Monday, October 11, 2010

York Part II: York and York Minster

After leaving Hardwick Hall just after lunch on Friday, we rode the bus up to the city of York itself. There, we all disembarked and walked as a group to York Minster - formally the Cathedral and Church of Saint Peter in York or something, but whatever, no one calls it that.

I've seen a lot of cathedrals since coming to Europe, but York Minster is one of my favorites so far. It's constructed in a Gothic style that reminded me of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, with its looming bell towers and ribbed ceilings inside, but it had a much brighter, airier feel - not nearly so shadowy. While it wasn't stunning in the same grand, soaring way as St. Paul's in London, the architecture was still intricately worked and beautiful. Unlike some other Gothic buildings, this one was accented with color and detail everywhere, from its ceilings to its floors and the memorials along the walls. I fell in love with one stained-glass window in particular, a complex and abstract mosaic of different-colored panes, a very divergent (and, apparently, short-lived) alternative to the "picture window" that was common at the time and for centuries after. Our tour guide told us that most onlookers tend to either love or hate this window - but what was there to hate? It was gorgeous!

Speaking of that tour guide, he was excellent, telling us many quirky/funny stories about the cathedral itself, the architecture and artwork we saw inside, and the people who have been part of the Minster's history. Apparently the cathedral has had an extensive record of fires and other disasters - I couldn't tell, it's been so well restored over the years. After our tour, we descended to the crypt below the main cathedral floor, where we found a fascinating display of excavated foundations and artifacts from Roman and Norman ruins. The place where York Minster now stands started first as a Roman basilica, then a Norman chapel, before being built in its current structure around the 13th century. Such an intriguing overlap of different eras.

It was about 4pm when we left the Minster, after which we headed out for a brisk walk around York's amazingly well-preserved medieval city walls. On top of the walls, behind the turrets, I felt like I was a sentry on duty! Plus the views back at the Minster, which towers over the whole city, and at the other historic buildings throughout, were wonderful. Especially with the fall colors bursting out on the trees.

Rounds on the fortress walls over, we wandered the city a bit, seeing old brick and Tudor-style buildings revamped to host more modern shops and restaurants, before heading back to the hotel for a buffet dinner and some R&R. Highlight of the York streets: the Shambles, a famous medieval street where the cramped buildings lean and (seemingly) almost tumble in on top of each other. It's where Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movies was filmed. (I keep seeing so many Harry Potter places here in the UK... too fun!)

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