History Trumps Exhaustion – Part The First

“The history of York is the history of England.”

-George VI

To satisfy what I am sure is burning curiosity, dear internet, the unexpected but highly welcome train breakfast was first-rate. And, more importantly, the coffee was spectacular.   

After we had stuffed ourselves to the proverbial brim with only the best types of breakfast food (although, if I’m being honest, I was missing some bacon…but beggars really can not be choosers) we only had a very small amount of time to digest before the train pulled up with a loud hiss to the East Midlands train station. Quickly grabbing our bags, Kristen and I hopped off the train and sprinted into the station, worried that, though we had made it successfully out of London, we had missed our connection.

Turns out we had all kinds of time and the bus driver who was to take us on the last leg of our journey for the day was waiting for us on the other end of the very small and rather lonely looking building.

He chuckled at our obviously panicked faces and asked, “Missed your train did you?” Much too tired to be in any way defensive, I’m pretty sure I just smiled in confirmation of my absolute incompetence. But, hey, we had made it hadn’t we? We even managed to find two seats together near the back of the bus and then proceeded to sleep on and off all the way to York, exhausted from the stress of the morning that we had been entirely responsible for.

Side Note: If you ever want to experiment with really weird dreams – stress yourself past the point of tears, eat a huge breakfast, cram yourself into rather uncomfortable bus-seating and then fall asleep reading a Jim Morrison Biography while listening to his more ‘poetic’ (read: off-the-wall lyrically) songs. Let’s just say all I remember from the dreams was that they were set in the seedier parts of LA, which I have never visited, and involved a cartoonish Lizard-King and some backup dancers dressed as Nazgul. I can’t explain any of this but there you have it, weird dreams for all!

A little groggy and surprisingly hungry, Kristen and I succeeded in remembering to get off the bus at the central station in York. Despite all the mistakes we had made, the underestimations of time, the inability to navigate ourselves underground, the mad-dashes and finally the absolute reliance on the kindness of others…we had arrived.

Recognize the visage on the sign?

I will admit I felt a shiver of excitement when I stepped off the bus – York has always been pretty high on my must-see list. I mean, it’s like a never-ending playground of historical landmarks for a self-proclaimed history nerd, or a quagmire of information for those less historically-inclined. Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor here in AD 306 and his Roman walls still remain intact for the most part, though buried. The Vikings conquered and then abandoned the town. The plague later swept through causing mass death and leaving suffering and an inordinate amount of ghost stories in its wake. Guy Fawkes of the so-cleverly-named Gunpowder Plot that pretty much exclusively involved plotting with gunpowder was born and educated here. JK Rowling’s Diagon Alley was partially inspired by the famous Shambles. General Wolfe’s family home (appropriately also a pub) is still up and running…And there are so many more fascinating historical claims that I won’t continue to regale you with. I promise.

Except for this one:

Useless Historical Fact #3

When Margaret Tudor, or Princess Margaret, made her way up to Scotland to wed King James IV of the Scots, she passed through York. I must emphasize that she merely passed through. She had a wedding to get to after all. When I pass through a town I expect a Timmies stop and maybe a sandwich if I’m hungry. I understand that royals get slightly better treatment than lowly ol’ historians from Canada but what they did to mark her TWO DAY visit in 1503 is bordering on excessive…in my humble opinion. Can you guess what the super accommodating folk of York, England did for Queen Elizabeth I’s auntie? They broke an entirely new gate through the Abbey Wall. They made her a personal gate in a centuries-old wall. One question. Could she not just go around?! I’m sure some gentleman could have just spread his coat over the offending puddle in front of the already existing gate a few meters away. Apparently I don’t understand chivalry.

OK. I feel like I’ve made it clear that York is basically history-nerd Valhalla. Moving on.

One thing you have to understand about hostel descriptions is that when they say “Just Minutes from Bustling Downtown!” the translation in any language is roughly “You only have to walk about 45 minutes since most hostel guests have no vehicular transportation and then you’re in the thick of it all, we promise!” They’re tricky you see. Instead look for “Right in the centre of [insert city name here]” and pay the 3x higher price… you’ll be getting what you paid for and probably not sleeping much at all. Remember, “Right in the Centre of…” also translates to “We are ideal for Stag or Hen parties! Look at all the pubs in our immediate vicinity! We don’t pay much attention to our beds because you won’t be spending much time in them anyway!”

Depends on what you’re looking for.

Kristen and I had opted for one of the hostels only minutes from downtown and, since no one had told us the very useful tip I just gifted you above, we headed first to a small tourist shop to check a map. Sure enough, the hostel was most certainly not just minutes from picturesque downtown York. So. We heaved our bags onto our backs and promptly set out to walk the 5 or so KM to our next roof-over-our-heads.

The walk through downtown York and then along one of the city’s main veins was absolutely beautiful. I think it’s one of my new favourite English locales (although I am notoriously fickle when it comes to favourite anything so stay tuned for this statement to do a 180 sometime soon!)

The only downside of our walk was that the sky, which had been forebodingly dreary when we first stepped off the Megabus, forever associated with a certain Lizard King, had finally unleashed its inevitable and quite frankly completely expected barrage of English rain. 

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in England will tell you that English rain is of a unique sort. It has this uncanny ability to chill you right to the bone in mere minutes and yet remain unfathomably charming.

Luckily for me, I had my trusty leather jacket and no hood or hat to speak of. As you do.

Nevertheless, the walk was lovely. If you ever get the chance, pack your things and pop over for a visit. I promise you’ll get your fill of everything you ever dreamed the idyllic side of English life to be. And, I’ll even put you in touch with a dear friend of mine who will gladly give you a warm welcome. York, unfortunately for all us back home who miss him desperately, has stolen his Canadian heart…

…And it soon stole mine as well. As we passed over, under and alongside the city’s many walls, Kristen and I couldn’t help gaping at the towering stone gates. If we hadn’t been carrying so much baggage, we probably could have been persuaded to steer off our path to explore these enticingly interactive historical enigmas indefinitely.

Somehow, we tore ourselves away from the charms of the old city and made it safely to our temporary home – a beautiful, sprawling gem of a building surrounded by lush green foliage particular to the land graced by constant, persistent showers – heedless of the changing of the seasons.

OK OK, so not our hostel, but the colours were just like this I swear.

As our ‘raincoats’ dripped onto the floor of our surprisingly spacious room (which we had completely to ourselves! Hostel-win), we may have indulged in momentary thoughts of sleep.

But the call of the historical exploration was irresistible. At least for me because, let’s face it, I’m a nerd. Realistically, we were called out of our hostel after very little rest by something a little more universally understood – the need to eat. Humans are so predictable sometimes, ain’t they?

And as we walked back into the old city, the authorities promptly broke open a new gate in the city walls to mark our arrival…

…See how ridiculous that sounds?

3 thoughts on “History Trumps Exhaustion – Part The First

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