York, UK – I set off on foot across the river into the city, headed for the York “Minster”, the largest medieval Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. The current building is 800+ years old and took 200+ years to build. It’s massive, and standing inside, with a deep breath you smell dry stone, incense, and age. Its mass, scale, and sweeping arches are stunning and the effect on people in the middle ages must have been truly profound.
In a world where bright colors were reserved for nobility, large scale stained glass like the tennis court-size East Window must have been awe-inspiring and uplifting. The intricate wood carvings in the Quire are typical of over-the-top Gothic decorative arts.
I especially loved the King’s Screen, with its line-up of statues of the 15 English kings on the throne, starting with William the Conqueror and ending with Henry VI, during the construction. All of them are scowling and nasty looking, except Henry VI who looks quite angelic (and who, not surprisingly, was in power at the time). The “undercroft” is a basement area with some nice archeological displays (the cathedral was built on top of the old Roman fort HQ), many of which are geared towards kids and are touchable/interactive.
What’s worse than people walking about staring at their cell phones, paying no attention to where they’re going? People walking about staring at the cathedral ceiling. Some mirror-topped tables have been provided so that you can save your neck by looking down to see upward.
Once I’d had my fill of Gothic wonders, I jumped on the little shuttle that took me to the National Railway Museum. This is a huge place, with dozens of real train cars and locomotives, from ancient steamers to modern bullet trains. There’s even a fascinating mock-up of the Chunnel with part of a Eurostar train in it. The place is also filled up with related artifacts: station signs, benches, lamp posts, etc. There’s even a huge turntable used to turn engines around. Once again, there are many kid-oriented things to see, touch, and do. My observation was that often the little kid was not as interested as was the “big kid”: his dad.
I finished up the day at a pub called The Maltings, enjoying a good pint and a nice conversation with a fellow from Manchester. It’s Sunday morning now and time to pack up and move on to Edinburgh. Cheers!