Leeds and York
More photos here
This trip was for to be in Leeds for our niece Florence's graduation, and to then move on to York for a few days for the Minster and various medieval treats. It was my first trip to Leeds and my only previous visit to York had been for a stay in 1978 - precisely forty years ago!
Our progress on the tube to King's Cross, acquisition of Pret baguettes, entrainment and 11.33 departure all went mercifully hitchlessly. My needing to have kept the passcode on the confirmation email I received when I booked the tickets in April from Virgin, before they lost the franchise, in order to use LNER's WiFi meant I spent the journey unconnected - a slight hitch. Reading my book was also made difficult by the loudly chattering child whose parents obviously didn't know the meaning of the words Quiet Coach. But when she was quietened with a bottle after an hour the quiet was impressive, broken only by the relieved sighing of dozens of observant passengers. But it didn't last.
Anyway, arrival in Leeds was only 12 minutes late - just after 2.00 - but still there were repeated apologies. I felt like saying 'Don't fret - we've been far later lately! ' The Radisson Blu was very near the station, and on the way was a French cafe-patisserie from which a pain d'epices was bought to go with a welcome cup of redbush post check-in in my curvy and superior room.
An early-evening explore of some nice bits of Leeds - the markets, the developed dockside, and the corn exchange - and then back to the hotel, only to be texted with the location of Foleys, the pleasant pub the family had found. And after a swift pint of Yorkshire Terrier, and a sample taste of the dark chocolate and vanilla flavoured ale, which wasn't as bad as it sounds, it was off to Pieminister the pie shop. Mine was paneer, pea and mango, with sides of mash, smoky baked beans and halloumi on a stick. And it was all most yummy. (See photo of your blissing-out correspondent with his pie and Flo below right.)
Tuesday 17th July
The Radisson Blu breakfast was solidly predictable, without any reportable novelties. But to say that it was just as you would expect is the same as saying it was unsurprising, after all. This being a preview taster from my new book The Philosophy of Breakfast. The man having a pain au chocolat with baked beans was a bit disturbing though. We wandered and found the Leeds General Infirmary, which has some spectacular old buildings, with some spectacular cars parked in front - a Maserati, BMWs, Mercedes... it makes you wonder. The Jimmy Saville and Jo Cox associations add some grim notes however. I'd got confused searching online for a Leeds Cathedral and learning that there was no Anglican Cathedral, but the Catholic one was very close by our hotel. So what's the Minster then, marked and bigly illustrated on the tourist map? The woman in the tourist office in the art gallery didn't know, the otherwise helpful locals in the craft shop were likewise puzzled. I was in said shop adding to my print collection something by Andy English called A Gothic Hare (see right). My first print was an etching bought in York, of the Minster, way back in the early 1980s, but nothing much has been added to the collection until very recently.
The gallery upstairs has one room of pre-20th-century paintings, all Victorian, but they're mostly a bit odd (like an actual Atkinson Grimshaw fairy) so worth a little look. The 20th century stuff on the floor above is less fun, but luckily the family soon turned up and we adjourned to the finely-tiled cafe for elevenses. Afterwards I made for the Minster, via some shopping, including HMV - an actual physical record shop! The Minster turned out to be an attractively Victorian-gothic pile (see below right) with lots of stained glass and dark wood fittings. And even some mosaic standing apostles made by Salviati in Venice. Also some old tombs from the old church and nice tiles. I liked. I found a friendly source of marzipan on the way back, called Bon Chocolate. They even had chocolate-coated marzipan chocs flavoured with cinnamon! The actual Catholic cathedral of Saint Mary was a bit pale and uninteresting, with a few arts and crafts-y touches, but no real draws. Although I discovered later that there is a carved altarpiece by Pugin.
After a little bit of rest and recuperation it was off out for the purpose of our visit - Florence, our niece, had graduated and been presented, and now it was our job to be proud, hug her lots, meet her friends and tutors, drink fizz, eat crisps, and take and pose for lots of photos in front of nice bits of the uni. It was fun! We also got to see her get 3D-scanned for a little figurine of herself in the robes and everything. Cool! A late-afternoon lunch, involving pints of bitter, hummus, halloumi, courgette strips and chips, followed. And then a late-evening return to the hotel for the oldsters.
Wednesday 18th July
Our last Leeds breakfast saw an addition to my immanent masterwork The Philosophy of Breakfast. I went for a coffee top-up and the waitress was just taking away the empty jug, and when I returned empty-cupped and grumbling Jane proclaimed 'Well it wouldn't have helped if she'd left it empty'. Wisdom, indeed. Some last-minute shopping before catching a train to York, which was actually the Trans-Pennine Express service to Middleborough, almost made famous by Kraftwerk. York at lunch time felt oddly more like a Saturday then a Wednesday. Our rooms at the Minster Hotel were not ready yet so we had a panini lunch at the Bar Hashery by the Bootham Bar (bars being what they call gates in York). And then an explore. I had a vanilla ice cream with a flake in it from a barrow by the Minster, and later bought a Chelsea bun, which had icing on it, weirdly. Our rooms back at the hotel were comfy and well-appointed, the bun was soft and nice, if totally lacking in cinnamon, making it more of a Belgian bun, and the afternoon snooze very welcome.
In the evening we strolled through the Museum gardens and the ruins of Saint Mary's Abbey, and then around the Minster, encountering a group of people being loudly talked at by a woman with a Sting poster pinned to a tree, who as we passed a vicar learning his sermon got into a shouty exchange with another bloke we'd seen standing in a medieval doorway... it was 'street theatre' we figured. Having had two weird and wonderful dinners in Leeds we decided to bring it down some notches with s bit of Pizza Express familiarity. But it was very oak panelled, being in a former Victorian gentlemanís club. Then we had a walk over and up the river and back, picking up an Eccles cake from Betty's, still open at 9.00, to go with one's evening tea.
Thursday 19th July
I don't usually go for the specially-cooked breakfast option but this morning... beans on toast... and not regretted. Then to the Minster, where they charge admittance, but your ticket lasts a year, so no problem popping back for quick visits later in the week. The Minster is very big, and has loads of medieval stained glass, so the superlatives in the guide books mostly concern those areas. Otherwise the decoration is sparse and generally secular - coats of arms and tombs of the local nobility and statues of kings dominate. The scaffolding along the screen under the tower, the Pulpitum with its line of statues of aforementioned kings, was a bit of a disappointment and eyesore, but that's the way it goes, as we discussed with the helpful and friendly guide who accosted us. We also talked about the modern headless figures on the inner facade who say, in semaphore Christ is here. He said he once started a tour there, but whilst explaining the message was stopped by someone saying 'no it doesn't, it says Christ is here'. And he turned around and saw that the letter T had been removed by some wag, because a priest called Chris had just returned to the Minster, having been away for a good while. A good long anti-clockwise circuit was made, and a descent in the nicely-made display in the undercroft, devoted to the history of the Minster, with a good video display devoted to the York Psalter.
The Treasurer's House is nearby and owned by the National Trust, so we went there for lunch - red pepper quiche, salad and potatoes for me, pea and mint soup with a cheese scone for Jane. A look around the house after, where the usual identifying of which bit was from which century was further hopelessly complicated by the most recent private owner who had had a wildly cavalier attitude to authenticity. This did make the visit more challenging and interesting though.
The evening walk took us to the museum gardens again, via the church of Saint Olave by the entrance, where an organist was practicing, gluten-free wafers are offered and William Etty is buried - the Victorian artist known for his depictions of naked women. Then, via Waterstone's, across town to Clifford's Tower and back through the Shambles, where we made it safely past the Harry Potter shops and fans and found an excellent Italian called L'Antica Locanda, which featured good cooking, friendly staff, and a Paolo Conte soundtrack.
Friday 20th July
To the railway museum today - Jane's idea, but a good one it turned out. Neither of us are train buffs, as such, but the carriages and their furnishings can fascinate, if used by postmen or Queen Victoria, even if the locomotives are a bit boring, although even they come in some nice colours and swooshy designs. Beside the two huge halls full of trains there is a big warehouse space full of shelves and racks of random stuff: signs, lamps, statues, furniture, windows panels, chamber pots...you get the picture. My favourite memory-jogger was the machine which let you emboss your name on a strip of tin, from before Dymo machines made the process a bit passť. Altogether a fun and fascinating way to spend a whole morning, as it turned out. The Japanese bullet train was disappointing, though, being totally lacking in any Japanese oddness at all, and smelling of disinfectant. We got our lunch (falafel and humus wraps) in the station next door, and ate in the museum park, a Yorkshire scone being bought on the walk back to the hotel, which was more plain-tasting and scone-like than it looked (see below).
Tomorrow, our last day, is looking full of possibilities even without the need to walk the walls, so we decided to make a start on the latter this evening, with the stretch anti-clockwise from the end by the railway station. It's a mixed bag, views wise, with office blocks, Georgian terraces, council estates, basking cats and a dilapidated late-20th century old people's home all covered in weeds and up for sale. We'll do the prettier bit, that curves around the Minster, tomorrow evening. Having had our fill of restaurant palaver we decided on MacDonald's this evening, and what do you know - they now do two different veggie burgers! One is spicier than the other.
Saturday 21st July
To the Merchant Adventurers' Hall to admire beamed spaces, stained glass and wonky floors. The impressive big double-naved space upstairs is used for events, so the visitor experience was a bit blighted by stacking chairs and circular tables for nibbles. Then to the art gallery, which has more interesting older stuff than Leeds, and more of it, including a Saint Zenobius panel by Bernardo Daddi, some predella panels by Bernardino Fungai from Siena, and an uncommon view by Guardi of The Rio dei Mendicanti. After an early lunch, repeating Wednesday's venue and choices, Jane retired early to the hotel and I fitted in a visit to the Yorkshire Museum, which has some nice old medieval stony stuff, including statues and other fragments of Saint Mary's Abbey, whose ruins are next door. I also found a pair of chatty attendants to quiz about something that had been puzzling me - was Constantine actually in York when his dad died and the army declared him emperor? Turns out he was, but Constantius had been further north when he died, having been dealing with the Scots. But he had died of natural causes and not anything involving pointy weapons. Good! My chosen cake for taking with tea was, bizarrely - it not being Christmas - a mince pie.
In the evening we did the last section of wall, the corner that curves around the Minster. But heading back into the centre and encountering many screeching hen-parties and the early-evening already-pissed saw us hastily retreating to the peace of our hotel.
Sunday 22nd July
Just time after breakfast for a last walk around the Minster, with the bells ringing; before checking out and heading to the station, by a more direct and less tourist--crowded route than when we arrived, to catch the 10.58 to Kings Cross. And we were home to our loud-squeaky-greeting cat and eating late lunches by 2.00.
Florence // London
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