Old York City

Sunday, May 15, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Monk Bar
YORK, England — What better way to spend a weekend morning than wandering the streets and getting to know the town you're visiting?  That's just what we did today in the city of York.  Founded as a fort by the Romans in the year 71 AD, the central city is still protected by walls.  Glimpses of York's long and colorful history can be seen on a stroll through town.

One of York's best known streets is The Shambles, the ancient street of the butchers of the city.  Mentioned in the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror in the 11th century, the street takes its name from the 'shamels,' which were stalls or benches on which meat was displayed.  Today the butcher shops have been replaced by boutiques and cafes which cater to tourists, but the buildings look much as they did in the medieval period, with their upper stories hovering over the narrow lane as if trying to reach out to the neighbors across the way.

The Shambles
York's most famous landmark is the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter, better known as York Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe.  Construction began in 1220, and the building was finally declared complete and dedicated in 1472.  At 172 yards in length, the cathedral boasts some of the most beautiful medieval stained glass still in existence, including the 76-foot tall great east window.

York Minster
Though less majestic than this stirring building, the cats of York generate almost as much interest as the Minster.  The city is dotted with life size statuettes of cats, and many people like to search for these whimsical monuments, some of which date back to the early 19th century.

Fiberglass cat stalking pigeon
Conjecture has it that the early cats were put in place to attract people to a shop or to amuse children or to frighten pigeons away.  More recently, cat statuettes have become the signature icon of a local architect who signifies his work on a building with a specially designed cat.

St. Mary's Abbey
At the Yorkshire Museum, we were so impressed with how the various ruins and relics have been exhibited on the grounds.  Landscaping has been designed to complement the artifacts, which are an organic part of the arrangement.  The museum, which recently underwent a major renovation, houses archaeological and natural history collections.  The ruins of 13th century St. Mary's Abbey lie in the museum's gardens, which were abounding with beautiful flowers today.


As we were walking by the River Ouse this morning, we were greeted by the sound of geese honking ahead.  Exasperated with the idea of encountering yet another invasive group of Canada geese, we were happily surprised when we discovered a gaggle of Greylag geese instead. 

Greylag Mother Goose
A dozen or so adults were hanging out on the bank beside the river, but we saw only one baby, at first.  Then another little one lifted its head and we saw where the other tots were hiding, illustrating the origin of taking someone under your wing for protection. 

Geese Window Shopping
Later we encountered a family of Grelags on a York street.  Just like all the tourists and other locals, they were strolling along the street checking out the displays in the shop windows.

Near a spot where we were searching for a letterbox just outside the city walls, we came across an early advertisement for a product promoting what we now call bulimia, or the purge cycle of it anyway.
Painted on the end of a building was an advertisement for Bile Beans, a product from the 1920s and 1930s.  A search on the internet turned up some of their other advertising copy, including:  "That inner well-being, the bright eyes, clear complexion and the sparkle that go with it are just a matter of nightly routine – the results which Bile Beans surely bring.  Purely vegetable, Bile Beans–just one or two taken regularly at bedtime, build up good health and good digestion while you sleep. They tone you up, cleanse and regulate the system. They improve your appearance and your outlook on life."  And doesn't that name sound appealing?  Bile beans...

The final fascinating sight of our day in York was a variegated Norway maple tree, which we spied as we were walking around the top of the city walls.  This was our first brush with this unusual specimen.

Variegated Norway Maple

An amazing lunch at Cafe Concerto has to be counted as one of the highlights of our day. We both enjoyed delectable fritattas with spicy potatoes, kidney beans and cashews, seasoned to perfection, and mated with a fine local Yorkshire Terrier ale. As the name suggests, the decor featured a music theme. The menu was vegetarian-friendly and even included a note that gluten-free bread was available on request. Cafe Concerto definitely hit all the right notes for us.
Cafe Concerto

York Stats:
Founded:  71 AD
Population:  195,400
Pubs:  200+
Churches:  about the same
Cat statuettes:  24 & counting