really do.
Since my train back wouldn’t leave for another few hours, I used the time to go see Hidden Figures at the City Screen Picturehouse. That was a good decision – the movie is great, and the cinema is much nicer and more comfortable than the Odeon in Lincoln. It was the perfect ending for quite a perfect day.