York: Minster, Victorian Museum, Trains, and Tea
When I told people that I was going to York, they asked “Not New York?”
“No. Old York.”
Is there any other York out there, I wonder?
I loved York. Just two hours train ride from London, it is I believe one of the top destinations in England. It has all the grandness of Canterbury and the charm of Bath. York Minster – the mega church, was built at the time with a clear goal to beat Canterbury Cathedral (in size). So it is officially biggest. It is the biggest Gothic church in Northern Europe. In all Europe, York Minster is the third biggest Gothic Cathedral after the one in Seville and Milan (which I just visited 2 weeks ago! I’ve also visited Sevilla Cathedral, so the completist in me was smiling.) There’s a free guide in the church that goes every hour or half an hour – worth taking.
While both Canterbury and Bath are UNESCO World Heritage sites, York isn’t. I wonder why? It is historical enough to justify its position. The first Christian Roman emperor Constantine was proclaimed emperor in York. Obviously important so that his statue was erected just outside of the Minster.
Constantine set out to build his capital in the East, in the city of Constantinople – now called Istanbul, in modern Turkey. Guess where I’m going later at the end of the year? :) Constantine has followed me since Venice with all its Byzantine loots from Constantinople. I didn’t plan the order of the trips on purpose but I love it most when I can connect history like figuring out puzzle pieces of the world!
York has a lot to see. I went with a free 2-hour walking tour, brought by volunteers – so it’s the truly free one (check out my guide to walking tours here). It starts from York Art Gallery, everyday at 10:15am and additional times in summer and weekend. I highly recommend you do walking tour as early as possible in any new city to get a good coverage, then spend more time at places that pique your interests more. If you do it near the end of your trip, you might just find out about a thing or two and quite regret not having enough time to revisit.
I followed Rick Steves’ suggestion and went to York Castle Museum and National Railway Museum. If the word “museum” kind of scares you a bit, fear not! The Castle Museum has quite possibly the best indoor setting I’ve ever seen. It reminds me of WB Studio’s Harry Potter setting, I kid you not!
The “museum” has reconstruction of old Victorian streets, shops, and houses. You can go in and out of the shops, it reminds me, again, of Diagon Alley setting in WB Studio. It’s amazing. I really enjoyed it. And it’s a bargain too considering the price to museums these days. (The price to go to York Minster and its tower for example is £15, £8.50 for York Castle Museum). The sad thing is that you can’t tell from the outside of the building that there would be this Victorian Wonderland inside. There aren’t enough posters anywhere in the city. I went in with faith in Rick, and I’m so glad I did.
The National Railway Museum is I imagine a kind of wonderland for boys (and girls and adults too who are into trains). It is the biggest train museum in the world, featuring life-size trains, the record-breaking one, the steamed one, and even Japan’s Shinkansen.
Lo and behold, look what I found tucked in the corner?
And when you think it can’t get any better, York is famous for its tea places. Have I told you that I’m an afternoon tea junkie? Maybe I have, but you may not know to what extend. An afternoon without a stop for tea and cake is a rather sad afternoon indeed. York has so many cute tea rooms that the elegant woman in me squealed and ran around in amok from one cute window to another. Even a Teddy Bear shop has a tea room upstairs. Teddy Bear tea room! Can it get any cuter?
One afternoon tea that I was hunting from London was Malaysian high tea at Ning, just at the front of York Castle Museum. I suggest going to the museum for a few hours, then go for tea at Ning. Its high tea is only available on the weekend, with last order at 4pm, so make sure you get the timing right.
I was slightly worried that it was going to be one of those things that the idea sounds great but fails in execution. So glad to find that everything was excellent. The high tea is £22.50 for 2 people (it doesn’t have a single portion though), comes with a high rack of savory morsels at the bottom tier, kuih muih (traditional Malaysian cakes) at the second tier, and “western” cakes at the top tier.
The savory items include 2 small packs of nasi lemak in banana leaf, rendang pie, potato pastry, and tuna mayo sandwiches (nasi lemak and rendang pie were especially good). Second tier has a few items that would be very hard to describe, but all quite familiar to us (as Malay food has similarities with Indonesian). My favorite is pulut inti – sticky rice with shaved coconuts and palm sugar (OMG I missed it so much). Top tier serves us three types of really good western cakes. It was fantastic. There’s selection of Malaysian tea to choose from, I picked pandan tea. I’m a big fan of pandan, so it was very refreshing. I wish they open a branch in London. Let’s hope!
We spent 3 nights in York, with a day excursion to Saltaire, a World Heritage village about an hour from York (which I might talk about at another time), but we could easily spend more time. Lots of things to see and do. Or you can just spend an afternoon drinking tea, eating cake, and reading book. Sounds like my idea of heaven :)