on my way to the beginning of our 120 mile pilgrimage, i have traveled by train from London to York, about a 2 and 1/2 hour ride north.
the frequency, timeliness and quality of train travel in Britain is a totally different experience from train travel in the United States. it is not even close. as many of you know, i have spent and continue to spend some time on trying to improve the availability and quality of train service in the USA. as a result i pay attention to the British system. we have a lot to learn from it.
i will give you one small example that occurred on my train trip from London to York. the conductor got on the public address system at each stop (we had seven), and personally apologized for the fact that the train was 12 minutes late on a 2.5 hour trip. he apologized at every single stop. and he was sincere. you could tell that being late was very unusual and something that he and the railroad did not tolerate. where would you have seen this in America?
why to York? because i have never been here before, and i have heard so many good things about it.
this city is a gem. much history and much to see and do. Rick Steves calls it the best sightseeing city in England.
York was very important in the history of England rivaling London in importance. it was the northernmost city in the Roman Empire and a provincial capital. then it was the capital of the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. then the Vikings conquered it and built the walls that no encircle the old part of present day York. in the Middle Ages it became England’s second city. later in the Industrial Age its train station was the world’s largest, as it was the railway hub for northern England.
York’s number one must see is England’s finest Gothic Anglican church which all the locals call Minster. it served during the Middle Ages as the northern capital of the Anglican Church with its own Archbishop who — even to this day — is second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury. 540 feet long and 200 feet tall it can hold up to 4,000 worshippers if need be. it is beautiful.
what struck me most as i took a tour of the inside were the stained glass windows and the stories they depict. each panel has a story to tell. symbols and codes abound. i never have fully appreciated what goes into and what is behind each pane of stained glass.
the other aha for me were the stories behind the detail in the stone masonry that is everywhere and particularly in the Chapter House, which was the meeting place for the governing body of the church. the individual carvings are really interesting and surprisingly different from what you would expect. the tiny sculptured heads each have a story to tell.
in addition to Minster, i had to go see one of the great railway museums in the world.
and i had to see the Shambles — a street that has inspired our phrase “its in shambles”. the street is narrow and a little curvy. today it is dotted with small shops and stores, a tourist haven. but in its day it was lined with butcher shops with its beef, lamb, pheasants, pig heads, rabbits hanging down from eaves, ready to be slaughtered for their customers. the act would be performed right there and the blood and guts would be flushed down the street to a pond at the end.
had a great meal in a Indian restaurant. i love Indian food. also had my obligatory fish and chips in one of the many pubs.
finally in the evening i went to the Theater Royale to see their production of Driving Miss Daisy, which i have seen on Broadway and on the movie screen. the story never gets old for me. i loved it.
York, in short, was a wonderful stop for me.