Ireland/Britain 1998 day 27: York/Liverpool


The day of 16 February 1998 was a wash. I intended to check my bag at the York railroad station and pay a visit to the National Railway Museum. Then I saw the queue of people waiting to have their bags hand-searched. I waited for 15 minutes without seeing the line move, so I gave up and went to the track for the first train to Liverpool. My waiting didn’t end because the train was heavily delayed. Then about 2/3’s along the journey everyone on the train was unceremoniously ushered onto a platform in some town I don’t recall the name of as the train went out of service. It was a long wait for the replacement train.

Arriving in Liverpool, I managed to get lost for a long time before finally locating the Embassie Hostel. The door was locked and no one answered the bell. From what I came to know of the staff later, I’d wager they were all asleep, but at the time I assumed the hostel was closed for the season. So I walked back into city centre and checked my bags at the station and paid a visit to The Beatles Story Exhibition. It was nice to cool my heels with two hours of Beatles memories.

With the sun going down, I returned to the task of finding a place to sleep. I was feeling exhausted enough that I seriously contemplated using my rail pass to take the longest journey possible by train just to have a place to sleep. Wisely, I called the number for the Embassie Hostel instead and discovered that they were indeed open and booked a room. Too tired to carry my bags on another long walk I took a black cab for the first time, the cabbie generously instructing me on the English rules of tipping (i.e. – don’t).

I received a warm welcome from Kevin, Jr. part of the father-son team who run the Embassie and was introduced to a number of other guests, most of them Australian. One guest named Argyle broke the mold of young, stylish Aussie travelers because he was a somewhat frumpy, 73-year old Australian who enjoyed telling rambling anectdotes. Two younger Australian women named Monica and Sabina asked me what word would an American use to describe a person who never stops talking. I decided chatterbox was the most polite term.

As a group we went on a pub crawl stopping for a quick pint in the elegant Philharmonic Pub and then to an Irish pub called Scruffy Murphy’s which was serving £1 pints. Here we joined even more Australians, including Tanya who worked at the hostel, and one local Scouser name Uncle Ian. Speaking of Premier League football, Ian informed me that Manchester United were a bunch of wankers and that I should support Everton (which I do to this day just because some guy in a bar told me to). We next went to the Jacaranda, a pub where the Beatles played some early gigs, for late night pints and dancing. I liked that the dance mix included James Brown and a lot of Liverpool bands including the Beatles.

Back at the hostel a bunch of us gathered around the table in the lounge for a long night of fun and conversation. Tanya, her friend John, and I managed to stay up until 7 am! The great night certainly made up for the lousy day.

Abbey Road Otter

The otter on Abbey Road.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 26: York


After staying up way too late the night before, I slept in late on 15 February 1998 and didn’t get going until 1 pm. Still I managed to get in a good day of sightseeing in Old York. First I visited the York Castle Museum which is similar to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History as it’s built on the “Nation’s Attic” ethos. A lot of the exhibits were full-scale replicas of York street scenes from different eras. My favorite exhibit focused on life on the home frone in York during WWII. Definitely a must-see museum.

Next I shuffled along Shambles, York’s oldest street which maintains it’s narrow medieval appearance. I bought some chips and sat and watched the flocks of tourists amble up and down the street. The soundtrack of ceaseless pealing of bells from York Minster Cathedral provided the soundtrack for the activity in the city. These peals can last several hours, and while they may sound cacophonous there is a method to their ringing as practiced by the York Minster Society of Change Ringers.

Following the toll of the bells, I visited York Minster Cathedral next. The magnificent structure dates to the 14th-century. My favorite part of course was climbing the 275 to the top of the tower. The top was caged in – either to keep leapers in or pigeons out – and the view was thus obscured, but looking at York Minster itself with its many gargoyles was worth the climb. Back at ground level, I again attended a Choral Evensong service. This time I sat in the choir of the cathedral itself among the Ascension Singers, a group of men and women who sang like angels.

After that I had a quiet night and went to bed early.

Shambles

Along the Shambles

Tip Gargoyle

Is it just me or does that York Minster gargoyle look like Tip O’Neill.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 25: Edinburgh/Durham/York


I began Valentine’s Day 1998 in Edinburgh by checking my bags at the railroad station. There were coin-op lockers there, but no self-service as security regulations required having my bags checked by a man with a long wand that whistled like a radio between stations. I asked him what he was looking for, and he told me plastic explosives. I wanted to ask him what he would do if he found plastic explosives – a lose/lose situation I imagined – but decided this was not the best place to ask lots of questions.

Along the streets, a mob of Socialists were canvassing the crowd to sign petitions. I wasn’t paying much attention to the news at the time, but apparently the UK & USA were planning to invade Iraq because Sadaam Hussein was making chemical and nuclear weapons. I guess the Socialists were successful in holding off the invasion for five years.

I visited Edinburgh Castle which sits impressively atop a former volcanic promontory. I found myself disappointed because the castle, while scenic, was less interesting than Stirling Castle. Even the free CD audioguides didn’t help much. Information overload if anything. I suppose that since I had Stirling Castle pretty much to myself and Edinburgh Castle was packed with fellow snap-happy tourists made a difference too.

I sadly departed Edinburgh having only scratched the surface of what this wonderful city has to offer. I took the train south to England making a day-stop in Durham. Due to security concerns, the left luggage at the station was closed so I had to haul my bags with me through the town. The advantage is that it forced me to stroll slowly through the lovely town and along the River Ware Wear. A fun bit of art along the river depicted “The Last Supper” carved into several tree trunks. The image only appears when one views it from a particular point.

The highlight of Durham and my reason for being there is Durham Cathedral. Bede the Venerable is interred here for starters. It’s an amazing work of architecture especially when one sees it used for it’s designated purpose: worship. I attended the Evensong service where the choir boys sang like angels. Quite a beautiful experience.

I continued by train to York where I spent the night at the York Youth Hotel. I took a scenic walk of the city and then returned to the hostel which had its own built-in bar. There I met a young Norwegian woman named Ann Katrin who was visiting York with a group of friends for the Viking Festival. We hit it off well and drank several bottles of Hooch, which despite it’s colorful name was merely hard lemonade.

After the bar closed we went to the hostel lounge where people were watching the Winter Olympics on tv. I had the surreal experience of watching the game of curling for the first time while buzzed on Hooch. Ann Katrin and I stayed up very late talking about things ranging from Irish crooner Daniel O’Donnell to the existence of God. I ended up very tired and cranky, which was kind of a rotten ending to a good night.

Edinburgh Castle

The hilltop location of Edinburgh Castle lends it a stunning prominence.

River Ware

The beautiful River Ware Wear in Durham.

The Last Supper

The Last Supper sculpture in Durham (I see an otter in attendance).